October 4, 2023

Kansas Citizens protest the execution of Michael Tisius in Missouri on Tuesday

Bob Ronan doubts his protest against the execution of a Missouri prisoner on Tuesday will attract much attention.

Or make no difference at all.

Still, the 82-year-old and at least a dozen other Kansas Citians stood at the busy intersection at 39th Street and Troost through the pouring rain. They held up poster boards with the words “Death is Not Justice” and “Thou shalt not kill.”

Their hope, Ronan said, is that more people will see the “foolishness of what our state is doing” and perhaps Michael Tisius, who was executed by lethal injection around 6 p.m., will be among the last to die by the death penalty in Missouri.

Tisius, 42, died at 6:10 p.m. in an eastern Missouri jail after being convicted of the 2000 murder of two Randolph County prison guards. Tisius, who was 19 years old at the time, attempted to free a fellow inmate, Roy Vance . who is serving a life sentence.

National and international groups, including the American Bar Association and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, urged the state to halt the execution.

As an organizer of the advocacy group Missourians to abolish the death penalty, Ronan hoped the Tisius case would lead to change.

Tisius was abused at a young age. The European Union Delegation to the US wrote to Missouri Governor Mike Parson that the case was “particularly concerning” because neurological experts determined that Mr. Tisius’s severe disabilities could be “cared for” by the prisoner he tried to free. Tisius’ lawyers also argued that more recent evidence showed that the brains of people in late adolescence — between the ages of 18 and 21 — are not fully developed.

Michael Tisius sits by a mural he painted in a Missouri prison.  The 42-year-old said art was therapeutic for him.  Contributed photo

Michael Tisius sits by a mural he painted in a Missouri prison. The 42-year-old said art was therapeutic for him. Contributed photo

Ronan felt disturbed by the execution after seeing Tisius publicly repent.

“I had hope,” Ronan said. “But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.”

“The victims were law enforcement officers. And that is usually quite difficult to overcome.

Ronan has been looking at such cases for 25 years, ever since he delivered Saturday morning liturgy to Jefferson City inmates, some of whom were later put to death.

“Just being with them teaches you that they are human beings… It kind of makes you sick,” he said of those who were executed.

Others lined up on the street corner also felt compelled to act on their faith.

Douglas Kinney of St. Elizabeth Parish began protesting the death penalty a year ago after hearing about Missouri’s execution of Leonard Taylor, who maintained his innocence until his death.

“There were a lot of things that suggested he didn’t. You’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. And for a lot of people it’s just the opposite,” he said.

Access to money, lawyers and a defendant’s race appear to be able to determine whether a person lives or dies, Kinney said.

Sue Robb of St. Francis Xavier Parish was angry that Tisius was being executed for a crime he committed decades ago.

“We are not the same people we were 20 years ago or 30 years ago. We change, we grow. We shouldn’t be killed for the worst decision we made when we were younger,” she said.

She pointed out that Tisius came from an abusive household and his brain had not yet developed as a reason why he should not have been executed.

“All of that needs to be taken into consideration when handing down a sentence,” she said.

Robb went on to say she had hoped that Bishop James Johnston of the Kansas City Diocese would attend the protest, respond to their letters or express support for Tisius.

Both Kinney and Ronan agreed that they were surprised not to hear from him about the case.

The bishop did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether he had thoughts about the execution.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a personal representative of Pope Francis, previously called on Parson to commute Tisius’ sentence to life without parole.

“I think it’s the sin of apathy… That’s one of the greatest sins of our time,” Robb said.

Tisius was the third person the state has put to death this year. Fifteen men remain on death row in Missouri, with the next execution scheduled for August 1 for Johnny Johnson, who was convicted of killing a 6-year-old girl.

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