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Convicted murderer executed; First in 2000

March 23, 2000
By: DAN SHAW
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Despite questions about his mental competency, a convicted murderer was executed early this morning.

James Henry Hampton was slated to become the first person in Missouri to be executed in the year 2000. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. at the Potosi Correctional Center.

A vigil was held outside the Boone County Courthouse on Tuesday to protest the death sentence.

"State killing does not do anything for the victim's families," said Brian Maness, who was one of the two MU students in attendance. "All it does is make the cycle of violence and killing go on."

In 1995, Hampton confessed to the murders of two women. One of the victims was Frances Keaton of Warrenton.

After killing Keaton, Hampton fled to New Jersey, where he killed another woman. Shortly afterward, with authorities on the verge of capturing him, Hampton attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Instead of dying, however, Hampton was left with a large section of his brain missing, equivalent to having a frontal lobotomy, said Jonathon Pincus, a doctor who examined Hampton.

This has raised debate as to whether Hampton is capable of understanding his punishment. According to Missouri law, people unable to understand the circumstances surrounding their death cannot be executed.

The Missouri Attorney General's office said Hampton showed no reason to believe he was unfit for trial.

"We have been arguing that he is competent to stand trial and should be able to make his own decisions," said Scott Holste, a spokesman for the office.

However, Missouri's Coalition Against the Death Penalty filed an application for clemency Monday, asking Gov. Mel Carnahan to grant a stay so an investigation into Hampton's competency could be conducted.

"We believe there is a real issue whether Mr. Hampton fully realizes the implications of his actions," said Rita Linhardt, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

But Jerry Nachtigal, a spokesman for Carnahan, said the state has conducted several inquiries into Hampton's mental state, none of which found him to be incompetent.

Pincus said Hampton's refusal to pursue an appeal in federal court and his waiver of attorney rights demonstrates he is not capable of sound judgment.

"I can't think of one single aspect of life where this guy is functionally normal," Pincus said.