The American Bar Association has joined calls to stop the execution of Michael Tisius, a Missouri man scheduled to be put to death on June 6.
The bar association, a large network for lawyers, does not take an overarching stance on the death penalty, but opposes its use in some situations.
Tisius’ legal team and opponents to the death penalty say the execution should not go forward, arguing that he regrets his actions and was manipulated by an older man, which led to the killing of two jail guards in 2000.
Five jurors now say they support commuting his death sentence to life without parole. Recently, lawyers for Tisius also said they discovered that one of the jurors was not able to read or write. Under Missouri law, jurors are required to be able to read so they can understand jury instructions, evidence and reports.
In 2018, the bar association passed a resolution urging states with capital punishment to prohibit the execution of anyone 21 years old or younger when the crime was committed. They cited research showing the brain is not fully developed until an individual’s mid-twenties, which results in an underdeveloped sense of responsibility and an increased susceptibility to negative influences. In a Missouri case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, youth under 18 cannot be given the death penalty.
Tisius was 19 when he fatally shot two Randolph County jailers during a botched escape attempt.
In a May 22 letter addressed to Gov. Mike Parson, the ABA said Tisius’ development at 19 was below even typical levels for his age.
“Michael experienced delayed maturation of adolescent brain functioning due to the childhood physical abuse and neglect he suffered,” the letter said. “Compounding his brain immaturity, multiple experts have found that Michael had neurological deficits at the time of his crimes.”
Tisius suffered beatings and neglect as a child, lead poisoning and brain damage, his attorneys said in a clemency application sent to Parson last week.
That made him susceptible to co-defendant Roy Vance’s influence, the ABA letter continued.
Tisius was jailed on a misdemeanor theft charge when he met Vance, who was 27 at the time. Once Tisius was released, Vance reportedly convinced Tisius to help him escape.
In the course of the escape, Tisius shot and killed deputies Jason Acton and Leon Egley.
The letter goes on to say that as an adult, Tisius has been an “exemplary prisoner.”
“He has learned self-control, has empathy for others, shows empathy for the men he killed, is no longer impulsive, and is seeking to make the best life he can in his current situation,” a psychiatrist said.
The letter also said Tisius was represented by a public defender during the sentencing phase who was paid on a flat-fee basis. The ABA cautions against the use of flat fee arrangements in capital cases because of the “unacceptable risk that counsel will limit the amount of time investigated in the representation in order to maximize the return.”
The attorney failed to conduct depositions and did not present evidence about Vance’s significant influence over Tisius. Vance was charged with first-degree murder and is serving life without parole.
Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution calling for Tisius’ execution to be halted.
Seventeen people are on death row in Missouri. In addition to Tisius, Johnny Johnson also has an execution date scheduled for this year. In the past six months, the state has executed three people. Parson has not granted clemency on a death penalty case.