State of Missouri v. Thomas Battle

661 S.W. 2d 487

Thomas Battle was executed August 7, 1996

AUDIO: Missourinet reporter Julie Anderson

Case Facts:  In the early morning hours of July 5, 1980 Thomas Battle and Tracy Rowan were in Battle’s bedroom drinking beer and “getting high.” Battle suggested they burglarize the apartment of Ms. Birdie Johnson, an 80 year old neighbor of Battle’s.

The two gained entrance to Ms. Johnson’s apartment by ripping the screen from an open kitchen window and climbing into the apartment. As the two entered the kitchen Battle picked up a twelve-inch butcher knife.

Evidence showed that while in the apartment Ms. Johnson was brutally beaten and raped. The apartment was ransacked. At one point, Rowan turned on a light and Battle announced that because Ms. Johnson had seen their faces she would have to die.

Battle repeatedly stabbed Ms. Johnson with the butcher knife and finally plunged the blade into Ms. Johnson’s face just under her left eye. Ms. Johnson was still alive talking and saying short prayers when Battle and Rowan left the apartment.

Sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. a neighbor of Ms. Johnson’s was awakened by knocking sounds coming from the victim’s apartment. The neighbor went to Ms. Johnson’s apartment and upon hearing moans coming from the residence broke down the front door and found Ms. Johnson laying on the floor. Police and medical personnel were summoned and Ms. Johnson was transported to the hospital where she died at 5:45 a.m. Death was attributed to severe trauma and bruising of her head resulting in cranial hemorrhaging, multiple bruises and contusions to her face and body, multiple incisions and lacerations to her chest and back, eight rib fractures, multiple lacerations of the lung, an injury to the brain from the facial stab wound, and shock.

Police interviewed a number of individuals concerning the murder which led them to Battle. After further investigation, Battle admitted that he was involved in the beating and stabbing of Ms. Johnson.

Legal Chronology

05/17 – Battle was convicted of Making a False Police Report in Ferguson, Missouri and fined $200.00.

01/19 – Battle was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri for Failure To Appear and ordered to pay a fine of $1 30.00.

7/5-Thomas Henry Battle stabbed Miss Birdie Johnson, an 80 year-old neighbor, to death.
8/8-Battle was indicted for capital murder in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City.

7/13-Battle went to trial on the murder charges and was found guilty. The jury recommended a sentence of death.
9/18-The trial court sentenced Battle to receive capital ounishment for murdering Birdie Johnson.

11/22-The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Battle’s conviction and sentence.

5/14-The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

7/26-Battle filed a pro se motion for post conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 27.26 in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City.

9/22-Through appointed counsel, Battle filed an amended Rule 27.26 motion.
10/10-An evidentiary hearing was held on Battle’s post-conviction motion

4/10-The Circuit Court denied Battle’s Rule 27.26 motion.
12/29-The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District affirmed the denial of post conviction relief.

10/3-The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
10/18-Battle filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

3/14-The Federal District Court denied Battle’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.

5/9-The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated the judgment of the District Court denying the petition and remanded the case to the district court for further review.

3/1-The District Court denied Battle’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.

3/28-The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court denying Battle’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
6/1-The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held Battle’s petition for rehearing in abeyance pending the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Schlup v. Delo.

8/21-On rehearing the Eighth Circuit reaffirmed the denial of Battle’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
11/2-The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Battle’s motion for rehearing en banc.

6/3-The United States Supreme Court denied Battle’s petition for a writ of certiorari.
6/4-The Office of the Attorney General petitioned the Missouri Supreme Court to set an execution date.
6/6-The Missouri Supreme Court set Battle’s execution for August 7, 1996.