What We Do

DPLC represents individuals – and offers support to defense attorneys who represent individuals- who are sentenced to death row. We specialize in post-conviction defense and mitigation investigation, and pre-authorization mitigation investigation, as well as clemency.
DPLC also tracks all Eighth Circuit death penalty cases and publishes a newsletter of updates on capital defense within the Eighth Circuit.
Staff Attorney Joseph Luby is a recipient of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer’s prestigious Atticus Finch Award.


Darryl Burton
In 1984, Darryl Burton went to PRISON for a crime he did not commit. After 24 years in prison, Darryl Burton was exonerated. Darryl brings important perspectives and ideas to our board. We are thrilled to have him.


On January 10, 2011 Governor Nixon granted clemency to Richard Clay, commuting his sentence to life without parole. Rick was scheduled to be executed at 12:01 on January 12, 2011, despite overwhelming evidence that he is innocent and that his conviction and sentence were a result of prosecutorial misconduct by Kenny Hulshof. Two courts have found that Hulshof’s misconduct resulted in wrongful convictions of innocent defendants. Joshua Kezer was freed in 2008 after 14 years of wrongful incarceration and in December 2010, Dale Helmig, who DPLC attorneys have fought for for over a decade, finally walked out of prison a free man.
DPLC developed a video of testimony in support of clemency for Rick Clay’s defense team. That video can be found here:
Richard Clay Clemency Video Part 1
Richard Clay Clemency Video Part 2


On December 9, 2010, Governor Charlie Crist granted clemency to Suzanne Squires and ordered her to be released from prison immediately. Suzanne spent 11 years in prison after a drunk driving accident which killed her youngest daughter. Her two children, Casey and Kristen, who visited their mother in prison every Saturday for 11 years, along with Suzanne’s Church community, and the other driver, who was injured in the accident, went to Tallahassee, along with DPLC attorney, Jennifer Merrigan and former DPLC director, Terri Backhus, to ask the governor for mercy. Suzanne’s children got to spend Christmas with their mother this year for the first time in 11 years. We are all extremely grateful.
Many of those supporters speak out in a clemency video developed by DPLC staff and attorneys:
Suzanne Squires Clemency Video part 1
Suzanne Squires Clemency Video part 2
Suzanne Squires Clemency Video part 3


A Missouri court granted Dale Helmig’s bond motion he walked out of prison a free man. Attorneys and staff here have worked on Dale’s case for over a decade, along with attorneys at MIP and Dale’s lead counsel, Sean O’Brien. We are so DPLC so grateful to finally get to see Dale outside of the prison walls.


“Are you suggesting,” [Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Stith] asked the prosecutor, “that even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?”
Frank A. Jung, an assistant state attorney general, replied, “That’s correct, your honor.”
New York Times, Prosecutors See Limits to Doubt in Capital Cases, Adam Liptak, February 24, 2003.
In 2003, DPLC won the exoneration of death row prisoner Joseph Amrine, who spent over 20 years on death row for a crime that he did not commit. Mr. Amrine survived multiple execution warrants, while DPLC lawyers and staff fought tirelessly on his behalf. Mr. Amrine’s case exposed many abuses in Missouri’s criminal justice system, including a Missouri prosecutor who argued to the Missouri Supreme Court that innocent people should be executed, if they have exhausted their appeals.
To read more about Joseph Amrine and his time in prison, see Surviving Justice, America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated; Edited by Dave Eggers, Lola Vollen, Scott Turow.


“The record shows that the defendant has lived his life from a very young age in some form of custody in a Missouri institution. He has been unable to adapt to any environment in which he finds himself. The easiest course of action might be to execute him as a means of extermination or euthanasia, but there should be a limit to the process of burying our mistakes. The state must bear some responsibility for the situation which has developed. I would exercise our statutory authority by mitigating the death sentence to life in prison.”
State v. Parkus, 753 S.W.2d 881, 91 (Mo 1988)(en banc)(Blackmar, J. dissenting).
Steven Parkus was finally removed from death row in 2007 when the Missouri Supreme Court confirmed a lower court judgment finding that Mr. Parkus is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution under Atkins v. Virginia and Missouri statute. DPLC lawyers, staff, and interns had been fighting his execution since 1990.
Steve was sentenced to death in 1986 for the homicide of Mark Steffenhagen, a fellow prisoner in the Missouri State Penitentiary. The main issue at his trial was his background, character, and mental condition. The jury that sentenced Mr. Parkus to die knew very little about his traumatic childhood, including physical torture and long term sexual abuse at the hands of relatives. Nor did they hear evidence of mental retardation, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as well as schizophrenia.