ST. LOUIS – Five days to prepare for one of St. Louis’ biggest murder trials. That’s the challenge given Thursday morning to a new prosecutor brought in to help the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office through its staffing crisis.
It came out in a pre-trial hearing involving the five-year-old Charl Howard murder case.
Judge Bryan Hettenbach came right out of the gate, saying, “I am not going to continue this case,” a first-degree murder case that’s already been in the system since 2018. So now, a brand prosecutor, who knew little about the case before today, must be ready to tell a jury about it beginning Tuesday.
Gregory Stevens was stabbed to death in March 2018. Howard spent four years in jail awaiting trial for the murder, until a judge released him on bond because of repeated prosecutorial delays. The case is extremely complex, as Judge Hettenbach wrote on April 7: “There are no eyewitnesses, no surveillance video, no fingerprints or DNA, and no confession. It is the proverbial circumstantial case.”
Former prosecutor Chris Desilets resigned May 1 after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner made him answer to a judge why he could not be in two courtrooms at once. Now, attorney Rufus Tate has been hired as special assistant prosecutor to take Desilets’ 100-plus cases, which includes Howard case.
“I’m not going to continue this trial. I need your entry of appearance before you leave here,” Hettenbach said.
Tate’s response? “Let’s go.”
FOX 2 asked defense attorney Bill Margulis what Tate’s up against.
“They’ve got to get all their witnesses lined up. It may be hard to find witnesses from a case that’s five years old,” he said. “If there’s any physical evidence involved, they’re going to have to coordinate with the police lab to make sure the evidence still exists.”
Indirect evidence according to the court record includes, “…affidavit’s claim that the suspect’s shoe print matched a footprint lifted from the crime scene.”
The defense argues the size of the shoe at the crime scene is four times smaller than the size of the shoe the defendant wears.
Stevens, who was found dead in his Hyde Park home, had reportedly recently evicted the suspect. Cell phone tracking data from the area may be used at trial. Except the court record indicates that the tracking data is so old that prosecutors may no longer be able to access it.
“I just don’t see how they can put it together in five days, over a weekend,” Margulis said.
Margulis said the trial delays are not fair to anyone.
“It’s a long time to wait. Typically, murder cases in the state of Missouri, at least in my experience, take anywhere from two to three years to go to trial. Five years is exceedingly long for any case.”