State of Missouri v. Willie Simmons

955 S.W.2d 752 (Mo.banc 1997)

Willie Simmons’ sentence was reversed and remanded to a lower court on July 25, 2003.

Missouri Supreme Court Opinion ยป

Case Facts: On the evening of November 30, 1987, neighbors heard screams and thumping noises emanating from Cheri Johnson’s Plaza Square apartment. A building security guard investigated the noises. He knocked on Johnson’s apartment door several times before a male voice said that everything was okay and that the woman was sleeping. The security guard asked to be let inside the apartment, but there was no further response. Eventually, the security guard departed.

The next day, Johnson did not show up for work. Upon investigation, the police found her dead, beaten in the head and strangled with a distinctively colored necktie. During an examination of the apartment, the police discovered a carnation wrapped in purple paper. They traced this carnation to a flower shop in St. Louis Centre, where the employees informed them that the purple paper was unique to their shop, and that the previous day the only person who had bought a carnation was a man wearing a tie matching the one around Johnson’s neck. One of the employees thought that the man worked at Walgreen’s. The police inquired at Walgreen’s and found that although he no longer worked there, the man’s name was Willie Simmons.

The police arranged for Simmons to come in for an interview in early December, but he did not appear. They then began searching for him. On January 3, 1988, he came to them, showing up at the homicide office. He gave increasingly incriminating responses to police questioning: at first asserting that he had met Johnson but had never been to her apartment; next, saying that they had had a relationship, that she had given him a key to her apartment, and that he kept some items of clothing there, including the distinctive tie; then, saying that on November 30, he had gone to Johnson’s apartment to take her the carnation and other items, but had left these items at her front door and had not gone in the apartment; finally, saying that he had gone inside the apartment that day. He could not, however, produce for police the alleged key to Johnson’s apartment.

The police then arrested Simmons for Johnson’s murder. They seized his billfold and recovered, among other items, three pawn tickets and claim checks for photographs being developed. Two of the pawn tickets were for jewelry belonging to Johnson and the other was for a watch owned by McClendon. Simmons first explained the presence of these pawn tickets by saying that Johnson had given him the jewelry to pawn to raise money to fix his automobile, then changed his story and said that he had stolen the jewelry from Johnson’s apartment after finding her dead on the floor. The autopsy of Johnson revealed scratch marks on her fingers consistent with forcible removal of jewelry. The photographs that police recovered from the claim checks included numerous images of Simmons, including one of him wearing the distinctive tie found around Johnson’s neck, and one of him at the flower shop where he had bought the carnation.