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Missouri executes Brian Dorsey for murdering his cousin and her husband in 2006

Seventeen years have passed since Brian Dorsey was sent to death row at Potosi State Prison. In that time, he’s had zero infractions and served as a barber.
Courtesy of Megan Crane
Seventeen years have passed since Brian Dorsey was sent to death row at Potosi State Prison. In that time, he’s had zero infractions and served as a barber.

A diverse group of people tried to stop Dorsey’s execution, but both the courts and Gov. Mike Parson declined to halt his death sentence.

Missouri conducted its first execution of 2024 on Tuesday, putting Brian Dorsey to death by injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre.

Dorsey pleaded guilty to murdering his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Benjamin Bonnie, in 2006 at their home in New Bloomfield.

In his final statement obtained by the Kansas City Star, Dorsey said he was “truly, deeply, overwhelmingly sorry.”

“Words cannot hold the weight of my guilt and shame,” Dorsey wrote. “I still love you. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I am sorry I hurt them and you. To my family, friends, all of those that tried to prevent this, I love you! I am grateful for you. I have peace in my heart in large part because of you and I thank you.”

Right before Christmas 2006, Dorsey was seeking help to pay off drug dealers. He went to the Bonnies’ house after they offered to assist him. Dorsey then took a shotgun and killed them while their 4-year-old daughter was in the house.

There was no question that Dorsey murdered his cousin and her husband. But a number of people sought to have his execution halted, including the corrections workers who oversaw him, some of his relatives, a former Missouri Supreme Court judge and several GOP lawmakers who oppose the death penalty.

They pointed to several reasons to halt his death sentence, including the fact that lawyers who represented him were paid a flat fee and may have had a disincentive to provide a vigorous defense. They also contended that Dorsey was in a drug-induced psychosis, which could have made him ineligible for the death penalty.

And Department of Corrections officials noted that Dorsey was a model prisoner who was even trusted enough to serve as a barber — something that can only happen if an inmate stays out of trouble behind bars.

“Executing Brian Dorsey is a pointless cruelty, an exercise of the state’s power that serves no legitimate penological purpose,” said Dorsey’s attorney, Kirk Henderson. “My heart goes out to the many family members and friends who love Brian, and to the dedicated men and women of the Missouri Department of Corrections, who have seen the goodness he is committed to bringing to the world. We will miss his smile and his bear hugs. It has been my honor to know Brian and to share his story.”

While some family members called for Dorsey’s life to be spared, other relatives vigorously opposed a commutation. They said any rehabilitation didn’t make up for Dorsey causing a lifetime of trauma for those who knew and loved Sarah and Benjamin Bonnie.

Gov. Mike Parson declined to commute Dorsey’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. And the U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts to stay his execution.

"Brian Dorsey punished his loving family for helping him in a time of need,” Parson said in a statement. “His cousins invited him into their home where he was surrounded by family and friends, then gave him a place to stay. Dorsey repaid them with cruelty, inhumane violence, and murder. The pain Dorsey brought to others can never be rectified, but carrying out Dorsey’s sentence according to Missouri law and the court’s order will deliver justice and provide closure."

State Rep. Tony Lovasco, a Republican from St. Charles County who is opposed to the death penalty, said last week he understands why some of the Bonnies’ family wouldn’t find his rehabilitation in prison to be a compelling reason to spare his life.

But he added that the questions around Dorsey's legal representation and whether drug psychosis played a role in the killings are important to bring up.

“You can't expect it to resonate with the folks that were directly victimized, right? They probably don’t care all that much about someone's rehabilitation because they're still hurting. I understand that completely. I don't minimize that,” Lovasco said. “But I think it's important that we focus on the technical aspects of the case and the criminal justice system and really how this fits into public policy at large.”

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.