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Friday, November 25, 2022

Jeffrey Ferguson's One-Drug Execution

      Several years ago anti-capital punishment activists and death house lawyers began making a fuss over the fact that several states had recently executed condemned prisoners with a single toxic drug, pentobarbital. In the past, executioners used a three-drug cocktail. Because the other two drugs were manufactured in countries that opposed the death penalty, these chemicals were no long available for this purpose in the U.S. Since the rope, the electric chair, the firing squad and the gas chamber were no longer execution options, states that still executed perpetrators of the most heinous murders had no choice but to make do with pentobarbital. This fact enraged anti-capital punishment advocates who considered the one-drug send-off as cruel and unusual punishment. But this was nothing new. Capital punishment opponents object to the death penalty, period. They would complain if these ruthless, cold blooded killers were tickled to death.

     In Missouri, when judges and the governor were confronted with the choice of executing a prisoner with pentobarbital or commuting his sentence to life, they chose the deadly dose. This was not good news for Jeffrey Ferguson, a 59-year-old kidnapper, rapist and murderer who had been living on Missouri's death row for nineteen years.

     At eleven o'clock on the night of February 10, 1989, in St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, 34-year-old Jeffrey Ferguson and his friend Kenneth Ousley pulled into a Shell gas station not far from Interstate 70. Across the street at the Mobile station a 17-year-old employee named Kelli Hall was out front checking the fuel level in one of the station's underground gas tanks. The teenager caught Ferguson's eye.

     Ferguson, with Ousley in his Chevrolet Blazer, pulled into the Mobile station. Ferguson got out of his SUV, approached the girl and ordered her at gunpoint into the vehicle. The two men, with the girl in the backseat, drove off with the intention of raping and killing her.

     In a remote area a few miles from St. Charles, Ferguson and Ousley tortured, raped then murdered Kelli Hall by shooting her in the head with a .32-caliber handgun. They dumped her body in a farmer's field in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

     Two weeks after the senseless and random lust killing, the owner of the St. Louis County farm stumbled across the victim's corpse near a shed. The teenager was naked except for a pair of socks.

     In1993 Kenneth Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole. Two years later Jefffrey Ferguson went on trial for kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder. Taking the stand on his own behalf, the sociopath claimed that he could not have participated in the rape and murder because at the time he was passed out drunk in his truck. This story contradicted the defendant's confession to detectives shortly after his arrest.

     The jury found Jeffrey Ferguson guilty as charged and recommended the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to death in December 1995. (At that time most Americans were wrapped up in the O. J. Simpson double murder case.)

     After he had been in prison for a few years, Ferguson expressed deep remorse for raping and murdering the 17-year-old girl. He also became religious, counseled inmates and helped start a prison hospice program. All the while his team of attorneys appealed his case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost all of their appeals.

     Shortly after midnight on March 26, 2014, following a burst of last-minute pleas for a stay of execution, the executioner at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri injected Ferguson with the lethal dose of pentobarbital. While several death penalty sob sisters pointed out in horror that Ferguson did not die quickly, the drug eventually did its job.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, in speaking to reporters following the execution, said that Ferguson's good deeds in prison did not make up for what he had done to that innocent teenager. The prosecutor called Ferguson's crime "unspeakable," a word Ferguson's supporters would use to describe his death.

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