On Tuesday evening, two guards at a Missouri prison clicked their flashlights off, the room darkening for a split second, and opened a set of dark blue curtains revealing the execution chamber.
The witnesses leaned forward, staring at Michael Tisius, who was lying on a gurney with a white sheet up to his face. His head was turned to the left, towards his spiritual advisor who was seated next to him.
Years of tribulation had led up to this moment.
Tisius was neglected and abused as a child by his family. When he was 19, he met Roy Vance, who convinced him to help him escape from the Randolph County jail. During the course of the plan, Tisius shot and killed two jailers on June 22, 2000. He was convicted at trial and sentenced to death.
That was followed by appeals, reversals and a resentencing hearing. Behind bars, Tisius invested in his artistic abilities, painting murals at the prison and drawing artwork to benefit a domestic violence shelter. And the community in Randolph County continued remembering the two slain deputies, Jason Acton and Leon Egley, during an annual service for fallen officers.
In March, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a warrant of execution, set to go into effect at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6.
A flurry of petitions filed by Tisius’ legal team raised questions about executing someone who was 19 years old at the time of the crime, an illiterate juror’s qualifications and Vance’s role.
Organizations from around the world urged Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to grant clemency. The courts and the governor ultimately denied the requests.
A Star reporter was one of three journalists who witnessed the execution with permission of the Missouri Department of Corrections. What follows is a chronological account of the state’s execution of Tisius.
The group is led into the warm June air to wonder what is moral, what is just. Parson said the state was delivering justice. Others saw it differently.
“Today marks another sad chapter of America’s perverse fascination with state-sanctioned homicide,” Tisius’ legal team said in a statement.
Attorneys for Tisius, in seeking to stop his execution, had argued that “late adolescents” between the ages of 18 and 21 should be spared from the death penalty because their brains are not fully developed. They pointed to the abuse Tisius had suffered and to a juror who could not read or write, a requirement by state law to sit on a jury.
They also said Tisius expressed “everlasting remorse” for his actions. At least five jurors supported commuting Tisius’ sentence to life without parole.
Several groups including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the American Bar Association and the European Union’s delegation to the U.S. supported a stay of execution. Others spoke out in opposition to the use of the death penalty in general.
Missouri is one of four states that has carried out executions this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
In his last statement, Tisius wrote:
I am holding tightly to my faith. It’s all I have left to take with me. I am sorry it had to come to this in this way. I wish I could have made things right while I was still here. I really did try to become a better man. I really tried hard to give as much as I could to as many as I could. I tried to forgive others as I wish to be forgiven. And I pray that God will forgive those who condemn me. Just as He forgave those who condemned Him. I am sorry. And not because I am at the end. But because I truly am sorry.
Eight loved ones of Acton and Egley’s attended the execution. None chose to make a statement.