Triple-killer John Middleton died peacefully at 7:06 p.m. yesterday evening, strapped to a gurney in the Bonne Terre prison’s death chamber after a frantic two-day effort by his attorneys to save his life.     Middleton was sentenced to death in 1997, two years after he murdered Alfred Pinegar.  He later was sentenced to death for the murders  of Randy Hamilton and Stacey Hodge, also in 1995.

“You are killing an innocent man,” he said in his last statement.

Middleton barely moved as the lethal injection of pentobarbital was administered, turning his head slightly to the right after looking toward three members of his family when the curtains on the execution chambers windows were opened.  He showed no signs of distress or discomfort.

“Nineteen years seems like a long time to wait for justice,” said Michael Black, an uncle of Alfred Pinegar, after the execution, “It’s a lifetime for a little girl who had to grow up without her father…Our family has waited all this time, never forgetting that our son, grandson, uncle, nephew, father and best friend is not with us.”

Albert Pinegar

Albert Pinegar

“In those 19 years, we, as a family, have had to live with the thoughts of John Middleton being able to enjoy a meal, the smell of spring in the air or any number of simple pleasures,” he continued, “These are things that Alfred, Randy and Stacey cannot enjoy . These simple things we cannot share with Alfred.”

Black said he can go to Pinegar’s grave “and tell him it’s done now; he has finally been punished for his crimes.”

Middleton, a methamphetamine user and dealer in northwest Missouri, murdered the three, considering them “snitches” who had informed law enforcement about his meth dealings.

His attorneys repeatedly filed appeals in the last few days, asserting that Middleton was mentally ill and delusional, therefore exempt from execution under federal standards that prohibit the execution of the mentally ill.  They also claimed a new witness, never identified, had stepped forward who could attest to Middleton’s innocence.

Although federal District Judge Catherine Perry twice issued stays, saying Middleton’s claims of insanity should be given proper judicial review, the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned both of her stays.  The United States Supreme Court also rejected requests for stays.

The final hope for a stay, an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, was rejected about 5 p.m. in a withering opinion by a divided court (4-3) holding that a  doctor’s opinion about Middleton’s mental condition not  “even approaches a substantial threshold showing that Middleton suffers from…delusions”.  Instead, said the court, Middleton “plainly understands he is to be executed as punishment because he was found guilty of murdering his three victims; he simply believes “his chances of escaping execution.”

Events moved quickly after that decision.

According to a Corrections Department timeline, Governor Nixon denied clemency at 6:08.  The department was notified two minutes later than all pending petitions had been denied by the U. S. Supreme Court.   The rest of the timeline:

6:21–Middleton was moved to the execution chamber.

6:24–Execution warrant read to Middleton

6:37–Witnesses begin to move into their viewing positions.

6:52–U. S. Supreme Court denies an additional stay application

6:55–Prison officials get word of the action.

6:56–Attorney General Chris Koster gives go-ahead.

6:57–Governor Nixon says execution can proceed.

6:58–Injection of five grams of Pentobarbital begins.

7:00–Five minute timer set.

7:05–Medical personnel enter the chamber to look for vital signs

7:06–Middleton pronounced dead.

AUDIO: Mike Black 2:42