The Missouri Supreme Court recently overturned the capital conviction of Joseph Amrine, a death row inmate accused of killing a fellow prisoner 17 years ago. The Court found “clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence that undermines confidence” in Amrine’s conviction (Supreme Court of Missouri, SC84656, April 29, 2003). In a 4-3 decision the Court ordered that Amrine be conditionally discharged 30 days from the date the mandate issues in this case unless the state elects to file new charges against Amrine. Amrine has maintained his innocence since the 1985 murder, which occurred while Amrine was was housed in a “SuperMax” area of Missouri State Penitentiary. Investigators never found physical evidence linking Amrine to the murder, and the three inmates who testified against Amrine during his trial later recanted their testimony and said that they had lied to win special protection for themselves. Amrine would have been freed in 1992 without the wrongful murder conviction. During the argument at the Supreme Court, the state had argued that new evidence of Amrine’s innocence should have no bearing on his conviction. (Herald Sun, April 29, 2003)

On June 13, 2003, prosecutor Bill Tackett filed new murder charges against Amrine, one day prior to the filing deadline, and two days prior to Amrine’s scheduled release. Tackett said Thursday he was having possible blood samples from the clothing Amrine wore the day of Barber’s death tested. The results are expected in about 90 days. Amrine pled innocent, and his bond was set at $1 million. Kent Gipson, who represented Amrine in the original case, said he was disappointed and surprised by Tackett’s decision. “I think Joe has been in prison 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit and this just compounds the injustice,” Gipson said. (AP, June 13, 2003)

On July 28, 2003, prosecutor Bill Tackett announced that he would not seek a new trial of Amrine and that he would be released. (Associated Press, July 28, 2003)

Legal Links

  • Click here to read the decision of the Missouri State Supreme Court, handed down on April 29, 2003.
  • Click here to read the application for Pardon, submitted by attorneys Sean O’Brien and Kent Gipson.
  • Click here to read the petition for Habeas Corpus filed in February of 2003 by O’Brien and Gipson.
  • Click here to read the response to the Habeas petition, filed by respondent Al Luebbers.

Additional materials and information:

  • Click Here to read DPIC’s Press Release (July 28, 2003)
  • Click Here to read the Missourians Against the Death Penalty Press Release (July 28, 2003)
  • Click here for more information on the documentary about Joseph Amrine, Unreasonable Doubt
  • Click here for Amnesty International’s coverage of this case.