Appeals court overturns murder conviction of Bolivar man

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- An appeals court has ordered a new trial for a Bolivar man convicted of a 1998 street-gang slaying, citing an improper jury instruction.

The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed the first-degree murder conviction of Arthur S. Thompson and ordered a new trial. Thompson was convicted of the August 1998 killing of Michael Sutton, 20, of Buffalo.

Prosecutors contended Sutton was killed for trying to quit a gang that claimed affiliation with the Five Deuce Hoover Crips in Little Rock, Ark. Thompson was one of six people tried for Sutton's slaying.

Sutton was found by a farmer near a low-water bridge outside Buffalo. He had been severely beaten and his throat had been cut.

At issue on appeal was one of the instructions presented to jurors before they deliberated. It said that if, among other things, jurors concluded "the defendant or other persons caused the death of Michael Sutton by striking him, kicking him and cutting his throat" then they should find Thompson guilty of first-degree murder.

The defense contended that that language allowed the jury to hypothesize that Thompson himself had beaten the victim, although prosecutors had argued only that Thompson helped with the slaying. A person who helps with a murder can be convicted of the crime, but the defense contended the jury was prejudiced by the instruction.

The appeals court agreed with defense attorneys, saying prosecutors never presented evidence that Thompson had struck or kicked Sutton, but that the instruction to jurors allowed them to speculate as to whether he did. That error, the court said, was prejudicial, requiring a new trial.


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