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St. Louis circuit attorney's office sanctioned, double homicide suspect released on bond

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's Office failed to turn over a 911 recording and DNA evidence to defense, according to a judge's ruling.
Credit: Tom Stasiak, KSDK

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis judge sanctioned St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office for withholding evidence in a double homicide case and allowing the suspect out on bond.

Editor's note: A previous statement responding to this story provided by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's spokesperson Allison Hawk was sent in error. The statement provided to 5 On Your Side blaming police for delays in evidence gathering in response to the prosecution of Alex Heflin was a statement previously supplied to media relative to the deaths of Dmyah and Darrion-Rankin Fleming. A new statement provided by the Circuit Attorney's Office has been added to this story.

Austin Heflin, a 23-year-old Crestwood man, has been held without bond in jail since January. He was initially charged with two counts of second-degree murder and armed criminal action for the deaths of 30-year-old Aaron Larron Smith and 29-year-old Eric Emmanuel Smith, 29.

Those charges have been reduced to involuntary and voluntary manslaughter.

Both men were fatally shot in the 3900 block of Schiller Place in November 2022 after an “altercation over personal issues,” police said at the time.

Heflin was supposed to go to trial on April 17. That trial has now been postponed until June 12 with a pre-trial conference scheduled for May 17.

This week, Judge Theresa Counts Burke ruled in favor of Heflin’s attorneys from Bruntrager and Billings law firm, who filed a motion accusing Assistant Circuit Attorney Alex Polta of violating discovery rules that required prosecutors to turn over evidence including DNA reports and a recording of a 911 call.

“The Court finds that there have been repeated delays by the State in obtaining discovery and providing it to the defense,” Burke wrote. “There has been a lack of diligence on the part of the state in following up and providing discovery to the defendant in a timely fashion. As a result of the state’s actions and lack of diligence, the court grants defendant’s second motion for sanctions.”

Per Burke’s order, Heflin is to remain on GPS monitoring.

The judge also ordered Gardner’s office to provide a list of witnesses within 24 hours; ask the crime lab by May 12 if DNA test results are complete and provide those reports to the defense or tell the defense if they’re not ready within 24 hours.

Gardner's office provided a statement regarding the case on Friday evening. It reads: 

"In this case as in every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office works together with the police to bring justice on behalf of the people of the City of St. Louis, victims and their families. The CAO is dedicated to doing everything in its power to hold the defendant accountable. The CAO has spoken to the family, and will continue to work to ensure justice is served.

In every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring that the office carries out its duty to prosecute criminal cases in a manner that seeks justice on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis."

The St. Louis Police Department issued a statement as well, which read:

"The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has received several requests for comment in response to statements made by the Circuit Attorney’s Office relative to two separate cases recently in the media. We will not be commenting on these cases specifically, due to the fact that criminal prosecution is still pending. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department works very closely with the Circuit Attorney’s Office on a daily basis. There are times when the CAO refuses cases at the time of warrant application, citing either an 'Incomplete Police Investigation' or 'Requesting Additional Police Follow-up'. Any time the CAO has requested anything from our department, we have worked diligently to provide the requested evidence as soon as possible. To state 'the CAO was not provided evidence in a timely manner due to acknowledged staffing challenges at the police department' is not accurate, in our estimation. The CAO and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department must work together to seek justice and hold criminals accountable."

Statement from the St. Louis Police Officers' Association:

"The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association would like to address the unfounded claims made against our members in a recent news article concerning State vs. Heflin.  Kim Gardner’s office has once again failed to accept responsibility for the mistakes made within her office and chose instead to blame the hard-working men and women of the St. Louis Police Department.  These repeated problems are due to the incompetence of the Circuit Attorney’s office, not from the actions of police officers.

Homicide investigations are extremely complex and extensive in nature and our homicide detectives handle caseloads that far exceed the national average.  Despite these challenges, our detectives are consummate professionals who take their responsibilities very seriously.  In this case, all the evidence had been turned over to the Circuit Attorney’s office for nearly a year prior to trial.  Police officers shouldn’t be made scapegoats for an overworked, backlogged, and mismanaged Circuit Attorney’s Office. 

Police Officers dedicate their professional lives to pursuing justice for victims of crime.  They don’t point fingers and hide behind excuses.  The baseless allegation that these officers withheld evidence is preposterous.  The real losers are St. Louis crime victims and their families.  Kim Gardner seems more concerned about defending her broken public image than pursuing justice.  How much longer can the citizens of St. Louis be expected put up with these failures."

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