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Byers' Beat: Dissecting Kim Gardner's explanations

Embattled St. Louis Circuit Attorney disputed allegations her office did not file motions to revoke bond for a robbery suspect.

Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

ST. LOUIS — Late Wednesday, four days after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office came under scrutiny following a horrific crash that cost an out-of-state teenage girl her legs, she responded to allegations that she could have done more to prevent it.

In all, Gardner listed seven bullet points in a statement regarding how her office handled armed criminal action and robbery charges against Daniel Riley dating to 2020. Riley is now charged with causing the crash that left Janae Edmondson of Tennessee severely injured and lucky to be alive.

5 On Your Side reported Monday how Riley had more than 90 bond violations connected to those robbery charges, and Gardner’s office did not file any motions to revoke his bond. We also reported a document from July 2022 showing Gardner’s prosecutors told a judge the state “was not ready” to proceed to trial, so the charges were dropped and later refiled.

Gardner’s office told 5 On Your Side the reason the state wasn’t ready that day was because the victim in that robbery case was dead.

He’s not.

As recently as Tuesday, Gardner's office still thought the robbery victim was no longer with us.

A prosecutor told a defense attorney that a second robbery suspect connected to that 2020 case that the victim was dead. That attorney then filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client that morning instead of proceeding to trial. 

READ: 2nd robbery suspect walks free after St. Louis circuit attorney's office erroneously lists victim as deceased

That suspect is now a free man, and charges against him have not been refiled now that the victim's family has told Gardner's office that their son is, in fact, alive. 

When the robbery first happened, police moved in on their suspects pretty quick. Riley appeared before Judge Michael Mullen on Sept. 8, 2020 for his initial appearance. 

The courts released a transcript of that hearing Thursday. Ross Gipson was Gardner's Assistant Circuit Attorney and Terence Niehoff was Riley's defense attorney.

Here's an excerpt from that document discussing a bond for Riley:

Judge: Mr. Gipson, what is is bond right now?

Gipson: Apparently it's no bond. 

Judge: No bond. All right. And what's the state's position on that?

Gipson: Defense counsel has indicated that he has had a conversation with the attorney who issued this case and that a house arrest recommendation would not be opposed by the state. I see no reason that that could be out of the realm of possibility either. It doesn't look like this defendant has any kind of criminal history. So we would ask for, if there is any place he could...

(Court reporter asks prosecutor to speak up)

Gipson: If the court is inclined to grant house arrest on this case, we would ask that it's standard GPS conditions, stay away and a curfew be imposed along with that. That's the state's position.

Gardner did not refer to the September hearing in which her office agreed to house arrest with GPS monitoring for Riley in a statement she issued Wednesday, claiming her office opposed GPS monitoring for him and blamed the judge for not honoring her office's wishes in the case. 

In it, she fired back with dates stating her office did all it could to keep Riley behind bars before the tragic accident given his repeated bond violations.

One of the problems with Gardner's statement is that it refers to records that – because her office dismissed the case on the day it was supposed to go to trial in July 2022 – are now closed. That’s done to protect suspects who are no longer charged with crimes from having documents associated with them in public view.

Here’s a look at what public records show on each of those points. These claims are difficult to verify because of the closed records. 

Gardner's office has not provided documentation to back up its statements, shown in italics.

  • 11/6/2020 – A judge ordered Riley be held on a personal recognizance bond with GPS monitoring.

This is a closed record.

  • 12/12/2021 – Prosecutors asked for a bond revocation.

The judge at that time was Judge Bryan Hettenbach, and December 12, 2021 was a Sunday. Courts are closed on Sundays.

  • 4/29/2022 – Hettenbach set a trial date for July 18, 2022 without allowing the state to ensure witnesses were available.

Transcript of this hearing is a closed record.

  • (No date provided) The prosecutor asked Hettenbach for a short continuance due to witness unavailability, as well as her own, and the defense also did not believe the trial would proceed on that date. Hettenbach refused the request. The case was dismissed by prosecutors and re-filed immediately.

A court record obtained by the I-Team shows Hettenbach noted all of the witnesses, defense and victims were ready to go, but Gardner’s Assistant Circuit Attorney Natalia Ogurkiewicz told the court the state was “not ready.”

  • 8/10/2022 – Mr. Riley was again released on personal recognizance and GPS against state’s wishes.

Transcript of that hearing shows the following conversation took place between Gardner’s Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Phipps and Judge Hettenbach.

Hettenbach: Are we looking for 24/7 GPS monitoring?

Phipps: Standard GPS is fine Judge.

(off record conversation is held)

Hettenbach: All right. We’ve had some off-the-record discussion and I believe that we have reached an agreement for Mr. Riley to release him on his own recognizance, on the condition that he will be on house arrest and he will have standard GPS electronic monitoring. The court will waive the costs for that. Is there – is that the agreement Mr. Phipps?

Phipps: Yes, your honor.

  • November 2022: Court modified the bond which allowed Mr. Riley to leave home for work, although he already knew he was leaving his home.

There is nothing in the public court filing that indicates the court modified the bond to allow Riley to leave for work. Gardner said Thursday that the practice in the jurisdiction is to make those requests orally. She said that was the case in this instance.

  • January 2023: Prosecutors asked the court for a hearing date to address Mr. Riley’s bond. There was no response.

There is nothing in the public court filings to Judge David Mason showing that prosecutors requested anything relating to the Riley’s bond.

Gardner held a news conference Thursday afternoon in front of media and a room full of her supporters. She reiterated her timeline and said that her office cannot force judges to revoke a bond. 

Attorney General Andrew Bailey started legal proceedings to remove Gardner from office.

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