Missouri prisoner clings on to little hope for freedom after petition to U.S. Supreme Court

Chris Dunn, 51, also hopes legislation can lead to his freedom
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:31 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - The lawyer of a St. Louis man and convicted felon has filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme to review his client’s case.

Chris Dunn’s lawyer recently filed the petition to ask the court to decide if Dunn’s incarceration is unconstitutional after a judge acknowledged in 2020 that Dunn meets the criteria to be innocent. The Missouri Supreme Court has refused to hear Dunn’s case.

In 1991, Dunn was convicted for a 1990 deadly shooting of 15-year-old Recco Rogers in St. Louis. DeMorris Stepp, 14, and Michael Davis, 12, accused Dunn of the shooting in 1990 and testified against him. They later admitted they lied about Dunn’s involvement. No DNA ever tied Dunn to the murder.

Dunn claimed police and his public defender didn’t check out his alibi.

“I can’t sit here and tell you what happened during the crime because I wasn’t there,” Dunn told News 4. “I don’t even know Recco Rogers. They didn’t have a motive. They didn’t really have a case, except two young guys who said I did the crime. The victim’s family is entitled to justice. As long as I’m in prison, and as long as the state holds someone like me, the family of the victim, they will never get their justice.”

“I ain’t see no shots,” said Davis, who originally accused Dunn of the killing, in a 2017 recorded interview with a private investigator hired by the Dunn family. “We don’t even know if Recco was the one that supposed to been shot that night. Nobody seen Dunn shoot him.”

A man name Sheron Williams, who served time in jail with Dwayne Rogers, the brother of Recco Rogers, sent a letter to the courts in 2002 claiming Dwayne admitted to Williams that Dunn didn’t kill Recco. According to Williams, Dwayne didn’t elaborate on who killed Recco.

“In his voice, I could hear in his voice--like he was telling the truth,” Williams told News 4. “Then he got to asking--he was like, ‘do you know my brother? I’m like, ‘kind of.’ He was like, ‘do you know Christopher Dunn, A.K.A.--they called him Trap then. ‘I’m like ‘yeah.’ He like, ‘I know Trap. He ain’t even kill my brother.’”

Missouri recently enacted a law giving prosecutors an avenue to file a petition to free innocent prisoners who exhaust their appeals. The law allows a prosecutor to file a motion to vacate or set aside a judgment at any time if they have information that the convicted person may be innocent or may have been erroneously convicted.

The new law allowed Kevin Strickland to go free in Kansas City in 2021 and got Lamar Johnson a retrial in St. Louis in December. The outcome of Johnson’s case is still pending.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office hasn’t filed a petition to have Dunn’s case heard again by a judge. The office told News 4 it is still investigating the case.

A Missouri Supreme Court case in 2016 (Lincoln v. Cassady) ruled claims of freestanding innocence are relegated to death row inmates. That ruling set the precedent of only allowing prosecutors to file a motion to vacate or set aside a judgment at any time if they have information that the death row inmate may be innocent or may have been erroneously convicted, excluding all other convicted felons.

Pre-filed Missouri legislation called the Freestanding Bill would allow a person in the custody of the Department of Corrections to raise a freestanding claim of actual innocence in any post-conviction proceeding if the person questions the court’s findings in the original criminal case. The court has the authority to review, decide, and issue an order on the claim if there is clear and convincing evidence supporting the claim. The court must consider evidence not presented at the original trial or during a plea, postconviction hearing, or direct appeal. If the court determines the burden of proof has been met, the court must vacate or set aside the judgment.

News 4 contacted Steven Ohmer, the former prosecutor who prosecuted Dunn, and the Missouri Attorney’s General Office, which has been known to impede cases involving claims of innocence. Both declined to talk to News 4, citing pending legislation.