St. Louis Man Freed From Wrongful Conviction After 24 Years

Does this sound familiar?

Out of the blue, ... [Darryl] Burton (age 22) was fingered by two individuals claiming to be witnesses. There was no physical evidence linking him to the murder; a slug was found at the murder scene, but no weapon was ever recovered. A jealousy motive for Burton regarding a girlfriend was investigated by police, but not presented at trial. Prosecutor Anthony Gonzales presented no motive at all.

A witness who testified in exchange for a reduced sentence lied about his criminal record. That witness' testimony varied drastically from the story he told the police. New evidence shows that the other witness "was a chronic liar who was not at the crime scene at the time of the shooting and had vision so poor that he could not have seen the shooting from where he claimed to be sitting had he in fact been sitting there."

Other witnesses identified Jesse Watson as the shooter, a likely suspect given that Watson took a shot at the same victim at the same location a year earlier. The police didn't bother to investigate Watson. [more ...]

Even without the new evidence, the case against Burton was weak, leaving one to wonder whether the jurors were in a hurry to catch a Cardinals game and didn't feel it necessary to review and discuss the evidence in any detail.

In spite of witnesses’ unreliability, conflicting testimonies and departures from previous statements, the jury took less than an hour to reach their guilty verdict. In March 1985, Circuit Judge Jack L. Koerhr sentenced Burton to life without parole for 50 years for capital murder, and 25 consecutive years for armed criminal action.

“I got death by incarceration instead of death by lethal injection,” Burton said.

A few months after Burton was sentenced, one of the witnesses recanted. He provided Burton with an affidavit admitting that he lied to help himself. (The witness had nothing to lose by revealing the truth, having in the meantime earned a life sentence for felony murder.)

Earlier this year, a judge ruled that “the failure to disclose Simmons’ [criminal] background rendered Mr. Burton’s trial fundamentally unfair.”

The ruling further stated that the “plausible and persuasive evidence” would have proven his innocence.

Burton served 24 years before his release in August. Nearly a quarter century. His father and grandmother died while he was behind bars. He has cause for bitterness, but the linked story says Burton "doesn’t have time to wallow in bitterness or self-pity." He's made it his mission "to make sure that society knows there are hundreds of innocent men and women imprisoned in Missouri."

Despite all the evidence, despite knowing that a prosecution witness testified falsely about his criminal record and that the prosecutor did nothing to correct his perjury, a current St. Louis prosecutor, Ed Postawko, thinks the jury got it right. If you choose to comment upon Mr. Postawko's unrepentant attitude concerning his office's misconduct and its impact on Darryl Burton's life, please censor or disguise your profanity to avoid the law firm filters that might keep some of our readers from enjoying TalkLeft at work.

< Friday Evening Open Thread | MN Supreme Court Order Locks Coleman In On Request To Count More Absentee Ballots >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Postawko should be jailed (none / 0) (#1)
    by nellre on Fri Jan 02, 2009 at 05:02:48 PM EST
    Postawko's job is to protect society. Incarcerating the wrong man not only tortures the falsely convicted, but endangers society because the bad guys are still out there.

    D%@# (none / 0) (#2)
    by JamesTX on Fri Jan 02, 2009 at 06:25:55 PM EST



    How can someone say they believe the jury got this right when he knows exactly what happened? Not only did the jury have bad info, they clearly defaulted to authoritarian worship of the prosecutor. How do these people sleep? I realize those of us outside the legal profession don't understand the difference between ethics and law and fiduciary duty and all that, but this prosecutor is evil incarnate.

    Maybe the filters will let that through!

    Darryl Burton (none / 0) (#3)
    by veloer on Fri Jan 02, 2009 at 07:12:20 PM EST
    This is a case that reinforces my contention that all wrongly convicted should get a million dollars for each year unfairly served. If the taxpayers would squawk maybe the DAs would be more in tune with the evidence.    

    Prosecutors (none / 0) (#4)
    by Zorba on Fri Jan 02, 2009 at 07:28:56 PM EST
    I cannot understand why (some, not all) D.A.'s continue to hold onto the idea that "The conviction was lawful and correct"  after their office has been proven wrong (whether by witnesses recanting, findings by The Innocence Project, or whatever).  This is not a game where you get points for "Wins or Losses."  This involves someone's life.  If prosecutors cannot bring themselves to work for the truth and the public trust, they need to get out of the business.

    This truly sickens me. (none / 0) (#5)
    by indy in sc on Sat Jan 03, 2009 at 08:52:05 PM EST
    I can't imagine any amount of compensation that would make up for losing a quarter century of your life behind bars for no reason.