Wednesday 28 September 2016

Man who killed three after drug dispute executed

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:16

Earl Forrest killed a sheriff's deputy and two other people in 2002 (Missouri Department of Corrections/AP)
Earl Forrest killed a sheriff's deputy and two other people in 2002 (Missouri Department of Corrections/AP)

A man who killed two people in a drug dispute and a police officer in a subsequent shootout has been put to death in what could be Missouri's last execution for some time.

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Earl Forrest, 66, died by injection for the December 2002 deaths of Harriett Smith, Michael Wells and Dent County Sheriff's Deputy Joann Barnes.

Forrest's fate was sealed hours before his punishment when the US Supreme Court refused to halt the execution and Missouri governor Jay Nixon turned down a clemency request.

Court documents showed Forrest had been drinking when he went to Ms Smith's home in the southern Missouri town of Salem and demanded that she fulfil her promise to buy a lawnmower and mobile home for him in exchange for introducing her to a source for methamphetamine.

Mr Wells was visiting Ms Smith at the time. An argument ensued and Forrest shot Mr Wells in the face. He then shot Ms Smith six times and took a lockbox full of meth.

When police converged on Forrest's home, he shot Ms Barnes and Dent County Sheriff Bob Wofford, according to court documents. Forrest was shot in the face in the exchange of gunfire. He then put some meth in his mouth, crawled to the door and yelled: "I surrender. We need help. People down."

Forrest's girlfriend, Angela Gamblin, also was shot in the burst of gunfire. She and Mr Wofford survived, along with Forrest.

Missouri has been one of the most prolific states for executions in recent years, second only to Texas. The state has put 19 men to death since November 2013, including six last year. Forrest was the first this year.

Missouri's death row population is dwindling. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre in Washington, said juries today are less likely to opt for capital punishment, in part because of greater awareness of how mental illness sometimes factors in violent crime.

Just 49 people were sentenced to death nationally last year, the fewest since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty as a possible punishment in 1976. No one was sentenced to death in Missouri in 2014 or 2015, Mr Dunham said.

"As these executions take place, fewer and fewer people are being sentenced to death, so the death penalty is withering on the other end," he said.

None of the 25 other men on Missouri's death row face imminent execution.

Sixteen have yet to exhaust court appeals and are not likely to do so any time soon. Execution is on hold for nine others, including two who were declared mentally unfit for execution.

Executions nationally are on the decline. In 1999, 98 people were executed. That fell to 28 in 2015 - a 24-year low - and 13 so far in 2016.

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