On November 18, 1990, Clarence Dexter returned to his home in Clay County, Missouri after a trip to the grocery store. He found his wife lying in a pool of blood in the garage. She had been shot four times and bashed in the head with a hammer. Dexter immediately called the police, who came to investigate the crime scene. Later that night, Dexter was arrested. He was formally charged with murder on December 5, 1990.
Evidence found at the scene of the crime indicated that the murder had occurred during a botched robbery attempt: a door was ajar, a plexi-glass window had been pushed in, and the molding by its handle was missing. However, the prosecution argued that Dexter had shot his wife, then gone to the store to create an alibi, and finding her still alive when he returned, bludgeoned her with a hammer. After a week-long trial that began in July 1991, the jury was unable to reach a decision, and the judge declared a mistrial.
In October 1991, Dexter stood trial for a second time. The state’s case focused on blood evidence found at the scene of the crime. Blood on Dexter’s jeans matched the victim’s, and prosecutors claimed this evidence linked Dexter to the crime, though Dexter admitted that, finding his wife on the floor, he had straddled her body and turned her over. Prosecutors also introduced a blood-stained T-shirt and glove found in the garage, but neither was ever conclusively linked to Dexter. The defense attorney conducted no independent blood tests, and called no witnesses other than Dexter himself. During the trial, the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the fact that, during the investigation, Dexter had refused to answer any questions without an attorney present. Dexter’s attorney did not object. The jury found Dexter guilty on October 7, 1991, and sentenced him to death.
Six years later, on October 21, 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment because of prosecutorial misconduct in referring to Dexter’s refusal to answer questions without an attorney, stating that the prosecutor’s comments “affected the appellant’s substantial rights and resulted in manifest injustice.” Unable to post his $500,000 bond, Dexter remained in jail while awaiting his third trial.
During pre-trial investigation, it was discovered that much of the prosecution’s evidence had disappeared since Dexter’s conviction. Defense attorneys also found an expert who claimed that the blood analysis used to convict Dexter in his previous trials was completely inaccurate, and uncovered exculpatory evidence that Dexter’s previous attorney had failed to investigate, including a bloody footprint found at the crime scene that did not match Dexter’s shoes. In light of this new evidence, Clay County prosecutors dropped charges on June 7, 1999, the day Dexter’s third trial was set to begin, and he was released.
– Alexandra Gross