Missouri's oldest death-row inmate was executed yesterday after the US Supreme Court and the state's governor declined to spare the 74-year-old who attorneys said had a diminished mental capacity because of a brain injury from a 1972 sawmill accident. Cecil Clayton, who fatally shot a sheriff's deputy in 1996, was put to death by lethal injection after Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the nation's high court turned aside appeals claiming Clayton was mentally incompetent. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, already had declined to intervene, with the court's majority concluding last weekend there was no evidence Clayton wasn't capable of understanding his circumstances. The US Supreme Court was also divided, with four judges saying they would have granted a stay.
In their 11th-hour appeals, Clayton's attorneys argued that his deteriorating mental health left him convinced his conviction was a plot against him and that God would rescue him from a death sentence at the last minute, "after which time he will travel the country playing the piano and preaching the gospel." In his final statement before the injection began, Clayton said only, "They brought me up here to execute me." He was pronounced dead after eight minutes. Clayton also suffered from dementia, according to his lawyers, who say executing him without "a hearing to determine his competency violated the Constitution, Missouri law, and basic human dignity." Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement that Clayton "paid the ultimate price for his terrible crime." (Read more execution stories.)