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Lawrence Callanan

Other St. Louis County, Missouri exonerations
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At about 3 a.m. on July 2, 1995, 24-year-old John Schuh was fatally shot while standing on the porch of a house on Bent Twig Lane in the Spanish Lake area of St. Louis, Missouri. There were seven people inside the home at the time, but no one saw the shooting.

Ron Claggett was the first one outside and discovered Schuh had been shot several times. Claggett got scared and left almost immediately.

Six weeks later, on August 22, 1995, police arrested 20-year-old Lawrence Callanan on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

He was charged based on statements made by Kara Weinstein. Weinstein had been partying and drinking for about eight hours prior to the shooting and had dropped off Callanan, Schuh, and Leo McLaughlin at the house on Bent Twig Lane not long before the shooting occurred.

Prior to trial, the judge barred the prosecution from suggesting to the jury that the Callanan family was linked to organized crime. Callanan’s father, Thomas, was the son of the former head of the steamfitters union in St. Louis and had lost both legs in a car bombing in 1973. The judge also barred the prosecution from presenting any evidence that Callanan had a pending unlawful use of a weapon charge.

Callanan went to trial on April 1, 1996 in St. Louis County Circuit Court. Weinstein was the prosecution’s primary witness. There was no forensic or physical evidence linking Callanan to the shooting, and the weapon was never recovered.

The prosecutor, Dan Diemer, told the jury that Weinstein would testify that she was driving away from the home when she heard gunshots. He said she would testify that she returned to see Callanan driving away in his truck.

Diemer said that “when she came back to that scene, only two people were left, the victim and the defendant, and she saw no one else. She’ll tell you. . . that when she saw the defendant cross from the front of the Lassen house to get into his car, she saw no one else. She’ll tell you…that when she drove back to the scene, she saw no other car leave, and she saw no one else running away from that residence.”

Weinstein testified that the night of partying began at 7 p.m. on July 1, 1995. She met up with Callanan, McLaughlin, and Lisa Schaefer at the home of Tom Lassen—where the shooting would occur eight hours later. Weinstein said they went to a fair in downtown St. Louis, about 12 miles away. They drank before going out and in the car on the way to the fair, and then continued to drink more at the fair. After a fireworks display ended, McLaughlin drove the four to a party of a friend. There, Weinstein’s boyfriend exchanged words with Callanan and although it was just words, the four of them left. Because they left their alcohol at the party, they stopped and bought more. They then headed to the Columbia Bottom Conservation area, just north of Spanish Lake, where about 50 to 75 people had gathered in an open field.

At this party, Weinstein said, she met Schuh for the first time. During that scene, she said that Callanan and McLaughlin were “whispering when [Schuh] wasn’t looking and then when he would turn back around, they would talk to him normal.” She said, “I felt like they were talking behind his back, you know; they were acting like they liked him, but I got the feeling that they didn’t like him.”

About 90 minutes later, Weinstein said she took Schaefer home because she was sick from the alcohol. Back at the field, Weinstein said, Callanan asked her to take him back to his truck, which was parked across from Lassen’s home on Bent Twig Lane. She said that between 2:00 and 2:30 a.m., she agreed to take Callanan, Schuh and McLaughlin to Lassen’s house. At some point before they got into the car, she said Callanan, McLaughlin and Schuh were “play fighting.”

Along the way to Lassen’s house, they stopped at Callanan’s home so that he could check on his father, who was a paraplegic and quite ill. Callanan was inside for a minute or so and then all four drove to Lassen’s house.

For the very first time, in an account never given to police, Weinstein said the three men got out of her car about 3 a.m. As she drove away, they were walking up the driveway with McLaughlin in front, Schuh following, and with Callanan trailing behind.

Weinstein said Bent Twig Lane ended in a cul de sac. She drove to the end and circled back past Lassen’s home. She said she saw Schuh on the first step and Callanan to the left of Schuh by the bushes. This was the first time Weinstein mentioned the locations of Schuh and Callanan.

She said she then exited Bent Twig Lane and turned onto Meadowdale. Before she passed the first house, Weinstein said, she heard gunshots. She said she pulled into the driveway of the second house, turned around, and drove past Bent Twig Lane. She told the jury that she saw Callanan walking to his truck.

She testified that she then pulled into another driveway, turned around, and came back toward Bent Twig Lane. At that point, she said she saw Callanan in his truck, with the lights turned off, making a right turn onto Meadowdale. She said she then turned onto Bent Twig Lane and returned to Lassen’s home where she discovered Schuh had been shot.

Weinstein said that when she got to the home, McLaughlin said, “Larry did something stupid.”

Under questioning by Diemer, Weinstein said that her account was the same as what she told police, the grand jury, and Diemer himself.

“And you never saw anyone else other than the defendant come out of that yard after you heard the shots; is that correct?” Diemer asked.

“That is correct,” Weinstein said.

During cross-examination, Callanan’s defense attorney, Paul D’Agrosa, asked Weinstein if she saw a second car. “I don’t think—no,” Weinstein replied.

That testimony would later be exposed as false. In fact, Weinstein had told Diemer that she had seen a second car. Evidence would later show that Diemer ordered Weinstein not to reveal that she had seen a second car, which she dutifully obeyed. By doing so, Diemer not only procured false testimony, but he falsely argued to the jury that Callanan had to be the killer because there was no one else around.

Seven men in the Lassen home, including Tom Lassen, said they were inside at the time of the shooting. None saw Schuh get shot. Ron Claggett said he was on the phone, heard gunshots, headed toward the kitchen, and then turned back to the front door to see Schuh’s body on the front porch. Claggett said he left immediately in his purple Camaro because he was afraid and as he left, he passed a small car that was coming toward Lassen’s house.

William Michalski, the neighbor whose driveway Weinstein said she first turned around in, testified that no car pulled into his driveway. Earl Tippett, another neighbor, said he heard gunshots and saw a maroon or purple Camaro drive away. He saw no truck.

McLaughlin testified that shortly after police arrived, Bill and Russell Losing—Schuh’s brothers—arrived. Both were reported by police to be “armed and dangerous.” Subsequently, the brothers went to McLaughlin’s home, where they threatened him.

Years later, Claggett would testify that while waiting in a witness room to testify at Callanan’s trial, Bill Losing came into the room with crime scene photos of Schuh’s body. Claggett said Losing told him that if Claggett didn’t “say the right things, I’m going to follow you out to the parking lot.” Other testimony presented years later showed that the prosecutor, Diemer, allowed Bill Losing to be present during witness interviews. Bill Losing also was romantically involved with Weinstein. None of that evidence was disclosed to Callanan’s defense lawyer.

Christopher Boelhauf testified at Callanan’s trial that he saw Callanan and Schuh argue and bump chests at the Columbia Bottom party after Callanan fell out of a lawn chair. Years later, the defense would learn that Diemer had failed to disclose Boelhauf’s criminal history—evidence that could have been used to impeach Boelhauf at the trial.

Detective Andrew Albert testified that he developed no leads on another possible suspect in the case, even though Weinstein said she had seen a second car. He also testified that “several” people told him that Callanan and Schuh were involved in a confrontation prior to the shooting, although there were no reports of anyone saying so. Years later, Boelhauf testified that Schuh told him at the party—right after the confrontation—that it “was nothing.”

After the shooting, police recovered an apparent bone fragment, a cigarette butt from the edge of the porch, a spent bullet from the porch, a bullet fragment from the victim’s shirt, bullet fragments from the right side of the door frame and the base of the door, and three beer bottles. None of that evidence linked Callanan to the crime.

Albert also testified that when the police seized Schuh’s clothes, they found a bag of cocaine in his back pocket. He said that this evidence, combined with the autopsy toxicology report which indicated Schuh had alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana in his system, suggested that Schuh may have been involved in drugs and that the shooting was drug related. However, he said, that avenue was not pursued.

During closing argument, Diemer claimed that Schuh was shot by someone who approached from Schuh’s left, reminding the jury that Weinstein said that as Schuh walked toward the house, Callanan was on the left near a bush.

Diemer claimed that a crime lab analyst—who was never called as a witness at the trial—supported the theory that the bullet “ricocheted” off Schuh’s head based on blood and gunpowder found at the scene. Diemer claimed it was a “physical impossibility” for the shooter for the shooter to have approached from Schuh’s right. The defense would later claim that Diemer’s argument was improper because it was based on evidence that was not presented at the trial.

On April 4, 1996, the jury convicted Callanan. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He appealed, citing several grounds that included a claim that Diemer, despite the judge’s ruling, had in fact suggested that Callanan’s family was tied to organized crime. The appeal was denied in August 1997.

In November 1997, Callanan, represented by attorney Sean O’Brien, filed a petition for post-conviction relief, but the motion was denied in March 1999. In 2001, Callanan filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Over the years, while imprisoned at the Potosi Correctional Center, Callanan became acquainted with Brad Kessler, an attorney who came to the prison to visit clients. Kessler was a law partner with Diemer. During conversations about the Callanan case, Diemer admitted that he had specifically instructed Weinstein not to mention the presence of a second car. Kessler urged Diemer to reveal that information to O’Brien.

In March 2002, during a meeting at the prison, Diemer agreed to “come clean about Kara Weinstein.” As a result, Diemer signed a sworn statement admitting that he had told Weinstein not to disclose the existence of a second car.

The affidavit said in part: “I was concerned that the presence of another vehicle in that time frame [near the time of the crime] would raise the inference that another person was also present and had equal opportunity to commit the crime. That is why I had asked Ms. Weinstein not to volunteer this information…”

Despite this admission, the federal habeas petition was denied. In 2004, a judge ruled that the second car could have been Claggett’s car and so Diemer’s failure to disclose the evidence had not prejudiced Callanan’s trial. Callanan’s subsequent appeals were unsuccessful.

In January 2007, Callanan, represented by attorney Rick Sindel, filed a petition in the Washington County Circuit Court for a state writ of habeas corpus. The petition raised the failure of the prosecution to disclose that Weinstein saw a second car as well as claims that Diemer had improperly permitted Bill Losing—one of Schuh’s brothers—to intimidate witnesses, that he failed to disclose Chris Boelhauf’s criminal history, that he made improper arguments vouching for Weinstein’s testimony, that he falsely attributed criminal convictions to a defense witness, that he improperly commented on Callanan’s pre- and post-arrest silence, and that he suggested—in defiance of the trial’s judge’s pretrial ruling—that Callanan’s family was involved in organized crime and that witnesses were afraid of Callanan and his family.

That petition was denied in April 2007 without a hearing. A month later, Callanan petitioned the Missouri Court of Appeals for a writ of habeas corpus. That was denied in June 2007.

In 2015, represented by attorneys Cheryl Pilate and Lindsay Runnels, Callanan filed a habeas petition with the Missouri Supreme Court. The petition again raised the issue of Diemer’s conduct relating to Weinstein. The petition also raised a host of other claims of improper conduct by Diemer including that he:

-- failed to disclose that a witness told police that she saw two occupants in a blue Firebird car that passed by her house sometime after the shooting

-- failed to disclose that Bill Losing—Schuh’s brother—was romantically involved with Weinstein before and during Callanan’s trial

-- failed to disclose that Weinstein was intoxicated when she saw Schuh and Callanan before the shooting and when she saw Callanan leave the Lassen home after shots were fired

-- failed to disclose that Weinstein worked as a practicum student intern at the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from January 1999 until August 1999, three years after Callanan’s trial

-- failed to disclose Christopher Boelhauf’s complete criminal history

-- failed to disclose the criminal histories of Schuh or his brothers, Bill and Russell Losing

-- allowed Bill Losing, a physically imposing man who had threatened people immediately after the shooting, to be present during witness interviews

-- improperly asked the jury to infer consciousness of guilt by Callanan because he refused to be interviewed by police

--improperly told the jury Weinstein was not the kind of person who would lie --improperly suggested Claggett was afraid of Callanan and his family

--improperly implied that Callanan’s father had connections to organized crime

--improperly referred to facts not in evidence

In 2016, the Missouri Supreme court appointed Judge Gael D. Wood to hear evidence on the petition and issue a report. Judge Wood began holding hearings in August 2018. That same month, Wesley Bell won the Democratic nomination for chief prosecutor of St. Louis County, ending the 28-year run of Robert McCullough. Bell was elected chief prosecutor without opposition in November and almost immediately announced the formation of a Conviction Integrity Unit. In January 2019, Runnels met with the unit and provided documents in the case for review.

Judge Wood concluded 10 days of hearings in April 2019 after more than a dozen witnesses testified. In August 2019, Bell wrote a letter to Wood supporting the defense. The letter, which Judge Wood accepted as an amicus brief, stated: “We are deeply concerned by the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred during Mr. Callanan’s 1996 trial. Mr. Callanan’s conviction rested entirely on circumstantial evidence … The prosecution was based upon a theory of ‘exclusive opportunity’ that hinged on the testimony of a lone and uncorroborated witness …”

On May 11, 2020, Judge Wood ruled that Callanan’s petition should be granted and his convictions vacated due to the “egregious” violation of Callanan’s right to a fair trial. The judge cited not only Diemer’s failure to disclose that Weinstein saw a second car, but also Diemer’s “knowing elicitation of false testimony” from Weinstein as well as Diemer’s failure to correct Weinstein’s false testimony when she denied seeing a second car.

The judge noted that during the hearing Weinstein admitted that she said she had seen a second car. That testimony, the judge declared, “gravely” undermined the case against Callanan.

Weinstein also admitted for the first time that she did not know who she saw crossing the street. First, she testified that the person she saw was Claggett, who was about 10 inches shorter than Callanan and had a far smaller build. Then Weinstein said she really didn’t know who she saw. She said that it was too dark, that she did not see the person’s face and could only see a silhouette of a figure.

“I don’t know who it was,” she finally conceded.

Judge Wood noted that Diemer admitted that he signed the affidavit, but “disavowed nearly the entirety of its contents, repeatedly claiming his sworn statements were not true.” Not only did Diemer’s testimony make “little sense,” it lacked credibility and was contradicted by credible testimony from other witnesses, including his then-law partner Kessler and O’Brien, Callanan’s lawyer at the time the affidavit was signed, Judge Wood concluded.

The judge also noted that one of Callanan’s jurors testified during the hearings that sometime after jury selection but before deliberations, she “was told the State was holding the gun used to kill Schuh in connection with another crime involving Callanan.”

“This information was both incorrect and highly prejudicial,” Judge Wood said. The source of this information has never been determined. In fact, the gun used to kill Schuh was never recovered and there was no evidence Callanan was involved in another crime.

On June 2, 2020, the charges were dismissed and Callanan was released, more than 24 years from the day of his conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/6/2020
Last Updated: 7/6/2020
State:Missouri
County:St. Louis
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:Life without parole
Race/Ethnicity:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No