Mon, 25 Sep 2023

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court shut the door on relief for a Missouri man facing execution on Tuesday for killing a pair of guards during an attempted 2000 jailbreak. 

Michael Tisius submitted multiple petitions for relief with various arguments to halt his execution. After declining two on Monday, the justices rejected the remaining applications on Tuesday, foreclosing relief that could have blocked his execution.

Tisius sits on death row for killing two guards while attempting to help Roy Vance escape a jail in Huntsville, Missouri. Tisius and Vance met while they were both inmates at the jail. While Tisius was released, Vance expected to spend the next 50 years in prison. 

Vance's girlfriend, Tracie Bulington, helped Tisius obtain a gun and the two developed an escape plan for Vance. Bulington and Tisius entered the jail on June 22, 2000, on the premise of bringing cigarettes for Vance. Instead, Tisius would shoot deputies Jason Acton and Leon Egley - both unarmed - in an attempt to steal their keys and break out Vance. 

After shooting and killing the two deputies, Tisius and Bulington fled. They threw out the gun and tried to escape to Kansas. The police arrested them the next day and Tisius confessed to the murders. 

Tisius was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder by a jury and sentenced to death. However, his death sentence would be overturned by the motion court because of an error in the evidence presented against him. The second jury unanimously recommended the death sentence for both counts. 

He appealed for post-conviction relief but all his attempts failed. 

At the Supreme Court, Tisius claimed his execution would have been unconstitutional because he was only 19 years old when the murders were committed. The justices declined relief. Tisius also brought jurisdictional claims that were also denied. 

As Tisius' execution date approached, his attorneys interviewed jurors involved in his case. One juror told his attorneys he could not read or write when he served on the jury. The juror alleged a county official helped him fill out his juror form. 

A district court paused Tisius' execution to review these claims but the Eighth Circuit vacated the stay

Tisius argued the illiterate juror serving on his jury should warrant a pause to his execution because it deprived him of his basic protections under state law. 

"Mr. Tisius was not afforded the basic protections provided by Missouri law for all persons tried before juries," Laurence Komp, a federal public defender representing Tisius, wrote in his petition. "Yet, the Missouri Supreme Court has refused to enforce this right and continues to insist that Mr. Tisius should be executed on the basis of an arbitrary and unconstitutional death sentence." 

The state claims the appeal comes too late and that Tisius' attorneys could have interviewed the jurors at any time but instead chose to only do so prior to his execution date. 

"Even if it is true that an unidentified court staff member assisted Juror 28 with his juror questionnaire but did not tell the judge or the lawyers involved, Tisius still could have discovered the same information about his claim that he has now by interviewing the jurors at any time," Missouri's Attorney General Andrew Bailey wrote in the state's brief. "At bottom, Tisius could have investigated a juror non-disclosure claim at any time, but he decided not to do so for reasons internal to the defense." 

Neither the Missouri attorney general nor attorneys for Tisius responded to requests for comment on the ruling.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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