Christopher Dunn Series Part II: Let’s See The Evidence

Christopher Dunn Series Part II: Let’s See The Evidence

As you’ll recall from Part I of our series on the case against Christopher Dunn, the prosecution told the jury that the evidence against Mr. Dunn was strong. In fact, according to Steve Ohmer, the Assistant Circuit Attorney assigned to Mr. Dunn’s case, the evidence against Christopher Dunn was “uncontradicted” or “wholly contradicted.” Indeed, he said, “[t]here is no question” about Mr. Dunn’s guilt. Ultimately, Mr. Ohmer concluded, the evidence against Christopher Dunn was incriminating, and those incriminating facts would never change: “Facts don’t change. Facts don’t change.”

With that backdrop in mind, let’s see if the evidence against Christopher Dunn was truly “uncontradicted” or “wholly uncontradicted,” whether it was true that “[t]here is no question” about Mr. Dunn’s guilt and whether, as Mr. Ohmer said three decades ago, the “[f]acts” as presented by the prosecution “don’t change”…

The Prosecution’s Evidence Against Christopher Dunn

The prosecution called eight witnesses during Mr. Dunn’s trial. Their testimony is set forth below.

Sergeant Robert George

The prosecution’s first witness was Sergeant Robert George. Sgt. George, a long-time police officer, testified that while he was “looking for” Mr. Dunn during the early morning hours of May 19, 1990, he saw him and “got out of [his] police car.” Then, he said, Mr. Dunn “took off running.”

Sgt. George said he “chased him” but was unable to catch him after “[a]bout two blocks, short blocks, between yards, through gangways.” So, he “broadcast a description of him on [his] police radio.” And, shortly after that, “[a]nother officer drove up to where [he] was standing, with [Mr. Dunn] in the back of the car handcuffed.” Sgt. George identified Mr. Dunn as the man who was in the car.

Officer Jerome Billings

The prosecution’s next witness was Officer Jerome Billings, another long-time police officer and the officer who arrested Mr. Dunn on May 19, 1990. Ofc. Billings testified that he received Sgt. George’s broadcast that day. And, shortly thereafter, he “observed a subject run from the gangway at about 2853 Abner.” “I exited the police car and I told the subject to stop,” Ofc. Billings testified. “[B]ut he continued on through the alley.”

So, Ofc. Billings “then pursued the subject” and eventually “apprehended him” after “[a]bout a half a block.” Ofc. Billings identified Mr. Dunn as the man he arrested. And he testified that he took him to Sgt. George after putting him in handcuffs.

Officer Lisa Van Dyke

After Ofc. Billings, the prosecution called Officer Lisa Van Dyke, another police officer, to the stand. Ofc. Van Dyke was one of the police officers who arrived at the scene on May 19, 1990. She said she saw “a subject laying on the west side of the residence” “with a gunshot wound to the back of his head.”

Additionally, Ofc. Van Dyke said, “[w]e had two subjects that had also been shot at the same time, and we had talked to them and gotten a description of the subject to them.” Specifically, she recalled talking to “two young boys”: DeMorris Stepp and Michael Davis.

DeMorris Stepp

The prosecution’s next witness was DeMorris Stepp, one of two eyewitnesses to the shooting who survived. At the time of trial, Mr. Stepp was a young teenager just like Rico Rogers and Michael Davis, whom he described as “good friends” who “all live in the same neighborhood.” Mr. Stepp testified that he also knew Christopher Dunn fairly well. “I’ve seen him numerous times in the neighborhood,” he said. “[A]nd numerous of my friends, I’ve stood by while they’ve talked to him.”

According to Mr. Stepp, he was “[t]alking” with Mr. Rogers and Mr. Davis “on Marlin Tolliver’s porch” (5607 Labadie Avenue in St. Louis) during the late evening hours of May 18, 1990, and the early morning hours of May 19, 1990. Seemingly out of nowhere, Mr. Stepp testified, he “heard three” “shots” and “seen Mr. Christopher Dunn” “between the gangways” about “twelve, thirteen feet” away.

“And as I was still standing there,” Mr. Stepp testified, “I heard shots and I see firing over my head, as the shots went past, and I ducked and I looked and I began to run.” According to Mr. Stepp, Christopher Dunn was the man who fired the shots with a “nickel-plated” gun. But, Mr. Stepp said, Mr. Dunn didn’t say anything before or after shooting at them. Mr. Stepp later confirmed that he identified Mr. Dunn as the shooter to law enforcement, too.

Interestingly, according to Mr. Stepp, he hadn’t had any problems with Mr. Dunn earlier that day:

  • Prosecutor: Had you see Christopher Dunn earlier in the day at all?
  • Mr. Stepp: Yes, sir, I seen him numerous times.
  • Prosecutor: Numerous times?
  • Mr. Stepp: Yes, sir.
  • Prosecutor: Had you talked to him at all?
  • Mr. Stepp: No, sir.
  • Prosecutor: And had you had any problems with him earlier in the day?
  • Mr. Stepp: No, sir.

In fact, Mr. Stepp said, he had never had any problems with Mr. Dunn at all:

  • Prosecutor: Now — but you had no problems with him earlier in the day?
  • Mr. Stepp: No, sir.
  • Prosecutor: Had you ever had any problems with him?
  • Mr. Stepp: No, sir.

Lastly, Mr. Stepp acknowledged that he had pending “Robbery and Armed Criminal Action, Unlawful Use of a Weapon, and Tampering First Degree” charges pending against him at the time of Mr. Dunn’s trial.

In exchange for his testimony in Mr. Dunn’s case though, Mr. Stepp explained, Mr. Ohmer, the prosecutor, had agreed to drop the “Armed Criminal Action” charge but still planned to recommend “[f]ifteen years” as a sentence for the remaining charges. On cross-examination, however, Mr. Stepp did admit that his deal with the prosecutor gave him “a chance at probation.”

Detective Gary Stittum

After Mr. Stepp’s testimony, the prosecution called Gary Stittum, a St. Louis police detective to the stand. Det. Stittum was another law-enforcement official who went to the scene of the shooting.

Det. Stittum was also the individual who conducted the photograph identification of Mr. Dunn with Mr. Stepp and Mr. Davis. And he also did the in-person lineup identification of Mr. Dunn with Mr. Stepp. According to Det. Stittum, Mr. Davis was not involved in the in-person lineup identification because “[h]e was unavailable” on the date it was conducted.

Kathy Goldacker

Next, the prosecution presented testimony from Kathy (or Cathy) Goldacker, who testified that she “work[s] in medical records” at Barnes Hospital, the hospital where Rico Rogers was admitted on May 19, 1990, at 2:21 a.m., after the shooting. According to Ms. Goldacker, Mr. Rogers’s injury was identified as follows: “‘Open skull fracture of occipital bone and right temporal-parietal region, gunshot wound.'”

Michael Graham, M.D.

The prosecution’s second-to-last witness was Dr. Michael Graham, a forensic pathologist who worked as an associate professor of pathology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine and as the Chief Medical Examiner for the City of St. Louis. He testified that he performed the autopsy on Rico Rogers on May 21, 1990.

According to Dr. Graham, Mr. Rogers had “a single gunshot wound of entrance to the back of the head” from a “bullet [that] traveled forward into the brain where I recovered it.” According to Dr. Graham, that was the cause of Mr. Rogers’s death: “Gunshot wound to the head.”

Image courtesy of Kira Dunn.

Michael Davis

The prosecution’s final witness was Michael Davis, the second eyewitness who was shot at but not killed during the shooting in the early morning hours of May 19, 1990. Mr. Davis was also just a young teenager at the time of trial. And he testified that he knew Mr. Rogers, Mr. Stepp and Mr. Dunn each “[a]s a friend.” Specifically, he testified as follows:

  • Prosecutor: And did you know a Rico Rogers?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, sir.
  • Prosecutor: How did you know him?
  • Mr. Davis: As a friend.
  • Prosecutor: And do you know a DeMorris Stepp?
  • Mr. Davis. Yes, sir.
  • Prosecutor: How do you know him?
  • Mr. Davis: As a friend.
  • Prosecutor: And do you know a Christopher Dunn?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, sir.
  • Prosecutor: How do you know him?
  • Mr. Davis: As a friend.

Like Mr. Stepp, Mr. Davis testified that they were together with Mr. Rogers “[t]alking” “[o]n the porch” at a friend’s house (5607 Labadie Avenue) during the late evening hours on May 18, 1990, and the early morning hours on May 19, 1990. At some point, Mr. Davis testified, “[s]omebody started shooting.”

Mr. Davis testified that he “got over the porch and Rico had fell.” After Mr. Rogers fell, he continued, “[p]eople started running up the street and coming out they houses and stuff.” When Mr. Rogers fell, Mr. Davis testified, he fell “next to him” “[t]o keep from getting shot.”

According to Mr. Davis, the shooter didn’t say anything but shot “I think three” times. Mr. Davis identified Mr. Dunn as the shooter, explaining as follows:

  • Prosecutor: All right. And do you see the person in the courtroom today who fired those shots?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, sir.
  • Prosecutor: Who is that?
  • Mr. Davis: Christopher.
  • Prosecutor: I’m sorry.
  • Mr. Davis: Christopher.
  • Prosecutor: Okay, the defendant, Christopher Dunn?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, sir.

Mr. Davis confirmed that he later talked to law enforcement and identified Mr. Dunn as the shooter that night as well.

On cross-examination, Mr. Davis explained that he did not see the shooter, who he later identified as Mr. Dunn, until after at least one shot was fired:

  • Defense Counsel: Okay. And the first time that you saw this person who was shooting at you was after there had been a shot; is that right?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, ma’am.
  • Defense Counsel: You didn’t look over there before; is that right?
  • Mr. Davis: No, ma’am.
  • Defense Counsel: And what happened was — is that you didn’t know, even that there was someone there?
  • Mr. Davis: No, ma’am.
  • Defense Counsel: Until there was a shot; is that right?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, ma’am.

Later, Mr. Davis clarified that he “looked before [he] went to the ground, when Rico fell. But, he made it clear, he didn’t see anyone until the shooting started:

  • Defense Counsel: But you didn’t look over into this area until after there was one shot?
  • Mr. Davis: Yes, ma’am.
  • Defense Counsel: And until that time you didn’t notice anybody there?
  • Mr. Davis: No, ma’am.
  • Defense Counsel: Okay. And you didn’t even know there was a person there?
  • Mr. Davis: No, ma’am.

Mr. Davis also disputed that the shooter was in a gangway when the shooting took place. Instead, Mr. Davis testified, the shooter “was on the side of the white house.”

The Defense’s Evidence In Support Of Christopher Dunn

After Mr. Davis’s testimony, the prosecution rested: “Thank you. That would be the State’s case. State would rest.” In a criminal trial, after the prosecution rests, the defense then has an opportunity to present its own witnesses. In this case, however, Christopher Dunn’s defense attorney, Janis Good, did not. Instead, this was the entirety of the defense’s “case” at trial:

  • The Court: Miss Good, do you wish to make an opening statement? Do you have any evidence?
  • Ms. Good: No, Your Honor, the defense rests.

That was it.

Image courtesy of Kira Dunn.

The Evidence The Jury Never Got To See

This was all of the evidence the jury saw at trial back in 1991. As indicated above, the prosecutor called the prosecution’s version of events “uncontradicted” or “wholly uncontradicted.” “There is no question,” Mr. Ohmer argued at the time, that Mr. Dunn was guilty as charged. And that guilt, the prosecutor argued, would never change: “Facts don’t change. Facts don’t change.”

Facts may not change. But the only evidence connecting Mr. Dunn to the May 19, 1990 shooting—Mr. Stepp’s testimony and Mr. Davis’s testimony—have.

DeMorris Stepp

More than 15 years ago, DeMorris Stepp recanted his testimony against Christopher Dunn. According to a now 17-year-old affidavit, Mr. Stepp actually “didn’t see anyone” before he “heard more shots and ran” on May 19, 1990. Instead, according to Mr. Stepp, he “was told to say it was him [Mr. Dunn] by the police” because “the police didn’t want Dunn out there” and Mr. Stepp “was just afraid….”

“I made a mistake by lying and going along with the police officers,” Mr. Stepp explains under penalty of perjury. “I lied on Chris Dunn, to save myself, I lied during trial because the prosecutor said I would go home if I said everything he asked me to say about Chris Dunn to get the conviction….” He continues, “I was afraid if I didn’t say it was him the police would beat me up or kill me….”

Not only did Mr. Stepp recant his testimony, though. He also took the blame for Mr. Davis’s testimony, too. “Michael Davis said it was Dunn because I said it was him, Mike asked me who was it, but the police helped us with our statements,” Mr. Stepp swore under oath. “It was not Dunn that committed the killing, and I, and God know it.” According to Mr. Stepp, “Dunn was no the shooter I tried to tell them that I made a mistake but they wouldn’t listen because they wanted Dunn off the streets.”

Michael Davis

Michael Davis recanted his testimony a few years ago, too. In a six-year-old affidavit, Mr. Davis swore under oath that he had no idea who the shooter was back on May 19, 1990. “From my vantage point at the time the shots were fired, I could not see or identify the shooter,” he explains. “I could not even say where the shooter was or where the shots came from.”

Referring to Mr. Stepp, Mr. Davis states that both of them had no idea: “He told me that night he did not see the shooter and he was next to me on the porch and could only see what I could see, which was nothing.”

Even though neither of them knew “who shot at us and killed Ricco,” Mr. Davis said, he and Mr. Stepp “decided to tell the police that Dunn was the shooter even though neither of us saw him at the scene or believed that our statements were true” because “[p]eople in the neighborhood hated Dunn because of his rival gang affiliation, because he was pushing his weight around, and because he was messing with (dating) a girl in the neighborhood.”

According to Mr. Davis, pinning the shooting on Mr. Dunn gave them a chance to get a rival gang member off the streets. “I along with Demorris and other members of our gang (Bloods) wanted Dunn out of the neighborhood and claiming that Dunn had shot Ricco seemed like an easy way to get that done,” he explained. “We told police that Dunn shot and killed my friend Ricco Rogers.”

Whenever he “hesitated about having actually seen the shooter,” however, Mr. Davis said that he “felt that [he] was being coerced to testify that Christopher Dunn was the shooter, and despite having sworn to tell the truth, [he] lied and testified just as the police told me to — that Christopher Dunn shot Ricco Rogers.”

Corroborating Evidence

Maybe you’re skeptical about Mr. Stepp’s and Mr. Davis’s recantations. I was reading a court decision earlier today where all of the incriminating witnesses recanted their testimony. The judge said that didn’t prove guilt or innocence: all it proves is that they’re liars. Either they lied at trial, or they lied when they recanted.

“But, unlike their trial testimony, Mr. Stepp’s and Mr. Davis’s recantations are supported by other evidence. According to an affidavit from Eugene Wilson, an innocent bystander who was present at the shooting on May 19, 1990, “[n[one of us could see the shooter” because “[i]t was dark where the gunshots were coming from.”

“I am positive that none of us could have seen him, or his light skin in the dark, but I could not see anything about the shooter, which would allow me or any of us to identify the shooter,” Mr. Wilson elaborated. “I looked and I was not able to see any identifiable characteristics related to the shooter.” And, he said, “it was not possible” for Mr. Stepp or Mr. Davis to have identified Mr. Dunn either.

Alibi Witnesses

In addition to both Mr. Stepp and Mr. Davis recanting their testimony and corroborating evidence supporting those recantations, numerous witnesses have also come forward to support Christopher Dunn’s alibi, a defense his trial attorney obviously did not present. For example, according to Catherine Johnson, she was on the phone with Christopher Dunn “for at least 30 to 60 minutes” beginning “sometime between 10 pm and 11 pm” on the night of May 18, 1990. At the time, Ms. Johnson said, “Chris Dunn was happy and acting normal.”

Additionally, according to Nicole Bailey, she also talked to Christopher Dunn on the phone on the evening of May 18, 1990. “I distinctly recall that Friday night, May 18, 1990 – the night after my daughter Brittney was born – Chris called me late that night, just to talk,” she said. And “I recall I was in my hospital bed watching the TV show, ‘Hunter’ when Chris called. I know we talked for a long time, long after the ‘Hunter’ show had ended.” Records reportedly show that Hunter was on from 11:00 p.m. to midnight on May 18, 1990.

After they ended the call when “a nurse came into [her] room and asked [her] to get off the phone so he could check [Ms. Bailey’s] ‘vitals,'” she continued. “I called Chris Dunn back and his little sister Arnetta answered the phone” and “told [her] that the police had just come to their house looking for Chris because they believed he had just shot and killed somebody.” “That didn’t make sense to me,” Ms. Bailey explained. “I had been on the phone with Chris for the previous one or two hours.” Records show that the nurse checked Ms. Bailey’s vitals at 1:05 a.m. on May 19, 1990.

Mr. Stepp’s Probation Sentence

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Mr. Stepp was eventually sentenced to probation only, not 15 years (or any years for that matter), on his pending charges as a result of his testimony against Mr. Dunn. As it turns out, Mr. Stepp actually faced more charges than he and the prosecution told the jury.

Additionally, you’ll recall that the jury was told that Mr. Ohmer, the prosecutor, would recommend “[f]ifteen years” for Mr. Stepp’s sentence. But when he appeared before the same judge that presided over Mr. Dunn’s trial for Mr. Stepp’s sentencing hearing, Mr. Ohmer didn’t object to the sentence of probation at all.

The Jury’s Verdict With The Benefit Of Hindsight

Like I told you in Part I, the jury found Christopher Dunn guilty. And it didn’t take very long to do it. Just 42 minutes—a little less than the time it’d take for you to watch an hour-long episode of your favorite reality-tv show without commercials. Now that you know that Mr. Stepp and Mr. Davis have recanted the only testimony connecting Mr. Dunn to the shooting and that there were alibi witnesses who were never even asked to testify, let me ask you a few questions…

Was the case against Mr. Dunn really “uncontradicted” or “wholly uncontradicted” as the prosecutor claimed? Was there truly “no question” about Mr. Dunn’s guilt? Is it really true that “[f]acts” at trial as presented by the prosecution “don’t change”? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do you, based on everything I’ve described in this article, have a reason to doubt that Mr. Dunn was the man who shot Mr. Rogers and shot at Mr. Stepp and Mr. Davis on May 19, 1990? In other words, do you have a reasonable doubt?

As I explained in the introduction to this series, the last judge to weigh in on Mr. Dunn’s case, Missouri Circuit Court Judge William Hickle, clearly thinks the answer to that last question in yes. In fact, Judge Hickle doesn’t believe any jury (not just a reasonable one) would convict Mr. Dunn based on all of this evidence: “This Court does not believe that any jury would now convict Christopher Dunn.”

As Christopher Dunn knows all too well at this point, though, it doesn’t matter if he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt now or not. In fact, to paraphrase the words of Chris Pomorski from this piece in The New Republic, even uncontradicted proof of innocence won’t even help him at this stage in this case.

Instead, for Mr. Dunn, the presumption of innocence—the well-known standard that requires that the government prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted—only mattered for a brief moment in time that is long gone now: 42 minutes back in 1991.

Find out why next week.

Check back here for a direct link to Part I of this series. Or you can find Part II on the Interrogating Justice homepage or by searching Christopher Dunn in the search bar. To learn more about Christopher Dunn or to support his fight for justice, visit the Support page on the Justice for Christopher Dunn website.

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