JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Supreme Court will decide if a former Poplar Bluff, Mo., man twice convicted of double murder deserves a third trial on the charges that landed him on death row.
In December 2000, the high court overturned Cecil Barriner's first convictions for the 1996 stabbing deaths of Irene Sisk and her granddaughter Candy Sisk in New Madrid County. A second jury subsequently found him guilty of both first-degree murder counts following his retrial last year, and the judge again imposed two death sentences.
Barriner's latest appeal, which the Supreme Court heard Wednesday, claims the trial judge erred in preventing the Warren County jury from hearing about hair samples found on the victims' bodies that could point to another perpetrator. Testing showed the hair wasn't Barriner's.
"The non-matching hair is evidence Cecil Barriner did not do this," said Deborah Wafer, Barriner's public defender.
Since the hair samples don't lead to another identifiable suspect, assistant attorney general Adriane Crouse said the trial judge acted within his discretion to exclude the evidence as inconclusive and prejudicial to the prosecution.
"It doesn't establish anything," Crouse said.
However, several judges challenged that position.
"There are hairs there we know do not belong to the defendant. How can that not be exculpatory?" Judge Laura Denvir Stith asked.
Judge Michael A. Wolff said the relevance of the evidence depends on where it was found. One hair sample was found on Candy Sisk's thigh and another in the knot used to bind Irene Sisk.
"It strikes me that location is important," Wolff said. "These are pretty relevant hairs."
Crouse said the hairs were never tested to determine if they belonged to the victims. However, Wafer countered that the prosecution conceded they did not.
Wafer said the exculpatory value of the hair evidence would have been sufficient to raise reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors. However, Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh indicated the prosecution would still have been able to prove its case.
"It seems to me that in most any case where there is a confession, the evidence is overwhelming," Limbaugh said.
Wafer said there is no evidence a confession was made, only the interrogating police officer's testimony that Barriner admitted his guilt.
"Cecil did not write a confession, did not sign one and it was not videotaped," Wafer said. "The confession should be suppressed."
Irene Sisk, 73, and Candy Sisk, 18, were killed Dec. 16, 1996, in their home in Tallapoosa, which is about 10 miles east of Malden. A Dent County jury originally convicted Barriner, who had dated Candy's mother, in 1999.
The Supreme Court overturned that conviction 5-2, ruling that pornographic videotapes and sex toys taken from Barriner's home and introduced as evidence by the prosecution were irrelevant and prejudicial.
The court will issue a decision in the current appeal at a later date.
Barriner, 41, is incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center.