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.
Sarah Hyatt is tired of being made out to look like the witness-turned-mistress of a bad cop whose affair just helped get a convicted murderer out of jail.
Not only is it an unfair characterization of her and her now husband, former St. Louis police Homicide Detective Jimmy Hyatt, but it’s entirely false. And she said she can prove it.
Their relationship was among several concerns Lamont Cambell raised in an appeal to his conviction for the 2011 murder of Leonard Gregory III.
The timing of that relationship is mentioned among the reasons why Judge Timothy Boyer overturned Cambell’s murder conviction in December.
Boyer scheduled a hearing Jan. 19 to set a new trial date. He emphasized to Cambell and his attorneys as well as prosecutors that his ruling was based on ineffective counsel – not actual innocence.
Just as he was about to schedule a new trial date for the spring, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office dropped the charges against Cambell altogether, and Cambell walked out of jail after 12 years behind bars.
The victim’s sister, Regan Cabbabe, and his aunt, Christine Tierney, left the courtroom stunned. They said no one from Gardner’s office notified them that the conviction had been overturned, and they learned about it when a reporter called them asking for their reaction.
They called Sarah Hyatt, who they have stayed in touch with through the years. She said no one from Gardner’s office contacted her or her husband regarding whether their relationship affected the case.
The Hyatts now live out-of-state, and Jimmy Hyatt retired from police work.
“We have nothing to hide, and there is definitely something not right with this,” Sarah Hyatt said. “I will do whatever I can to help because this is not OK.”
In 2011, Sarah and Jimmy Hyatt were married to different people. She was married to Jeff Mooney and they lived in the 2800 block of Chariton Street in south St. Louis where at about 3:15 a.m. July 17, 2011, Gregory was shot and killed.
In his appeal, Cambell noted how the victim was the son of a retired St. Louis police sergeant, and his attorney never explored why he was in an area known for high crime and prostitution at that time of day.
The victim’s sister said she thinks her brother might have been there to buy marijuana, but she said that’s always been a mystery to the family.
She said her brother’s killer approached him and shot him in the arm first. He tried to drive away, crashed and his killer followed him and delivered a fatal shot to his head.
The Mooneys, along with a third witness, identified Cambell from a lineup.
“None of us have never wavered from that,” Sarah Hyatt said.
The first trial ended with a hung jury, 11-1 in favor of conviction, according to Gregory’s family. A second trial ended in a conviction in 2016.
The Mooneys attended that trial, but they were already on the road to divorce -- something Jimmy Hyatt learned during that trial, Sarah Hyatt said.
“My ex-husband is the one who told Jimmy we were separated,” Sarah Hyatt said. “Prior to the second trial, Jimmy had no clue that I was even separated."
“We spoke occasionally after the trial, but the victim’s family also stayed in contact with me. So I am 100% sure there are not phone records prior to the trial," she said.
That’s why she has trouble when she reads Boyer’s order overturning Cambell’s conviction, which states prosecutors failed to disclose evidence, “including communications and a romantic relationship between lead homicide detective Jimmy Hyatt and witness Sarah Mooney in violation of (Cambell’s) due process rights.”
Boyer’s order is based on an evidentiary hearing that happened in April 2022, in which Cambell’s public defenders called various witnesses and experts to the stand – including Hyatt’s ex-wife, Christine Evans, and her daughter, Taylor Creole.
The victim’s family was never told of the hearing, nor were the Hyatts.
At that hearing, Evans told the court she discovered her ex-husband was having an affair in January 2017, and text messages showed it had begun in July 2016 – prior to the second trial.
Sarah Hyatt wants to see those records.
“There were no communications of a romantic nature before either of the trials,” Sarah Hyatt said.
She added that that she would be happy to provide her phone records to prove it and would have done so for Gardner’s office had she or Jimmy ever been contacted to rebut the claims of his ex-wife.
“We are being made out as the bad cop and his mistress," she said, "which is actually funny because during the first trial they said I was only agreeing with my husband (who separately identified Cambell from the lineup).”
Also at that hearing, Cambell’s defense called experts that testified how all three witnesses – including Sarah and her now ex-husband – were white, and how studies routinely show white people struggle to identify Black people correctly, especially when lighting conditions are poor.
Cambell is Black, and so is the man whose palm print was found at the crime scene.
The defense’s experts also suggested Sarah Mooney’s ex-husband and the other witness already had Cambell’s face in their minds because he lived in the neighborhood. Sarah Mooney’s ex-husband saw the teen at a corner store when he went there to buy cigarettes on occasion and Cambell’s bus stopped near the third witness’s home.
The defense argued Cambell’s public defender should have tried to impeach their credibility with those factors.
The defense experts also testified about problems with the lineup Jimmy Hyatt prepared for the case – including how Cambell was the only one in the photo array with a busted lip, height markers were missing and Sarah and her ex-husband were kept separate while viewing the lineup, but not when they signed their statements.
Boyer considered all of those factors in his decision to vacate the conviction, saying Cambell’s public defender, Mary Fox, should have done more to:
- Explore the possibility of other suspects.
- Enter evidence about Sarah’s ex-husband’s history of health issues that could have served as grounds for impeachment.
- Call witnesses to backup Cambell’s claim that he was in bed at the time of the shooting.
- Present evidence of victim’s toxicology, which included a blood alcohol content level of .16 and presence of amphetamines and marijuana, mean his murder could have been drug-related.
Boyer denied some of Cambell’s other claims.
Cambell’s public defender did not call experts to testify at his second trial about potential misidentification from the three witnesses, but Boyer said that did not make her ineffective.
And Boyer also denied the claim that Hyatt and the other investigators acted in bad faith after they stopped the investigation following lineup identification.
Other parts of Boyer’s ruling also puzzle Sarah Hyatt, including how a handprint found at the scene matched someone other than Cambell, why Boyer wrote in his ruling that the killer fired from the driver’s side when she and the other witnesses all testified he fired from the passenger side, and how two new witnesses say they saw the victim fighting with other people shortly before the shooting.
“How are there palm prints now and not then? How is there a witness now that saw people fighting when all of the neighbors were questioned?” Sarah Hyatt said.
Sarah Hyatt said Cambell’s family lived close to her, so she moved twice, fearing they might track her and her husband down for identifying him as the killer.
She also learned Cambell was out on bond for robbery at the time of Gregory’s murder.
His court date in that case was scheduled for July 18, 2011. Gregory was killed July 17, 2011, at the age of 29. Cambell was 17.
Sarah Hyatt said she will never forget how Cambell tried to lunge at her during the first trial after she identified him as the killer from the stand. She said guards held him down.
If it weren’t for the victim’s family, she said she would still not know about Cambell's release or how, what she calls a false narrative, about her relationship with the lead homicide detective played a role in it.
After Cambell was released from prison, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office issued a statement that read, in part:
"The investigation must be restarted to hold the perpetrator accountable for the crime committed. In every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring that it carries out its duty to prosecute criminal cases in a manner that is fair and seeks justice on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis. At this time, we ask the general public to provide any information that will assist in the investigation of this crime."