MISSOURI DEATH ROW EXONEREES
There have been over 185 exonerations of persons from death row in the United States since 1976. Missouri accounts for four exonerations so far. Read more about Missouri death row exonerees below.
Information below is from Death Penalty Information Center, the National Registry of Exonerations, and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
exonerated in 1999
On November 18, 1990, Clarence Richard Dexter Jr. returned to his home in Clay County, Missouri after a trip to the grocery store. He found his wife lying in a pool of blood in the garage. She had been shot four times and bashed in the head with a hammer. Dexter immediately called the police, who came to investigate the crime scene. Later that night, Dexter was arrested. He was formally charged with murder on December 5, 1990.
Evidence found at the scene of the crime indicated that the murder had occurred during a botched robbery attempt: a door was ajar, a plexi-glass window had been pushed in, and the molding by its handle was missing. However, the prosecution argued that Dexter had shot his wife, then gone to the store to create an alibi, and finding her still alive when he returned, bludgeoned her with a hammer. After a week-long trial that began in July 1991, the jury was unable to reach a decision, and the judge declared a mistrial.
In October 1991, Dexter stood trial for a second time. The state’s case focused on blood evidence found at the scene of the crime. Blood on Dexter’s jeans was consistent with the victim's blood type. Prosecutors claimed this evidence linked Dexter to the crime, though Dexter admitted that, finding his wife on the floor, he had straddled her body and turned her over. Prosecutors also introduced a blood-stained T-shirt and glove found in the garage, but neither was ever conclusively linked to Dexter. The defense attorney conducted no independent blood tests, and called no witnesses other than Dexter himself. During the trial, the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the fact that, during the investigation, Dexter had refused to answer any questions without an attorney present. Dexter’s attorney did not object. The jury found Dexter guilty on October 7, 1991, and sentenced him to death.
Six years later, on October 21, 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment because of prosecutorial misconduct in referring to Dexter’s refusal to answer questions without an attorney, stating that the prosecutor’s comments “affected the appellant’s substantial rights and resulted in manifest injustice.” Unable to post his $500,000 bond, Dexter remained in jail while awaiting his third trial.
During pre-trial investigation, it was discovered that much of the prosecution’s evidence had disappeared since Dexter’s conviction. Defense attorneys also found an expert who claimed that the blood analysis used to convict Dexter in his previous trials was completely inaccurate, and uncovered exculpatory evidence that Dexter’s previous attorney had failed to investigate, including a bloody footprint found at the crime scene that did not match Dexter’s shoes. In light of this new evidence, Clay County prosecutors dropped charges on June 7, 1999, the day Dexter’s third trial was set to begin, and he was released.
– Alexandra Gross, The National Registry of Exonerations
exonerated in 2000
On August 7, 1985, inmate Henry Johnson was stabbed to death by another inmate at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. A corrections officer who was nearby at the time of the crime, Thomas Steigerwald, saw Eric Clemmons and Fred Bagby running from the scene. He chased down Clemmons, and found that he had blood on his shirt. Clemmons was charged with first-degree murder.
At trial, the testimony of two corrections officers was particularly damning for Clemmons. Steigerwald identified Clemmons as the person who had stabbed Johnson, and another corrections officer, Captain A.M. Gross claimed that Clemmons said to him, “I guess they got me.” Clemmons maintained that Bagby killed Johnson, and then ran into him, staining his shirt with blood. Several other inmates also testified that Bagby was the killer. However, Bagby had died between the time of the murder and the trial, and prosecutors argued that the inmate witnesses were simply trying to help Clemmons by blaming someone who could no longer defend himself. In 1987, Clemmons was convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.
After his 1988 appeal was denied, another inmate gave Clemmons some papers which included a memo written by Captain Gross on the day of the murder. In the memo, Gross reported that an inmate who had witnessed the crime said he had seen two people stabbing Johnson, and he was sure one of them was Bagby. However, Gross conducted no further investigation into Bagby’s involvement.
Despite Clemmons’s insistence, his attorneys did not raise this issue in an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, and in October 1990, the Court upheld Clemmons’s conviction. In 1995, citing suppressed evidence and ineffective defense counsel, Clemmons petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for a writ of habeas corpus, but it was denied. On July 21, 1997, Clemmons filed another habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court, and on August 28, the Court found that Clemmons’s constitutional rights had been violated when exculpatory evidence was suppressed, and his conviction was vacated.
On February 18, 2000, Clemmons was re-tried for the murder of Henry Johnson. In addition to the previously suppressed witness testimony, an expert testified that the blood on Clemmons’s clothing hadn’t come from a stab wound, but from someone brushing against him. Clemmons was acquitted by a jury in less than three hours. He remained in prison for his previous, unrelated crime. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages, but it was dismissed.
– Alexandra Gross, The National Registry of Exonerations
JOSEPH “JOE” AMRINE
exonerated in 2003
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the capital conviction of Joseph Amrine, a man on death row accused of killing a fellow prisoner. The Court found “clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence that undermines confidence” in Amrine’s conviction (Supreme Court of Missouri, SC84656, April 29, 2003). In a 4-3 decision the Court ordered that Amrine be conditionally discharged 30 days from the date the mandate issues in this case unless the state elects to file new charges against Amrine. Amrine has maintained his innocence since the 1985 murder, which occurred while Amrine was housed in a “SuperMax” area of Missouri State Penitentiary. Investigators never found physical evidence linking Amrine to the murder, and the three inmates who testified against Amrine during his trial later recanted their testimony and said that they had lied to win special protection for themselves. Amrine would have been freed in 1992 without the wrongful murder conviction. During the argument at the Supreme Court, the state had argued that new evidence of Amrine’s innocence should have no bearing on his conviction. (Herald Sun, April 29, 2003)
On June 13, 2003, prosecutor Bill Tackett filed new murder charges against Amrine, one day prior to the filing deadline, and two days prior to Amrine’s scheduled release. Tackett said he was having possible blood samples from the clothing Amrine wore the day of Barber’s death tested. DNA test results concluded that the red splatter on clothing worn by Amrine, was paint.
On July 28, 2003, prosecutor Bill Tackett announced that he would not seek a new trial of Amrine and that he would be released. (Associated Press, July 28, 2003)
Information from DPIC and MADP
REGINALD “REGGIE” GRIFFIN
exonerated in 2013
Reginald Griffin, a former death row inmate from Missouri, became the 143rd person in the U.S. to be exonerated and freed from death row since 1973, after the state dismissed all charges related to his death sentence on October 25 2013. Griffin had been sentenced to death for the murder of a fellow inmate in 1983. His conviction was overturned in 2011 by the Missouri Supreme Court (Griffin v. Denney) because the state had withheld critical evidence. Griffin’s conviction relied on the testimony of two jailhouse informants who received benefits in exchange for their testimony. Prosecutors withheld evidence that guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate, Jeffrey Smith, immediately after the stabbing. Both of Griffin’s co-defendants consistently said the third person involved in the crime was Smith, not Griffin. Cyndy Short, attorney for Griffin, said, “Reggie and his family are overjoyed. This has been a massive weight upon them all for three decades.” Griffin is the 4th person exonerated from death row in Missouri, and the first in the country in 2013.
Information from DPIC and MADP
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