ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A man convicted of one killing and suspected in two others may never face a possible death sentence in Missouri, in part because of sentencing delays caused by a prosecutor’s stroke and the killer’s own failing health.
Gregory Bowman, 62, was convicted of abducting and strangling a teenager in St. Louis County in 1977. He was also convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl and a 21-year-old woman in Belleville, Ill., both in 1978, but the convictions were overturned and he was never retried.
The Missouri Supreme Court upheld Bowman’s conviction in the Missouri case in 2011 but ordered a new sentencing hearing. Unusual circumstances have led St. Louis County Circuit Judge David Vincent to allow repeated delays, the latest moving the hearing to April 2015. That hearing would determine whether Bowman would be sentenced to life in prison without parole, or death.
Bowman’s original attorney was Stephen Evans. He was convicted of federal fraud charges last year and is serving a 15-month prison sentence.
A public defender was appointed for Bowman. But in January, the assistant St. Louis County prosecutor handling the case suffered a stroke, said Colleen Blake, Vincent’s clerk. The judge was also informed that Bowman has a serious and potentially fatal kidney ailment, Blake said. She did not know specific details of the illness and a Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman declined to comment, citing privacy rights.
Bowman’s attorney, Robert Steele, did not respond to messages seeking comment. St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch declined to comment.
The Missouri victim, 16-year-old Velda Rumfelt, grew up in the St. Louis County town of Brentwood before moving to Kansas City, Mo., to live with her mother. In June 1977 she hitched a ride back to suburban St. Louis with an acquaintance, and the two spent the day at the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park.
Then she disappeared, last seen walking with an older man along a street. Her body was found in a field the next day. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a shoestring.
A year later, two killings shook Belleville, another St. Louis suburb. Bowman confessed to killing 14-year-old Elizabeth West and 21-year-old Ruth Ann Jany.
West was last seen alive April 22, 1978, as she walked away from her high school. Her body was found nearly two weeks later in a small creek near Millstadt, Ill. Jany, a nurse, disappeared from a bank parking lot on July 7, 1978. Her body was found several months later.
Bowman pleaded guilty in March 1979, but recanted days later, claiming his statements were coerced. He was convicted, but a judge granted a new trial in 2001 after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation indicated that Bowman had been denied information about police tricks that created doubt about the confession. Bowman was briefly freed on bond in January 2007.
Meanwhile, St. Louis County police obtained Bowman’s DNA profile from Belleville investigators, and used it to connect him to the killing of Rumfelt. He was arrested soon after his releases in Illinois, and convicted in 2009. Illinois prosecutors said at the time they did not intend to re-try Bowman on the Belleville killings.
In April 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that during the sentencing phase of Bowman’s trial in the Missouri case, jurors improperly heard information about the Belleville murders. The conviction stood but the court ordered a new sentencing hearing.
Bowman is imprisoned at the Potosi Correctional Center in southeast Missouri.