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I-Team: What's causing delays for suspected St. Louis police killer's trial?

Public defenders have had 19 months to get a mental health evaluation done and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's Office has not objected to multiple continuances.

ST. LOUIS — Alexis Bohannon does her best to keep dust from gathering on her husband’s pictures.

From settling on a roomful of mementos and memorials honoring the sacrifice St. Louis Officer Tamarris Bohannon made in the line of duty.

Now, she’s afraid it’s collecting on his murder case.

And she believes the only person who can fight to keep it moving along isn’t.

More than two years after the murder and on-the-spot arrest of the suspected killer Thomas Kinworthy, the case still hasn’t been set for trail.

Making matters worse for Bohannon was watching the family of retired St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn celebrate the conviction of Dorn's killer in October.

RELATED: Man sentenced to life in prison in death of David Dorn

The two men were killed just two months apart.

“I was happy for Sgt. Ann Dorn, she can see justice, and, as terrifying as it is to have to sit in court and listen to all that, there's some level of closure,” Bohannon said. “But then I was also frustrated at the same time because it's like, here I'm being told it could be another year.”

The I-Team researched court records and called the public defender’s office as well as St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office to find out what’s causing the delays.

Court records show the case has been continued eight times since April 2021, and Gardner’s office has not objected to them.

The I-Team asked Gardner for an interview every day for a week. She said she won't comment on pending cases.

Gardner’s victim services unit has kept Bohannon posted on every time the case gets continued, but no one is explaining why prosecutors aren’t fighting harder to get a trial date.

“It’s her office, she could do something, but she’s not,” Bohannon said. “She could file a motion and say, ‘This has gone on long enough it’s time to get this to trial.’”

Experts say the issue is complex, and the Bohannon family could have to wait much longer for their day in court no matter what Gardner’s office does.

“In cases like this, it can take years before people get everything together,” said Anders Walker, the associate dean for research and engagement and the Lillie Myers professor at St. Louis University’s School of Law.

At issue is a mental health evaluation Kinworthy’s public defenders are seeking.

Court records show they started seeking one in April 2021.

It’s still not done, and Kinworthy’s attorneys have filed nothing but continuances asking for more time to get it done in the 19 months that have followed.

Walker said it could be a delay tactic on the part of the defense, but the prosecution’s hands aren’t completely tied.

“The Circuit Attorney could object to a continuance of the case, especially after there have been several continuances and they could use it as an opportunity to communicate to the victims that they are taking this seriously and moving things as fast as they can,” Walker said. 

The judge then would have to rule on that motion, but there is nothing in the law that puts a time limit on how long a mental health evaluation can take, Walker said.

“If the judge rushes the case and the defense does not have a reasonable time to get their witnesses together, then they could appeal,” Walker said.

Having a defense attorney seek a mental health evaluation for their client is somewhat uncommon, Walker said.

“Very few people qualify for the insanity defense, and most defendants go to trial without any evaluation of their mental state,” Walker said. “The defense itself is very narrow.”

Walker said states limited the defense after John Hinckley shot former President Ronald Regan in 1981, saying he did it to impress actress Jodi Foster. His attorneys argued he was delusional and he spent 30 years in a mental institution, and has since been freed.

“(The insanity defense) is really for people who hear defect decrees, these are parents who sometimes say they hear God telling them to kill their children and this rarely happens,” Walker said.

Once the defense provides a mental health evaluation, the state has the right to seek one of its own.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health said they’ve seen a 29% increase in the number of requests for mental health evaluations in just the past year. In fiscal year 2022, the Department of Mental Health’s Certified Forensic Examiners completed 872 pretrial evaluations; there are currently 275 evaluations pending across the state. 

State-ordered evaluations are supposed to take 60 days, but the court can extend the timeframe. Right now, the Department of Mental Health said evaluations are getting completed anywhere between 60 to 120 days.

That means more time for Bohannon’s family to wait.

Should the mental health evaluations from the defense and prosecution conflict, a third evaluation can be conducted to break the tie, so to speak, Walker said.

And that could add another untold amount of months onto the wait.

Bohannon said she can’t help but compare her husband’s case to the Dorn case, given that they happened so close together.

In that case, Gardner’s office convicted Stephan Cannon of Dorn’s murder in July even though there was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

Officers arrested Kinworthy inside the home where he barricaded himself and allegedly shot at the officers.

“It's not like there was anyone else there, nobody else had a weapon, and there was only one person that they pulled out of that house that night, so I don't understand what the holdup is,” Bohannon said.

She said she also thinks race is playing a role in her husband’s case.

There were no mental health evaluations ordered for Dorn’s killer, who is Black.

Kinworthy is white.

“It's just hard for me to sit there and see a white man victimize a Black cop, and we want to cover all of our bases for him to make sure he’s fit to stand trial,” she said.

Bohannon said the delays and lack of action by Gardner’s office sends the wrong message to more than just her family.

“The officers that are still out there getting up and going to work every single day, they remember,” she said. “A lot of them were there that day.

“What are you telling them? Do you really have their back?”

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