The top prosecutor in St. Louis has asked a court to throw out the conviction of a man who has been in jail for 33 years for a murder he says he didn’t do. This is because witnesses who testified against him later said they felt pressured to lie.
In her request to overturn Christopher Dunn’s first-degree murder conviction, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner pointed to “clear and convincing evidence” that he was not involved in the 1990 shooting death of Ricco Rogers.
“We hope his wrongful conviction is overturned for the sake of Mr. Dunn, his family, and the people of the City of St. Louis,” Gardner said in a statement on Monday.
Gardner asked the St. Louis Circuit Court to get rid of Dunn’s sentence on Friday. It wasn’t clear right away if the office of the state attorney general would fight the move. When asked for comment on Monday, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Andrew Bailey didn’t reply right away.
Gardner, a Democrat, was able to get Lamar Johnson, who had been in prison for almost 30 years, his sentence overturned in February. Gardner took up his case after a study her office did with the help of the Innocence Project proved to her that he wasn’t guilty of killing someone in 1994.
Johnson was mostly found guilty based on the words of an eyewitness who later said he had been forced to say what he did.
The case against Johnson was overturned, which was a rare win for Gardner, the city’s first Black prosecutor, in a tough year.
Critics have been saying bad things about her for months. They say that too many cases, including murders, have gone unnoticed under her watch, that victims and their families aren’t told what’s going on, and that her office is too slow to take on cases that police bring to them.
Bailey, a Republican who tried to keep Johnson in jail but failed, filed a court motion to have her taken away. When recent cases had to be put off because lawyers from an office with too few people didn’t show up, the criticism got worse.
Gardner said that the insults were based on politics and race. But this month, she said she would leave her job on June 1. Her replacement will be chosen by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
Dunn, who is black and 51 years old, was only 18 when Rogers was killed. Two boys who were at the scene of the killing and testified against him were very important pieces of evidence. Both changed their stories afterward, saying that police and prosecutors forced them to lie.
A judge has already heard Dunn’s case for not being guilty. At an evidentiary hearing in 2020, Judge William Hickle agreed that new information made it likely that a jury would find Dunn not guilty. But Hickle didn’t free Dunn.
He said that a 2016 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court said that only people on death row could make a “freestanding” claim of actual innocence, not people like Dunn who were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
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A new law in 2021 says that prosecutors can now ask for court hearings in cases where new proof shows that the person was wrongfully convicted. It led to the release of Kevin Strickland, who had been in jail for more than 40 years for killing three people in Kansas City. Because of the new law, Johnson was the second prisoner to be set free.
The lawyers for Dunn at the Midwest Innocence Project say that he should be the third one.
“We are confident that any court, when faced with such evidence, will decide that Christopher Dunn is innocent, just as Judge Hickle did almost three years ago,” the group said in a news release.
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