Correctional Officers, Jurors, Republican Lawmakers, Family Members, Former Judge Ask Missouri Governor to Grant Brian Dorsey Clemency

By Xinhui Lin

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – A wide range of individuals and groups wrote a letter to the Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last month, asking him to “exercise executive power to grant clemency to Brian Dorsey by commuting his death sentence to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.” 

Missouri is scheduled to execute Brian Dorsey on April 9, 2024, at 6:00 pm.

According to a statement from Dorsey’s attorneys, over 70 correctional officers, including a former judge of the Missouri Supreme Court, Republican and Democrat state legislators, mental health experts, five jurors who sat for Brian’s penalty phase in 2008, family members of Dorsey’s family and victim Sarah Bonnie, all attested to Dorsey’s remorse and rehabilitation. 

According to the petition, each of these correctional officers knows Dorsey personally from their time working at Potosi Correctional Center. The former warden of the prison where Brian served time described his behavior as “extraordinary” and “remarkable.” 

According to the released statement, prior to the formal petition, the group of 72 current and former Missouri correctional officers submitted a letter to Gov. Parson on the matter of  Dorsey’s death sentence.

In the letter, the authors note, “Every one of us believes that Brian is a good guy, someone who has stayed out of trouble, never gotten himself into any situations, and been respectful of us and of his fellow inmates.

“We believe in the use of capital punishment…But we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for Brian Dorsey,” the letter reads.

As stated in the petition, in 2006, Dorsey had no history of violence when he killed Mr. and Mrs. Bonnie. The petition mentions that he had suffered from severe depression for many years, including attempted suicide. He had sought both inpatient and outpatient treatment, but he turned to self-medicating with alcohol and cocaine when treatment failed to alleviate his depression. 

When the crime was committed, he was experiencing drug-induced psychosis, said the letter, adding his court-appointed lawyers never uncovered this piece of information because they did no investigation. These attorneys were paid a flat fee, or fixed amount of payment, to represent Dorsey, according to the petition.

And, said the statement by Dorsey’s new lawyers, instead of having Dorsey evaluated by an expert who could have explained he was incapable of forming the intent necessary for first-degree murder, defense counsel had Dorsey plead guilty for no benefit, with the death penalty still on the table. The sentencing jury also was unaware of Dorsey’s substance use disorder and its role in the crime. 

According to the letter, several correctional officers also submitted individual letters to the governor in support of clemency for Dorsey. 

A former Missouri Supreme Court judge and former Chief Justice explains in the letter the court’s decision upholding Dorsey’s death sentence is one of the “rare cases where those of us who sit in judgment of a man convicted of capital murder got it wrong.” 

Judge Wolff said he believes the flat fee arrangement “undoubtedly influenced everything.” Another five of the jurors joined the claim that the legal system “got it wrong” and his death sentence should be commuted. 

In another letter, one officer, who observed Dorsey during his court hearings, recalls his  “struggle with the pain he caused his parents and his family.” 

Another individual writes, “Mr. Dorsey has accepted what he did and taken accountability for his crime. It is my impression that he has spent his time since then trying to do his best by being a role model to other inmates and providing a valuable service to staff.” 

“When you spend time around Brian like I have, you can tell that he has changed,” one of the officers says in a separate letter, adding, “Some inmates never change, no matter how many years they are in. But that’s not Brian… The Brian I have known for years could not hurt anyone. The Brian I know does not deserve to be executed.”

In the petition, correctional officers collectively explain Brian’s profound remorse, noting, “Brian took immediate accountability in the aftermath of his tragic crime, turning himself in and pleading guilty even without the protection of a plea deal. He continues to accept responsibility today and carries a tremendous amount of remorse and shame. Brian is exceptional in his rehabilitation, recovery, and life of service.”

The petition also mentions Dorsey has served more than a decade in the “maximum security prison” as a staff barber, cutting the hair and shaving the beards of the wardens, staff, and chaplains. This is a position of exceptional trust and respect, the petition notes. The letter from the correctional officer group calls him “a terrific barber.”

The released statement said many of his family members, even those who are related to the victims, support his clemency petition. 

While Dorsey’s crime has divided his family, these family members see the crime as “a complete aberration for the Brian they have always known and loved,” and they acknowledge to the press release that it could only have happened as a result of his mental illness and addiction.

“(G)iven who Mr. Dorsey is today and that he is not a risk if allowed to live out the rest of his life in prison, while giving back to society and providing a service to the state as the staff barber, we strongly believe that a commutation to life without the possibility of parole is now the just result,” a Republican Representative of Missouri wrote.

About The Author

Xinhui Lin is a first-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a double major in Public Affairs and Sociology on a Pre-law track. Her unwavering commitment to addressing social injustices is deeply rooted in her cultural background and her personal experiences while growing up in Shanghai, China. Xinhui keenly observed the pervasive gender and racial inequalities, the subtle yet significant discrimination against minority groups, and the everyday micro-aggressions that disenfranchised individuals face. After exploring the philosophical question regarding the intricate relationship between power, morality, and justice, Xinhui kindled her interest in the intricacies of the criminal justice system – a cornerstone of society meant to epitomize principles of justice and fairness. Her commitment to understanding and improving this system is evident in her aspirations to potentially pursue a career as an attorney, with a strong desire to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.

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