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Brad Jennings

Other Missouri Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On Christmas Eve 2006, 50-year-old Brad Jennings and his 39-year-old wife, Lisa, returned to their home in Buffalo, Missouri, after an evening with family. Both had been drinking and they were quarreling.

Not long after midnight, Jennings called police and reported that he found Lisa shot in the head in their bedroom.

The Dallas County sheriff’s office as well as the Dallas County coroner concluded that the death was a suicide. A .38-caliber revolver was found under her body.

About two months later, Lisa’s younger sister reached out to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and met with Sgt. Dan Nash. She said she believed Jennings killed Lisa and asked him to re-open the investigation.

Nash obtained the file from the sheriff’s office. He found a crime scene photo that showed only a single drop of blood on Lisa’s right hand, which was the hand that the sheriff’s office believed she used to fire the gun. Nash concluded that there should have been more blood as a result of “blow-back” from the gunshot.

Jennings was questioned and denied killing his wife. He turned over a black bathrobe and slippers that he was wearing at the time he found his wife. A forensic analysis revealed microscopic traces of blood. DNA testing revealed the blood was from Lisa. Jennings said the blood was transferred when he embraced her when came into the room after hearing the gunshot.

On July 27, 2009, police arrested Jennings on charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action.

In November 2009, Jennings went to trial in Dallas County Circuit Court. The prosecution contended that although the couple had been married for 18 years, their relationship had deteriorated in recent years. In the months before her death, the prosecutor asserted, Lisa told friends she was going to move into her own apartment and end the marriage.

On Christmas Eve 2006, Jennings and Lisa, their two children, and Lisa’s adult daughter, Laci Deckard, had dinner with Jennings’s mother and then returned to the Jennings home. After 10 p.m., Deckard, the children, and Jennings went upstairs to bed, while Lisa stayed up to watch a movie.

Deckard testified that sometime after 1 a.m., she was awakened. Lisa was crying and Jennings was accusing her of being involved with another man. Deckard said she left to avoid the argument. Lisa was in a bathroom by the master bedroom, and Jennings was on the living room couch wearing his bathrobe and slippers.

Deckard said that when she got home, she called and her younger sister answered, screaming that their mother was dead. Jennings then took the phone. When Deckard asked what he had done, he told her to come back to the home. Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Heidler testified that when he arrived at the home shortly after 2 a.m., Jennings was wearing a shirt, jeans, and shoes, and was drinking a beer. Lisa’s body was in the master bedroom closet. She was shot in the head. Ballistics testing linked a bullet to Jennings’s revolver, which was under Lisa's leg.

Dr. Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified that Lisa was killed by a contact gunshot inflicted just above and behind her right ear. Norton said the muzzle was so near Lisa's head that gasses from the gun barrel ripped her scalp apart and left soot on her skull. Norton testified that such wounds result in “blowback”—body and blood particles that fly back through the air onto the gun and the hand holding it.

Sgt. Nash, who had some training in blood pattern analysis and crime scene reconstruction, testified that blood spatter blowback covered nearly four feet of the wall, yet only one blood droplet and no brain or skull matter was found on Lisa’s right hand. Nash concluded that Lisa did not commit suicide because her hand and arm—as well as the gun—did not have the blood and tissue that should have been there had she pulled the trigger.

DNA testing identified Lisa’s blood on Jennings’s robe. Tests also indicated the presence of microscopic “atomized” blood on the robe, consistent with blowback from a weapon fired from a distance of three feet or less. The bloodstains on the robe were consistent with a shot fired from a height of 15 to 20 inches.

Lisa’s right hand—her dominant hand—was positive for the presence of gunshot residue. Jennings’s hands were negative for gunshot residue, which the prosecution contended was because Jennings washed his hands before police arrived.

A paramedic testified that in suicides by firearm, the gun is usually found in the victim’s hand, and that if it falls, it does not land under the victim.

Jennings testified and denied shooting Lisa. He told the jury that after arguing with Lisa, he went out to his shop to tinker and have a beer. He said he came back, filled some Christmas stockings, and went to check on Lisa. He entered the bedroom and found her in the closet. He moved her body, held her briefly, and then called 911. He exchanged his robe and slippers for new clothes before anyone arrived, but said he “didn't really know why.”

During closing argument, the prosecution said Lisa had gunshot residue on her hand because she was near Jennings when he shot her. Jennings had no gunshot residue, the prosecutor said, because he changed clothes and cleaned himself up.

Jennings’s defense lawyer urged jurors to question why no gunshot residue test was performed on Jennings’s robe. “I would have done it in a heartbeat,” the lawyer said.

On August 19, 2009, the jury convicted Jennings of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In September 2010, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and sentence.

In 2012, Jennings’s sister, Marsha Iler, hired J. Dwight McNiel, the former Christian County Sheriff, to review the evidence. McNiel suggested that she attempt to retrieve the police file of the case to determine if a gunshot residue test had ever been conducted on Jennings’s robe.

In December 2015, attorney Lindsey Phoenix reviewed the police file and found two canisters labeled “GSR, black robe Right” and “GSR, black robe Left.”

Ultimately, the police confirmed that gunshot residue tests had been performed on the robe and were negative.

In 2016, attorney Robert Ramsey filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a new trial because the prosecution failed to disclose the negative gunshot residue test on the robe.

During a hearing, the prosecutor denied having seen the test results. Nash claimed that the lab’s procedure was to notify the prosecution directly of all test results. He denied ever seeing the fax of the report that was sent to him.

On February 9, 2018, Circuit Judge John Beger granted the petition and ordered a new trial because the gunshot residue report had not been disclosed. Jennings was released on bond that day pending a retrial.

In April 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the decision granting Jennings a new trial. On July 12, 2018, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office dismissed the charges.

In August 2018, Jennings filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation. The suit went to trial in February 2020 and the jury declined to assess damages. The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declined to order a new trial in May 2021.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/17/2018
Last Updated: 8/3/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:50
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No