Residency approved by council

Monday, June 7, 2004

If you have a question, e-mail or call Speak Out (334-5111) and identify your call as a question for "Fact or fiction?"

Q: Is it true that the current police chief is not a resident of Cape Girardeau but lives in Cape Girardeau County?

A: "Yes, I live in the county," said Cape Girardeau police chief Steve Strong. This arrangement was approved by the city council when he was hired and recognizes his history with a family farm there.

Q: I'm looking at some literature which claims to be from the Missouri Supreme Court archives. It is in regard to the case of a man named Joe Amrine. It says that Supreme Court Judge Laura Stith asked a question of Assistant Attorney General Frank A. Jung. This says, I'm quoting, "Judge Stith: 'Are you suggesting, even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?' To which Assistant Attorney General Frank Jung said, 'That's correct, your honor.'" Is this exchange true?

A: Since you are looking at the archive, you are probably seeking to make a point rather than actually test the information. Nevertheless, the case is an important one. One of the best discussions concerning the specific exchange you cite is in a New York Times story published Feb. 24, 2003. Here are excerpts:

"Jeremiah W. Nixon, Missouri's attorney general, said Mr. Jung's response to Judge Stith was a legally correct answer to an inflammatory hypothetical question. The point Mr. Jung was trying to make, he said, is that there must come a time when cases can be closed. ...

"For a variety of reasons, many prosecutors' frustration with postconviction claims of innocence is rising. They say that many such cases are frivolous, and that relitigating imposes needless emotional trauma on victims' families.

"Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis' circuit attorney, said she saw a 'steady trickle' of 'deceitful and sadistic' motions. 'A defendant knows he is guilty,' she said, 'and he wants to play the lottery.' ...

"Other prosecutors say that the criminal justice system has an interest in finality, and that executive clemency is the best mechanism for considering claims of innocence made long after the original trial. Retrying cases years later puts prosecutors at a disadvantage, they say. ...

"Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said many prosecutors conceive of their roles too narrowly.

"'There is enormous resistance to these exonerations,' Mr. Scheck said. 'That raises, frankly, a serious ethical question. A prosecutor's duty is to justice, not to convictions.' ...

"Joseph Amrine, whose appeal gave rise to the contentious questioning in the Missouri Supreme Court, is accused of killing another prison inmate while serving time for robbery, burglary and forgery. His conviction was based on the testimony of three other inmates; a guard identified someone else as the likely killer. All three have since recanted their accusations... .

"... Mr. Nixon, the state's attorney general, said clemency proceedings rather than courts were the right forum for claims like Mr. Amrine's."

For those unfamiliar with this case, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Joseph Amrine last July.

Jon Rust is co-president of Rust Communications.

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