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Melvin Lee Reynolds


Convicted of murder in Buchanan County, Missouri, in 1979, Melvin Lee Reynolds was exonerated four years later after the actual culprit confessed to the crime.
 
On May 26, 1978, four-year-old Eric Christgen was abducted from a shopping mall in St. Joseph, Missouri. He was taken to a wooded area where he was sexually molested, suffocated, and killed. Witnesses reported seeing an older man with gray hair walking down a road with a young boy who matched Christgen’s description. An anonymous tipster informed the police early in June that he had seen Melvin Reynolds near the shopping mall the day Christgen disappeared. Prior to Christgen’s murder, rumors had circulated that Reynolds was a homosexual and that he had sexually assaulted his young nephew, despite denials from Reynolds and his family.
 
Reynolds, a twenty-four-year-old house painter, did not fit eyewitness descriptions of the man spotted with Christgen – Reynolds was much shorter than the man described and his hair was brown rather than gray. Despite these inconsistencies, police brought him in a total of nine times for questioning over an eight-month period. He was administered a polygraph during one questioning, hypnotized for another, and injected with truth serum for yet another. While under the influence of truth serum, Reynolds was recounting his actions the day of Christgen’s murder and he misspoke, saying, “Before I killed – before I went to the unemployment office.” Investigators saw this as proof of his guilt. Reynolds was questioned for the final time on February 14, 1979. He was then subjected to between twelve and thirteen hours of constant interrogation, during which time the police threatened him and convinced him that if he confessed he would be able to leave and see his fiancée. Reynolds then confessed to the murder of Christgen and was recorded.
 
Despite his confession, some of the facts relayed by Reynolds did not fit the facts of the crime. He related the wrong amount of time he had allegedly watched Christgen in the mall before abducting him. When Officer Anderson asked for details on the assault, his answer was “How can I speak to doing this when I didn't do it?” He also reported the crime scene incorrectly and, the following day, he took police to the wrong location, which he stated was where he had killed Christgen. In addition to the facts that did match with Reynolds’s confession, one of his neighbors came forward and told police she had spoken to Reynolds on his front porch at the time that Christgen was abducted; however, the police ignored her testimony. Reynolds was arrested after his confession. The murder had been highly publicized and after Reynolds was arrested for killing the young boy, his family was forced to move and he was held in jail in a different town due to the volume of threats issued against him and his family.
 
The trial lasted only four days. Lee Nation represented Reynolds. The prosecutor was Michael Insco, and Buchanan County Circuit Judge Frank Connett presided over the trial. After deliberating seven hours, the jury found Reynolds guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison on October 12, 1979.
 
In 1982, an eleven-year-old girl from St. Joseph was abducted and killed in a similar manner to Eric Christgen. The police arrested fifty-four-year-old Charles Hatcher for the crime. While he was awaiting trial, Hatcher told an FBI agent he was also responsible for the murder of Christgen. Hatcher’s account of Christgen’s murder matched the facts much better than Reynolds’s confession had. Hatcher was able to describe the crime scene perfectly; he also fit the eyewitness description.
 
On October 14, 1983 Reynolds was released from prison, and, on November 21, 1983, his conviction was reversed and the charges against him dismissed, with Judge Connett declaring that Reynolds had been wrongfully convicted. Hatcher received two life sentences, one for the murder of Eric Christgen, the other for the murder of Michelle Steele. He was a suspect in fourteen other murders around the country, several of which had occurred after Reynolds was convicted for Christgen’s murder.
 
— Researched by Jordan Mathieu
State:MO
County:Buchanan
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1978
Convicted:1979
Exonerated:1983
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Official Misconduct