Top stories of 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009
Ice damage Friday, January 30, 2009, in Cairo, Il. (Kit Doyle)

For Southeast Missouri, 2009 presented a number of continuing challenges.

Joshua Kezer reunites with friends and family such as Shana Dunlap-King whom Kezer went to high school with at a Josh Kezer Freedom Celebration Saturday at Dexter Barbeque in Cape Girardeau. (Elizabeth Dodd)

The region was devastated again by a crippling coat of ice. Area businesses and governments coped with the fallout from a stalling economy.

County commission infighting played out in the court system and will reach the state's highest court. After more than two years, a deal was reached to bring community college services to Cape Girardeau.

The year also was marked by murder and political scandal. A new challenge arose when the Rev. Larry Rice opted to establish a homeless shelter on Broadway. His initial attempt was denied. He appealed, and the case is now under review again.

Southeast Missourian staffers ranked the top stories of the year. A couple of topics that made headlines in 2008 resurfaced again in 2009, including the story at the top of the list, Joshua Kezer's release from prison. After filing a civil suit in 2008 saying he was wrongfully convicted, Kezer was exonerated in February.

1. Joshua Kezer released from prison

After more than 15 years of incarceration for the 1992 murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless, Cole County Judge Richard G. Callahan declared Kezer innocent. He was arrested in 1993 at the age of 18. On Feb. 18, at the age of 34, Kezer walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man. In Callahan's 44-page opinion, he cited how much evidence Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter uncovered when he reopened the case in 2006. Kezer is now living and working in Columbia, Mo. He has given speeches about his case across the state.

2. Ice storm

Nearly a year after winter storms coated the region with a layer of ice, another ice storm crippled parts of Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Starting Jan. 26 a weather system brought 36 hours snow and sleet. Some areas in Cape Girardeau and Perry counties received up to 7 inches of snow. Further south in the Bootheel, ice damaged trees and utility poles. The storm left tens of thousands of residents without power for days. In some parts of the area it took utility companies weeks to restore electricity. Within days, the Southeast Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross opened four shelters in Pemiscot, New Madrid and Scott Counties. In Poplar Bluff, Mo., the Black River Coliseum filled up with about 400 people seeking shelter.

3. Jamie and Derrick Orman killed in pre-dawn shooting

On Oct. 27, residents of North Missouri Avenue woke to cop cars and police tape. During the night, Jamie Orman, who was seven months' pregnant, and her 15-year-old son, Derrick Orman, were shot and killed. Derrick Orman, a sophomore at Perryville High School, and his two brothers were staying with their mother. A police investigation uncovered a plot aimed at Jamie Orman's boyfriend, John Lawrence. His estranged wife, Michelle Lawrence, Ryan Patterson and Samuel R. "Ray Ray" Hughes have been charged in connection with the murder. Charges allege Michelle Lawrence conspired to kill her husband, burn the home they jointly own and collect insurance. The case is pending in court.

4. Larry Rice

Earlier this month, the New Life Evangelistic Center got another chance to establish itself in Cape Girardeau at the federal building. A U.S. district judge ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to re-evaluate the ministry's application to use the building at 339 Broadway as a homeless shelter. The Rev. Larry Rice applied in May to use the federal building for an emergency shelter, transitional housing and a free store. The department rejected the application later that month, and Rice filed the lawsuit in July. The ruling put plans on hold for Cape Girardeau County officials who hoped to buy the building.

5. Economy

As the recession continued, the economy affected many aspects of local businesses, government and education. Since February TG Missouri in Perryville has laid off 175 workers. Southeast Missouri State University will also lay off at least three faculty as part of its two-year plan to cut $8 million from its budget. Sixteen vacant positions will not be filled, and other staff positions could be cut throughout the process. With factory closings and layoffs, adults returned to school for retraining or to get their GED. Adult education programs and community colleges saw a spike in enrollment. Meanwhile, federal stabilization money supplemented budgets and started stimulus programs. Car dealerships had increased sales with the federal government's "Cash for Clunkers" program. The program encouraged consumers to turn in less fuel-efficient vehicles for incentives worth between $3,500 and $4,500 for qualifying vehicles.

6. Rod Jetton charged with assault

The former Missouri House speaker turned himself in to the Cole County Sheriff's Department in Jefferson City, Mo., earlier this month after Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd filed felony assault charges. Jetton allegedly assaulted a Sikeston, Mo., woman during sex. In the wake of the charges, Jetton closed his political consulting firm, Rod Jetton Associates Inc. Jetton, a Marble Hill, Mo., republican, was a state representative for the 156th District from 2001 to 2009. He was speaker of the House from 2005 to 2009, when he left because of term limits. He is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 6.

7. Community college

After more than two years of negotiations, a local coalition of business and education leaders reached a deal to establish community college services in Cape Girardeau County. The group commissioned a study, which was released in April. Months later, Southeast Missouri State University proposed a plan to establish a center by West Park Mall in conjunction with Mineral Area College. The new president at Three Rivers Community College, Dr. Devin Stephenson, explored the possibility of establishing a center in Jackson. After months of back-and-forth meetings between the education officials, the coalition approved a plan primarily between Three Rivers and Southeast to operate out of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. The state approved the final plan this month. Classes are set to begin in the fall, and community college officials said they expect the demand will outgrow the facilities.

8. Tour of Missouri pedals through Cape Girardeau

About 5,000 spectators crowded downtown Cape Girardeau on Sept. 8 as professional cyclists ended the second stage of the Tour of Missouri. English cyclist Mark Cavendish won the 112-mile stage of the race, which began in Ste. Genevieve. The seven-day race also made stops in Rolla, Jefferson City and Sedalia. American David Zabriskie took the tour's top spot overall. In the months leading up to the race, funding became an issue when the Department of Economic Development made budget cuts. In July, Gov. Jay Nixon froze $1.5 million in funding allocated to the race by the Missouri Tourism Commission. The money was released a week later.

9. Cape Air replaces Great Lakes Airlines and sees a surge in passengers

Cape Air beat out four other carriers in September to establish operations at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. The Massachusetts-based airline started flying out of the airport two months later with four passengers during its first day of service. A month later, 500 passengers, or an average of 17 per day, had used the service. Great Lakes Airlines, which previously sold commercial flights out of Cape Girardeau, averaged about two passengers per day.

10. Purcell's Sunshine lawsuit heads to the Missouri Supreme Court

A Cape Girardeau County Commissioner's lawsuit against the county commission will proceed to the Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 24. In November, the state's highest court agreed to hear arguments in commissioner Jay Purcell's case against the commission. After secretly recording a closed session in April 2008, Purcell filed a lawsuit against the commission for violating Missouri's Open Meetings and Records Act. In October 2008, in one of two court decisions against Purcell, a Stoddard County judge ruled the commissioners did not knowingly violate the Sunshine Law.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

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