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Judge denies Gardner's request for special prosecutors in death penalty cases

Kim Gardner's embattled office

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner leaves the Mel Carnahan Courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Christian Gooden,


ST. LOUIS — A judge on Friday denied Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s request for outside help to prosecute three death penalty cases.

The orders from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan come three weeks after a different judge rejected Gardner’s motion for special prosecutors in eight other felony cases including the shooting death of a former St. Louis police captain.

Hogan’s order gave the same reason: “The Circuit Attorney’s motion did not set forth any factual basis for disqualification.”

Hogan said state law provides a means for Missouri’s governor to appoint the attorney general’s office to help prosecutors and for prosecutors to request such assistance.

“This appears to be the proper mechanism to procure assistance for a prosecuting attorney’s office that has no conflict of interest but is unable to handle its caseload, due to the pandemic, staff turnover, or any other reason,” Hogan’s order said. “To this court’s knowledge, however, the circuit attorney has made no request for assistance … to either the governor or to the attorney general.”

The order applies to death penalty cases against Ollie Lynch, Cornelius Green and Phillip Cutler.

Gardner’s office first sought special prosecutors in late July, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. One of her top aides later explained in court that the office needed outside help with a mounting backlog of serious cases brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The aide also cited a lack of both expertise and experienced attorneys.

Gardner, a Democrat, specifically requested that the Missouri attorney general’s office, led by Republican Eric Schmitt, take the death penalty cases. A spokesman for Schmitt said the office would take them if approved.

Hogan’s order said that because the conflict cited by Gardner’s office “is not a disqualifying conflict” under Missouri’s rules of professional conduct, the judge has no authority to appoint special prosecutors.

Allison Hawk, a spokeswoman for Gardner, declined comment.

Green, 30, of St. Louis, and Cutler, 41, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, are charged in the March 24, 2016, shooting death of a pregnant teacher who worked at Mann Elementary School. Green, who was principal of the Carr Lane Visual Performing Arts Middle School, is accused of hiring Cutler, his childhood friend, to kill Jocelyn Peters, 30.

Lynch, 29, of Greendale, is charged in the 2017 killings of Jeramee Ramey, 31, Jalen Woods, 17, and Amber Green, 25.

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