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St. Louis judge denies request for special prosecutor in 3 potential death penalty cases

St. Louis Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan said Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office did not prove a conflict of interest in the cases
Credit: UPI
Kim Gardner, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis, makes her remarks after touring the Medium Security Institution with other political leaders in St. Louis on Saturday, April 24, 2021. The facility, commonly referred to as the "Workhouse" is the second jail in the City of St. Louis, built in 1966 and has come under fire because of deplorable conditions. Jones, sworn in as Mayor on April 20, 2021, has vowed to close the facility within 100 days of her tenure. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis judge Friday struck down Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s attempt at having a special prosecutor oversee the handling of three potential death penalty cases.

The cases include Phillip Cutler and Cornelius Green, who have been charged with the shooting death of Green’s pregnant girlfriend in 2016. Green was a principal at Carr Lane Visual and Performing Arts School. His girlfriend, Jocelyn Peters, 30, was seven months pregnant at the time.

The third case involves Ollie Lynch, who was charged with first-degree murder for three homicides in 2017. Police said his victims include Jeramee Ramey, 31, who was shot May 25, 2017 as well as Jalen Woods, 17, and Amber Green, 25, who were killed in the same shooting at a gas station along Union Boulevard. The pair were seated inside a car with five people.

Gardner’s office asked Judge Elizabeth Hogan to appoint a special prosecutor to the case, citing a potential conflict of interest.

In her ruling, Hogan cites a portion of the law, which “provides a mechanism for the state’s attorney to assist a prosecuting attorney in the discharge of her duties.”

“This appears to be the proper mechanism to procure assistance for a prosecuting attorney’s office that has no conflict of interest but is unable to handle its caseload, due to the pandemic, staff turnover, or any other reason,” Hogan wrote. “The Circuit Attorney has made no request for assistance … either to the governor or to the attorney general.

“The Court finds that it is without authority to appoint a special prosecutor in this matter.”

Gardner's spokeswoman declined to comment.

Hogan is the second St. Louis judge to rule against Gardner’s office in its quest for special prosecutors to handle homicide cases.

In September, Judge Michael Stelzer rejected Gardner’s motion to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the men charged with murdering retired St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn. Dorn, 77, was fatally shot June 2, 2020 after interrupting the burglary of a pawn shop in The Ville neighborhood after riots about the murder of George Floyd erupted in St. Louis.

Hogan’s ruling against Gardner’s office is somewhat similar to Stelzer’s ruling.

In his ruling, Stelzer essentially wrote that statutory law and case law allows special prosecutors to be appointed under certain circumstances, but none of those circumstances apply in the Dorn case.

"The Circuit Attorney's motion does not set forth any factual basis for disqualification," Stelzer wrote. "At the hearing, the Circuit Attorney indicated that the 'conflict' was actually a staffing or time management issue within the Circuit Attorney's Office.

"Disqualification is a 'drastic response' to concerns that may be better addressed by case management tools, especially given the prosecutor's statutory duties to commence and prosecute the case."

In response to Stelzer’s ruling, Gardner’s office issued a statement, which read: “We're disappointed that Judge Stelzer chose to use his judicial direction to deny the people of the City of St. Louis the option of following prior precedent, which has included utilizing qualified prosecution resources of neighboring jurisdictions to address city prosecution needs. During this unprecedented pandemic, we have remained focused on public safety, and will continue to meet our duty to fairly and effectively prosecute cases.”