Castetter honored after killer executed
Sheriff, deputies visit gravesite instead of attending execution
"Deputy Sheriff No. 52 was a man who loved the simple things in life ... biscuits and gravy, the countryside, Elvis and John Wayne. He wore his badge proudly as he protected and served the people. He should never be forgotten by the people whose lives he touched. May his memory always be kept alive. I'll love you forever, your wife."
So reads the headstone of Christopher Castetter, former Barry County sheriff's deputy who was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 27, 1996.
Castetter's convicted killer and Missouri's oldest death row inmate, Cecil Clayton, 74, was put to death by lethal injection on March 17 at 9:21 p.m., and instead of traveling to witness the execution, Castetter's brothers in blue decided to spend that time with him -- at his Pilant Cemetery gravesite on Highway Y.
"I did not go to the execution," said Mick Epperly, Barry County sheriff, who was running for the office at the time of Castetter's death. "Several of us [at the sheriff's office] discussed going, but we decided we wanted to do something for Chris.
"So, we went down to his gravesite that day, and as a friend and a brother to us, we wanted to be with him and said a prayer for him there. Now that he has gotten justice, rather than driving across the state to be with Cecil, we wanted to be with Chris."
Jimmy Castetter, Chris Castetter's brother, did attend the execution and said when Clayton took his last breath, it was a relief for him and his family.
"Cecil died in a humane way and comfortable way, unlike Chris," he said. "It was a release knowing Cecil would not be walking the Earth any more, and a relief to know that we wouldn't have to deal with this any more."
Castetter said the waiting period before Clayton's eventual execution was the most difficult part.
"It was really tough not knowing if they'd prolong it or if it would be delayed," he said. "The anticipation of not knowing was the most difficult part."
Castetter said when he finally learned it would proceed, he and the family were taken into a dark room and told not to speak. A curtain was opened and Clayton was laying there, eyes closed the entire time.
"That was the moment of truth," he said. "I had read so much about people saying it's inhumane, and I was wondering what people would say about this one. I watched his breathing because that was the only way to really tell. They didn't tell us when the injection started, so I watched his breathing and saw it slow down gradually, then that was it.
"Cecil never opened his eyes, almost like he knew we were there. When he took his last breath, it was a big weight off my shoulders."
Epperly, who wore since-retired badge No. 52 before leaving his deputy position to run for sheriff, said Chris Castetter was one-of-a-kind in the uniform and at home.
"Chris was well-respected and always had a smile on his face," Epperly said. "Working at the sheriff's office, he did a really good job, and everyone thought the world of him.
"All the time I knew Chris, I just never heard any bad words about him. He was a dedicated officer and a wonderful family man."
Epperly said Castetter, who was 29 at the time of his death, had gone through the academy and was in his second year as a deputy.
"I have so much respect for his family, because I don't know what it would be like to go through losing such a great husband and father," Epperly said. "Where would Chris be now if this hadn't happened? It shouldn't have happened."
Jimmy Castetter said his brother was a simple man who loved the outdoors and even inspired him to be a firefighter.
"Chris liked the outdoors, like hunting and fishing," he said. "When we were younger, I lived in Indiana and he lived in Florida, and he loved the beach stuff. He was the one who got me interested in being a volunteer firefighter, and now it's been my career since 1990."
Public service runs in the Castetters' bloodlines, as Jimmy and Chris have another brother who is a deputy in Florida, and the pair's father was a police officer who was disabled after being shot in the line of duty.
"Public service runs in the family and Chris liked to help people," Jimmy Castetter said. "He's the type of person that if there's one sandwich left, he will give it to you no matter how hungry he is. Chris left the beach life to go to Cassville, and he loved the small-town feel and the countryside."
Clayton was convicted of killing Castetter while Castetter was answering a domestic disturbance call at a rural Barry County home. Clayton gunned down Castetter in his vehicle shortly after he arrived at the home.
Clayton's case drew extra attention because in 1972, he was involved in a sawmill accident that led to one-fifth of the frontal lobe of his brain being removed. Clayton's lawyers said the damage to his brain changed his personality and may have turned him into a killer, as well as rendered him mentally incompetent and ineligible for capital punishment.
The lawyers pressed the issue up until the time of Clayton's death. Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, Missouri Supreme Court and Gov. Jay Nixon were each denied, and the U.S. Supreme Court's late, 5-4 decision delayed the execution nearly three hours.
The state previously argued medical experts found Clayton understood why he was being executed, and his intellectual issues has to be present before he turned 18 for him to escape the punishment.
Epperly said the requests for the stay and the clemency were unfounded, as Barry County jurors and a Barry County judge made the decision.
"It's not up to the sheriff's department," he said. "The punishment was carried out by the judicial system. No one here holds a grudge against the Clayton family. Cecil decided to do what he did on that one night, he knew what he was doing and he had to pay the consequences. I hope we never have another one in Barry County."
Since Castetter's death, Highway 112, from the intersection at Highway 76 south to Highway AA, has been memorialized in his honor, per a 2007 Missouri State House bill.