Will Chris Dunn be the next Missouri prisoner to go free?
Dunn has several options towards freedom
ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Will another Missouri prisoner get a chance at freedom after a St. Louis judge allowed Lamar Johnson to go free after 28 years in prison?
Only one member of the “Missouri 3″ remains in prison: Chris Dunn of St. Louis.
In 2021, Missouri 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.
In 2021, a judge ruled Kevin Strickland was innocent after an evidentiary hearing requested by a Jackson County prosecutor who said the evidence used to convict Strickland had been recanted or disproven since his 1979 conviction.
In February, a judge ruled Johnson is innocent after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner requested a hearing for Johnson.
Dunn, 51, has been incarcerated for almost 33 years. He was convicted for killing Recco Rogers, 15, in 1990 in north St. Louis.
Two boys 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 had an evidentiary hearing in 2018. In 2020, a judge said he believed a jury would rule that Dunn is innocent but couldn’t vacate Dunn’s conviction because a 2016 Missouri Supreme Court ruling in Lincoln v. Cassady set the precedent that only the courts can vacate freestanding claims of innocence for death row inmates.
There are several options for Dunn to be freed from prison. Dunn’s lawyer, Justin Bonus, filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bonus called Dunn’s incarceration unconstitutional, citing the 8th Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office has been required to respond to the petition. The office was granted an extension to respond, which gives the office until March 8.
Another option for Dunn’s freedom is for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to file a petition to the courts for a new hearing. The CAO has told News 4 on several occasions it’s looking into Dunn’s case. On Tuesday, the office said it would respond at a later time.
The third option is for the Missouri legislature to pass a bill called the Freestanding Bill. It 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.
Missouri Representative Kimberly Ann-Collins sponsored the bill. She represents parts of St. Louis. The bill has yet to have movement by lawmakers in Jefferson City.
“I would say because the Supreme Court has asked for a state response from Missouri and that they did allow Missouri to ask for another 30 days of extension, it looks hopeful that they may take up the case,” Kira Dunn, Chris Dunn’s wife, said. “Chris already had a hearing before a circuit, as did Lamar.”
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office didn’t respond to News 4′s request for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
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