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Nixon commutes Edwards' death sentence to life without parole

Missouri Department of Corrections

A Missouri death row inmate scheduled for execution next week has been spared, as Gov. Jay Nixon has commuted his sentence to life without parole.

Kimber Edwards was sentenced to death for the 2000 murder of his ex-girlfriend Kimberly Cantrell in St. Louis County.

Prosecutors at the time argued that Edwards hired an acquaintance, Orthell Wilson, to kill Cantrell in a murder-for-hire plot. But advocates for Edwards, including Rita Linhardt of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, say he's innocent.

"Orthell Wilson has freely admitted his sole responsibility for committing this murder, (and he signed) an affidavit ... stating that Edwards is totally innocent of this crime," Linhardt said. "Wilson admits that he was in a secret romantic relationship with Ms. Cantrell and killed her during an argument."

Wilson was sentenced to life without parole in a plea deal with prosecutors after implicating Edwards.

Edwards was scheduled to die by lethal injection next week at Bonne Terre prison.

In a brief statement, Nixon said he believes Edwards is guilty of murder, but did not give any reason for his decision to commute his sentence to life without parole:

"After a thorough review of the facts surrounding the murder of Kimberly Cantrell, I am convinced the evidence supports the jury's decision to convict Kimber Edwards of first-degree murder. At the same time, however, I am using my authority under the Missouri Constitution to commute Edwards' sentence to life without the possibility of parole. This is a step not taken lightly, and only after significant consideration of the totality of the circumstances. With this decision, Kimber Edwards will remain in prison for the remainder of his life for this murder."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.