State of Missouri v. Martin Link

25 S.W. 3d 136 (Mo. banc 2000)

Martin Link was executed on February 9, 2011.

Case Facts: On Friday, January 11, 1991, just before 6:30 a.m., eleven-year-old Elissa Self left her house at 3844 Humphrey Street in South St. Louis to walk less than three blocks to catch her bus to Enright Classical Junior Academy, a school for gifted children. It was a cold, rainy morning, and Elissa’s mother insisted that she wear boots and carry an umbrella. Elissa never arrived at school, and at about 8:20 a.m. the school called Elissa’s parents to tell them that Elissa was not present. Elissa’s parents drove around the neighborhood looking for her, but they were unable to her, and they went home and called the police.

During the next four days, police canvassed the neighborhood, interviewed possible witnesses, and investigated calls and letters on possible sightings. On Tuesday, January 15, 1991, two persons who were scavenging at the Black Bridge recreation area along the St. Francis River, 135 miles south of St. Louis in Wayne County, found Elissa’s body in a large pile of debris that had washed up on the river bank. Police soon searched the area and found Elissa’s boots, but none of her other belongings. One of the small boulders that defined the perimeter of the parking area had been pushed out of place, and there was a tire rut in the gravel leading up to that boulder.

Elissa’s body was autopsied twice. The autopsies revealed two fresh oval-shaped bruises on Elissa’s upper left arm, which were consistent with someone grabbing her arm tightly. Her lips were bruised and torn on the inside from being pressed against her teeth. The autopsies also showed that she had been raped. Her external genitalia were bruised and swollen, and there was a five-millimeter tear in the area leading to her vagina. Her hymen had been torn as well. inflammation had begun in her vagina, and blood in her panties had partially dried, indicating that she survived for some time after the rape.

The cause of death was ligature strangulation. There were two long, thin bruises, about five to seven millimeters wide, around her entire neck. These bruises were consistent with a cord having been wrapped completely around her neck, with each end of the cord held in front of her. A pathologist testified that Elissa had been strangled to death slowly, losing consciousness after about five to ten minutes and dying after about thirty minutes. Although she still may have been alive when her body was dumped in the river, the amount of brain damage she sustained from the strangulation indicated that she never would have regained consciousness. Because the cold water had preserved her body, the time of death could be established only during the interval between the time of her kidnapping to twenty­four hours before she was found.

At about 9:24 p.m., on January 26, 1991, eleven days after Elissa’s body was found, a City of Kirkwood police officer saw Martin Link driving with a headlight out and at tempted to pull him over. Link led the officer on a high-speed chase, eventually crash- ing his car into a telephone pole, and was then taken into custody. In a search of the car, officers found a jar of petroleum jelly with Link’s fingerprints on the jar and flecks of blood embedded in the jelly. In addition, officers took tape lifts from the inside of the car in order to obtain fiber evidence.

During the investigation, officers discovered that Link had grown up five blocks from where Elissa was kidnapped and had attended the school near Elissa’s bus stop. In the early 19805, Link lived in a house less than a mile away from the Black Bridge recreation area, the place where Elissa’s body was found. At the time Link was arrested, he was living in South St. Louis, about 1 1/2 miles from where Elissa was kidnapped.

Officers also discovered that Link was registered at a motel just outside of St. Louis from January 9, 1991 to January 11, 1991. Link checked out at an unknown time on January 11, the morning that Elissa was kidnapped. That night, at about 1:55 a.m. on January 12, Link checked into a motel in Des Loge, Missouri, which is about seventy miles north of Black Bridge on a direct route from Black Bridge to St. Louis. A witness noted that Link’s car was loud, “like a car that had a bad muffler on it.” At about 8:30 a.m., Link called the S & S Muffler shop and “was very insistent” that he get his car fixed that day. He was told to bring in the car that afternoon and did so at 2:30 p.m. He explained to the employees that he was coming from further south and that he had to get his muffler fixed or else he would get a ticket in St. Louis. While he was at the shop, he kept pacing in the waiting room and checking to see if the work on his car was finished.

While a mechanic was working underneath Link’s car, clumps of orange clay of the same type found in the St. Francis riverbed fell from the bottom of the car. The tailpipe was bent and broken loose from the muffler, and the muffler had been hit by something that smashed and punctured it. The muffler of Link’s car had twelve inches of clearance, which was also the height of the rock that had been moved out of place at Black Bridge, where Elissa’s body was found.

As part of the investigation, a special agent at the FB! crime laboratory compared three fibers found on the front passenger seat of Link’s car with fibers from the sweater Elissa had been wearing when she was kidnapped. The agent determined that the fibers found in Link’s car were “consistent with having come from the victim’s sweater.”

DNA tests conducted by two different labs showed that Link’s DNA matched the DNA found in sperm cells on vaginal swabs taken from Elissa’s body. The state’s DNA expert set the odds of such a match at one in 6,600. The testing also revealed that Elissa’s DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar seized from Link’s car. The odds of that match were one in 48. The joint probability of both of these matches occurring by chance was less than one in 300,000.

Link did not testify at trial, but he called two witnesses who had reported seeing Elissa after 6:30 a.m. on January 11, 1991. He also called a detective who had worked with one of these witnesses to make a composite drawing of a man she allegedly saw with Elissa, but who did not resemble Link. He also called two witnesses who worked as buyers in the clothing industry to testify to the large number of cotton/ramie sweaters, like the one Elissa wore, that were imported every year. He called two DNA experts to testify that the DNA tests performed by the other two laboratories were faulty. In addition, one of the DNA experts and a third expert testified that the state’s conclusions about the probabilities of Link’s DNA being found in the sperm on the vaginal swab and Elissa’s DNA being found in the blood in the petroleum jelly jar were incorrect. Finally, Link called an accident reconstructionist who testified that the boulder at Black Bridge could not have damaged the muffler on Link’s car.

In rebuttal, the state presented its own accident reconstruction evidence. Investigating officers testified that they obtained a car of the same year and model, with the same kind of tires, bumper arrangement, and exhaust system as Link’s car. They backed the car up to the boulder that had been moved out of place at Black Bridge, whereupon the tailpipe and muffler made contact with the boulder, thus showing that the boulder could have caused the damage to Link’s car.

At the close of the evidence, instructions, and arguments, the jury found Link guilty of kidnapping, forcible rape, and murder in the first degree.

Martin Link was born April 17, 1963 (unverified), in St. Louis, MO.

On October 13, 1995, Link was sentenced in St. Louis City to death for the crime of Murder in the First Degree. He was originally ordered to the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections on November 23, 1993, for crimes committed prior to this sentencing structure. He has remained in DOC custody since that date.

Legal Chronology:

January 11: Martin Link kidnaps 11-year-old Elissa Self as she goes to school. She is eventually strangled.
January 15: Elissa Self’s body is found washed ashore along the St. Francis River.
September 26: Link is charged by indictment with first degree murder, as well as other felonies.

July 17: The jury trial begins.
August 10: Jury returns verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree, rape and kidnapping. August 12: July returns death sentences as punishment for first degree murder conviction.

October 13: The St. Louis City Circuit Court sentences Link to death for the murder conviction and to a totaì of life plus 15 years imprisonment for the other crimes.
November 9: Link ñles a notice of appeal.

October 1: Link files a Rule 29.15 motion for post­conviction relief in the St. Louis City Circuit Court.

July 2: The Circuit Court denies post-conviction relief.

August 1: The Missouri Supreme Court affirms Link’s conviction and sentence and the denial of post- conviction relief. State v. Link, 25 S.W.3d 136 (Mo. banc 2000). December 4: The United States Supreme Court denies certiorari review of the direct appeal and post-conviction appeals. Link v. Missouri, 531 U.S. 1040 (2000).

December 4: Link files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

September 10: The District Court denies the petition for writ of habeas corpus in an unpublished order.

December 8: The Court of Appeals affirms the denial of habeas relief. Link v. Luebbers, 469 F.3d 1197 (8th Cir. 2006)

October 29: The Supreme Court declines discretionary review. Link v. Roper, 128 S. Ct. 488 (2007)

April 17: The state files a motion to set an execution date.

January 7: The Missouri Supreme Court issues an execution warrant setting February 9, 2011, as the execution date.