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US man executed for raping, killing teen in 1989
Missouri executes man for 1989 kidnapping, rape, killing of teen; 5th execution in 5 months
By JIM SALTER
Associated Press
2014-03-26 02:42 PM

BONNE TERRE, Missouri (AP) -- A death-row inmate convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17-year-old girl in suburban St. Louis was executed early Wednesday in Missouri, marking the state's fifth execution in as many months.

Jeffrey Ferguson abducted Kelli Hall as she finished her shift at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles on Feb. 9, 1989. Hall's naked, frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm, and investigators determined she had been raped and strangled.

Ferguson, strapped to a hospital gurney, was animated in the moments before his midnight execution at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He made funny faces and mouthed words to relatives sitting in the observation room to ease the tension.

As the lethal drug was administered, he took a few deep breaths, then became still. The 59-year-old was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m. It wasn't immediately clear if he had offered a final statement.

In an attempt to spare his life, Ferguson's attorneys had made last-minute court appeals challenging, among other things, the state's refusal to disclose where it gets its execution drugs. Supporters said Ferguson, who expressed remorse for the crime, became deeply religious in prison, counseled inmates and helped start a prison hospice program.

"Society doesn't gain anything by his execution," Rita Linhardt of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Tuesday. "He's not the same man he was 24 years ago."

His attorney also said Ferguson was an alcoholic who blacked out the night of the murder.

But St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Ferguson's good deeds in prison didn't make up for the senseless killing of an innocent teenager. Calling the crime "unspeakable," he noted that it took several minutes for Hall to die.

"She gets abducted, abused in an unspeakable manner by this guy and then slowly murdered and dumped in a field like a bag of garbage," McCulloch said.

And the courts appeared to agree: the U.S. Supreme Court, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the governor all refused to halt the execution.

"Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered," Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Tuesday. "Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family."

"The jury that convicted Jeffrey Ferguson of Kelli's murder found that the aggravating circumstances for this crime warranted the death penalty," Nixon said in denying Ferguson's clemency request. "My decision today upholds that appropriate sentence."

Missouri switched to a one-drug execution method late last year. The state obtains the drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy that it refuses to name.

Ferguson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, had argued that the state's secretive process prohibited the public from knowing exactly how the drug was made and whether it could, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, cause pain and suffering for the inmate.

The same drug also was used in the state's four previous lethal injections, and the inmates showed no outward signs of distress during the execution process.

Missouri executed just two men between 2005 and November. But after the state switched from a three-drug execution method to a single-drug protocol last year, executions resumed.

Although critics have raised concerns about the drug and the secretive ways Missouri obtains and uses it to kill inmates, more executions are likely. On Friday, the Missouri Supreme Court set an April 23 execution date for William Rousan, who killed a St. Francois County couple, both in their 60s, in 1993.

Experts say as many as 20 of Missouri's 41 death row inmates have exhausted appeals and could also face execution dates soon, perhaps making 2014 the most prolific year ever for executions in the state. Missouri executed nine men in 1999, the most-ever in a single calendar year.

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