ST. LOUIS — David Mueller went to an event advertised as a criminal justice forum with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner in late March hoping to hear more about how her office could be more progressive and prevent dismissals like the one his client experienced from happening again.
Instead, he left with a new plan of his own.
The criminal defense attorney has become the first to announce he will challenge Gardner in the 2024 election.
“My client, Levi Henning, was locked up on murder charges for two years on a case that occurred three years ago and was dismissed essentially for what I would consider egregious steps by the Circuit Attorney's Office to withhold evidence that tended to prove his innocence,” Mueller said. “In order for justice to be progressive, it has to be swift.
“What's happening right now is we've got people who are waiting three, four, five years in the Justice Center for a trial to take place. That's not progressive. That's regressive, in my opinion,” he said.
5 On Your Side sent an email and text message to Gardner’s spokeswoman Allison Hawk. She has not yet responded, but Hawk’s colleague told 5 On Your Side Hawk would get the message.
High school senior is murdered
Mueller, 37, grew up in Normandy, and graduated from the George Washington University School of Law in Washington D.C. He began his legal career as a public defender in St. Louis County not long before the 2014 protests in Ferguson.
Mueller said he voted for Gardner, but she hasn’t delivered on the progressive agenda he supports.
“One of the things that she's failed on is bond reform and bail reform,” he said. “Keeping people three, four or five years in the Justice Center without a finding of guilt?
“Those people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and they’re losing four or five years of their life," he said. "That's not progressive.”
In February, Mueller got a front-row seat to Gardner’s policies when he became Henning’s attorney.
At that time, Henning had been in jail for two years for the murder of 18-year-old Carieal Doss.
The Parkway West High School senior was gunned down on a city street in April 2020. Henning, 21, was charged in March 2021.
The warrant alleged Henning was arrested with the murder weapon – a claim Mueller said is factually inaccurate.
The ballistics report that the warrant was based on was only a preliminary report with the words, “This notification contains unconfirmed preliminary information only … and under no circumstances should it be considered a statement of a confirmed identification,” according to court documents.
The final ballistics report was inconclusive on whether Henning’s gun matched the one used in Doss’s murder, Mueller said.
But a second suspect was arrested with a gun that also could have matched the murder weapon, Mueller said.
That second suspect turned out to be the reason Mueller got the case in February. Henning’s attorney had to recuse herself from Henning’s case because she was already representing that other suspect on an unrelated homicide case that happened four days after Doss’s murder.
Evidence withheld from defense attorney
Mueller said Gardner’s office failed to disclose Doss’s Facebook history, which showed activity between her Facebook account and several other people on the day of her murder who were never interviewed by police.
Mueller said he sifted through more than 2,500 pages of records in less than a week and found a witness who invited the deceased to her apartment less than a half mile from where she died within three hours of her death.
That woman told Mueller’s investigator she did not remember her contact with Doss.
“The loss of a witness’ memory is the loss of evidence,” Mueller wrote in a motion to dismiss the case.
Mueller said the case passed through three prosecutors, beginning with Srikant Chigurupati, Natalia Ogurkiewicz and Marvin Teer. The Circuit Attorney’s Office dismissed the case just days before Teer announced his resignation in March.
Mueller said he has read every page of Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s petition to remove Gardner from office. It alleges Gardner has thousands of cases that have not yet been reviewed and are sitting in an email account.
“Her inability to even process and make a decision on those cases isn't surprising, because that's what happens in every case,” Mueller said.
But, Mueller said he does not support the Attorney General’s move to remove Gardner from office.
“It's disturbing to see that Jefferson City wants to have this much influence on local politics here in St. Louis,” Mueller said. “In my opinion, it's actually a voter's rights issue.
“The voters voted for Kim Gardner. She should serve out her term unless (the Missouri Attorney General’s case) reaches this incredibly high standard. I don't think it has. I trust the voters to figure out what's going on. I trust the voters to make the right decision next year.”
Prosecutors can stop population from dwindling
He said her strained relationship with the police department is also problematic.
She has maintained a secret list of police officers her office refuses to accept cases from and does not allow the public or the officers to know why.
“The exclusion list has, I think, backfired on her,” Mueller said. “What you're saying is, ‘I'll never work with these police officers again,’ and there's no rehabilitation.
“But you've also hidden the reason for the list. So, all you've done is publish a list without giving those people their day in court.”
Mueller said the police also did not do a good enough job investigating Henning’s case, but it is ultimately the prosecutor’s responsibility to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed.
“You have to have a relationship with the police department, and you don’t have to be best friends, in fact, I'm saying the Circuit Attorney’s Office does have to have some sort of conflict with them, but it has to be a working relationship,” he said.
Mueller said he also is against the death penalty and disagrees with Gardner’s office pursuing the death penalty in several cases including Ollie Lynch who was convicted of killing three people in 2017.
“That'll never happen when I'm in place,” he said. “In my opinion, state sanctioned murder is also murder.”
He said he will also work to reform the bail system and believes Gardner has failed to do so.
“I think I'm to the left of Ms. Gardner,” he said. “Whether somebody has their freedom should not depend on what kind of money their family can put together.”
In addition to Henning’s case inspiring Mueller to run, he said the city’s dwindling population is also driving him to seek the office.
“We've got a great opportunity to restore our city and it has to start with those people that move here believing that they're safe and not just believing that they're safe, but believing that if something happens, it will be prosecuted,” he said.
That includes Doss’ family, too.
“Her family showed up to every court date and they didn't just show up, just grandma or just mom, they rolled in eight deep into every court date,” Mueller said. “That family was strung along for three years, believing that they would receive justice.
“In my opinion, they will never receive it now,” he said.
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