BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A man who spent nearly 25 years on Missouri’s death row was executed Tuesday for the kidnapping, rape and fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old girl who was waiting for a school bus.
Roderick Nunley became the sixth inmate put to death in Missouri this year. During the lethal injection, the 50-year-old inmate’s breathing became labored for a few seconds. He briefly opened his mouth before becoming still.
He was pronounced dead at 9:09 p.m. CDT.
“Despite openly admitting his guilt to the court, it has taken 25 years to get him to the execution chamber,” Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement afterward. “Nunley’s case offers a textbook example showing why society is so frustrated with a system that has become too cumbersome.”
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Of 20 executions nationally in 2015, all but four have been in Missouri and Texas. Nunley’s execution was delayed by last-minute appeals from attorneys for death penalty opponents in Missouri questioning the competence of Nunley’s lawyer.
Nunley made no final statement and no one witnessed his punishment on his behalf, although he visited earlier in the day with his daughter and a spiritual adviser.
Robert Harrison, the father of the girl killed, watched the execution along with the victim’s uncle and two family friends.
The disappearance and death of Ann Harrison haunted the Kansas City area in March 1989. She was waiting for a school bus on her driveway, 20 yards from her front door, when Nunley and Michael Taylor drove by in a stolen car and made the spur-of-the-moment decision to abduct her.
Her body was found in the trunk of the abandoned car days later.
Both men were sentenced to death in 1991. Taylor was executed last year.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday denied a clemency request for Nunley, filed by death penalty opponents, asserting that racial bias played a role in the case because a prosecutor refused a plea deal that would have given Nunley life in prison without parole. Nunley was black, as was Taylor, while the victim was white.
The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, denied several appeals from Nunley’s attorney, including one claiming that the death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
According to prosecutors, Nunley and Taylor binged on cocaine and stole a car in the pre-dawn hours of March 22, 1989. At one point, a police officer from neighboring Lee’s Summit chased the car but was called off by a supervisor when the stolen vehicle crossed into Kansas City.
Later that morning, the men were driving around Kansas City when they saw Ann, her school books and flute on the ground beside her.
“They were just cruising and she’s out at the driveway waiting for the school bus,” retired Kansas City detective Pete Edlund recalled Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.
The girl’s mother had stepped inside to get a younger daughter ready for school. When she heard the bus, she looked outside. The books and flute were still there, but Ann was gone.
“She knew something was wrong,” Edlund said.
Taylor and Nunley had grabbed the girl and taken her to Nunley’s mother’s home. She was raped and sodomized, then stabbed repeatedly in the stomach and neck.
Taylor and Nunley put the girl’s body in the trunk of the stolen car, then abandoned the vehicle in a residential area. The body was found three days later.
Edlund said the case was cracked months later when a man in jail for robbery — and seeking a $10,000 reward in the case — turned in Taylor and Nunley. Both men confessed, and some of Ann’s hair was found in carpeting at the home where the crime occurred.
Edlund said Ann’s father was a former reserve officer with the Police Department, and her uncle was a Kansas City officer.
“To all of us, she was part of our police family,” Edlund said. “That made it even more important that we solve the case.”