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Missouri prepares to execute convicted killer next week; sets execution date for another

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ST. LOUIS — As Missouri prepares for its fifth execution in five months, the Missouri Supreme Court on Friday set the date for another, continuing what could be a record year for executions in the state.

Jeffrey Ferguson is scheduled to die by injection Wednesday for killing 17-year-old Kelli Hall in St. Charles County in 1989. She was raped and strangled after being abducted from a service station.

Ferguson's attorneys on Thursday filed appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that the execution be delayed until lower courts can decide if a stay should be granted. Ferguson's attorneys also claim that his conviction was based, in part, on false testimony from an FBI agent.

Attorney Jennifer Herndon described Ferguson as a model prisoner who, among other acts of kindness, helped start a hospice program for other prisoners.

"He's gone above and beyond to help staff, volunteers and other inmates," Herndon said.

On Friday, the Missouri Supreme Court set an April 23 execution date for William Rousan. He was sentenced to death for killing 62-year-old Grace Lewis, who lived on a farm near Bonne Terre, in 1993. He was also sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Grace Lewis' husband, Charles Lewis, 67.

Missouri is scheduled to again use pentobarbital in the executions despite a lawsuit filed on behalf of death row inmates, questioning the secrecy of the state's process in acquiring the drug.

State officials refuse to disclose which compounding pharmacy manufactures it.

Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma are among states that have been scrambling for supplies of execution drugs.

Major drugmakers won't sell drugs for use in executions and even compounding pharmacies are increasingly reluctant to do so.

Missouri executed Joseph Paul Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. So far this year, Herbert Smulls was put to death in January and Michael Taylor in February.

The record year for executions in Missouri was 1999, when nine men were put to death. Executions slowed considerably in the mid-2000s as courts weighed lawsuits questioning whether execution drugs could cause pain and suffering for the inmate and amount to constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually cleared the way for lethal injections, but from 2005 to 2013 Missouri executed just two men.

Court appeals for death row inmates continued even as executions were on hold. As a result, many of the 42 men on Missouri's death row have exhausted their options.

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