Woman acquitted in '97 slaying of Fenton man

Saturday, June 7, 2003

HILLSBORO, Mo. -- A St. Louis-area woman has been cleared in a 1997 slaying after an investigator admitted to jurors he perjured himself in testimony about how he obtained the woman's supposed videotaped confession.

A Jefferson County jury on Thursday acquitted Sara Norton, 22, of Cedar Hill, of charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the March 1997 shooting death of Dennis Corum, of Fenton.

Corum, 31, was shot six times and in April 1997 was found floating in the Big River near High Ridge. Authorities said Norton, then 16, shot Corum to prove to boyfriend Larry West that she was not in love with the victim.

Norton, in a March 2001 videotaped confession, said she shot Corum but that West, then 23, fired the fatal shot. Prosecutors say West was never charged because Norton was the only person who consistently claimed he had fired the fatal shot, and the statute of limitations for evidence tampering had expired by the time Norton was charged.

At trial, Norton attorney Scott Rosenblum said his client's supposed confession was prompted by Jefferson County sheriff's investigator Jeff Munzlinger's promises that she could get less prison time if she "made the correct statement." Munzlinger also pledged he would try to arrange Norton's visit with her newborn daughter.

Munzlinger initially denying making promises to Norton, then admitted under Rosenblum's questioning he had told Norton he would try to help her if she cooperated.

"Yeah, I guess I perjured myself to this whole jury," Munzlinger testified.

Prosecutor Bob Wilkins said Munzlinger had been flustered by Rosenblum's intense questioning.

"Police officers are trained at getting the truth," Wilkins said. "Hopefully, the suspects will break down and tell the truth. They don't break down and confess to a crime that they didn't commit."

West, Norton's boyfriend, testified that Norton shot Corum, without prompting from him, at a mobile home in Barnhart while West hid under a kitchen table. West later allegedly called his brother to help dispose of Corum's body.

Prosecutors charged Norton in March 2001 after a witness to the shooting came forward while police were investigating a series of burglaries around High Ridge.

In May of last year, prosecutors briefly dropped, then refiled, a first-degree murder count against Norton after a dispute over misplaced evidence. A judge had ruled the defense had not been given time to review fingerprint evidence used to identify Corum after his body was found.

Norton is imprisoned for violating probation on a 1996 drug conviction. She is expected to be released in August.

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