The death sentence of convicted killer Travis E. Glass has been commuted to life in prison without parole. The decision avoids a jury trial over punishment that was to have started Monday in Callaway County. The Palmyra man was 21 when authorities said he confessed to strangling 13-year-old Steffini Wilkins of Hannibal on May 25, 2001. On Friday, Callaway County Judge Kevin M. Crane finalized the judgment of life in prison without probation or parole. Full story at Hannibal.net
711 S.W.2d 512 (Mo. banc 1986)
Robert Driscoll was released from prison on 3-31-04 after being found guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter. Driscoll was originally found guilty of Murder I and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released because he had already served that amount of time.
Case Facts: On the evening of July 3, 1983, Driscoll and his cellmate, James Jenkins, were serving and drinking homemade wine in their cell in the B wing of Housing Unit 2 at the Moberly Training Center. When guards noted this activity, Officer Jackson ordered Jenkins to leave the cell, but Jenkins refused, and Jackson called additional officers to help remove him. Anticipating a search, the inmates in B wing threw knives and other items of contraband out of their cells. However, Driscoll, who had assembled a knife he made from a metal ruler and other materials he acquired while working in the prison’s sign shop, stuck the knife in his waistband and walked into the hallway with other inmates.
Officer Jackson then returned with two other officers. They removed Jenkins from his cell and began to escort him through B wing toward the security control center in the rotunda area. Inmate Roy “Hog” Roberts told the others that “[if they] let the correctional officers take Jimmie Jenkins out of there, they were a bunch of sorry inmates.” As the officers walked Jenkins through B wing, inmates shouted, “You’re not taking Jimmie anywhere,” and finally, “Let’s rush them.” Before Officer Jackson could follow the other officers and Jenkins into the rotunda, a group of approximately 25 to 30 inmates, including Driscoll, charged toward him.
During the ensuing melee, Roberts, who weighed more than 300 pounds, grabbed Officer Jackson and held him from behind while Driscoll and then inmate Rodney Carr stabbed him. Numerous inmates fought with other correctional officers, and three officers besides Jackson were stabbed. After Driscoll stabbed Jackson, he dropped the knife, which Officer Robert Wilson recovered and kept in his belt. Eventually, Officer Jackson was taken to the infirmary, where he was pronounced dead. He had stab wounds in both his chest and abdomen, but the wounds to his chest penetrated his heart and lungs and caused his death.
Once the correctional officers restored order, Driscoll and other inmates returned to B wing. Driscoll went to his cell and changed his clothes. According to inmate Joseph Vogelpohl, who had taken refuge in the cell, Driscoll said, “Did I take him out, Jo-Jo, or did I take him out?” Driscoll also told his cellmate Jenkins that he had “killed the freak.”
The next day a Department of Corrections officer and a highway patrol officer interviewed Driscoll. He was advised of and waived his Miranda rights, then gave and signed a confession that the officers reduced to writing. After giving a detailed description of the riot, Driscoll added:
“When the fighting started I got hit, and I pulled the knife out and started stabbing at the officer in front of me. At this time I did not know who the officer was. I don’t know how many times I stabbed him, or if I stabbed him more than once.”
979 S.W. 2d 149
James R. Ervin was resentenced to life without parole on November 5, 2003.
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.
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.
955 S.W.2d 752 (Mo.banc 1997)
Willie Simmons’ sentence was reversed and remanded to a lower court on July 25, 2003.
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.