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Missouri prison worker intimidated from writing clemency letter

A Missouri prison employee who worked for years as the director of the prison laundry spent many of those years working alongside a Missouri death row inmate whose date with the executioner was set for this month. The employee was approached one weekend in May at his home by the inmate's attorney, who asked him about his experiences supervising the condemned man.

The prison employee gave his honest opinion, stating that the death row inmate was one of the "elite one percent of all inmates" who "shows his remorse for his crime in his every day actions and the life that he chooses to live." The laundry worker went on to add that the inmate took an interest in weak and young inmates, such as those who were disabled and would make easy prey to predators with ill intent. He added that it was his belief that if the man were allowed to live, he would be a positive influence on others.

That following Monday, the laundry worker asked his supervisors what the policy was about submitting clemency support letters for inmates. He was told that corrections department policy allowed him to personally file such a letter as long as he didn't misrepresent his views as that of the department's.

One day later, an investigation was initiated against the employee for alleged "over-familiarity" with the condemned man. Adverse findings as an outcome of the investigation could have negative ramifications regarding his position with the prison. During the course of the prison's investigation, the laundry worker's employee rights were curtailed, prohibiting him from writing a letter in support of the condemned inmate to submit to Missouri Governor Nixon.

Ultimately, a federal judge ruled that the conduct of the Missouri officials was akin to intimidation, and scared the penitentiary worker from his attempt to try to save a man's life. The execution has been temporarily halted.

The U.S. District Judge concluded, "there is substantial evidence that [the prison employee] was, in fact, deterred from supporting the request for clemency," and added "it is likely a fact-finder would not believe" the state officials' argument that the investigation of the laundry worker was a mere coincidence.

Employees do not have to be terminated to have their rights abridged. A Missouri attorney who practices employment law can offer clarity in such matters.

Source: thinkprogress.org, "Missouri Officials Likely Intimidated Prison Employee Who Sought To Halt Execution, Federal Judge Finds" Nicole Flatow, Jun. 12, 2014

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