St. Louis Observer: December 2, 2022
Kevin Johnson executed despite defects in conviction; County plea bargaining process scrutinized; City neighborhood order of protection system, constitutionality questioned
This week, the Observer uplifts Kevin Johnson, his daughter Khorry Ramey, and their family. We mourn the loss of his life, taken by the State of Missouri, done in our names.
Johnson’s execution follows the horrific failure of Missouri courts - from circuit to appellate and all the way to the Supreme Court - to enforce its own laws. A special prosecutor, appointed by the court itself, had found direct evidence that tainted Johnson’s conviction and death sentence and he had brought that information to the St. Louis County Court’s attention. But instead of holding a hearing on the newly-discovered evidence (a requirement under a new 2021 law), Judge Mary Elizabeth Ott instead summarily denied the special prosecutor’s request for a hearing and she provided no factual findings in her denial - another requirement under the law.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson penned a scathing dissent as Johnson’s execution moved forward. Justice Jackson noted the Missouri courts’ lack of respect for the very law they are charged to uphold. She pointed out where multiple Missouri judges refused to follow the “prescribed procedures” that required a hearing of Johnson’s case.
Missouri courts had a “shall” mandate, not a discretionary “may,” to review the circumstances around Johnson’s conviction. And that mandate, at every level of the state judicial system, was wholly ignored.
“Rules for thee, not for me,” said the majority of the Missouri Supreme Court.
At what point do citizens get the discretion to follow Missouri law? We already know that police get to pick and choose what they follow, and that they have the discretion to determine who to gun down and claim “qualified immunity.”
What does the “rule of law” even mean anymore, when every level of our judicial system disregards it?
Police, prosecutorial, and judicial accountability
Despite DNA evidence and a bad jailhouse informant’s testimony, Marcellus Williams remains on Missouri’s death row for a murder of which he maintains his innocence. Williams’ case is yet another by notorious former St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who was known for his overzealous and aggressive prosecutions tainted with misconduct, racism, and constitutional flaws. Williams remains in limbo, primarily due to inaction by Gov. Mike Parson. [Sylvester Brown/River City Journalism Fund]
Former interim police chief and architect of the 2017 Stockley kettling, Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, has submitted his letter in support of former aldermanic board president Lewis Reed, ahead of Reed’s sentencing. O’Toole’s hypocritical application of the law as it pertains to Reed did not go unnoticed by local media. [Ryan Krull/Riverfront Times]
Researchers in New York have found that St. Louis County prosecuting attorneys engage in the plea bargaining process with a “problematic lack of consistent standards” and that many plea deals were reached where “prosecutorial discretion was the primary factor of what a plea bargain looked like.” Overall, researchers identified a lack of transparency and uniformity in the settlement process on the part of prosecuting attorneys. [Ryan Krull/Riverfront Times]
In the wake of Kevin Johnson’s execution, advocates are scrutinizing the racial composition of Missouri juries and the impact they can have on criminal cases, especially those involving the death penalty. “Batson challenges,” as they are called, are raised when a defense attorney believes that a juror has been struck due to their race. However, defendants have a higher burden to demonstrate that a prosecutor acted based on race, and prosecutors don’t have to provide a “persuasive or even plausible” explanation for their actions. [Sarah Fenske/River City Journalism Fund]
The Illinois legislature has passed a series of new pre-trial detention guidelines in anticipation of the SAFE-T Act, which takes effect on January 1. The new legislation expands the lists of crimes for which a judge may order pretrial detention, as well as the list of factors that a judge may consider when considering whether a defendant is a flight risk. The measure still ends the cash bail system, a wealth-based system of pre-trial detention. [Jerry Nowicki/Capital News Illinois]
A St. Louis City ordinance allows judges to banish individuals from certain neighborhoods, with the threat of arrest by police if they violate the banishment. These so-called “Neighborhood Orders of Protection” often prevent persons from accessing their homes or needed services. A ProPublica investigation dives deeper into this abusive system and those that it victimizes. [Jeremy Kohler/ProPublica]
Economic development and housing
A Kansas City-based nonprofit, Generating Income For Tomorrow or GIFT, is helping Black business owners in Kansas City to foster economic prosperity and wealth. With the intent to close the city’s racial wealth gap, GIFT has distributed nearly $700,000 in grants to 42 Black-owned businesses east of Troost Avenue, the historical racial and economic dividing line in Kansas City. [Mili Mansaray/KCUR]
St. Louis County has opened a new warming shelter at the Salvation Army Center at 10740 Page Avenue, for unhoused persons in need of a warm refuge from cold temperatures. The shelter will remain open, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, until March 12, and will provide additional services such as laundry facilities, hot meals, and case management. [Monica Obradovic/Riverfront Times]
Members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country’s first Black sorority, have announced plans to convert the home of one of the sorority’s founders into a museum that highlights the achievements of Black women. The museum, located in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood, will include a new 12,000-square-foot community center for educational classes. [Andrea Y. Henderson/St. Louis Public Radio]
Anti-semitic flyers were found posted around Dutchtown earlier this week. Despite the clear messaging intended to incite violence against the Jewish community, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department unsurprisingly is not considering the distribution of the flyers as a hate crime. [Shoshana Stahl/KMOV]
A new exhibit at the Luminary explores the various ways that white women uphold white supremacy. The photography and sculpture exhibition by artist Kelly Kristin Jones examines “nwl,” or “nice white ladies,” and encourages viewers to reject white supremacy through “honest introspection and reassessment” of white culture in public and private spaces.[Avery Lea Rogers/St. Louis Public Radio]
Beyond the Paywall
To read the below articles in full, please visit SLPL.org and access these articles through the Digital Content tab. St. Louis City & County residents can read these publications free using their library cards.
“Messenger: Supreme Court justice chastises Missouri judges for Kevin Johnson case,” by Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Dozens of citations, but mold, mice and cold water remain in Ferguson apartments,” by Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Proposed cuts to St. Louis County budget include jail, police, and public health staff,” by Kelsey Landis, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Messenger: New nonprofit wants to change how St. Louis battles homelessness,” by Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Former Velda City officer gets 3 years probation for shooting at fleeing car,” by Erin Heffernan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“St. Louis County jail guard attacked by inmate while supervising dozens alone,” by Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis City Board of Aldermen
BB 116, sponsored by Ald. Shameem Clark Hubbard (Ward 26), would delegate a portion of the City’s remaining ARPA funds to create a universal basic income pilot program. The bill will be considered by the HUDZ Committee on December 8 at 9:00 a.m.
BB 87, sponsored by Ald. Pamela Boyd (Ward 27) and Ald. Carol Howard (Ward 14), would add a new police district to cover Lambert International Airport, raising the number to 7 total in the City of St. Louis. The bill was assigned to the Public Safety Committee on September 16 and has had no further movement.
Learn more about how a bill becomes a City ordinance.
Track these board bills and much more on St. Louis PoliticClips’ dashboard.
Quote of the Week
"Gone are the days of putting big developers over the children of our city... Gone are the days of mass incarceration, where we criminalize you before we try to restore you"
Marquis Govan, field director for newly-inaugurated President of the Board of Aldermen Megan Green at her inauguration, Nov. 28, 2022