Jury sentenced American man to death penalty. But as execution approaches, doubt sets in: fear, insomnia and guilt Abroad

The murders were so brutal, so brutal, that the people of the American state of Missouri were shocked. When the jury had to pass judgment on the perpetrator(s) in 2010, the verdict fell after a few hours of deliberation: the death penalty. But on the eve of the execution of Michael Tisius, doubts strike among the then jurors. They are plagued with fear and guilt. They want the governor of Missouri to commute the death penalty to life in prison. “This man doesn’t deserve to die.”

On June 22, 2000, Michael Tisius and Tracie Bulington broke into a prison, intent on freeing his imprisoned friend Roy Vance. Tisius, then 19 years old and in possession of a gun, shot and killed two guards – Jason Acton and Leon Egley – during the failed rescue attempt and then fled.

Vance, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the murders, has since said he manipulated Tisius into carrying out the escape plan.

When a jury was asked to convict Tisius of his crimes in July 2010, the jurors deliberated for several hours before reaching a decision: it became the death penalty. His girlfriend Tracie Bulington was sentenced to life in prison.

But with Tisius’s execution rapidly approaching, which is normally scheduled for today, jurors are beginning to question the verdict they have reached.


In an unusual move, six jurors, including two deputies, have said in affidavits that they would support the proposal or at least have no objection if Missouri Governor Mike Parson commuted the sentence to life in prison. According to experts, it is very exceptional that so many jurors formally take such a position in such a criminal case.

“I believe people can change and should be given a second chance,” one juror said in an affidavit. “At this point, based on what I’ve learned since the trial took place, I wouldn’t object to Tisius’ sentence being reduced to life imprisonment,” said another juror.

Another juror, after being contacted recently by Tisius’ lawyers, said he could not read English – a requirement in Missouri to serve on a jury. A federal judge last week ordered the execution to be stayed while the allegation of illiteracy was investigated. But on Friday, an appeals court overturned that decision.

Haunted by fear

In interviews with The New York Times, two jurors said they were haunted by their experience at the time. A woman who was a deputy juror said she suffered from anxiety, insomnia and feelings of guilt. If she had been allowed to vote, she would not have chosen the death penalty, she said.

Another juror, Jason Smith, said that in the 13 years since sentencing, he has changed his mind about Tisius, who is now 42.

During the deliberations, he considered it a crucial element that Tisius had killed more than one person. The unsub had a chance to stop before he killed the second jailer, Smith recalled. Because of this, he then reasoned that the death penalty would be a just punishment.

But Smith recently learned from the perpetrator’s lawyers that doctors who examined Tisius conclude that he had a mental disability that may have affected his decision-making. Medical research has shown that the frontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed during the teenage years, Smith had learned.

I feel angry and remorseful. I feel I have wronged Michael

Jason Smith

Smith stated that he still supports the death penalty in certain cases and thinks Tisius should spend the rest of his life in prison. But he no longer believes that the man deserves to die. “I feel angry and remorseful,” he said. “I feel I have wronged Michael.”

As the execution date approaches, Smith has often thought about Tisius and the trial, he said. “I wasn’t emotionally torn by my decision,” Smith said. But it still weighed heavily on him. “I hated being involved in someone’s death,” he said.

Some jurors contacted by Tisius’s legal team confirmed their original decision that the man should be sentenced to death or refused to sign affidavits, said Keith O’Connor, a Tisius attorney.

Sister of slain jailer is horrified

For Linda Arena, the sister of the slain jailer Jason Acton, the death sentence brought relief at the time. The affidavits of then jurors supporting the commutation of the sentence have angered her. “They have heard the evidence. Tisius killed Jason and Leon.”

Arena is determined to drive Tuesday morning (local time) to Bonne Terre, Missouri, where the execution is scheduled.

I’m not sure what effect it will have on me to see someone die

Sister of murdered jailer

She plans to bring a photo of Jason and keep it close to her. But she is not sure if she will be able to look Tisius in the eye. “It will be difficult,” said Arena. “I’m not sure what effect it will have on me to see someone die.”


In a statement from prison, Tisius said he still believed there was a chance Governor Parson would commute his sentence. “My only hope is that the governor bases his decision on me, my repentance, my life and my rehabilitation over the past 23 years,” he said. “I feel like I’ve changed, I hope he can see that change in me too.”

But Parson has said he will not intervene.

Career opportunities exhausted

Appeal options have now been exhausted, reports The New York Times. A few days ago, Tisius was transferred to a prison in Bonne Terre, where other state executions have taken place. His execution is scheduled for today, Tuesday, by lethal injection.

Protesters plan to hold a vigil outside the prison.