KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A panel of federal judges stayed a Missouri man's execution late Monday, a little more than a day before he was set to die.
Allen Nicklasson, 41, had been scheduled to be put to death at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing businessman Richard Drummond in 1994. But a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to stay the execution based on Nicklasson's claims of ineffective counsel.
A stay in a death row case is not unusual and doesn't mean the execution ultimately will be scuttled.
A message left late Monday by The Associated Press with Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, was not immediately returned. However, the state is expected to appeal the decision to the full appeals court.
After going nearly three years without an execution, Missouri had been preparing for its second in three weeks. The state executed racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin on Nov. 20. It was the first execution in Missouri using a single drug, pentobarbital.
Nicklasson was sentenced to die for killing Drummond, a businessman from Excelsior Springs, Mo., who in 1994 stopped to help when he saw a car stranded along Interstate 70 in eastern Missouri. Nicklasson and two others forced Drummond to drive to a secluded area, where Nicklasson killed him.
One of the other men in the car, Dennis Skillicorn, was put to death in 2009. The third, Tim DeGraffenreid, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was spared the death penalty.
Nicklasson's attorney has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene and will petition Gov. Jay Nixon for clemency, she said Monday.
The crime happened in August 1994. Nicklasson, Skillicorn and DeGraffenreid left Kansas City to buy drugs in St. Louis. They were heading back home when their 1983 Chevrolet Caprice stalled on I-70, soon after they stole guns and money from a home near Kingdom City, about 100 miles west of St. Louis.
Drummond, a technical support supervisor for AT&T, saw the stranded motorists in the late afternoon and decided to help. Nicklasson put a gun to Drummond's head and ordered him to drive west. They directed him to a secluded wooded area in western Missouri, where Nicklasson shot Drummond twice in the head. His remains were found eight days later.
Nicklasson and Skillicorn stole Drummond's car and drove to Arizona. When the vehicle broke down in the desert, they approached the home of Joseph Babcock, who was shot and killed by Nicklasson after driving the pair back to their vehicle. The victim's wife, Charlene Babcock, was killed at the couple's home.
Both men were convicted of the Arizona killings and sentenced to life in prison, then got the death penalty in Missouri. Nicklasson has been on death row since 1996.
The group Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty had planned vigils in support of Nicklasson in seven Missouri locations Tuesday night, including outside the prison in Bonne Terre where executions take place.
Rita Linhardt, board chairman for Missourian for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Nicklasson suffered from abuse and mental illness. He was institutionalized and released as a young man, even as he pleaded to stay because he felt he needed more help, Linhardt said.
He became homeless, got hooked on drugs, and his crimes escalated, Linhardt said.
``There were opportunities along the way where he could have been helped, but the state dropped the ball,'' Linhardt said.
Nicklasson grew up with a mother who was a stripper. He declined interview requests Monday, but in a 2009 interview with the AP, he recalled his mother shooting up heroin and bringing home a series of abusive boyfriends. He said he still has scars from one who burned him.
He met Skillicorn at a drug rehab center in Kansas City in 1994. Skillicorn was out of prison following a second-degree murder conviction for killing a man during a robbery. The men, along with DeGraffenreid, decided to go on the drug run, leading to the fateful meeting with Drummond.
Missouri previously used a three-drug method of executions, but changed protocols after drugmakers stopped selling the lethal drugs to prisons and corrections departments. The pentobarbital used in Missouri executions comes from an undisclosed compounding pharmacy. The Missouri Department of Corrections declines to say who makes the drug, or where.