JUSTICE FOR JOYCE BELROSE
On August 29, 2000 ... a Webster Groves Clark Elementary school teacher ... was doing something special for her students. Joyce Belrose was buying supplies for her new class. Like many teachers, she was picking up extra paper, pencils and other items which she bought out of her own pocket; she was doing it because she loved her job and her students and wanted to make sure they had every advantage possible.
About 3 that afternoon .. she walked out to her car at the West County Center in Des Peres. In one brief, frightening moment ... a shopping trip for her 4th grade students .. turned tragic.
Derrick Luster saw a woman in her 50s focusing on getting her supplies into her car ... and he decided ... that she would be an easy target. He could get her purse and her Chevy Blazer. It would be easy ... he was strong ... catching her by surprise ... and he had a pistol.
Joyce Belrose was surprised, but so was Luster when she started fighting back... but it ended when she was shot and later died at St. John's Mercy Medical Center.
Luster ran away, but he left behind his ballcap. That cap had a major clue, and the teacher managed to scrape him with her fingernails ... providing another clue.
Tom Belrose and his 4 sons were devastated. Our community was in shock over such a senseless crime against someone who loved to help children.
Des Peres Police were quickly joined by the St. Louis County Major Case Squad; 22 detectives rushed into action.
They had those major clues ... hair in the ball cap ... and skin under the victim's nails ... but the case went unsolved.
Jump ahead to 2006 ... Derrick Luster is being released from a Texas prison after serving time for another crime. He has to give a DNA sample. That's becoming routine for all inmates going into or coming out of the justice system.
The popular CBS show: CSI ... shows you how DNA samples are fed into a federal data bank: CODIS ( Combined DNA Index System). In my opinion, this is one of the best tools we have in today's war against criminals.
It certainly proved valuable in this case ... because suddenly, the 2000 murder of Joyce Belrose was solved. DNA from Luster matched the hair and skin found at the scene of the crime.
Of course, you still a need a trial to convict a killer ... but at the last moment, Luster decided to plead guilty.
At his sentencing in court he told the Belrose family: I was 23 years old when this happened. I've cried myself to sleep many nights because of what I've done. You may not forgive me, but I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart.
Now, I want to ask you a question. Was Luster suddenly burdened with guilt ? Was Luster realizing that if he went to trial and was convicted by a jury ... which was very likely ... he could have been sentenced to life in prison?
Well, whether Luster made his plea based on guilt or fear ... he is now convicted and will serve at least 23 years in prison.
Meanwhile, Joyce Belrose's family ... tries to move forward.
The 2000 school year began a week after Joyce Belrose was killed.
She was not there ... not in person ... but, I'm sure that she was there and continues to be ... in spirit and memory.
Also, I want you to know about a marble bench at the school. It's dedicated to Joyce Belrose. The inscription reads: A teacher touches lives forever.