No Room for Redemption: Clemency in Missouri

Jessica Sutton, of Advancing Real Change, Inc.,
Jennifer Merrigan
, of the The Phillips Black Project

No human can be defined by his worst mistake. Death penalty jurisprudence recognizes this and requires the sentencer to consider factors outside of the crime, including the circumstances surrounding the defendant and his life. There is no mechanism, however, for the courts to consider a capital defendant’s post-sentence rehabilitation, reformation, and redemption. Instead, in capital cases, clemency is the sole means for granting mercy on this basis. Every state with capital punishment provides the statutory or constitutional right to clemency.[1] While clemency remains the sole mechanism for seeking mercy-based pardons, in reality clemency has instead become a means to address legal injustices.[2] A petitioner’s innocence, or doubts as to his guilt, has become the main reason for individual grants of clemency.[3] Modern death penalty jurisprudence has embraced the role of clemency as a “‘fail safe’ in our criminal justice system.”[4] With clemency now used to correct the mistakes of our legal system, there is even less room for mercy.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, there have been 279 grants of clemency to death-sentenced prisoners.[5] Only three of them were in Missouri. The first, in 1993, was Bobbie Shaw, who was intellectually disabled and mentally ill.[6] The second grant, in 1999, was to Darrell Mease. Pope John Paul II made the request during a visit to Missouri shortly before the scheduled execution.[7] Finally, Governor Nixon granted clemency to Richard Clay after supporters presented overwhelming evidence of his innocence.[8] To date, there has been no clemency grant to any man or woman based upon post-conviction rehabilitation and redemption. That is not because such cases do not exist. By the time a defendant is executed, he is frequently not the person he was at the moment of his crime. Below are the stories of two such men.

Dennis Skillicorn

On the night that Dennis was executed, before he was strapped in the gurney and mouthed the words “I love you”[9] to his wife, he made a final request to his young lawyer, barely five years out of law school. He asked that she not become bitter and hardened by his death. He was thinking of the other prisoners, he said, who were going to need representation. He then said goodbye, and that he had to go. He told her he did not want to keep the guards waiting. He knew them, he had been around some of them for years, and knew they took no joy in walking him to his death. It was one of the last gestures of humanity Dennis was allowed to make, before the State of Missouri ended his life. Less than an hour later, he would die from respiratory failure, the direct result of a combination of chemicals injected into his veins. Though the State of Missouri, its courts and governor, did not find the man redeemed, those who knew him near the end know that he was.

Dennis’ crimes were tragic, to be sure. He and his co-defendant were sentenced for the murder of Richard Drummond, a Good Samaritan who pulled over to help them, broken down and strung out on the side of the road. The jury heard a great deal of aggravating evidence in support of death. They heard details of an ensuing crime spree that followed the murder. They also heard testimony about a twenty-year-old conviction for a prior murder, wherein a friend of Dennis’ shot a man during a burglary, while Dennis was waiting in the car, unaware of the shooting inside.

The jury heard much less about the mitigating factors which weighed toward a life sentence and against a sentence of death. Dennis was not the shooter in either of his crimes. Instead, he was a follower and a life-long addict, who started using drugs at the age of fourteen after his mother died. Like many addicts, he was caught up in a desperate cycle, constantly in the throes of withdrawal or intoxication. After his first conviction, Dennis managed to stay on opiates in the chaotic Missouri prison system, where drugs were readily available. Once, when he was too broke to score, Dennis cut off his finger to get a fix at the prison hospital. After serving eighteen years, he emerged from prison to find a new and highly addictive drug: methamphetamines. Dennis met his co-defendant at the Salvation Army work release. The two lasted less than six months before they were hooked on meth and struggling to feed their addiction.

Dennis came to Missouri’s death row at the age of 36. He was a broken man, an addict, and a convicted murderer. He was acutely aware of and painfully sorry for the tragedy he had inflicted upon many others. Years later, he would write, “I do not know why we do many of the senseless things we do. But I do know that I am truly sorry.”[10], [11] Many men who make such grave mistakes find themselves paralyzed with guilt, shame, and grief, unable to live with themselves. In prison, the paralysis is exacerbated by the lack of positive channels for prisoners to express their sorrow and remorse. Instead, too often, those feelings manifest as rage, depression, suicide and addiction. But something led Dennis down a different path. Through his trial, he listened to his victims testify about the wake of destruction he left on the world. He knew he could not undo the pain he caused, but that he must use his remaining time to help and heal rather than inflict more harm.

Dennis’ sorrow led him to action. Over the last decade of his life, Dennis worked to do good in the world and to prevent others from doing the harm that he had done. His actions represented his commitment to restorative justice, his journey toward redemption, and his never-ending regret for the pain he caused. His positive works would, years later, form the basis for his clemency request to Governor Jeremiah Nixon. On the night that Dennis was executed, counsel would learn of Governor Nixon’s clemency denial from a reporter calling for comment. Dennis would remark that he was not upset by the loss, but grateful to have finally given his family the opportunity to see something positive in him.


Dennis and his wife initiated a program to strengthen families of prisoners at Potosi. The 4-H LIFE program was aimed at teaching prisoners to be better parents and preventing the next generation from entering prison. 4-H LIFE was a practical and successful response to the cold hard realities of prison for families of the incarcerated. At that time, there were 1.5 million children with incarcerated parents.[12] Yet, there was little to no thought given to the consequences for the families or the children of the incarcerated. The cycle of broken families repeats throughout generations, as does the cycle of incarceration. An underlying goal of the program is to keep children of incarcerated parents from being incarcerated themselves, which they are six times more likely than other children to do. Keeping children from making the mistakes that he made was one of Dennis’ primary goals in prison. In 4-H LIFE Dennis made a real and lasting difference in the lives of families at Potosi Correctional Center. The program has received national press and awards, and has been implemented in other facilities in Missouri. The prisoners who participated were grateful for the opportunity to be better fathers. “Without Dennis Skillicorn,” they wrote, “this program would not be here at Potosi. With his hard work and dedication we as incarcerated parents are able to build a strong, healthy relationship with our children.”[13] The staff and guards also took note of the program’s power:

I saw so many kids grow up through our 4-H program that when they first got there they were timid and shy and really didn’t want to participate and as the months and years went by they would bond with the other children. They would become accepting of their father and his situation and they would put that aside and say “we are family anyway; regardless of where my father is or what he may have done we are a family.” And they grew as a family, you could see the trust grow; you could see the affection for each other grow. It was just an amazing thing; to think that happened in a maximum security prison is just awesome.[14]

Dennis helped to found the program with three components. The first is a formal, monthly parenting class where an outside volunteer teaches the men parenting skills, such as trust building or communication.[15] The second is an informal class, one of Dennis’ ideas, where the members discuss and brainstorm parenting issues that they have encountered from behind bars.[16] The third aspect is an enhanced visitation period, once per month, during which families participate in family-strengthening and other activities together.[17] During the planned activities, family members are permitted to interact with one another, and interact with other families of incarcerated men, creating a stronger community for the families.[18]

The family visits are remarkable for two reasons. First, the modified visits give some semblance of healthy family interactions. Regular prison visitation is extremely rigid and unfriendly to families. Some family visitation is through glass, with the prisoner and his child speaking through a recorded phone. Even contact visits do not foster healthy family interactions, though. There is little to no movement in the visiting room and the atmosphere is grim. A prisoner cannot sit on the floor and play a game or paint a picture with his child. Children are not the focus of regular prison visits; instead children are to sit quietly while their incarcerated father visits with their community caregiver. In stark contrast, the 4-H LIFE activities involve parents actually playing games with their children, doing arts and crafts with them, not sitting in a straight back chair at a metal table in a beige room of fluorescent lighting.[19]

Second, the 4-H LIFE visits give incarcerated families a rare opportunity to interact with other families. Children of incarcerated parents frequently feel isolation or shame. These feelings are reinforced in the regular prison visits, which do not allow for families of prisoners to sit together or interact with one another in any way. 4-H LIFE gives children of incarcerated parents a community and shows them that they are not alone.

Dennis wanted to find a way to interact more positively with his wife and step-son and help other prisoners do the same. He believed that the families of prisoners need more positive interaction in an environment that allows for prisoners to model respect and accountability to their children. 4-H LIFE fostered a trusting environment in which families could thrive. The staff member who led the 4-H LIFE visits recalled how close Dennis and his step-son became through the visits:

You could see that especially when they were working on a craft, we usually did that by the family unit. They would huddle together-with their heads together- you know just chattering away and Dennis would have this idea and then Reggie would have this idea and Paula would get it going. They were a family and I believe they were a close family.[20]

At the time Dennis was executed, there were twenty-two Potosi families participating in the 4-H LIFE Program.


In 1997, shortly after coming to death row, Dennis helped to begin and expand a hospice program at Potosi “to provide each and every patient the well-deserved right to die with as much dignity as possible.”[21] The program, which has continued beyond Dennis’ death, offers much needed care to an aging prison population, relieving the nursing staff of some of its duties and assisting dying prisoners in need of care. Dennis formed the group in order to “meet a growing need within our correctional facilities for this type of care.”[22] After completing medical and grief training, prisoners sit with dying inmates in the infirmary in two-hour shifts for twenty-four hours per day. The men help the prison nursing staff bathe, clean, feed, and read to dying inmates. As a child, it had been Dennis’ dream to be a nurse, like his mother. When his mother became gravely ill, eventually succumbing to cancer, Dennis was at her bedside around the clock, caring for her. Dennis’ crippling addictions made that dream impossible. Hospice gave Dennis’ sisters a glimpse of who their brother once had been and could have become.

In prison, the idea of hospice was revolutionary because it violates the implicit rules of prison culture. In order to be a hospice volunteer, inmates must be willing let down their guard. They must open up to other prisoners and let go of any racial or other prejudices they may have, including fears and biases about AIDS and hepatitis. Such fears and biases are common in prison. “Traditionally, compassion toward one’s fellow man has not been valued in prison. But the hospice program has changed that perspective and that stereotype at Potosi, it is becoming acceptable to show concern for others in an environment that used to view compassion as a weakness.”[23] Hospice volunteers must disregard the “prison code” in another important way: they must be willing to work with the staff. Frequently in prison, inmates cannot be seen speaking to staff or officers at all, lest they be suspected as a snitch. Hospice workers, however, work closely with prison staff.[24] At the time of his execution, Dennis was the chairman of hospice and had led the group for several years.

Restorative Justice

Dennis was also a driving force behind Compassion Magazine, a bi-monthly newsletter authored by death row inmates who share the goals of “promoting restorative justice and reconciliation.”[25] It is circulated, free of charge, to death row inmates nationwide. Dennis became involved with Compassion shortly after coming to death row and was chosen as its editor in March 2001. Compassion is a unique publication that focuses, not on prison conditions or prison injustice, but rather on remorse, redemption, and restorative justice. The magazine’s tenor is upbeat, and Dennis used his monthly editorials to talk to prisoners about expressing remorse, giving back to society, putting victims first, and making a positive difference in their environment and the community, even from a small cell. Remarkably, there are very few vehicles for such expression behind bars. Dennis asked prisoners to make a difference in themselves, “When we begin to see the real necessity for change, this is when the real struggle begins. Unfortunately, letting go of bad habits and making ways for new ones doesn’t always come easily. We are good at making excuses.”[26]

Through the magazine, Dennis encouraged other prisoners to truly reflect upon those whom they victimized. In one editorial, Dennis asked prisoners to think about their grief for the victims.[27] In another, he asked prisoners to take the focus off themselves “and place our thoughts on the needs of others.”[28] In yet another, he urged prisoners to work to make amends: “We can’t change the past. However, we can impact our future as well as the environment we live in. There is hope to restore what we have torn down.”[29] The magazine itself worked to do just that. Compassion raises funds through sales and donations that are then given as college scholarships to family members of murdered victims.[30] The scholarships are given based upon need, regardless of the view of recipient on the death penalty. At the time of Dennis’ execution, Compassion had raised and donated more than $34,000 in scholarships.[31]

In 2007, Dennis published a book through Compassion, entitled Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow’s Dreams. For the book, Dennis collected writings from death row prisoners across the country that recognized their bad decisions in life led them to death row. “Today after 25 years of incarceration,” he wrote, “I know how stupid I’ve been and so do all the men sitting next to me. We all feel the horror of regret, most would outwardly admit it and some would cloak their sadness in denial. But all wish they could go back to the place you are right now and change the choices they made.”

Dennis’ story in the book, “Don’t Sell Your Dreams,” told of his addiction.[32] As a child, Dennis dreamed of being a musician and his prized possession was the guitar his father bought him. As he entered adolescence, however, the guitar took the backseat to drugs, until eventually Dennis traded the guitar for a fix. Dennis’ addiction led him to prison and, when he was released at the age of 32, he was still an addict. Though he successfully participated in the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program for five months, he was not able to stay clean and fell back into drugs. Dennis was high on and searching for methamphetamines when he and his co-defendant began their crime spree. For Dennis, drug addiction was not an excuse, but a reality that had disastrous consequences on his life and, in turn, the lives of others. Dennis took full responsibility for the choices that he made while he was under the influence of meth and other drugs and did not want to see others make those mistakes.

The book has been distributed at no cost to juvenile justice centers and programs for troubled youth around the country. Juvenile advocates and educators have found the book to be an extremely effective tool, because it was written by experts. Each of the men made decisions that had tragic consequences for himself and others. Dennis’ reason for writing the book was simple: he knew that his mistakes could serve as a powerful lesson for a troubled child. “Sharing our own life lessons can help prevent other people from making the same bad choices we have made. Telling them about our past mistakes and showing them the outcome can give them a glimpse into their own future.”[33] Wrote one youth advocate about the book, “you may never know the name of the boy or girl that will remember your words and allow your story to inspire them but believe me, there will be many.”[34]

The book was so well received, that Dennis was asked to curate another book focused on reducing juvenile recidivism rates. Juveniles who enter the system frequently do not learn the basic skills they need to succeed outside of the system, thus they continue to cycle in and out of institutions and courts. Dennis knew this very well, having been such a youth caught up in that cycle. He spent his formative years institutionalized, entering the juvenile justice system when he was 16 years old and then, later, spending 14 years in prison. He had never opened a bank account or applied for a job. He was executed before he could finish the second book.

Dennis was also involved in other restorative justice based activities in prison. Under Dennis’ leadership, 4-H LIFE members raised money every Christmas for a needy family in the community.[35] The staff member in charge of the organization recalled that it “wasn’t an official charity; it was just something these guys wanted to do.”

We would get with the local case workers and they would tell us who they thought were the neediest family in the area and the 4-H group would adopt them for Christmas. They would make sure that they were fed, they were warm, they had clothes, and they had a Christmas dinner, and presents. . . I have no doubt that they had memories of Christmas that weren’t exactly good and they didn’t want other children to experience that. . .[36]

Dennis also assisted in the creation and development of a Charity Carnival at Potosi Correctional Center, an annual event at Potosi with all proceeds going to charitable organizations. Dennis was an artist and he used his talents to promote restorative justice as well, making drawings to raise money for charities and victims. Through Potosi’s Restorative Justice Program, Making the Right Turn, Dennis worked with a community organization to create a traveling poster display and calendar that discouraged youth from smoking. The coalition coordinator noted that Dennis’ work “was a major factor that made these projects an overwhelming success.”[37] She was struck by his “genuine concern for youth. His message was clear; he is interested in preventing youth from making decisions that would have negative consequences on their future.”[38] For Dennis, this was another way to help kids choose a path different from his own. For his fellow prisoners, these were ways to offer some good in the world, an opportunity they were not often afforded.

Pleas for Mercy from the Prisoners, Guards and Staff

After the Missouri Supreme Court set his execution, numerous prisoners and staff members came forward to beg that his life be spared. Countless prisoners, from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, and religions, attested to what “positive force” Dennis was in the prison.[39] “If Dennis sees negativity, he will go out of his way to stop it.”[40] He helped prisoners “turn their lives around”[41] and “to change them and stop the cycle of violence.”[42] “There are a lot of guys,” one prisoner wrote, “doing better and Potosi because of Dennis.”[43] “There is so much negativity in prison, we need a safety net in here,” wrote another prisoner, “On the outside we turned to drugs and alcohol for that safety net. Here, we can turn to people like Dennis.”[44] The sister of one mentally retarded prisoner recalled how Dennis took her brother “under his wing and not only gave him advice on how to survive prison but to make the most of his life in prison, chiefly by trying to help others and keeping a positive attitude.”[45] Even Dennis’ co-defendant begged that his life be spared. “Please don’t let Dennis’ blood be on my hands…I ruined Dennis’ life.”[46]

For corrections officers and prisoners alike, Dennis made the prison “safer” and “less violent.”[47] The prison Chaplain wrote the governor, pleading that he grant clemency “for the sake of the safety and security of this community. To remove Dennis and men like him is to remove one of the leaders of this community and could lead to this community’s collapse.”[48] Guards and prisoners alike described Dennis as a “peacemaker.”[49] He led by example. In the twelve years that Dennis was at Potosi, he never “got in a fight with someone, got violent or angry, or even raised his voice.”[50] One prisoner recalled an incident where “a guy got mad at him and Dennis just walked away and told him, ‘I’m sorry man for whatever I did to offend you.’”[51] Dennis was also a “mediator.”[52] Staff and correctional officers observed Dennis breaking up fights and defusing tensions between prisoners.[53] “He talks other prisoners down when they are in a dispute. He helps them see that there is a different way to deal with it than attacking each other.”[54] He actively worked with his fellow prisoners to teach them to live positively and “that strength is not cruelty and that it takes a strong man to be kind in the face of cruelty.”[55] Such a mentality is “rare” in prison, where turning the other cheek can be perceived as a sign of weakness, putting a prisoner in danger.[56] One prisoner recalled:

There was one time when I got really aggravated with some people and I was about to snap. . . Dennis asked me, ‘What’s more important, your reputation or your spirituality?’ This stopped me in my tracks. In prison reputation is very important. But Dennis reminded me that if you are a spiritual person you have to walk that line.[57]

Guards and prison staff repeatedly talked about what a “positive influence” Dennis was in the prison.[58] He was “a spark plug – he kept things moving in the right direction.”[59] He created positive programs key to a successful prison environment. If prisoners “don’t have positive things to get into, then they get into trouble. All they have is time.”[60] Most of society does not want to think of prison, and but for those who spend their days as residents or employees, there is a stark contrast between the principle and the practical realities of prison. The prison chaplain explained:

These are microcosm communities, a community within a community living by unwritten codes and standards developed by the men and women living within these walls. Some live just to survive, looking forward to the day that they might be released back to the streets. Others make their cell a home away from home and they work with others to make their home and community a better and safer place to live. Dennis is such a member of the community housed at PCC. He has lived his life in a way that has helped make PCC a much safer place to be.[61]

Many staff members risked their positions and their reputations to speak out for Dennis, several on camera. Initially, the prison administration forbid staff members from speaking with counsel. After a lawsuit, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered that the prison cease obstructing counsel’s access to witnesses. Though the prison continued to intimidate employees, many spoke out on Dennis’ behalf, opening themselves up to retaliation. For many, the question of clemency was a practical one: “He has been proactive in making PCC a better, safer place to live.”[62] Some, however, also saw Dennis as truly changed man. One former corrections officer said that Dennis’ execution has been weighing heavy on my heart for years now. That being in Potosi Correctional Center where they were doing the executions, I had faith in the state and I had faith in the legal justice system that these guys who were executed actually deserved what they were getting. That in order to protect society and for the families of the victims, it had to go all the way to execution, so they were actually executing killers. But I do not believe that Dennis Skillicorn is the same person that they convicted.[63]

The day that the Supreme Court scheduled Dennis Skillicorn’s execution is described by guards and prisoners alike as a funeral procession. Word travelled fast around the compound and, not long after Dennis had received word of the date of his death, men had lined up in a crescent moon around the prison yard. When the officers came out to cuff him and lead him to the death house, they waited patiently and respectfully for Dennis to finish shaking hands, giving hugs, and saying goodbye. After his last embrace, Dennis walked over the guards, put his hands out for the cuffs, and calmly walked to lockdown. Such a scene is not the norm; normally men are rushed out quickly and quietly to the death house. But Dennis was different, and the prison recognized it.

John Winfield

On June 18, 2014, five years after Dennis Skillicorn’s execution, the State of Missouri executed John Winfield in front of his mother, girlfriend, and best friend. At the end of 2013, Missouri ramped up its death penalty machine, executing six people in the following seven months, and continued to set monthly execution dates after John was killed. Everyone in the prison was on edge, but when John received an execution date, it caused a disquiet among many of the inmates and guards. Inmates watched as guards picked up John from his positive action community[64] and took him to a solitary cell in a separate wing to await his execution.[65] Inmates started a petition to the Governor, gathering pages of signatures.[66] Many of the inmates and guards wrote personal statements pleading for mercy. John received none.

John was sentenced to death for the 1996 shooting of his girlfriend, Carmelita Donald, and two of her friends. Ms. Donald survived, but was permanently blinded, and both of her friends died. The shooting shocked the family, friends, and community in which John and Ms. Donald had lived. John, who had never before been charged with a violent crime, was known as a kind and generous family man intently focused on raising his children.[67] In fact, John supported his mother, grandmother, brother, Ms. Donald, their two children, and Ms. Donald’s sister and grandmother, all of whom lived in his house for several years before the shooting.[68]

In 1996, however, John’s life began to unravel. Within the span of a few months, John and his family suffered a series of tragedies. First, John’s grandmother tried to kill herself at the home she shared with John.[69] John and his grandmother were very close, as she raised John from childhood, along with his mother, Evelyn. John’s grandmother had attempted suicide before and John had assumed the responsibility of watching over her and preventing another suicide attempt. When she tried to kill herself again, only a few months before the shooting, “it tore John apart.”[70] In the following months, John continued to care for his grandmother, taking her to psychiatric appointments and ensuring that she took her medication.[71]

Only a few months later, John’s mother was bitten by a brown recluse spider. John found his mother weakened on the floor in her bedroom and called 9-1-1.[72] John’s mother was hospitalized for several weeks, at times in critical condition, and doctors told the family that she might not survive. John’s brother was also seriously injured after jumping into the shallow end of a pool and breaking his neck. He was placed in a halo and had to spend his days and nights nearly immobile, with John as his caretaker.[73]

Not only were these events extremely traumatic, but they also took a financial toll on the already struggling family. At only 24 years old, John was taking care of his ill mother, grandmother, and brother, all the while raising his two children, Mykale and Symone. Ms. Donald was pregnant with Mykale when she began dating John, but John raised Mykale as his own child and few people knew that John was not Mykale’s biological father.[74] The couple had Symone three years later, and the children were John’s pride and joy.[75] But as the financial and emotional stress compounded, John’s family began to disintegrate further.[76]

Ms. Donald moved out of the small house that she and John shared with, at times, up to ten other family members, and into her own apartment nearby.[77] Meanwhile, John was in the process of buying Ms. Donald’s father’s house for the young family.[78] But everything came crashing down when, on the night of the shooting, John found out that Ms. Donald was seeing another man. After a confrontation outside of Ms. Donald’s apartment building, John shot her and her friends within a few minutes.[79]

After a truncated trial plagued by a feud between the two defense counsel,[80] John was convicted of capital murder. The penalty phase trial only lasted one day, and the jury deliberated for less than six hours before sentencing John to death. The jury never heard about the tragic sequence of events leading up to the shooting, and knew little about the person who they were condemning to die by lethal injection. The death penalty is often considered a penalty for those who are remorseless or irredeemable, but the jury did not know that John would spend the next sixteen years of his life on a path toward redemption.

Seeking Redemption in Prison

Following the shooting, John spent a total of eighteen years in county jail and in prison, up until his execution on June 18, 2014. John felt profound grief and agony over what he had done, and dedicated his life in prison to helping others.[81] As one correctional staff member explained, “John lives his remorse for his crime in his every day actions and the life that he chooses to live. John’s actions in the past have caused a lot of pain, and now John is dedicated to helping those who are in pain.”[82]

While in prison, John remained a steadfast support for his family, especially his children, and served as an example of engaged parenting for other inmates. Guards and inmates alike recognized John’s positive influence on others in jail and prison, particularly the youth that he mentored, and his commitment to making those institutions safer and more compassionate places. John protected vulnerable inmates, served as a role model for young offenders, and participated in programs aimed at raising funds for those in need. Leading up to his execution, correctional staff and inmates raised their voices together to ask the Governor for mercy, describing John as a unique example of the power of rehabilitation.

St. Louis County Jail

Early on, while John was awaiting trial and sentencing, he stood out in the St. Louis County jail as a kind, quiet man committed to helping others. Two correctional officers, who served as guards during the two years that John was held at the county jail, both remarked that John was “special” and “different from other inmates.”[83] “Compared to other inmates, Johnny adjusted very well to prison life” and “focused on doing his time as peacefully as possible.”[84] Even in the old facilities at the county jail, where inmates were housed in overcrowded cells and “acted liked animals,” John “never let his environment define him.”[85] To the contrary, John demonstrated that “even while incarcerated, inmates could contribute to their communities and find value in life. Johnny never gave up on making his life meaningful.”[86]

At the St. Louis County jail and later at Potosi Correctional Center, John lived in Honors housing and positive action communities that reward inmates who stay out of trouble and model good behavior.[87] In both institutions, John also held coveted jobs, reserved for the most reliable and trustworthy inmates. At the St. Louis County jail, John was hand-picked to work as a walk man, who delivered juice and ice to inmates and picked up food trays.[88] The fact that John was chosen for this position “demonstrated how the staff felt about him,” as “corrections officers were in charge of hiring the person for this job and took into consideration the input of the staff.”[89] John was therefore chosen for this position “based on the recommendation of a number of guards and caseworkers.”[90]

The guards and staff at the jail could trust John.[91] John was respectful, appreciated the responsibility, and did not take his privileges for granted.[92] John was also chosen to be a midnight maintenance worker at the jail, which allowed him out of his cell to clean the hallways.[93] One guard remembered that John never complained even when the job required terrible tasks.[94] For example, one night an inmate threw vomit and feces at the guards, covering the hallway in filth.[95] The guard on duty felt bad about asking John to clean up the mess, but John said he didn’t mind and cleaned it up without a word of complaint.[96] As the guard explained, “Johnny made his way into the concern of both guards and inmates.”[97]

After John was sentenced to death, he was transferred from St. Louis County jail to Potosi Correctional Center. One guard in particular[98] maintained contact with John when he transported other inmates to the prison. Speaking just a few months before John was executed, the corrections officer recounted emotional memories about John: “For some reason, it is the little things about him that I remember: his car magazines, his dreamer personality.”[99] After two decades of working as a corrections officer, he reflected:

Johnny is one of two people who is [sic] a true stand out inmate–not just among the death row population, but among the thousands of inmates that I have encountered in the St. Louis County jail. That means that Johnny is one of the two best inmates even among misdemeanor offenders and people who were acquitted. In fact, the second stand out person was only in the jail for a probation violation.[100]

Another officer stated that he believed that John “would never commit a crime again” and “is the type of person that can be completely rehabilitated.”[101] Although both of these corrections officers were willing to testify at John’s trial concerning his remorse, contributions, and capacity for redemption, trial counsel never contacted them.[102] Instead, the officers could only appeal to the Governor to spare John’s life in the interest of mercy, which they did wholeheartedly.

Potosi Correctional Center

At Potosi Correctional Center (PCC), John’s dedication to bettering himself and his environment continued to move the corrections officers and prison staff. For years, John worked in the prison laundry. His supervisor and a staff member at the prison quickly gained respect for John as a trustworthy and hard-working man and made John the lead employee.[103] John also had an outstanding institutional record, containing only a few trivial violations in the 16 years that he was at the prison.[104] John was a model inmate in every sense of the word.[105]

Over the years that T.C. worked with John, he realized that John was special for reasons that went beyond his respectful demeanor and good work ethic: “I have met a few exceptional individuals who have been sentenced to death, but who have become changed men. John Winfield is one of those people.”[106] John was “committed to the institution,” and “work[ed] hard, treat[ed] staff and inmates with respect, help[ed] others, and tr[ied] to make the best out of his life at PCC.”[107] Perhaps most importantly, however, was the kindness and generosity that John showed to everyone, especially the most vulnerable members of the prison population.

T.C. regularly observed John look after weaker inmates.[108] John sewed special mattresses out of blankets for inmates on suicide watch, so that they did not have to sleep on the concrete.[109] He also took extra care to neatly press the clothes of the special needs inmates so they could take pride in themselves.[110] T.C. saw John “bestow small kindnesses, like going to the canteen and bringing back two ice creams, then giving both of them away.”[111] As T.C. explained, “In prison, it is rare to see that kind of compassion and generosity. Most people look out for themselves . . . but John is not like that. He is genuinely concerned about the well-being of others.”[112]

Because of his dedication to helping others, John earned the respect of other inmates as well. T.C. explained that while some inmates gain respect by instilling fear in others, John was respected because of his kindness. “John tries to help everyone. People can count on John to help them if they are in need . . . John will give away what he has to others without expecting anything in return.”[113]

In a statement written shortly before John was executed, T.C. concluded that:

I don’t know the man John was before he came to prison, but I have come to know who John is today, and I know that John is not the same person who committed the crime that sent him to death row . . . John is one of those unique inmates who made the decision to change his life to become a better person. The point of prison is rehabilitation, and John has achieved that.[114]

T.C., who served on several execution teams himself, stated that he did not believe the death penalty was the right sentence for John.[115] He explained, “The death penalty is supposed to be for the worst of the worst,” whereas “John is in the elite 1% of all inmates, including non-capital inmates.”[116] T.C. also pointed out that, if John’s sentence was commuted to life without parole, he would continue to contribute to the community: “John can mentor the youth that come to prison with short sentences so that they don’t go down the same road that he went down. Although John cannot take back what he did, John’s contributions can change lives in the future.”[117]

John’s Mentorship of Other Inmates

While at Potosi, guards and inmates witnessed John serve as a mentor and role model for other inmates. John took a special interest in mentoring the youth that came through the prison doors, encouraging them to leave gang life, tutoring them in reading, writing, and GED preparation, and helping the “youngsters” plan for their release so that they were positioned for success rather than recidivism. John was even referred to as a “mother” figure due to his caring and nurturing nature.[118]

John took on the role of mentor and counselor to incarcerated youth from the time that he was at St. Louis County jail. Chris Santillan, a fellow inmate at Potosi, first met John at the jail, where they both held the job of walkman.[119] As Mr. Santillian explained: “I was a young kid when I went to jail and had just come from the St. Louis suburbs, so it was really gratifying . . . to know that there is still goodness in people. I saw that in John.”[120] At only 19 years old, Mr. Santillian was a scared and vulnerable teenager, but “[t]he friendship that I found with John was invaluable because he made me feel safe.”[121] Mr. Santillan expressed that knowing Mr. Winfield made him a better person, as Mr. Winfield taught Mr. Santillan to also help the young men coming to prison.[122]

Similarly, Martez Shadwick, who came to prison when he was only 21-years-old, explained that “John protected those of us who might otherwise be targets.”[123] John has a way with “the young guys that don’t want to listen,” because “[t]hey know that if John tells them something, it is because he is trying to help.”[124] John mentored Mr. Shadwick by trying to “get [him] off the basketball court and into the library” and to focus on his family.[125] John was an example for Mr. Shadwick because John had such a positive relationship with his own daughter, Symone.[126]

Another inmate, Leonard Taylor, also described John’s dedication to mentoring youth. Mr. Taylor told the story of John’s positive influence on a young man who called himself “Maniac.”[127] Maniac approached John because he wanted advice on starting a business upon his release from prison, and John had a reputation for helping others.[128] When Maniac told John about his business goals, John collected all the paperwork for establishing a business in Missouri. John then had “a heart- to-heart” with Maniac and promised to help him start a business, but only if Maniac promised to change his life.[129] John first advised the young man to stop calling himself “Maniac,” because it had a negative connotation that affected “the way people viewed him and . . . the way he viewed himself.”[130] John wanted this young man “to better himself and develop a positive attitude,” and explained that “change comes from the inside out.”[131] John’s care and guidance changed the way the young man viewed himself and inspired him to be a better person.

Another young inmate, James Fields, spoke of John’s impact on his life by saving him from gangs and helping him obtain his GED.[132] When Mr. Fields first arrived at Potosi, John approached him with concern because he had seen Mr. Fields walking alone and pacing in his cell.[133] Noticing how young Mr. Fields was, John took Mr. Fields under his wing. At the time, Mr. Fields was affiliated with a gang in the prison.[134] John talked to Mr. Fields about this lifestyle and told him that this path of destruction would only hurt those he loved.[135] At first, Mr. Fields was not ready to let go of his gang associations. John was patient and persistent: “Every time I came back from doing time in the hole, John found me and asked if I was ready to change . . . He stayed on me until I was ready to accept his words and get on the right path.”[136]

Even after leaving the gang life, Mr. Fields still struggled with other demons, including gambling.[137] Again, John was there for the young man. On one occasion, John pulled Mr. Fields away from a game and told Mr. Fields that his family sent money so that he could take care of himself, not gamble it away.[138] Mr. Fields promised to stop gambling, and John generously paid off his debts.[139]

John helped Mr. Fields in other ways as well. John tutored Mr. Fields and helped him get his GED, which Mr. Fields obtained in 2002.[140] John also encouraged Mr. Fields to participate in classes such as the Impact of Crime on Victims Class, which focuses on acknowledging the way inmates’ actions have impacted victims, and Pathways to Change, which focuses on changing destructive and negative behaviors.[141] Without even trying, John taught Mr. Fields the principle of “pass it on,” as John generously gave away what he had and encouraged Mr. Fields to do the same for others.[142] As Mr. Fields explained, “John’s love for me affected the way I treated the other inmates at Potosi. His actions made me want to pass on that kindness to the next person . . . I am a completely different person because of John.”[143]

John not only helped people individually, he was also instrumental in facilitating new programs that contributed to the community in prison, as well as those in need outside of the prison walls. John was the Acting Secretary of the NAACP chapter at Potosi, and with his leadership the chapter grew from twenty-five members—near the minimum membership required to have the chapter—to over fifty members in just sixty days.[144] As fellow inmate Leonard Taylor explained, they “thought that if John was involved in the NAACP, then it would be something positive because John would not be involved in anything negative.”[145]

Additionally, Mr. Winfield’s involvement in the NAACP broadened the membership demographics, as “John convinced many of the new white members to get involved” by explaining that the NAACP is a civil rights organization, and that progress in civil rights requires the participation of all races of society.[146] “John reaches out to people across all lines—race, class, religion, age—to create a peaceful community,” Mr. Taylor said.[147] Rather than focusing on differences that fracture the community at Potosi, John “strives to find the commonalities,” and now the NAACP chapter “is one of the only organization [sic] at Potosi where Christians and Muslims and blacks and whites can really come together.”[148]

Under John’s leadership, the chapter added a legal redress and business class to its programming and began to host fundraisers for shelters and other charities.[149] Noting that the inmates “are in an all-male institution in which many people have domestic violence charges,” John also suggested putting on a program that “focuses on women’s achievements and honors women as the backbone of our communities.” This idea resulted in a Harriet Tubman Day program and a Mother’s Day event.[150] Through the NAACP chapter, John also raised money to give back to the community outside of prison, including raising funds for community organizations such as Shalom House, which is a St. Louis shelter for women.[151]

Before John received his execution date, he was scheduled to be a facilitator in the Changing Directions class, which was developed with John’s help and support.[152] Changing Directions aims to positively change inmates’ behavior and emphasizes “the importance of asking for forgiveness for wrongs done to others.”[153] These ideas resonated with John, who believed that “it is important to admit the wrongs that we have committed and to ask for forgiveness as inmates.”[154]

Ultimately, John was more than the sum of his acts. It was the way John lived his life, constantly giving what he had to others with no need for recognition or reward, that truly revealed a changed man. “The best part is that John’s goodness is not grandiose, it exists in the small things. It is humble.”[155] As one of John’s cellmates described:

John wants to help people whenever possible . . . John helps people who can’t read or write by drafting letters for their families and attorneys. John cooks for people and gives away food. I can always tell when John is going to cook a big meal to share because he will get out the big bowl he has. That’s when I know John is going to feed the other guys in the unit.[156]

Another fellow inmate recalled, “When John and I spend time together, we often talk about how we would have done things differently in the past. We talk about how we would be better, make amends, and learn from our mistakes.”[157] He continued:

The media and prosecution paint John as a monster, but I know the real John. The real John is a father, a grandfather, a son, a peacemaker, a responsible, outspoken leader. He is a person who has learned to humble himself and make a difference for all the right reasons . . . John has demonstrated his remorse by making a one-hundred eighty [sic] degree turn and focusing on making the rest of his life count for something. To witness such devotion and transformation makes all of our lives better.[158]

John’s Continued Support of His Family

Even more important than John’s dedication to changing lives in prison was John’s commitment to his family. Throughout his incarceration, John maintained a very close relationship with his family, including his daughter Symone, whose mother was a victim of the crime. John was heavily involved in his family’s day-to-day life and served as his daughter’s counselor and confidante, providing her with support and guidance.[159] John also stayed in very close contact with his mother. Just as he was the protector of his mother as a young child, when he used to accompany her on the public bus that she drove so that she would not be alone at night, John continued to help his mother by sending her money whenever possible and assisting with decisions both big and small.[160]

For as long as Symone can remember, her father was the provider and the protector of her family.[161] Symone lived with her dad and grandmother, John’s mother, from birth, but was taken from her grandmother after the shooting and sent to live with her mother out of state.[162] When Symone was seven or eight years old, she moved back to St. Louis to live with her grandmother and great-grandmother, who raised her to adulthood.[163] Thus, John and his family were a constant in her life.[164]

For Symone, John was the family man that did it all—he was the mechanic, carpenter, nanny, and dad.[165] If the family needed extra money, John would do odd jobs to support them.[166] Even in prison, John sent what little money he made to his family.[167] John supported his family in small and life-changing decisions.[168] Not long before he was executed, John researched real estate and finances in order to help his mom buy a house for her and Symone.[169] John even drafted the contract and helped the family with the paperwork for the purchase.[170]

Symone also relied on her dad for guidance and counseling.[171] Sometimes, Symone talked to her dad several times a day.[172] Symone felt that she could “talk to him about anything,” from work, to parenting, to relationships.[173] They often talked about Symone’s plans for the future.[174] John emphasized the importance of education and encouraged Symone to go to college,[175] proudly reporting to his friends in prison when his daughter earned A’s in school.[176] John also talked to his daughter about the mistakes he had made and gave her advice.[177] One of John’s fellow inmates and friends recalled, “When Symone was little, John wanted to put an army around her to protect her. John and I used to tease Symone that she wasn’t allowed to date until she was thirty years old.”[178] When John found out that Symone was pregnant, “Father mode kicked right in. He told her, ‘We have to get a bed and a car seat.’”[179] Symone emphasized that “no matter what his opinion, he always makes sure that I know he loves me and supports me no matter what.”[180]

On many occasions, John’s mother and Symone took her children, John’s grandchildren, to visit him at the prison.[181] She loved to watch her father and son play together during those visits or laugh together when they talked on the phone.[182] Symone’s son called John “papa” and knew him well.[183]  John’s mother described the family visits:

We visit John, too, and he loves to play with Symone’s son and hear all about Symone’s life. Symone says it’s so hard to see how sad he is when we have to leave, but we take nothing for granted. I try to savor every day of these last 15 years that we’ve had . . . we try to make each day count, which is the most important thing. The world is a good place with him, and we want him, we love him, and there’s so many people that do.[184]

Both Symone and Evelyn asked the Governor to spare John’s life, and to spare them from suffering.

The Impact of John’s Execution

Leading up to John’s execution, guards, inmates, family, and friends all described the impact that his execution would have on their lives. Both guards and inmates emotionally discussed the impact that John’s execution would have on the prison community. According to T.C., “A lot of people would be affected if John were executed, including the people John has helped and will help in the future if he is allowed to serve a life without parole sentence.”[185]  Similarly, the guards from the St. Louis County jail became emotional when talking about John’s imminent execution date, describing the pain they would feel if Mr. Winfield were executed and pleading with the Governor for mercy.[186]

The corrections officers’ and staffs’ support of John cannot be understated—they risked their jobs and the financial viability of their families to support John in asking for clemency. Indeed, the day after T.C. informed the prison staff that he had met with John’s lawyer, he was placed under investigation for “overfamiliarity” and interviewed by an investigator for the Department of Corrections. A lawsuit was brought against the Department of Corrections due to its obstruction of John’s clemency investigation, for which he is allowed to develop present evidence of redemption and request mercy, and less than a week before John’s execution, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ordered a stay of execution on this basis.[187] The stay was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel,[188] but on the eve of John’s execution, the stay was vacated by the Eighth Circuit en banc in a split decision, leaving only a few hours for John to say his goodbyes.

Despite the State of Missouri’s harassment of the corrections officers, perhaps no one has suffered more from John’s execution than his daughter, Symone. Although John shot her mother, she forgave him and stood by his side up until his execution. She poignantly stated: “I know the gravity of this tragedy. I love my mother dearly, and have a relationship with her as well. I know how this has affected her and I am not excusing what happened. But my dad is a good man and he does not deserve to be executed.”[189]

Before John’s execution, Symone met with both the Governor and the Board of Parole and Probation. Sitting in a conference room on Missouri’s Capitol, Symone begged the Governor to spare her father’s life:

For 16 years, no one outside of my family asked me how I felt about my dad’s sentence. I thought that nobody cared about me and the pain that I would feel if my dad were executed. I hope that is not true. I am asking now, with my whole heart, that my dad’s sentence be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.[190]

If her father were executed, she explained, she “would carry that loss forever.”[191] As she reminded the Governor, “I never did anything to deserve this. I love my dad unconditionally and need him in my life.”[192]

Symone also participated in several interviews with the press, pleading for mercy. She was frequently asked whether she would attend the execution and watch as her father was killed, something that she has been forced to think about since she was a young girl.[193] “No child should have to grapple with these questions,” Symone said, but she would support her father to the end.[194] On the night of the execution, Symone was scheduled to be a witness, along with her grandmother. At the last minute, however, Symone realized that she could not watch the State kill her father. She feared that she would never survive intact—it would devastate her completely.

When John received the news that he would not be able to see his daughter one last time, he understood. He said that he only wanted the best for her. And when John learned that his stay had been vacated and his appeals exhausted, he expressed no anger. Instead, he told his attorneys that he loved them and asked them to look after his family. And then, with some of the last words he spoke, he said that all he wanted for the victims’ family was peace.

In the execution chamber, John mouthed the words “I love you” to his mother before the execution drugs were injected. The next day, his body was cremated by a funeral home that contracts with the prison and his ashes placed in a black plastic box with his name taped to the top, to be delivered to his mother and daughter.


Despite the evidence of redemption and pleas from guards, family members, and prisoners, the state of Missouri executed John Winfield and Dennis Skillicorn. In both cases, the person responsible for making the clemency decision was the same man responsible for prosecuting their appeals. As former Missouri Attorney General, Jeremiah Nixon litigated for a decade to ensure the execution of both men.[195] As governor, he was then tasked with considering their requests for mercy. Because clemency was the only mechanism for consideration of post-conviction evidence, neither man received the opportunity for meaningful consideration of their redemption. Though the State of Missouri ignored all pleas for mercy, in the eyes of their families and communities, including the guards, staff, and prisoners, Dennis and John were redeemed.



[1] See Hererra v. Collins, 503 U.S. 390 (1993).

[2] Id.

[3] See DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER, See also Adam C. Ortiz, Clemency and Consequences: State Governors and the Impact of Granting Clemency to Death-Row Inmates, Report of ABA SEC. CRIM. JUST. July 2002. Available at

[4] Hererra v. Collins, 503 U.S. at 868. (“It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible. But history is replete with examples of wrongfully convicted persons who have been pardoned in the wake of after discovered evidence establishing their innocence.”)


[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] In Missouri, Department of Corrections does not permit defendants to make last statements at the time of their execution. Instead, the DOC permits defendants to write personal statements prior to the execution, which the DOC spokesperson reads. Prisoners frequently mouth final words to their loved ones before the prison closes the curtains and begins the execution procedure.

[10] Death-Row Prisoners, Voicing Our Sorrow, COMPASSION (March, 2007), at 2,

[11] All referenced material in this note is on file with the authors.   Staff and prison witnesses are identified by initial. Those not identified in the public record are not included herein in order to protect their identity.


[12] Death-Row Prisoners, COMPASSION, Vol. 1, Issue 5, By 2013, according to the Department of Justice, that number had nearly doubled, rising to 2.7 million.


[13] Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 341-42 (Sept. 22, 2009).


[14] Video transcript of interview with R.S., former PCC correctional officer and prison staff member, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 360-69 (Sept. 22, 2009) (Entire video and transcript are on file with the author), available at and


[15] Id.


[16] Id.


[17] Id.


[18] Id.

[19] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14.


[20] Id.


[21] Death-Row Prisoners, supra note 12, at Issue 2.


[22] Id.


[23] Death-Row Prisoners, supra note 12, at Issue 1.


[24] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14.


[25] See

[26] Death-Row Prisoners, A World That Revolves Around Concenience, COMPASSION (Sept., 2007), at 2,


[27] Death-Row Prisoners, Time For Communication, COMPASSION (Sept., 2006), at 2,


[28] Death-Row Prisoners, supra note 12, at Vol. 4, Issue 21.


[29] Id. at Vol. 3, Issue 13.


[30] Death-Row Prisoners, To Rise Above, COMPASSION (May, 2005), at 2,; Vol. 5, Issue 22 available at; Vol. 4, Issue 19 available at; Vol. 4, Issue 16 available at; Vol. 3, Issue 15 available at


[31]Dennis Skillicorn et al., Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow’s Dreams, Introduction (2007), available at


[32] Dennis Skillicorn et al., Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow’s Dream, Don’t Sell Your Dreams (2007), available at


[33] Death-Row Prisoners, supra note 12, at Vol. 3, Issue 12.


[34] Letter from Pamela Maybaugh, Tuscarawas Attention Center, New Philadelphia Ohio.


[35] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14.


[36] Id.


[37] Written Declaration of S.R., Local Coordinator for the SAFE project to Jennifer Merrigan, Aug. 4, 2008, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 324-25 (Sept. 22, 2009) (On file with author).


[38] Id.


[39] Written Declaration of Rashid Junaid in support of clemency, Sept. 15, 2008, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at (Sept. 22, 2009) (On file with author).


[40] Written Declaration of Archie Hill in support of clemency, Sept. 23, 2008 (On file with author).


[41] Written Declaration of Dwayne Kraus in support of clemency, Oct. 20, 2008 (On file with author).


[42] Written Declaration of Martez Shadwick in support of clemency, Dec. 1, 2008 (On file with author).


[43] Written Declaration of Jeffery Ferguson in support of clemency, Oct. 20, 2008 (On file with author).


[44] Written Declaration of Brady King in support of clemency, Nov. 18, 2008 (On file with author).


[45] Letter from Mary Mifflin to Governor Matt Blunt (On file with author).


[46] Written Declaration of Allen Nicklasson in support of clemency, July 24, 2008, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 343 (Sept. 22, 2009) (On file with author).


[47] Shadwick Declaration, supra note 42.


[48] Written Declaration of former prison chaplain H.C. in support of clemency, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 357 (Sept. 22, 2009) (On file with author).


[49] Written Declaration of former corrections case worker N.F. in support of clemency, Oct. 14, 2008 (On file with author); Declaration of Randy Kneese in support of clemency, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 329-31, Sept. 22, 2009 (On file with author); Written Declaration of Charles Forrester (On file with author); Written Declaration of Michael Huber (On file with author).


[50] Written Declaration of Charles Armentrout in support of clemency, Nov. 12, 2008 (On file with author).


[51] Written Declaration of Edward Anderson in support of clemency, Nov. 13, 2008 (On file with author).


[52] Written Declaration of Willie Rimpson in support of clemency, Nov. 24, 2008 (On file with author).


[53] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14; See also Written Declaration of Daniel Salkill in support of clemency, Oct. 20, 2008 (On file with author) (“The cops in here even respect Dennis. Guards will come to Dennis if there is a problem with another inmate and they don’t know what to do.”); Written Declaration of Rico Elliot in support of clemency, Nov. 12, 2008 (On file with author) (“I have seen him talk people out of fighting.”); Written Declaration of Marvin Chaney in support of clemency, Oct. 22, 2008 (On file with author); Written Declaration of Robert Moeller in support of clemency, Oct. 22, 2008 (On file with author).

[54] Kneese Declaration, supra note 49.


[55] Written Declaration of David Campbell in support of clemency, Oct. 23, 2008, (On file with author).


[56] Written Declaration of Kenny Thompson in support of clemency, Oct. 22, 2008 (On file with author) (“Dennis will talk the inmates out of fighting and calm them down. This is very rare. I was so angry once that I was at the point of fighting and Dennis talked me out of it.”).


[57] Written Declaration of Robert Bransford in support of clemency, Nov. 13, 2008 (On file with author).


[58] Written Declaration of retired correctional officer N.T. in support of clemency, Aug. 14, 2008, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 321-22 (Sept. 22, 2009); H.C. Declaration, supra note 48; Written Declaration of retired prison chaplain P.P. in support of clemency, Aug. 12, 2008, Skillicorn et al v. Nixon, 09-4071, W.D. Mo., D.E. 12, Exhibit 7 at 323 (Sept. 22, 2009) (On file with author).


[59] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14.


[60] Written Declaration of form corrections officer T.C. in support of clemency, Oct. 13, 2008 (On file with author).


[61] H.C. Declaration, supra note 48.


[62] Id.


[63] R.S. video transcript, supra note 14.

[64] A positive action community houses inmates who have gone for long periods without a violation and allows them additional privileges, such as more time out of their cell.


[65] Written declaration of James Fields in support of clemency, June 6, 2014 (On file with author).


[66] Inmate petition.


[67] Written declaration of Michael Green in support of clemency, Mar. 4, 2014, at 2 (“Johnny’s family was everything to him.”) (On file with author); Written declaration of Patrick Akers in support of clemency, Mar. 9, 2014, at 3 (“Johnny made sure that his mom, Carmel, and the kids were taken care of.”) (On file with author); Written declaration of John Sutherland in support of clemency, May 28, 2014, at 1 (“From a young age, Johnny was the man of the house…Johnny’s focus was on his family.”) (On file with author); Written declaration of Kevin Kincaid in support of clemency, June 12, 2014, at 1 (“Since he was a teenager, Johnny has taken care of his family, so he had to grow up earlier than most kids.”) (On file with author); Written Declaration of Evelyn Winfield in support of clemency, May 28, 2014, at 2 (“John puts his family first. When our family grew and John’s girlfriend and her family moved in, he renovated the basement in the house. Even when finances were tight, John never turned anyone away.”) (On file with author); Written declaration of Symone Winfield in support of clemency, at 1 (“My dad has always been the provider. When I was little, he made sure that my family and I wanted for nothing.”) (On file with author); Written declaration of Christopher Mayberry in support of clemency, at 3 (“No matter what the financial circumstances, however, Johnny prioritized his family. There was nothing more important to him.”) (On file with author).


[68] Mayberry declaration, at 2-3 (“Johnny’s family continued to grow when his girlfriend’s sister and grandmother also moved in with Johnny and his family. At that point, nine people lived in the same house.”); Sutherland declaration, at 1-2 (“Johnny was taking care of his kids, his mom, his grandma, his girlfriend Carmel, his girlfriend’s sister and grandmother, and everyone else who came through his house in need of food and a roof over their head.”); Green declaration, at 3 (“Once he met Carmel, Johnny took care of her, their kids, and Carmel’s family as well.”); Symone Winfield declaration, at 1 (“We had a full house with family members from both my mom and my dad’s side, including my mom, my dad, my grandma Evelyn, my great-grandma Delores, my dad’s brother, my mom’s grandma and my mom’s sister.”); Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, at 74, Winfield v. Roper, No. 4:03cv192-DJS, 74, (Nov. 5, 2003) (“At a point several months before the shootings, petitioner was the only individual in the household who worked outside the home, supporting not only his mother and grandmother, but also his brother, Carmelita Donald, Carmelita’s two children, and Melody Donald.”); See Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition at 74-80 (citation omitted).


[69] Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition at 62; Evelyn Winfield Declaration, at 2 (“[S]he tried to kill herself again. She had to be hospitalized and it tore John apart because he was so close with his grandma.”)


[70] Evelyn Winfield declaration, at 2.


[71] Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition, supra note 68, at 62, 75.

[72] Evelyn Winfield declaration, supra note 67, at 2; Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition at 61-62.


[73] Evelyn Winfield declaration, at 2-3; Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition at 62.


[74] Evelyn Winfield declaration, at 2 (“For years, I didn’t even know that Mykale was not John’s biological son because John was so proud of him and showed off his son to everyone who walked by.”); Mayberry declaration, supra note 67, at 2 (Although Mykale was not Johnny’s biological son, Johnny raised the baby as his own.”); Sutherland declaration, supra note 67 (“I did not know that Johnny was not Mykale’s biological father for many years. Johnny was so happy when he and Carmel brought Mykale home from the hospital…”).


[75] Evelyn Winfield declaration, at 2 (“John’s children were everything to him. He kept his children with him, played with them, took them places, changed diapers, and spent his free time at home with the family.”); Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67, at 1 (“[M]y dad loved to spend time with my brother and me.”); Sutherland declaration, at 1 (“Johnny was so proud of his faimly and he and I had so much fun with the kids.”); Green declaration, supra note 67, at 2 (“Johnny was also great with his kids. He would do anything for them. He used to build toys for the kids.”)


[76] Evelyn Winfield declaration, at 3 (“John was under a tremendous amount of stress and all of the tragedies took an enormous emotional toll on him…he was doing everything he could to take care of all of us.”); Sutherland declaration, at 2 (“A few months before all this happened, Johnny was under so much stress…Johnny was taking care of all of them, as well as the kids, and supporting the entire household.”); Green declaration, at 3 (“As Johnny took on the responsibility of taking care of more and more people, the stress took its toll on him mentally.”)



[77] Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition, supra note 68, at 63.


[78] Id. 

[79] Id. 

[80] Written Declaration of Linda Bates in support of clemency, June 12, 2014, at 1 (explaining that the defense attorneys “were embroiled in a bitter feud that ended their partnership”) (On file with author).


[81] Shadwick Declaration, supra note 42 (“…John regrets what happened and he grieves over it a lot.”); Written declaration of Michael White in support of clemency, June 1, 2014 (“John has demonstrated his remorse by making a one-hundred eighty degree turn and focusing on making the rest of his life valuable and important and count for something.”) (On file with author).



[82] T.C. declaration, supra note 60.


[83] Written declaration of Lt. Willis in support of clemency (On file with author); Written declaration of St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1, in support of clemency (On file with author).


[84] St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration.


[85] Id.


[86] Id.


[87] Id.


[88] Written declaration of H.W. in support of clemency (On file with author); St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer, in support of clemency, Mar. 8, 2014 (On file with author); St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration.


[89] H.W. declaration.


[90] Id.


[91] Id. at 2 (“I trusted Johnny.”); See St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration, supra note 83.


[92] St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration.


[93] Id.


[94] Id.


[95] Id.


[96] Id.


[97] St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration.


[98] This corrections officer, though named in the clemency petition, asked that his name not be used for other purposes, as he fears the jail may retaliate against him for supporting a prisoner.


[99] St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1, supra note 83.


[100] Id.


[101] H.W. declaration, supra note 88; St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration.


[102] H.W. declaration, at 3; St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration, at 4.


[103] T.C. declaration, supra note 60; Written declaration of PCC Staff Member in support of clemency (On file with author).


[104] Id.


[105] H.W. declaration, supra note 88, at 3; St. Louis County Jail Corrections Officer #1 declaration, supra note 83, at 3; T.C. declaration, supra note 60.


[106] T.C. Declaration.


[107] Id.


[108] Id.


[109] Id.


[110] Id.


[111] T.C. declaration.


[112] Id.


[113] Id. 

[114] Id.


[115] Id.


[116] T.C. Declaration.


[117] Id.


[118] Shadwick Declaration, supra note 42.


[119] Declaration of Christopher Santillan in support of clemency, June 1, 2014 (On file with author).


[120] Id.


[121] Id.


[122] Id.


[123] Shadwick declaration, supra note 42.


[124] Id.


[125] Id.


[126] Id.


[127] Written declaration of Leonard Taylor in support of clemency, May 16, 2014 (On file with author).


[128] Id.


[129] Id.


[130] Id.


[131] Id.


[132] Fields declaration, supra note 65.


[133] Id.


[134] Id.


[135] Id.


[136] Id.


[137] Fields declaration.


[138] Id.


[139] Id.


[140] Id.


[141] Id.


[142] Fields declaration.


[143] Id.


[144] Taylor declaration, supra note 127.


[145] Id.


[146] Id.


[147] Id.


[148] Id.


[149] Taylor declaration.


[150] Id.


[151] Id.


[152] Written declaration of Willie Lucket in support of clemency, June 6, 2014 (On file with author).


[153] Id.


[154] Id.


[155] Santillian declaration, supra note 119.


[156] Written declaration of William Weaver, in support of clemency, June 12, 2014 (On file with author).


[157] White declaration, supra note 81.


[158] Id.


[159] Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67.


[160] Evelyn Winfield declaration, supra note 67; Symone Winfield declaration.


[161] Symone Winfield declaration.


[162] Id.


[163] Id.

[164] Id.


[165] Id.


[166] Symone Winfield declaration.


[167] Weaver declaration, supra note 156; Taylor declaration, supra note 127, at 3.


[168] Taylor declaration, at 3.


[169] Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67.


[170] Id.


[171] Id.


[172] Id.


[173] Id.


[174] Symone Winfield declaration.


[175] Id.


[176] Fields declaration, supra note 65.


[177] Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67.


[178] Weaver declaration, supra note 156.


[179] Id.


[180] Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67.


[181] Id.


[182] Id.


[183] Id. at 2.


[184] Evelyn Winfield declaration, supra note 67, at 3.


[185] T.C. declaration, supra note 60.


[186] H.W. declaration, supra note 88, at 3; St. Louis County Jail Correction Officer #1 declaration, supra note 83, at 4.


[187] Winfield, 26 F. Supp. 3d at 891.


[188] Steele v. Winfield, 756 F.3d 582, 583 (8th Cir. 2014), vacated on reh’g en banc 755 F.3d 629 (8th Cir. 2014).


[189] Symone Winfield declaration, supra note 67, at 2.


[190] Id.


[191] Id.


[192] Id.


[193] Id.


[194] Symone Winfield declaration, at 2.

[195] In October 2008, less than 7 months before Governor Nixon denied clemency for Dennis Skillicorn, a spokesperson for then Attorney General Nixon stated that Nixon would “continue to oppose any and all attempts by Mr. Skillicorn to avoid the sentence he received in a Missouri courtroom.” Donna Walter, U.S. S. Ct. Refuses Appeal from Death Row Inmate, Daily Record and Kansas City Daily News Press, (Oct. 21, 2008).

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