ICYMI: Missouri’s Republican AG Eric Schmitt Continually on “Wrong Side of History” & Law
July 23, 2020
KC Star Editorial Board Slams AG Schmitt for Protecting Some, Not All, Missourians
This week, Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced he would attempt to personally intervene in the criminal case involving the white Missouri couple who went viral for brandishing weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home. Schmitt is seeking a DISMISSAL of the case.
Simultaneously, AG Schmitt is OPPOSED to a new trial for Lamar Johnson, a Black man who remains in maximum-security prison for a crime that according to recent reporting “he almost certainly did not commit.”
Schmitt has a history of being on the wrong side of history. In fact, he has a track record of fighting against the release of innocent people from prison—and losing. Just this year, the Missouri Supreme Court stepped in and cleared the way for the release of three men, all convicted of crimes they did not commit.
In case you missed it, the Kansas City Star Editorial Board slammed AG Schmitt this week:
In a series of tweets and public statements this week, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he would attempt to intervene in the criminal case against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a Missouri couple charged with illegally brandishing weapons during a peaceful protest nearby.
“St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner is engaged in a political prosecution,” Schmitt wrote in a tweet. “I entered the case seeking a dismissal. As AG I have a duty to protect the fundamental rights of all Missourians including the right to keep & bear arms in self-defense of one’s person & home.”
One day later, Schmitt defended his decision to interfere with the case brought forth by Gardner, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney.
“There is a common law interest if the attorney general feels that the broader interest of Missourians are affected,” Schmitt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The McCloskeys are white.
Their case has become a cause célèbre, with conservatives stampeding to their defense.
Lamar Johnson, who also has fundamental rights, has been imprisoned for nearly a quarter-century for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. He remains in a Missouri prison largely because Schmitt has opposed a new trial for Johnson at every turn, despite compelling evidence that could set the inmate free.
Johnson is Black.
It’s clear that Schmitt believes some Missourians have fundamental rights, and others do not. The color of one’s skin appears to be a key distinction.
These two cases are not the only examples. Schmitt has fought bitterly against constitutional funding for Missouri’s public defenders, including contesting a proposed remedy designed to improve the system.
The message is clear: If you’re poor, if you’re Black, there is no place in Eric Schmitt’s Missouri for you. If you’re white, you’re protected.
THE REAL KILLERS CONFESSED
Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But evidence suggests Johnson did not fatally shoot Marcus Boyd in an attempted robbery.
In sworn affidavits, two other men admitted they killed Boyd.
Police and prosecutors made up evidence and secretly paid witnesses, a review from the conviction integrity unit in Gardner’s office found last year. Gardner’s 67-page motion sought to vacate Johnson’s conviction and grant him a new trial.
Schmitt, the state’s top law enforcement official, opposed it.
“The law does not allow the Circuit Attorney’s Office to file a motion for a new trial almost 25 years too late,” the attorney general’s office wrote.
But as Gardner noted, there is no expiration date for justice to be served.
But petty politics has extended Johnson’s stay at a maximum-security facility in Jefferson City.
Has a standoff between the state’s Republican attorney general and Gardner, a St. Louis Democrat, cost Johnson his freedom? How else to explain why he is still in prison despite admissions of guilt from the real culprits?
“We have some individuals playing politics,” Gardner said. “It’s not about innocence. That’s why he is still in jail.”
A spokesman for Schmitt’s office said: “Suggestions that our office’s involvement is any sort of political ploy are completely and totally unfounded,”
Gardner does not plan to seek a retrial. Despite overwhelming evidence that Johnson is innocent, ideologies and political affiliations have undoubtedly played a role in keeping him behind bars.
The attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit claiming Gardner did not have the legal authority to order a new trial. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District ruled against Gardner’s office last year.
Schmitt’s office argued the same in front of the Missouri Supreme Court earlier this year. A ruling isn’t expected until the fall.
“Although it was 25 years ago, the adversity and the pain resurfaces every single day of my life,” Kierra Barrow, Johnson’s 26-year-old daughter, said at a rally for Johnson held in St. Louis earlier this month.
MISSOURI AG ON WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY
Since taking office in 2019, Schmitt has continuously fought the release of innocent people from prison — and lost.
This year, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the attorney general and cleared the way for the release of Larry Callanan, Jonathan Irons and Donald Nash, all convicted of crimes they did not commit. None remains in prison.
The attorney general’s office has until August to retry Nash, who is out on a signature bond after a judge ruled in his favor and the high court affirmed the decision.
In Johnson’s case, Schmitt should drop the legal challenge and set him free.
“If Mr. Johnson and his legal team, with the Circuit Attorney’s support, wishes to introduce new evidence, he may do so in the proper court by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus,” the Attorney General’s office wrote in an email to The Star Editorial Board.
Gardner is a first-time circuit attorney. She ran on a progressive platform. Political attacks have followed since she took office in 2016.
Gardner’s motion seeking a new trial for Johnson was supported by 45 elected prosecutors from around the country.
An elected prosecutor has the authority to correct the wrongful convictions of their predecessors, the group argued in an amicus curiae brief filed with the Missouri Supreme Court in 2019.
Is Schmitt listening, though?
“We have to have the ability to overturn wrongful convictions,” Gardner said.
It’s clear our country’s criminal justice system is broken, and politicians like Eric Schmitt are using that to give a few privileged constituents an unfair advantage. That’s not justice and it’s not right.
This November, Missourians will have the opportunity to escape Eric Schmitt’s corrupt ways by voting him out of office. It’s long past time Missouri had an Attorney General committed to justice and equal protection under the law.