A Missouri man who killed a couple during a robbery at their rural home more than a quarter of a century ago was put to death Tuesday, becoming just the fifth person executed in the United States this year.
Carman Deck, 56, died by injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. His fate was sealed a day earlier when neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor Republican Gov. Mike Parson stepped in to halt the execution. Deck’s death sentence was overturned three times before for procedural issues.
Just four other people have been executed in the U.S. in 2022 — Donald Anthony Grant and Gilbert Ray Postelle in Oklahoma, Matthew Reeves in Alabama and Carl Wayne Buntion last month in Texas. Eleven people were executed in the U.S. last year, the fewest since 1988.
Court records show that Deck, of the St. Louis area, was a friend of the grandson of James and Zelma Long in De Soto, about 45 miles southwest of St. Louis. He knew the couple, in their late 60s, kept a safe in their home.
In July 1996, Deck and his sister stopped at the home under the guise of asking directions. Deck wasn’t surprised the couple let them in.
“They’re country folks,” Deck told a detective, according to court records. “They always do.”
Once inside, Deck pulled a gun from his waistband. At Deck’s command, Zelma Long opened the safe and removed jewelry, then got $200 from her purse and more money hidden in a canister.
Deck ordered the couple to lie on their stomachs on their bed. Court records said Deck stood there for 10 minutes deciding what to do, then shot James Long twice in the head before doing the same thing to Zelma Long.
A tip alerted police to Deck, and he was arrested later that night outside his sister’s apartment building in St. Louis County. The decorative tin canister from the Long home was on the floorboard of his car.
Prosecutors said Deck later gave a full account of the killings in oral, written and audiotaped statements. He was sentenced to death in 1998, but the Missouri Supreme Court tossed the sentence due to errors by Deck’s trial lawyer.
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out his second sentence in 2005, citing the prejudice caused by Deck being shackled in front of the sentencing jury.
He was sentenced to death for a third time in 2008. Nine years later, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry determined that “substantial” evidence arguing against the death penalty in Deck’s first two penalty phases was unavailable for the third because witnesses had died, couldn’t be found or declined to cooperate.
In October 2020, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restored the death penalty, ruling that Deck should have raised his concern first in state court, not federal court. Appeals of that ruling were unsuccessful.
The clemency petition on behalf of Deck cited abuse he suffered as a child, including beatings that left welts and sexual abuse. It said he and his siblings often were left alone without food.
The number of executions in the U.S. has declined significantly since peaking at 98 in 1998. The drop has coincided with declining support, falling from a high of 80% in 1994 to 54% in 2021 according to Gallup polls. Since the mid-1990s, opposition has risen from under 20% to around 45%.
Use of the death penalty has become concentrated mostly in a few Southern and Plains states. Last year, Texas executed three inmates, Oklahoma executed two, and one each were put to death in Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri. Three federal inmates were executed in January 2021, toward the end of President Donald Trump’s administration.
On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee paused executions in his state for the rest of the year to enable a review of lethal injection procedures after a testing oversight forced the state to call off the execution of Oscar Smith an hour before he was to die on April 21.