State of Missouri v. Christopher Simmons

944 S.W.2d 165 (Mo. banc 1997)

3/1/2005 – US Supreme Court prohibits death penalty for juvinile killer. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Missouri Supreme Court case involving death penalty eligibility for minors. At issue was the case of Christopher Simmons, who was 17-years-old when he kidnapped neighbor Shirley Crook in 1993, tied her, and threw her off a bridge in St. Louis County. Prosecutors claimed Simmons had boasted that because of his age he could get away with killing the woman. Initially, Simmons was sentenced to death, but his attorneys argued he should not be executed because of his age at the time of the killing. The State Supreme Court agreed. It set aside Simmons’ death sentence and resentenced him to life in prison with no chance for probation or parole. The US Supeme Court has ruled the Missouri Supreme Court took the appropriate action. In making its ruling, the court has barred the death penalty for all killers throughout the country who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.

8/26/03 Missouri Supreme Court resentences Christopher to life without parole. A habeas corpus proceeding from Jefferson County involving the constitutionality of the death penalty for a juvenile who committed murder in St. Louis County. It was argued Wednesday, March 5, 2003. In a 4-3 decision written by Judge Stith, the Court set aside Simmons’ death sentence and resentenced him to life imprisonment without eligibility for probation, parole or release except by act of the governor. Judge Wolff concurred in the majority opinion and also wrote a separate concurring opinion, and Judge Price wrote a dissenting opinion. Full text of Missouri Supreme Court decision

Audio: Oral argument before Missouri Supreme Court. SC84454 – State ex rel. Christopher Simmons v. Al Luebbers, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center – Constitutionality of death penalty for juvenile who committed murder

Case Facts: In early September 1993, Simmons then 17, discussed with his friends, Charlie Benjamin (age 15) and John Tessmer (age 16), the possibility of committing a burglary and murdering someone. On several occasions, Simmons described the manner in which he planned to commit the crime: he would find someone to burglarize, tie the victim up, and ultimately push the victim off a bridge. Simmons assured his friends that their status as juveniles would allow them to “get away with it.” Simmons apparently believed that a “voodoo man” who lived in a nearby trailer park would be the best victim. Rumor had it that the voodoo man owned hotels and motels and had lots of money despite his residence in a mobile home park.

On September 8, 1993, Simmons arranged to meet Benjamin and Tessmer at around 2:00 a.m. the following morning for the purpose of carrying out the plan. The boys met at the home of Brian Moomey, a 29-year old convicted felon who allowed neighbor teens to “hang out” at his home. Tessmer met Simmons and Benjamin, but refused to go with them and returned to his own home. Simmons and Benjamin left Moomey’s and went to Shirley Crook’s house to commit a burglary.

The two found a back window cracked open at the rear of Crook’s home. They opened the window, reached through, unlocked the back door, and entered the house. Moving through the house, Simmons turned on a hallway light. The light awakened Mrs. Crook, who was home alone. She sat up in bed and asked, “Who’s there?” Simmons entered her bedroom and recognized Mrs. Crook as a woman with whom he had previously had an automobile accident. Mrs. Crook apparently recognized him as well.

Simmons ordered Mrs. Crook out of her bed and on to the floor with Benjamin’s help. While Benjamin guarded Mrs. Crook in the bedroom, Simmons found a roll of duct tape, returned to the bedroom and bound her hands behind her back. They also taped her eyes and mouth shut. They walked Mrs. Crook from her home and placed her in the back of her mini-van. Simmons drove the can from Mrs. Crook’s home in Jefferson County to Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County.

At the park, Simmons drove the van to a railroad trestle that spanned the Meramec River. Simmons parked the van near the railroad trestle. He and Benjamin began to unload Mrs. Crook from the van and discovered that she had freed her hands and had removed some of the duct tape from her face. Using her purse strap, the belt from her bathrobe, a towel from the back of the van, and some electrical wire found on the trestle, Simmons and Benjamin found Mrs. Crook, restraining her hands and feet and covering her head with the towel. Simmons and Benjamin walked Mrs. Crook to the railroad trestle. There, Simmons bound her hands and feet together, hog-tie fashion, with the electrical cable and covered Mrs. Crook’s face completely with duct tape. Simmons then pushed her off the railroad trestle into the river below. At the time she fell, Mrs. Crook was alive and conscious. Simmons and Benjamin then Mrs. Crook’s purse in to the woods and drove the van back to the mobile home park across from the subdivision in which she lived.

Her body was found later that afternoon by two fishermen. Simmons was arrested the next day, September 10, at his high school.