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St. Louis County and Bob McCullouch

Missouri’s use of the death penalty has been marked by substantial disparities in the race and gender of the victim of the crime and in geography. According to Death Penalty Information Center, St. Louis County is the seventh most executing county in the nation.

In a study titled, “The Impact of Race, Gender, and Geography on Missouri Executions,” Frank Baumgartner found that a person convicted of homicide in St. Louis County is three times more likely to be executed than if they were convicted of the same crime in other counties in the state.

Bob McCulloch's late father was a police officer killed on the job in 1964 by a Black man when McCulloch was 12. In addition to his father, McCulloch's brother, an uncle, and a cousin all served with the St. Louis Police Department, and his mother worked as a clerk at the department. McCulloch, who as a teenager lost a leg to cancer, made it his career ambition to become a prosecutor. He was quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch while first campaigning for the office: "I couldn't become a policeman, so being county prosecutor is the next best thing." 

During his decades in office, Bob McCulloch’s bias was palpable as he regularly personalized cases, including serving as the trial prosecutor in the case of Kevin Johnson, a Black youth who was ultimately sentenced to death for killing a white Kirkwood police officer, an unusual move thought to be motivated by the fact that McCulloch’s father was an officer killed in the line of duty. During the first trial, McCulloch was unable to even secure a conviction; the jury hung, favoring, 10-2, a lesser, non-capital, charge.  During the second trial, the deck was stacked against Kevin from the outset. McCulloch used his peremptory strikes to eliminate Black jurors and ensure a predominately white jury who recommended a death sentence.


Kevin’s Johnsons case is not unique, McCulloch is widely known in the legal community as “The King of Batson”, a reference to a Batson violation, in which a prosecutor could use their peremptory strikes to eliminate Black jurors and ensure an all or predominately white jury. 

The St. Louis County prosecutor used similar tactics during the 2001 trial of Marcellus Williams, whose jury was comprised of eleven white jurors and one African-American juror. The prosecution eliminated six of the seven black panelists who were eligible to serve on the jury, including one panelist who was a postal worker and who had a similar “appearance” to the defendant. 

In 2007, the death sentence of Vincent McFadden was reversed because discriminatory practices in jury selection violated Batson v. Kentucky 746 U.S. 79 (1986).  McCulloch said he would continue to pursue a death sentence for McFadden because he “feels he is responsible for other murders.”



On August 22, 2017, then Missouri Governor Eric Greitens stayed Marcellus Williams’ execution because of the discovery of new DNA evidence that should exonerate him. Despite this evidence and the fact that Williams has always maintained his innocence since his 2001 conviction, McCulloch stated that there was “zero possibility” that Williams was innocent. The prosecuting attorney should acknowledge that human beings make mistakes and that the criminal legal system is not perfect.

The failure to admit even that possibility in the wake of clear evidence of wrongful conviction is disturbing. A prosecutor should fight for the innocent, not against them, and create policies to prevent wrongful convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct and other factors that contribute to the conviction of innocent persons.  Williams’ is still languishing on Missouri’s death row, after a total of two stays of execution. Each of those stays of execution came after he was prepped and strapped to the execution table, which that act alone costs $15,000.


Taylor was sentenced to death in 2008 for allegedly murdering Angela Rowe and her three children. Due to grossly ineffective counsel, the trial jury never heard evidence that could prove he was not present at the time of the murders. In addition to having a strong alibi, neighbors saw and talked to Rowe after Taylor left town.  Taylor has a strong innocence claim and his legal team is working to shed light on this grave injustice as the Missouri Attorney General has moved for an execution date.  Additional constitutional violations include the time awaiting trial, improper and prejudicial prosecutorial comments, and the striking of eligible jurors, all common areas of misconduct for those sentenced to death by McCulloch.


Scott McLaughlin: McLaughlin was sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Beverly Guenther in Earth City.  McLaughlin was sentenced to death by Judge Steven Goldman, after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder but were unable to decide on death penalty or life imprisonment. In 2012 a district court reversed the death sentence due to claims of ineffective counsel but the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in 2016. McLaughlin is one of three individuals that were sentenced to death by a judge. Missouri is one of only two states that have a loophole allowing for judges to override a deadlocked jury and impose a death sentence.




Johnny was sentenced in 2003 for the murder of Cassandra “Cassie” Williams, in Valley Park. Just days before the murder Johnson was allowed to check himself out of a mental facility, despite being in active psychosis. Johnny has severe schizophrenia and other mental illnesses that should make him ineligible for execution. If a fraction of the money used to incarcerate Johnny would have been used to provide holistic mental health services to youth in St. Louis County, he very likely would not have committed the act that led to his present circumstances.


Vincent is currently serving two death sentences for the 2002 murder of Todd Franklin and the 2003 murder of Leslie Addison.  Both trials were rife with prosecutorial misconduct and both initial sentences were overturned due to Batson violations. Mr. McFadden’s violent childhood resulted in neuropsychological impairments; trial counsel failed to investigate and present expert and PET scan evidence concerning Mr. McFadden's brain limitations.

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