Federal appeals court reinstates Mo. inmate's death sentence

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- A federal appeals court has reinstated a man's death sentence in a 1994 murder for hire, rejecting claims that prosecutors, including a current congressman, encouraged a key witness to lie under oath.

Monday's ruling by an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reverses a lower court's August 2001 order that Richard Clay be retried because prosecutors failed to disclose details of witness Chuck Sanders' plea deal.

Clay was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to death in the previous year's slaying of businessman Randy Martindale in the Bootheel.

The legal flap focused partly on whether prosecutors told Sanders, in hopes of bolstering his credibility to jurors, to lie about the severity of his possible sentence for his role in the murder.

Also at issue was whether state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof -- now a Republican congressman from Columbia -- mischaracterized Sanders' possible punishment at trial. U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple in Kansas City had ruled that to be the case and ordered the new trial.

Hulshof has denied he ever told Sanders to testify falsely about terms of his plea deal, and that prosecutors were required only to disclose the existence of a plea deal, not its contents.

Immaterial informationAmong other things, the three-judge 8th Circuit panel ruled that any undisclosed information about a witness' plea agreement was immaterial.

H. Riley Bock, who was New Madrid County's prosecutor at the time of Clay's 1995 trial, said Tuesday, "The case ended up right where it should be."

Bock, who has since retired, said the case was exhausting and complicated, involving two trials and 30 witnesses, some of them hostile.

Messages left Tuesday with a Hulshof spokesman and an attorney for Clay were not returned.

Prosecutors -- including Hulshof, then an assistant Missouri attorney general -- argued that Martindale's wife, Stacy, was having an affair with Sanders and hired Sanders' friend Clay to kill her husband.

Clay insisted Martindale was alive when he and Sanders left the Martindale home the day Martindale was fatally shot four times.

At trial, Sanders told jurors he was headed to prison for 10 years for his role. And in summarizing his case, Hulshof told jurors that "Chuck Sanders is going to get 10 years in prison. ... Let there be no mistake about it."

In 1996, Sanders pleaded guilty to an amended charge of evidence tampering and was sentenced to five years of probation. Prosecutors had urged a five-year prison sentence. Sanders completed the probation in 2001.

Stacy Martindale, convicted in 1995 of second-degree murder, is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

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