St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Man cleared on DNA evidence is freed
By Heather Ratcliffe
Friday, Mar. 30 2007

Antonio Beaver and cousin Dennis Beaver
Antonio Beaver (left) talks with his cousin Dennis Beaver, after Antonio was released from prison on March 29 in St. Louis. (Karen Stockman/P-D)
St. Louis — Antonio Beaver strolled downtown Thursday with a smile ear-to-ear.

"Woo-hoo," he whistled over and over, repeating, "This is beautiful."

His grin never faded at a restaurant when he gave his lunch order, asked for directions to the men's room and dug a spoon into an ice cream sundae.

"I'm just so happy to be here," he told a table full of attorneys, family members and supporters who helped him win his freedom with DNA evidence that proved he had been wrongfully convicted of robbery.

In 10 years behind bars, Beaver often had to ask permission to use the bathroom and got little choice of food or mealtimes. Prison ice cream never had a cherry on top.

"I'm happy to be in the company of good people. I'm thankful for a good meal," Beaver said. "But most importantly, I'm glad I'm not back in that madhouse anymore."

Beaver was convicted in 1997 in the carjacking of a woman near the Arch the year before. The robber, wielding a screwdriver, was stabbed during a struggle with the victim.

Blood inside her car was not Beaver's, according to recent DNA test results. Prosecutors said the sample had not been tested before trial because it was too small for the technology of the day.

Beaver passed up a plea bargain to trade a confession for a 10-year term, which would have been up about now. This way, he is freed of the conviction and may qualify for state compensation of $50 a day for time served — more than $180,000.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said she would help Beaver apply for the money. "I pledge to you as a person and a prosecutor to do anything I can to help you re-enter society," she said at a press conference.

Earlier Thursday, Circuit Judge Michael David ordered Beaver released on a joint motion filed by Joyce's office and the Innocence Project, which helps prisoners who claim wrongful convictions.

"This feels strange to have my freedom," Beaver said. "I'd like to give thanks to my God. He knew I was innocent from the start."

Joyce said the DNA testing led investigators to a new suspect, who is jailed on another crime. She declined to give details.
Beaver's ordeal began when the carjacking victim described a man with a baseball cap and gap in his front teeth. Six days later, a St. Louis police officer noticed Beaver on the street and thought he fit the description. Beaver voluntarily participated in a line-up, said Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project attorney.

The victim picked him from among four men.

Beaver, who had a broken front tooth, was the only one with a dental imperfection, his lawyers said, and was one of only two with a ball cap.

The victim's testimony was the only evidence presented to the jury. Beaver, then 31, was convicted of first-degree robbery and sentenced to 18 years. Officials did not reveal the victim's name Thursday.

Beaver's road to exoneration began when another inmate who claimed to be not guilty, Johnny Briscoe, taught him how to file his own appeal. Briscoe was exonerated of a sexual assault conviction last year by DNA tests on cigarette butts from a crime scene.

In 2001, Beaver filed a motion under a new Missouri law allowing convicts to file for post-conviction DNA testing. Circuit Judge John J. Riley granted a hearing and appointed a public defender in 2005. About that time, the Innocence Project got involved.

In October, Riley ordered a test; Morrison said she called Beaver with the results Monday.

Morrison lauded Joyce for supporting Beaver's immediate release.

Joyce said she reviewed the case and found no wrongdoing by the police, prosecutors, judge or victim.

Beaver, who left prison owning only the clothes on his back, said he plans to get a job and reconnect with his family — including two grown sons with whom he lost touch. "I wanted to be a father to my sons, and I couldn't," he said. "Now, I've got to go try to make amends."

Donations to the Antonio Beaver Support Fund are being accepted by the Sindel, Sindel, Noble PC law firm at 8008 Carondelet, #301, Clayton, Mo. 63105. Checks should be made out to "Sindel, Sindel, Noble PC" with "Antonio Beaver Support Fund" in the memo line.

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