Missouri Supreme Court reverses convictions of death row inmate
St. Louis Post Dispatch By David A. Lieb, Associated Press 02/11/2003
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the convictions of a man sentenced to death for a double murder six years ago near the Lake of the Ozarks.
Danny Wolfe had been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Leonard and Lena Walters, who were found dead on Feb. 23, 1997.
The state Supreme Court had upheld his convictions and death sentence during a standard appeal three years ago.
But in a unanimous decision Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ruled Wolfe had received ineffective assistance from his attorney, who failed to pursue evidence that cast doubt on Wolfe's guilt.
``This court's confidence in the fairness of the trial and the reliability of Wolfe's conviction is seriously undermined,'' Judge Richard Teitelman wrote for the state's highest court, which reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial.
The court said hair fibers belonging to Jessica Cox were found in the back seat of the car from which Leonard Walters was shot and in an ammunition box found in a Dumpster.
By comparison, ``none of the physical evidence directly linked Wolfe to the killings,'' the court said.
Cox was the chief witness against Wolfe during his trial, testifying that she witnessed him shoot Leonard Walters during a test drive of a car he was selling. Cox claimed Wolfe shot Walters from the back seat while she was driving the car.
Cox also testified that she waited outside while Wolfe then went inside the couple's home and killed Lena Walters, the court said.
Wolfe's trial attorney asserted that Cox was framing Wolfe, but argued in court only that the hair found in the car and trash bin was not Wolfe's, the court said.
A post-trial comparison showed the hair fibers matched those of Cox. A defense attorney could have easily arranged a scientific comparison of the hair fibers before the trial, the court said.
``The results of the hair analysis would have likely cast doubt on Cox's credibility,'' Teitelman wrote. ``The evidence would have directly contradicted Cox's testimony and supported Wolfe's defense that Cox was framing him.''
Case is Danny Wolfe v. State of Missouri, SC84259.
On the Net: Missouri Judiciary: http://www.osca.state.mo.us