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Robert P. McColloch Personifies Misconduct by Prosecutors

When discredited Missouri prosecutor Robert P. McColloch recently defended his calculated manipulation of a grand jury which led jurors to free the policeman who fatally shot Michael Brown last summer, McColloch declared piously that eyewitness accounts must “always match physical evidence.”

McColloch, however, did not apply that ‘always match’ standard in the case of Antonio Beaver, a St. Louis man wrongfully convicted by in 1997 of a violent carjacking case tried by McColloch.

That carjacking victim had told police her attacker wasyounger, shorter and weighed less than Beaver. McColloch’s office secured a first-degree robbery conviction and 18-year sentence for Beaver despite those and other salient facts pointing to Beaver’s innocence. Fingerprints from the carjacked vehicle did not match Beaver’s. Further, Beaver had a full mustache unlike the assailant, whom that victim described as having had no facial hair. The victim also said her assailant had a cut on his arm from their struggle, yet Beaver had no such arm injury when he arrested one week after that carjacking.

McColloch’s office initially fought against Beaver’s request to test the DNA evidence that later freed Beaver from prison in 2007, according to an account by the Innocence Project, the respected organization that won Beaver’s release. That Innocence Project account of Beaver’s 2007 release stated he was then at that point the sixth man in St. Louis County to be exonerated by DNA for a conviction based largely on eyewitness misidentification. Five of those six exonerations occurred between 2002 and 2007 that Innocence Project account noted.

Those wrongful convictions cited by the Innocence Project (plus other wrongful convictions in St. Louis County) occurred during the 28-year tenure of Robert P. McColloch as head of that county prosecutors office. In all those wrongful convictions, prosecutors working under McColloch either sanctioned misconduct by authorities or fought against appeals where inmates challenged flawed evidence used in their respective convictions. Beaver spent ten years in prison. McColloch became head prosecutor for St. Louis in 1991, six years before the wrongful conviction of Beaver.

Wrongful convictions coupled with other nearly daily abuses by police and prosecutors are what triggered the reactions nationwide to McColloch’s clearing of Ferguson city policeman Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.

The grand jury that cleared Officer Wilson was under the total control of McColloch’s prosecutors. Experts have criticized McColloch for his violations of standard grand jury procedures in the Michael Brown case like overwhelming the grand jury with data without providing proper direction plus treating Wilson as a victim and not as a possible killer. For example, McCulloch allowed the extremely unusual appearance before the grand jury of Wilson himself, who was allowed to give four hours of self-serving testimony about his own version of the events that transpired leading to his firing six shots into Brown, something which, as we reported earlier [1], even the strict Constitutional Constructionist Antonin Scalia says is simply not done in UK and US grand juries, which he said are supposed to build a case for prosecution, not for dismissal.

In 2001 McColloch, a Democrat who hails from a family of police officers, including a cop father who was killed by a black sniper while responding to a call, drew criticism when a grand jury controlled by his prosecutors cleared two officers who had killed a pair of unarmed men in a parking lot. A news reporter, after reviewing grand jury transcripts supplied by McColloch, revealed that McColloch lied when he publicly declared that all police eyewitnesses confirmed the shooting account of those two officers. Only 3 of 13 officers had backed that account, contrary to McColloch’s claim. McColloch, in the Brown murder case, bashed neighborhood eyewitnesses against Wilson whom he portrayed as not believable.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in comments related to McColloch’s clearing of Wilson, said race-based inequities crippled fairness in America’s justice system. Antonio Beavers is black and his accuser was white. Officer Wilson is white and Michael Brown was black. The two victims in the fatal police shooting that McColloch cleared in 2001 were black. A report on human rights violations in America released earlier this year by the United Nations found fault in continued “racial disparities at different stages in the criminal justice system…”

In the Antonio Beaver case, for example, the conveyor belt from arrest to conviction passed through what the Innocence Project described as a “substantially flawed police lineup.” The victim had told police her assailant wore a baseball cap and had a gap in his front teeth. During that skewed police lineup Beaver was one of only two men wearing a baseball cap. The victim could not initially identify Beaver and asked police to have those in the lineup show their teeth. Beaver was the only man in that skewed lineup with a dental imperfection – a broken tooth (not a gap as the victim had described.) Police had brushed off the fact that it was improbable if not impossible for Beaver to have grown a full mustache during the one week between when that carjacking victim said her assailant had no facial hair and the arrest of Beaver.

Those wrongful convictions in St. Louis County, which includes the cities of St. Louis and Ferguson, where Michael Brown died in that controversial police shooting, document a prosecutorial practice by McColloch of pressing for convictions in cases where eyewitness accounts do not match physical evidence. He’s not alone. Prosecutors across America routinely push prosecutions in cases where physical evidence glaringly contradicts eyewitness accounts. Seven of the 21 DNA exonerations in Missouri between 1989 and February 2014 occurred in St. Louis County, according to statistics from the National Registry of Exoneration. McColloch became St. Louis County head prosecutor in 1991.

The man who placed Antonio Beaver on his road to release from prison was a jailhouse lawyer who himself was also falsely convicted in St. Louis County. That jailhouse lawyer who helped Beaver with his early appeals was Johnny Briscoe, a man who served 23-years in prison for a rape before his release on DNA evidence. McColloch’s office had fought against Briscoe’s appeals seeking to test DNA evidence in a conviction that rested solely on identification by the rape victim. Like the Beaver case, Briscoe endured a flawed police lineup, with Briscoe being the only person in the lineup wearing a prison jumpsuit. Centurion Ministries aided Briscoe’s successful effort to confirm his innocence.

McColloch’s office did not join Briscoe in his lawsuit attacking his wrongful conviction that included a charge against a detective who failed to fully investigate the real rapist. That rapist had appeared at the victim’s residence after Briscoe was in custody. The detective specifically sued by Briscoe was at the victim’s residence when the rapist returned but released the rapist as a mere intruder because that detective considered Briscoe the culprit, who was then in custody. Federal courts dismissed Briscoe’s quest for justice contending the calculated foul-ups by police did not violate Briscoe’s constitutionally protected fair trial rights. (Judges – federal and state – frequently fail to fault even blatant misconduct by police.)

That United Nations human rights review report, released in March, specifically faulted excessive use of force by law enforcement officials – the issue at the heart of nationwide protests over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

The U.N. review team, that report stated, “is concerned about the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces…and reports of excessive use of force…which as a disparate impact on African Americans…”

Linn Washington Jr. is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, DAVE LINDORFF, LORI SPENCER and CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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