Why it’s so hard to get the wrongly convicted out of prison in Missouri

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 4:47 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Christopher Dunn is convicted in a 1990 Saint Louis murder. His conviction was based largely in part on teenage eyewitnesses who are now adults and admit under oath they lied.

Dunn has served 33 years and has fresh hope now that a prosecutor is asking a judge to vacate his conviction.

His legal path to freedom is being highlighted by advocates for why the law needs to change.

The truth is Dunn would have been released years ago if he was sentenced to death row.

“Each day is like a living hell waking up to the same nightmare every day. It will never end,” said Christopher Dunn.

Dunn is represented in part by the Midwest Innocence Project. The executive director explained the legal challenges for Missouri prisoners.

“Missouri is the only state that says if you were sentenced to death, you can prove your innocence. You get to go home. But if you are sentenced to anything else, even life without parole, and you can prove your innocence, too bad, so sad. We cannot help you,” said Tricia Rojo Bushnell.

ALSO READ: New hope for prisoner after 33 years, prosecutor asks court to dismiss murder conviction

Right now, the only legal avenue for wrongly convicted Missouri prisoners is for a prosecutor to take their cases back to court.

It’s a mechanism that worked for Kansas City’s Kevin Strickland and Saint Louis’ Lamar Johnson. Both of those cities have prosecutors with conviction integrity units. The rest of the state does not.

“We can fix that. The legislature can fix that. There have been some good bills introduced in the legislature for the past two years, that have not yet made it onto the floor. But we can do that. And Christopher Dunn’s case shows how necessary and important that is,” said Rojo Bushnell.

Legal precedent has been cited in previous rulings- including Chris Dunn’s case. In 2020, a Circuit Court judge carefully reviewed old evidence that has fallen apart as well as new alibi witnesses who bolster Dunn’s innocence claims. But the judge ruled what’s called a freestanding claim of innocence only applies to death row cases.

Dunn and his legal team appealed the decision to Missouri’s Supreme Court which declined to hear the issue.

“It don’t make no sense. It was enough evidence, it was good enough evidence for you to convict me, but still, it’s not good enough evidence for you to free me now. What? What logic is that?” said Christopher Dunn.