ST. LOUIS — 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.
Katie Motes believes the case against the man accused of bombing her car fell apart because of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office.
But she said her faith in the justice system isn’t entirely lost because of the work of a few people she calls heroes along the way – including a former member of Gardner’s staff.
At about 5 a.m. Sept. 2, 2018, Motes awoke to her house shaking and a fireball in her driveway that used to be her car.
It was just feet away from the bedroom where her teenage son slept.
When St. Louis police responded to her home in The Hill neighborhood, she said they immediately recognized it was an arson – not just some type of car malfunction.
One member of the Bomb and Arson squad in particular, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department investigator Josh Wilderson, and FBI Agent Pat Carolan, stood out.
“If it weren’t for them and the work that all of the police and firefighters did on this case, I truly believe he would still be out there on the run,” she said.
Their investigation was solid enough for former U.S. Attorney John Davis to convict Motes’ ex-husband Dean McBaine on possession of an unlawful explosive device.
He was sentenced to five years.
“As a team, the federal attorneys, the FBI, St. Louis Bomb Squad, police department and fire department brought this man to justice on the federal side. I personally want to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for helping us feel safe and at least get some justice for this,” Motes said in a statement to the court this week .
Former St. Louis Assistant Circuit Attorney Sabrina Lampley also issued charges against McBaine, including arson, unlawful use of a weapon, child endangerment and property damage.
Add up the maximum sentences on each of those counts and McBaine was looking at potentially another 30 years behind bars.
“The only attorney that cared about this case on the state side was Attorney Sabrina Lampley,” Motes wrote. “Once she was removed from this case, this went from one attorney to the next.
“The number of attorneys on this case has been a total of five. Since Sabrina Lampley left, the only communication I have had with any attorney has been by me checking Casenet and contacting the victim advocate. Not one time was I ever updated as to what is currently going on with this case if I had not provoked the conversation and asked questions about the safety of my son.”
It was Wilderson and Carolan who contacted Motes asking about the status of the state charges against him, given that the end of his federal prison sentence is scheduled for December 2022.
She did some checking and learned McBaine filed a motion for a speedy trial. It gives prosecutors 180 days to bring someone to court.
Gardner’s office did not object to the request, and the deadline came and went.
McBaine then filed a motion to have the charges from Gardner’s office dismissed with prejudice because his right to a speedy trial had been violated.
That means the charges cannot be refiled.
And that means, at the end of McBaine’s federal sentence, he will be released with no record of arson, child endangerment, property damage or unlawful use of a weapon on his record.
In an unexpected move, Gardner’s Assistant Circuit Attorney Scott Swiney dropped the charges against McBaine hours before the judge could rule on the issue.
She hoped that might mean the charges would get refiled, but in a phone call Motes recorded, Swiney told her that wasn’t likely and he couldn’t explain why.
Swiney told Judge Timothy Boyer that Motes would still like to address the court despite the charges being dropped – a request Boyer honored, and puts him on her hero list, too.
In her statement, Motes slammed Swiney and Gardner.
“I want this to be made known and on the record that the people who are elected in the Circuit Attorney’s Office in St. Louis to keep our children and our community safe are more concerned about protecting the criminals that harm children than protecting the children that have been hurt,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Gardner’s office said “we can’t comment on the case.”
McBaine’s attorney, Robert Taaffee, responded to our request for comment late Thursday, after the charges on the state's case had been dismissed.
“The idea that he hasn’t paid a price for this is disingenuous,” he said. “He went to trial and he lost and he was sentenced to five years on the federal side.
“What punishment will satisfy her? She says, ‘I’m afraid he’s going to do this or that,’ what does that mean? We put him in prison for life because she’s always going to be afraid?”
Taaffe said he wasn’t surprised Gardner’s office dropped the charges just hours before the hearing.
“They dropped it because it was going to get thrown out by the judge because it’s a pretty clear decision,” Taaffe said.
A decision Motes said never should have had to be made.