Missouri v. Joseph Amrine
741 S.W.2d 665 (Mo.banc
Amrine and the victim, Gary Barber, were housed in the special
management unit or "supermax" area of the penitentiary (Missouri State
Penitentiary) during October of 1985.
In early October,
Amrine became aware of "rumors" being circulated by Barber concerning an
illegal incident in which Barber committed a homosexual act upon Amrine
when they were cell mates in the "general population" area of the
Inmate Randy Ferguson
testified that on October 3 he overheard a conversation between Amrine
and Joe Moore during which Moore commented "if somebody had treated him
like that or done something like that to him, he would kill him". Amrine
replied "Donít think that that ainít what I plan to do".
Ferguson also related
that on October 7 Amrine informed him and three other inmates that he
planned to stab Barber the next day and wanted them to "block."
Inmate Terry Russell
testified that Amrine told him that he intended to "stick" Barber when
the inmates went to the "yard"; however, that opportunity did not arise.
Russell explained that
on the morning of October 8 Amrine confronted Barber about the rumors,
and after some discussion Amrine and Barber came to where Russell was
standing. Amrine asked Russell to repeat the accusations in front of
Barber and Russell stated that Barber "was going around telling people
he had sex with Amrine," to which Barber did not respond.
Amrine said "okay" and
walked away, but a fight broke out between Russell and Barber as a
result of the allegations and they were placed in detention until
Ferguson testified that
on the evening of October 17, 1985, the night before Barber and Russell
were released from detention, he overheard a conversation between
inmates Omar Hutchison, Daryl Saddler and Clifford Valentine concerning
a knife and observed Saddler go up to the floor above them and pass a
knife down to Hutchison.
Following lunch on
October 18, the inmates from Amrineís unit were released to the
multipurpose room for recreation. Two guards, Officers Thomas Smith and
John Noble, were on duty supervising the 45 to 50 inmates in the room
The doors to the
recreation room were locked and the inmates could enter and exit the
room only through the front door, which was guarded by Officer Noble.
When Ferguson arrived at the multipurpose room he began working out on a
punching bag and saw Hutchison enter the room, approach the window,
remove an ice-pick type weapon from his waistband, and tape the weapon
to the outside of the building.
Ferguson later saw
Amrine go to the window and retrieve the knife, which he placed in the
waistband of his pants. Amrine approached Barber, who was sitting alone
in the corner of the room, knelt down and started a conversation.
The two men got up and
began pacing around the room. during which time Amrine placed his arm
around Barberís shoulder. Amrine subsequently took his arm off Barberís
shoulder, pulled the knife from his waistband and stabbed Barber in the
back behind the shoulder blade. Amrine turned and ran while Barber
removed the knife and chased Amrine toward the front of the room.
Barber then stated "Joe,
Iím going to get you," dropped the weapon and collapsed not far from
Officer Noble. Shortly thereafter Barber died as a result of the stab
wound. The stabbing was witnessed by Ferguson and inmate Jerry Poe, both
of whom identified Amrine as Barberís killer.
Missouri Supreme Court orders Amrine
discharged. (April 29, 2003, Jefferson City) The Supreme Court
of Missouri handed down its decision in State ex rel. Joseph Amrine v.
Donald P. Roper, a habeas proceeding based on claims of actual innocence.
It was argued Tuesday, February 4, 2003.
In a 4-3 decision written by Judge Teitelman, the
Court ordered that Amrine be conditionally discharged 30 days from the
date the mandate issues in this case unless the state elects to file new
charges against Amrine in relation to the murder of which he was
convicted. Judge Wolff wrote a concurring opinion. Judge Benton and
Judge Price wrote dissenting opinions.
Prosecutor will not retry Amrine. (July
28, 2003, Jefferson City) A Kansas City man whose death sentenced was
overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court earlier this year will be
released from jail today.
The Cole County prosecutor in Jefferson City has
announced his decision NOT to retry Joseph Amrine in the death of a
former state prison inmate. Three former inmates who initially testified
against Amrine recanted their statements.
Supreme Court overturns
Kansas City man's conviction
April 29, 2003
The Kansas City
- The Missouri Supreme Court today overturned the conviction
of death row inmate Joseph Amrine, who had claimed he was innocent of
killing another prisoner 17 years ago.
The Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, said Amrine had
shown "clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence that undermines
confidence" in his conviction.
It would be at least 30 days before Amrine, of Kansas
City, could be freed.
The court ordered Amrine to be freed from prison
within 30 days of its issuing a mandate demanding his release, unless
the state files new murder charges against him.
The mandate will not be issued until it is determined
whether the Supreme Court will rehear the case.
The attorney general's office has 15 days to decide
whether it will ask for a rehearing, according to Sean O'Brien, Amrine's
Kansas City attorney.
O'Brien called the court's decision "a huge step in
the right direction because it puts Joe back at square one. Hopefully,
saner minds will prevail here" and the charges will not be refiled.
"I'm thrilled and Joe was thrilled," O'Brien said.
"He alternatively laughed and cried," when O'Brien told him of the
Amrine was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing
of fellow prisoner Gary Barber on Oct. 18, 1985, in a recreation room at
the state prison in Jefferson City.
But three inmates who testified against Amrine later
said they lied to win special protection for themselves, Amrine's lawyer
said when arguing the case before the state Supreme Court in February.
The lawyer said there also were inconsistent descriptions of the killing.
Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Teitelman
said Amrine's case "presents the rare circumstance in which no credible
evidence remains from the first trial to support the conviction."
Teitelman was joined by Judges Ronnie White, Laura
Denvir Stith and Michael Wolff -- all four of whom where appointed to
the court by Democratic governors.
The court's three Republican-appointed judges
Joseph Amrine had already picked out the music for
his funeral by the time the Missouri State Supreme Court narrowly
overturned his death sentence. Inadequately defended and convicted based
on weak circumstantial evidence and snitch testimony, Amrine was
sentenced to death in a 1986 Missouri murder trial.
He lost four appeals before the Missouri Supreme
Court reversed his conviction in 2003 based on recantations of three
inmate snitches and the testimony of a prison guard who saw the murder.
Three months after the Court's decision, a local
prosecutor announced that he would not seek a new trial against Amrine
based on new DNA tests. After spending 17 years on death row for a crime
he did not commit, Joseph Amrine was finally freed on July 28, 2003.
Amrine was charged, convicted and sentenced to death
for the murder of fellow inmate Gary "Fox" Barber in 1986 while serving
a prison sentence for robbery, burglary and forgery. Throughout his
murder trial, the prosecution's case rested on circumstantial and
conflicting evidence. The state failed to link Amrine to the scene
through physical evidence.
Instead, the state presented three inmates who
maintained they saw Amrine stab Barber-all with inconsistent statements
in their depositions. The first inmate to come forward, Terry Russell,
was himself identified as a suspect by corrections officer John Noble.
Six other inmates stated that Amrine was elsewhere playing cards at the
time of the killing.
Even with a solid alibi and unreliable evidence
against him, Amrine was unable to win an acquittal at trial. Amrine's
state-appointed counsel failed to present any mitigating evidence. He
never impeached witnesses with prior inconsistent statements. During
sentencing, he never objected to false testimony regarding a prior
alleged stabbing by Amrine.
The jury foreman in the case later admitted that, in
spite of all the evidence supporting Amrine's innocence in depositions,
the jury "didn't have much trouble deciding that Mr. Amrine was guilty"
after hearing the actual trial. On October 30, 1986, the jury convicted
Amrine of murder and sentenced him to death.
Appeals and Recantations
At a post-conviction hearing in 1989, two of Amrine's
three accusers-Terry Russell and Randall Ferguson-recanted their
testimony, and the third accuser, Jerry Poe, recanted his in 1997. All
three later admitted in letters, videotaped depositions, and signed
affidavits that they lied as a result of threats and promises by the
authorities or fear of rape and violence from other inmates. At a 1998
federal district court hearing, in fact, Russell admitted he lied to
deflect suspicion of the murder away from himself.
Even as these recantations became known, Amrine's
four appeals and his application for pardon to Missouri Governor Bob
Holden were denied. Before 1997, appeals courts claimed that, even
though the other accusers had recanted, Jerry Poe's testimony still
implicated Amrine. After Poe recanted, courts maintained that his
retraction could not be relied upon.
By 2003, Amrine's appellate counsel, Sean O'Brien and
Kent Gipson, made significant progress in obtaining justice for their
client. While his execution date was actively sought by the state,
Amrine appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Assistant Attorney General Frank Jung argued that the
Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the case, regardless of the
evidence pointing to Amrine's innocence, because there was no
constitutional violation during his first trial. Jung actually urged the
court to execute Amrine even if it found him to be innocent.
Four of the seven Missouri Supreme Court Justices
disagreed and overturned Amrine's conviction. In their decision, they
established "actual innocence" as a Missouri standard in which the Court
can reserve the right to overturn sentences upon their "loss of
confidence" in a capital case, even if that case contains no technical
Judge Richard B. Teitelman wrote the opinion for the
majority, noting that Amrine had indeed proven that a "manifest
injustice" would occur without habeas relief even though the
conviction was the product of an otherwise fair trial: "It is difficult
to imagine a more manifestly unjust and unconstitutional result than
permitting the execution of an innocent person."
Two months after his conviction was overturned, local
prosecutor Bill Tacket filed new murder charges against Amrine in June
2003. One month later, however, Tacket announced that he would no longer
seek a new trial, noting that there was absolutely no evidence to
Joe Amrine, who spent 26 years in prison - 17 of
which were on death row-would have left jail a free man in 1992 had he
not been wrongly convicted for Barber's murder. Just before his sentence
was overturned, Amrine had chosen the song "I Feel Like Going Home" for
his funeral. "That's how I felt," he later said, "like going home."
On July 28, 2003, after spending almost two decades
on death row for a crime he did not commit, Joseph Amrine was finally
released from prison. From there he made it home -- to his family.
Joe Amrine is
person exonerated after 16 years under sentence of death
July 28, 2003
Today, Joe Amrine
walks free, becoming the 109th person released from sentence of death in
the United States for reasons of probable innocence. At 10:30 this
morning Cole County prosecutor, Bill Tackett, announced that the DNA
tests he had ordered do not implicate Joe.
Joe Amrine has just
walked out of the Cole County Jail a free man. The Missouri Supreme Court
issued a ruling in April granting Amrine a new trial if the state
elected to re-file charges. Tackett had asked for an extension to study
DNA evidence but today's statement leaves the Supreme Court's decision (below)
definitive. Amrine had been under sentence of death in Missouri since
1986 (16 years), for a crime that he did not commit.
Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty (MADP) celebrate Amrine's
release and condemn the lengthy process to win his release. This case
is a classic reason to insist on a moratorium of all executions.
In November 2001,
the Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set
an execution date for Amrine. The high court complied with several
requests for such dates for others; state officials have since executed
6 of those men.
however, delayed setting a date and--perhaps prompted in part by the
acclaimed documentary, "Unreasonable Doubt: the Joe Amrine Case" and its
resulting public attention--convened its extraordinary hearing to
consider his innocence.
decision and now courageous action by Tackett comes after all of
Amrine's appeals had gone on deaf ears. In its hearing on February 4th
we heard the Assistant Attorney General declare that the Court need not
stop the execution of an innocent person as long as the prisoner had a
Supreme Court rejected that policy, declaring that a "manifest injustice"
would occur if an innocent man was executed. Joe Amrine was convicted
and sentenced to die on the testimony of jailhouse informants who have
since recanted.The only remaining evidence in the case points to his
innocence. 2 witness, one a prison guard, have implicated one of the
informants in the murder.
Sean O'Brien, Joe's
attorney, said, "It was way too easy to convict him in the first place,
and way too hard to get him a new trial."We demand a halt to all
executions and the formation of a commission to study what went wrong in
Joe Amrine's case and to examine various aspects of Missouri's death-penalty
commission releases a complete report, a moratorium on executions should
remain in effect.Missouri's criminal justice system is plagued with the
same problems that moved former Illinois Governor Ryan, a Republican and
former death penalty supporter, to stop the machinery of death in
Illinois and that has inspired legislation.
∑A recent study by
the University of Missouri reveals that race plays a key role in
determining who gets the death sentence in Missouri.
∑Nearly a dozen
prisoners sentenced to death in Missouri were defended by lawyers later
∑2 other death-sentenced
inmates inmates have been completely exonerated years after their trials;
at least 5 others have been executed in spite of troubling questions of
least 3 more men living under a death sentence in Missouri's Potosi
prison have strong claims of innocence.
∑A 1999 poll of
Missourians showed strong public support for a moratorium on executions,
and a study of the death penalty system in Missouri, as noted in the
MADP report "Miscarriages of Justice".
perhaps Missouri's strongest leader on civil rights, showed his
understanding of such flaws when he commuted the death sentences of his
would-be assassins.MADP members believe that an independent study of
Missouri's death penalty system will show it to be rife with flaws and
We have a civic
obligation to pause the government-sponsored taking of human life so
that we can make a clear and informed decision on our duty as Americans
to prevent injustice.
We urge Governor
Holden and the Missouri General Assembly to declare a moratorium on
executions in Missouri, and conduct a fair and balanced study of the