BOWLING GREEN, Mo. – Christopher Lee Simmons has been incarcerated at the Northeast Correctional Center since 1994. Originally sentenced to death in 1994, on August 26, 2003, he was re-sentenced to life without parole.
In 2004, the New York Times reported that the Supreme Court was considering ending the execution of individuals who committed their crimes when they were under 18 years old. Simmons was 17 when he and a fellow teen killed Shirley Crook. Simmons was labeled a thrill killer, and his death penalty sentence was a subject of significant debate.
On September 9, 1993, Simmons, then 17, recruited two friends, Charles Benjamin, 15, and John Tessmer, 16, to help him break into Crook’s house, kidnap her, and throw her off a bridge at Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County. Tessmer later backed out of the plan and served as a witness against Simmons and Benjamin.
Simmons and Benjamin broke into Crook’s house with the intent to commit burglary. They entered through a partially opened window and proceeded through the house, turning on a hallway light. Simmons knew Crook, having previously been involved in a vehicle accident with her. He entered Crook’s bedroom, instructing her to get out of bed.
When Crook refused, Simmons and Benjamin forced her to the floor. Simmons then searched for something to restrain her and found duct tape. They bound Crook’s hands behind her back and covered her eyes and mouth with tape. They forced her into her own minivan and drove for 25 minutes to Castlewood State Park, where they intended to take her to a railroad bridge.
During the drive, Crook managed to partially free herself from the duct tape. Upon reaching the bridge, Simmons parked the minivan on the railroad tracks. Crook, partially freed, fought, prompting Simmons to use various items from the car, such as a bathrobe belt, purse strap, electrical wire, and a towel, to further restrain her hands and feet and cover her head. Simmons and Benjamin led Crook to the edge of the bridge before Simmons pushed her into the water. Crook was still alive when she entered the water.
After the crime, Simmons visited a friend, Brian Moomey, at his trailer home, where he bragged about killing Crook, using explicit language. He justified his actions by claiming that Crook had seen his face, leaving him with no other choice.
Discovery of the Missing Person:
Steven Crook, Shirley’s husband, last spoke to his wife the day before her murder. The day after her murder, on September 10, around 7 a.m., he called her, expecting to hear from her. However, Shirley did not report to work as a truck driver, leading Steven to suspect something was wrong. After returning home, he discovered their minivan was gone and, with no contact from his wife, he reported her missing to the police.
On the same day, two fishermen on the Meramec River in St. Louis County found Shirley’s body floating almost a mile downstream from the railroad bridge.
Police arrested Simmons on September 10 after linking him to Crook’s murder. Despite initially denying involvement, Simmons confessed to the murder after police interrogation.
Simmons was found guilty of first-degree murder. During the trial, his mother, Cheryl Hayes, testified that Simmons had a healthy relationship with his family, including two younger half-brothers and his grandmother. Dennis Simmons, his father, mentioned that Simmons had frequent contact with his son, especially during weekends, holidays, and birthdays, and spoke of how his younger half-brothers admired him.
Several friends testified on Simmons’ behalf, describing him as a good kid who cared for others. Despite this, Simmons did not testify in his own defense and still pleaded guilty to Crook’s murder. Members of Crook’s family also testified, explaining how her murder had profoundly affected their lives.
On August 19, 1994, the court sentenced Simmons to death.
Benjamin is sentenced to life without parole and resides at the Western Reception and Diagnostic Correction Center.
Appealing the Death Penalty:
On April 29, 1997, Simmons attempted to appeal the death penalty, arguing that his legal team had failed to investigate or present evidence regarding his childhood abuse, substance abuse struggles, mental health issues, and threats made by Brian Moomey against Simmons and his family after Simmons’s arrest. In 1997, the jury still found the death penalty appropriate.
A rehearing took place on May 27, 1997, but it was overruled, as the case noted, “There was no improper coercion when the officer told [Simmons] “It would be in his ‘best interest’ to tell the truth.”
In 2001, Simmons issued another appeal, contending that he was too young at the time to understand his rights and should have received more education before waiving his right to remain silent.
In 2003, the court determined that it was unconstitutional, under the Eighth Amendment, to execute individuals who were under 18 years old at the time of their capital crime. Consequently, the court revoked Mr. Simmons’ death sentence and sentenced him to life in prison, in accordance with Sec. 565.035