Two area men to witness next Missouri execution

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Two Wayne County men who helped investigate the 1991 kidnapping, rape and murder of a St. Louis girl will be among the witnesses at her killer's execution Wednesday.

The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a request to block Martin Link's execution, which is set for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for the 1991 death of 11-year-old Elissa Self-Braun. On Monday Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency petition.

At about 6:30 a.m., on Jan. 11, 1991, Elissa left her home to walk less than three blocks to catch her school bus. She never arrived at school. Her body was found four days later near the St. Francis River bridge in Wayne County.

Both William Decker, a current deputy/bailiff with the Wayne County Sheriff's Department who was a St. Louis City policeman in 1991 and investigated the victim's disappearance, and Bud Snyder, former Wayne County sheriff, petitioned Missouri Department of Corrections officials to witness Link's execution. The men recently were notified they would be among the state's witnesses.

"I got a call for a missing juvenile," Decker said, recalling his role in the incident. "I responded; it was up in the Third District in St. Louis, just south of Tower Grove Park."

Decker said he spoke with Elissa's parents several times. "They said she went to school and that was all they knew," he said,

Officers, Decker said, looked for Elissa for three days, searching vacant buildings and garages and the park.

When the patrol division finished, Decker said, the juvenile division of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department took over and did more investigation.

"At that time, my parents, my wife and I owned a farm here in Wayne County," Decker said. "We came down here that weekend because I was off; I didn't know more about the case. … That was the weekend they found her body underneath the bridge at the St. Francis River at the [Highway] 34 Recreational Area."

Elissa's body, according to Snyder, was found by a person walking down the river bank. She was found in a drift "where she had been thrown off in the water," he said.

Snyder said authorities retrieved the body, but, at that time, didn't know who she was.

"Then, we found out Elissa had been abducted in St. Louis," Snyder said. "We got a hold of a detective and they came down … the scene was processed. …

"We saw where he had backed into the parking lot [at the river] and backed against some rocks placed there."

Snyder said local authorities and St. Louis detectives were able to develop a suspect "little by little." The detectives, he said, were able to piece everything together.

Link, Snyder said, was "going with a girl at Patterson. We questioned them, and through the investigation, we came up with him [as a suspect]."

Eleven days after Elissa's body was found, a Kirkwood, Mo., police officer reportedly attempted to pull over a vehicle driven by Link for an equipment violation.

According to court records, Link led the officer on a high-speed chase, eventually crashing his car into a telephone pole and then was arrested. In a search of the car, officers found a petroleum jelly jar with Link's fingerprints on it and flecks of blood embedded in the jelly. The jar of petroleum jelly, Decker said, is "how they got her DNA … His DNA, they recovered from her body." Autopsies determined Elissa had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Court documents also indicate Link had grown up in the area where Elissa was kidnapped and had previously lived near the area where her body was found.

Link had checked out of a motel near St. Louis on the morning Elissa disappeared and had checked into a hotel between Wayne County and St. Louis the next day.

A witness at the hotel described the car Link was driving as sounding like it had a damaged muffler. Link brought this car into a mechanic's shop that afternoon and insisted it be repaired quickly.

Under the car, the mechanic found several clumps of orange clay similar to the clay found in the St. Francis riverbed near where Elissa's body was found.

The mechanic also noticed the car's muffler, which had a clearance of about 12 inches from the ground, had been punctured by a collision with some object. Officers testified a 12-inch rock appeared to have been moved out of place in the parking area near the river.

Case goes to trial

When Link's case went to trial in St. Louis, both Decker and Snyder were among the witnesses.

During the trial, the state presented extensive evidence of Link's criminal history. The prosecutor spoke at length about the crime spree that surrounded Elissa's murder and about Link's history of victimizing women and young girls.

That history included a 1982 incident in which Link had held a knife to the throat of a 13-year-old girl, who he had attempted to rape and then forced to perform oral sex on him. In 1983, Link kidnapped and raped a 15-year-old girl, leaving her under a bridge.

For these crimes, Link was imprisoned until 1989.

Not long after his release from prison, Link was arrested for allegedly soliciting a police officer for prostitution.

On Dec. 12, 1990, Link was accused of stealing the Ford Tempo that he was driving at the time of his Jan. 26, 1991, arrest.

Link also allegedly stole the purse of a 71-year-old woman on Jan. 23, 1991, and attempted to cash one of her checks. Later that same day, he allegedly raped a woman at knife point and kidnapped her.

Two days later, he allegedly broke into a woman's home, robbed and raped her, holding a pillow over the woman's face and fleeing when he heard a noise. He also attempted to grab an 8-year-old girl that same day, but she fled.

On Jan. 26, 1991, 15 days after Elissa's disappearance and the day of his arrest, Link allegedly entered an ice cream shop and demanded money from a 16-year-old employee, threatening her with a knife and fleeing when she sounded an alarm.

After hearing the evidence of Elissa's case and learning of Link's criminal history, a jury convicted Link of multiple felonies, including kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder and sentenced him to death on the murder conviction.

"It was such a horrendous crime," Snyder said. " … It's such a bad deal, the kidnapping, rape [and] then disposing of the body.

"I've got a picture of that in my mind right now … of seeing the little girl and everything. It's kind of hard to put it out of your mind."

Decker described it as "an ugly, ugly case to start with and got uglier as it went on. That little girl died a terrible death."

After the trial, Decker said, he spoke with the circuit attorney in St. Louis and told him he "wanted to be present if, and when, [Link] was executed."

Snyder said he had a similar conversation. "I told the prosecutor when they did execute him, I wanted to be there," he said.

Upon learning an execution date had been set, both men applied with the Department of Corrections director to be state witnesses. Their requests were granted.

Snyder said he was told to be at the prison at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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