State of Missouri v. James R. Ervin

979 S.W. 2d 149

James R. Ervin was resentenced to life without parole on November 5, 2003.

AUDIO: Oral argument on appeal to Missouri Supreme Court.

Case Facts: On August 31, 1994, Ervin telephoned Lucius House, a resident of St. Louis. Ervin told House that he had received a telephone call asking him to come to work in Arnold, Missouri, and to bring additional help. House agreed to go. Ervin drove to House’s residence to transport House to the job. Keith McCallister and Henry Cook accompanied Ervin and House. The men stopped to purchase alcohol on their way to the Semco Factory, where they arrived at about midnight. At 1:00a.m. on September 1, 1994, the four men left the factory. Ervin drove to the liquor store where he purchased more alcohol for himself and the other men. He said that he was going to Leland White’s property, where Ervin had also lived for a period of time.

Upon arriving at White’s property, Ervin honked the horn. McCallister exited the automobile and opened the gate. After parking the car, Ervin got out and walked over to Leland White, who was standing outside of his trailer. Ervin and White shook hands. They went inside the trailer. About fifteen minutes later, House heard Ervin yelling, “This is mine. This is mine.” White called for help. Something hit against the trailer wall, a lamp was knocked over, and the trailer caught on fire.

Ervin dragged White out of the trailer after it caught fire, pulling him by something tied around White’s neck. White was naked. Ervin dragged White across the driveway and propped him up against a tree. White then said to Ervin, “Just go ahead and kill me, James. Just kill me, James.” Ervin picked up a brick with which he hit White four or five times on the head.

Ervin began to walk away from White but returned to him after White moved. Ervin then hit White three or four additional times in the head with the brick. Ervin returned to the and said to the others, “The motherfucker said kill me so I did.”

The four men returned to the car. Ervin attempted to drive away, but backed the vehicle onto a boulder. After examining the car and trying to free it, Ervin went to White, picked him up, and took him over to the car. Ervin threw White over the hood. Ervin then told McCallister to “come on, help me throw this motherfucker in the fire.” McCallister returned to the car and again tried to free the vehicle from the boulder. About an hour later, they were able to remove the vehicle from the boulder.

The automobile was not operable. Ervin decided that he should call the highway patrol and report that the house blew up. The men pushed the car back up in the driveway. Ervin and McCallister tried to throw White further into the fire. Ervin and the others then wiped White’s blood from the hood of the vehicle with newspaper.

Ervin flagged a motorist and obtained a ride to the home of Don Cook, who lived eight-tenths of a mile from White. Cook was aquatinted with both White and Ervin. Ervin told Cook that White was dead and Ervin wanted to call the sheriff. Ervin said, “We’ve had and explosion ….”and told Cook that White had said “James, don’t le me burn. Don’t let me burn.”

Cook could not reach the sheriff so he called Deputy Umphleet, who lived nearby. Umphleet went to White’s trailer, as did Cook and Ervin. Umphleet observed a white male lying face down on a burned out portion of the building. Nothing was left of the residence. Ervin told Umphleet that there had been an explosion and fire and that the explosion had blown the stove from one side of the residence to the other. Umphleet noticed, however, that the stove remained connected to a propane tank. Additional law enforcement personnel arrived at the scene. Deputy Sheriff John Farrar assisted Umphleet. Approximately ten to twelve feet south of White’s body, Farrar collected a brick stained with what appeared to be blood.

Jefferey McSpadden, the Reynolds County coroner, arrived. He determined that the cause of death was an open skull fracture. After speaking with McSpadden, Umphleet arrested Ervin , Cook, House, and McCallister.

At first Ervin denied cutting White’s throat, denied hitting him with a brick, and denied throwing his body into the fire. Sergeant Kirby Johnson asked Ervin about the discrepancies between Ervin’s statements and the statements of the three other men, who remained in custody. Johnson then left the room after which two other officers interrogated Ervin. Finally, after a break in the proceedings, Ervin yelled that he had hit White in the head with a brick.

Leland White died as a result of blunt trauma to the head. He sustained at least five separate blows to the head. White suffered, in addition, nine incised wounds that cut across his neck. Most penetrated only through the skin and dermis. Two incisions exposed the muscles of the neck. One cut through White’s trachea. There were superficial incisions over White’s left shoulder and lower right side of his neck. There were seven or eight superficial incisions partially through the skin across the front of White’s thigh.

The jury found Ervin guilty of murder in the first degree.