Cape Girardeau man appeals death sentence based on mental disability

Friday, November 6, 2009
Andrew A. Lyons, circa 1996.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Cape Girardeau man on death row for a 1992 triple homicide is mentally disabled and should not be executed, his attorney told the Missouri Supreme Court.

Andrew A. Lyons, 52, was sentenced to two death sentences in 1996 for the shooting deaths of Evelyn Sparks and Bridgette Harris, an ex-girlfriend. He also received a seven-year sentence for the shooting death of his 11-month old son Dontay Harris.

One of the death sentences, for Evelyn Sparks, was reversed and Lyons resentenced to life in prison without parole when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that it was invalid because it was imposed by a judge. The jury in the case could not decide on a sentence and a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2002 ruled that a death sentence can only be imposed on recommendation of a jury.

In the latest appeal, attorney Frederick A. Duchadt Jr. argued Thursday that Lyons scored low on intelligence tests and is mentally disabled. Lyons's death sentence for the death of Bridgette Harris violates a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the mentally disabled cannot be executed, he said.

Circuit Judge Michael Burton of St. Louis, appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to evaluate Lyons' case, concluded that he is mentally disabled, with an IQ of in the 60s and several functional impairments.

The state contests the determination and argues that Lyons is not mentally disabled under state law.

Lyons was convicted of going to Sparks's home at 1117 S. Ranney Ave. on the morning of Sept. 20, 1992, one week after he and Bridgette Harris broke up a three-year relationship, and shot Sparks in her kitchen. He then shot Bridget Harris and Dontay Harris in the basement of the home. Two other boys in the home hid under a bed and were unharmed.

Lyons had talked about killing Harris several times in the week before the shooting. After the killings, he visited the homes of friends and confessed the crime. Police arrested him in the afternoon.

Lyons underwent several mental evaluations following a suicide attempt and was housed at Fulton State Hospital in Fulton, Mo., until he was declared fit to stand trial on Feb. 23, 1995.

Lyons is one of three men on death row for murders that took place in Cape Girardeau County. Russell Bucklew has been awaiting the death penalty since May 15, 1997, for the March 21, 1996, murder of Michael Sanders. Mark A. Gill has been on death row since April 20, 2004, for the murder of Ralph L. Lape Jr., who was taken from his rural Cape Girardeau County home in July 2002 and found shot to death and buried in a cornfield near Portageville, Mo.

Pertinent address:

1117 S. Ranney Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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