Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Two Former Missouri Prosecutors Among Deadliest Prosecutors in America;
Misconduct of Former St. Louis Prosecutors Featured Prominently; Death Sentencing Dramatically Declined After They Left Office
Cambridge, Mass. — In anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark death penalty decision, Gregg v. Georgia, Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project released a new report identifying America’s five deadliest head prosecutors out of the thousands that have held that office across the country in the last 40 years. Three of the five prosecutors personally obtained more than 35 death sentences each, while the other two oversaw District Attorney offices that obtained more than 100 and 200 death sentences respectively during their tenures. Together, they have put the equivalent of 1 out of every 7 people currently on death row.
Two former prosecutors from St. Louis, Nels Moss and Dean Waldemer, feature prominently in the report and are named among the top 10 deadliest prosecutors in America. As a prosecutor for the City of St. Louis from 1968 to 1999, Moss aggressively sought the death penalty in a manner described as “abusive and boorish” by the federal bench. Missouri’s appellate courts have also faulted him with prosecutorial misconduct in two dozen cases, including eight requiring reversals of conviction.
The report notes that these “overzealous” personalities disproportionately drove up death sentencing rates in their jurisdictions and their states–leaving an outsized impact on death sentencing statistics nationwide.
“The legitimacy of the death penalty is seriously undermined when it is only being used in a small handful of places by an even smaller group of prosecutors who continually engage in misconduct,” said Robert J. Smith, a legal fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s researchers. Most recently, on November 24, 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court condemned Moss’ prosecution of Reggie Clemons for the deliberate cover up of a police beating leading to Clemons’ coerced confession. At Moss’ command, a written report describing Clemons’ injuries was altered, and associated evidence was hidden from the defense. Only July 18, 2016, Clemons will face a new trial, against the backdrop of an egregious record of prosecutorial misconduct.
Dean Waldemer tried 25 capital cases as lead counsel from 1991 until 2011 in his capacity as St. Louis County Chief Trial Attorney. Members of the legal community have identified Waldemer as the architect of the “Postman Gambit,” a technique used to exclude Black citizens from St. Louis County’s capital juries. Kimber Edwards, an African-American man whose death sentence was commuted last fall by Gov. Jay Nixon after evidence of actual innocence emerged, was originally convicted by an all-white jury in St. Louis County after the prosecution struck all three eligible Black panelists. Racially-biased jury selection practices also plagued the capital prosecutions of two African-American defendants: Andre Cole and Marcellus Williams.
Findings of the report include:
Three of the top five deadliest prosecutors (Macy, Britt, and Myers) had misconduct found by courts in 33%, 37%, and 45% of their death penalty cases respectively. (Rates are not available for the other two prosecutors who oversaw, but did not personally try, all of the death penalty cases in their counties.)
Four of the five deadliest district attorneys prosecuted, or oversaw the prosecution of, eight individuals who were later exonerated and released from death row. This total represents approximately one out of every 20 death row exonerations that have occurred nationwide.
Together, these five prosecutors obtained a total of 440 death sentences, which is equivalent to approximately 15% of the current U.S. death row population, or approximately one out of every seven people currently sentenced to death.
When four of the five deadliest prosecutors left office (the fifth prosecutor is still in office), death sentencing dramatically declined in these jurisdictions, indicating that it was these individual personalities, not an excessive attachment to the death penalty by local residents, that drove up the rates of death sentencing.
St. Louis County has consistently been identified by scholars, as well as judicial and enforcement officers, as a source of deliberate acts of racial bias and misconduct in the prosecution and enforcement of criminal laws. “This report suggests that the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality adopted by a small group of prosecutors has led to shockingly high rates of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions,” notes Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan.
Gregg v. Georgia was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on July 2, 1976, and effectively reauthorized the use of the death penalty in America ushering in the modern death penalty era.
For more information, or to speak with experts on Missouri’s death penalty, please contact Stefanie Faucher at 510-393-4549 or email@example.com.
About the Fair Punishment Project:
The Fair Punishment Project uses legal research and educational initiatives to ensure that the U.S. justice system is fair and accountable. As a joint initiative of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute, we work to highlight the gross injustices resulting from prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias, and to illuminate the laws that result in excessive punishment. For more information visit: www.fairpunishment.org.
 State v. McFadden, 216 S.W.3d 673 (Mo. banc 2007); State v. McFadden, 191 S.W.3d 648 (Mo. banc 2006); State v. Hampton, 163 S.W.3d 903 (Mo. banc 2005); State v. Hopkins, 140 S.W.3d 143 (Mo. App. E.D. 2004); see also State v. McFadden, 369 S.W.3d 727, 739-40 (Mo. banc 2012); United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department (March 4, 2015), at p.4 (“African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population”); Steve Weinburg, BREAKING THE RULES: WHO SUFFERS WHEN A PROSECUTOR IS CITED FOR MISCONDUCT? CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY (2003).