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Archive for Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ruling frees man convicted in 1984 murder

September 2, 2008

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— A St. Louis man convicted in a 1984 gas-station killing has been freed from prison on orders of a Cole County judge who ruled the man's capital murder trial was unconstitutionally flawed.

Darryl Burton, 46, was scheduled to appear today at a news conference in Kansas City along with the lawyers and supporters who fought for eight years to have his conviction and life sentence thrown out.

Burton was released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Friday, the same day prosecutors in St. Louis decided against trying him a second time.

Attorney Cheryl Pilate, of suburban Kansas City, said Monday night that she and co-counsel Charlie Rogers picked Burton up at the prison, along with a Columbia pastor who had befriended him.

"He had his first meal in Columbia with us," Pilate said. The group then went to St. Louis so that Burton could visit with family members, including "nieces and nephews he had never seen before. That was wonderful." He also has family in Kansas City and will live there, she said.

No physical evidence or suggested motive had ever tied Burton to the June 1984 shooting death of Donald Ball at an Amoco station in St. Louis. Instead, he was convicted solely on the testimony of two men who claimed to have witnessed the shooting.

But one of those witnesses, Claudex Simmons, lied during Burton's 1985 trial in St. Louis Circuit Court when he testified that his own criminal history consisted of just two convictions.

Simmons had actually been convicted of at least seven felonies and five misdemeanors - information that should have been disclosed to the jury, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan wrote in an Aug. 18 ruling accompanying a writ of habeas corpus.

"The concealment of Mr. Simmons' extensive criminal history caused enormous prejudice to Mr. Burton, as Simmons was the main witness against him," Callahan wrote. "A complete disclosure of Mr. Simmons' history would have shown that he was not just an occasional thief, but was an experienced criminal."

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