ST. LOUIS — Hundreds of area criminal cases may be in jeopardy, all because of possible problems with evidence handling by the Madison County sheriff.
They're problems 5 On Your Side first uncovered when PJ Randhawa went looking for a crime victim's missing ring.
The last time we saw Madison County sheriff Katy McCutcheon, she was at a loss for words.
"I, uh ... He's, he's he's.... I’m going off what the deputy said," said McCutcheon outside of the Madison County courthouse.
For weeks, 5 On Your Side had been speaking with McCutcheon about doing an interview. We met her outside the courthouse for a scheduled interview.
We were trying to find Christopher Blair's missing ring after a thief stole it from Blair's home last fall.
Fortunately, the burglar was caught, and a warrant application from the sheriff's department shows the ring was recovered. But, McCutcheon was telling another story: that they never saw a ring and never had it.
"I have no paperwork, nothing saying there was a ring ever seized," said McCutcheon.
ITeam: Is warrant application a record?
"That's record! I mean... I uh... I don't have the ring ok! I didn't steal it," said McCutcheon.
ITeam: Kind of begs the question, is any other evidence missing?
"I hope not," said McCutcheon.
Shockingly, in a newspaper interview published the next day the sheriff admitting that the evidence in Blair's case and others was stored in an unsecured part of her building. And added with regard to the ring, that "someone could have walked in and took it.”
That has big implications for other cases.
"No matter how much you see it, it's still shocking. It calls into question quite a lot," said Mick Henderson, a St. Louis defense attorney.
Several Madison County criminal defense attorneys told 5 On Your Side they would use McCutcheon's words to re-open their client's criminal cases, Henderson explained.
"The ramifications? I'm going to look at every single case that has been brought by those two deputies, and that sheriff. Was that evidence left in an unlocked room without video surveillance? Without proper procedures from preventing people from messing up that evidence or contaminating it? If that happens, absolutely, that arrest is called into question. And I think it's every defense attorney's job to investigate that and find if that's occurred in any case," said Henderson.
We asked the Madison County Sheriff's Office for their evidence log for that last half of 2017, around the time of the burglary. After months of delays, they finally gave it to us: it was just a few pages.
And it turns out, even though they told the prosecutor they'd found the ring and several pieces of other evidence, they didn't log any of it.
"That's a shame. It's a shame when your stuff is stolen, and you can't get it back and they have no record of it," said Christopher Blair, who says his ring was never found.
Blair said since our report, the Madison County prosecutor has reached out to buy him a replacement ring.
I-Team: Do you think if we had not gotten involved, you would've gotten a replacement?
"No. I would've gotten screwed. I didn't even know the information you got in the first place.
So am I a little bit depressed about it? Yes, I am. The sheriff's dept in Madison county is a big failure in my book
We've also learned that two deputies involved in Blair's case were disciplined as a result of our investigation. Sheriff McCutcheon has since been quoted as saying that new policies will be put into place to prevent any future evidence from going missing.