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Lamont Campbell

Other Missouri Exonerations
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At around 3:15 a.m. on July 17, 2011, Leonard Gregory III was shot to death in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri.

Witnesses told police they heard several shots, coming from the direction of a nearby gas station. They then saw Gregory slowly drive by and watched his Chevrolet Trailblazer crash in the 2800 block of Chariton Street. Quickly, the witnesses said, a man ran up to the passenger side of Gregory’s car and fired three shots at close range. Gregory was 29 years old and the son of a retired St. Louis police officer.

Detective Jimmy Hyatt of the St. Louis Police Department led the investigation. Evidence technicians were able to pull several fingerprints off the Trailblazer. In addition, the autopsy said that Gregory had a blood-alcohol content of .168 and traces of marijuana and methamphetamines in his system at the time of his death. There was no explanation of what Gregory was doing in the high-crime neighborhood three miles from his house at 3 in the morning.

The police found Gregory’s cellphone but returned the device to his family without examining it for clues.

Three witnesses, Joseph Marshall, Jeffrey Mooney, and his wife, Sarah Mooney, told Hyatt that they had seen the shooting. They described the shooter as a young Black man, approximately 5’ 6” tall with short hair, wearing a white shirt, black pants, and dark shoes.

Based on that description, Hyatt put together a photo array of possible suspects that included 17-year-old Lamont Campbell, who lived about a block away from the shooting and generally fit the description. A judge would later write: “There was no evidence-based suspicion to put [Campbell] in a lineup, it was just a stab in the dark based on a person in the neighborhood who looked like the description of the assailant.”

Hyatt met Jeffrey Mooney at his house. First, Hyatt showed him three photos of men who were persons of interest in other crimes. Then, he showed him a photo array of six men, known as a six-pack, fitting the witness descriptions. Mooney didn’t pick anybody, and Hyatt showed him a second six-pack, which contained a photo of Campbell. In the photo array, Campbell was the only person looking down, and he had a fat lip, as if he had just been in a fight. Mooney selected Campbell.

Later that day, Hyatt met Sarah Mooney at a nearby gas station. This time, he only brought one six-pack of photos, and Mooney, like her husband, identified Campbell as the person she saw shoot Gregory.

Police arrested Campbell on July 22, 2011, charging him with murder. The Mooneys and Marshall then viewed a live lineup that included Campbell. Again, they selected him. The live lineup had an insufficient number of fillers, and there were no height markers to indicate the height of the men standing before the witnesses.

Campbell was represented by Bradley Kessler at his first trial, which ended in a mistrial with a hung jury on June 6, 2013.

Three years later, shortly before the retrial, Kessler withdrew, and Mary Fox, a public defender, began representing Campbell.

The second jury trial, also in St. Louis City Circuit Court, began on October 3, 2016, with Judge Philip Heagney presiding. There was no physical or forensic evidence connecting Campbell to the crime. The state did not present a motive.

Marshall and the Mooneys testified, and each identified Campbell as the person they saw run down the street and shoot into the passenger side of Gregory’s SUV. Jeffrey Mooney’s credibility had come under scrutiny at the first trial; he had said he saw two teenage girls run past the SUV at the time of the shooting and then told police he saw one of the girls the day after the shooting. The girl, who was 15 years old, was picked up for questioning, but she told police she was at a friend’s house, an account confirmed by the girl’s aunt. At the retrial, Fox did not question Mooney about this incident.

Marshall testified that because he saw the shooter in profile, he was only 80 percent certain of his identification.

Hyatt testified about the investigation. He said that Campbell was excluded as a contributor to the fingerprints found on Gregory’s car. Other than the prints identified as Gregory’s, police did not know the source of the remaining prints. The fingerprint technician who compared the prints did not testify.

Dr. Gershom Norfleet, the medical examiner who performed Gregory’s autopsy, testified that based on the positioning of Gregory’s body and the entry points of the bullet wounds, Gregory was shot first in the shoulder and then in the head. Norfleet was not asked and did not say whether Gregory had been shot before the SUV crashed and came to a stop on Chariton Street.

During Norfleet’s testimony, Fox attempted to question him about the toxicology findings. She argued that the state’s case was built around a timeline of Gregory being shot and wounded, driving off, crashing, and then being shot execution style. But maybe the reason he crashed was that he was drunk, she argued.

“If he wasn’t shot when he crashed, that’s relevant,” she said. “So if there is another possible reason why he crashed, that is relevant.”

“To?” asked Judge Heagney.

“To the order of the gunshots which goes to whether or not there was deliberation. We have testimony that there were three gunshots at the scene. So if there were no gunshots prior to that time, that refutes his story that he had shot him and he chased him down the street to shoot him again, which is what the State has argued. So there may be another reason that he crashed at that point.”

The state argued the toxicology report was unimportant. Either Gregory was passed out drunk, and then shot twice, or shot once and then the killer came up to the car and shot him again. Judge Heagney disallowed the line of questioning.

Campbell did not testify, and Fox presented no witnesses.

During her cross-examinations of the Mooneys and Marshall, Fox tried to show that they picked Campbell out of the photo array and lineup because they recognized him from the neighborhood. She attempted to introduce records showing that Campbell would have frequently walked past or near their houses on his way to and from his school bus stop. Judge Heagney agreed with the state’s objection that the records were immaterial.

During closing arguments, Fox told jurors that the physical evidence didn’t line up with the testimony. It wasn’t clear, she said, how someone like Campbell, who was 5’ 5” tall, could have placed his arm through the top of the SUV window and fired a shot that hit Gregory on the left side of his head. She also said this was a case of mistaken identification. ​The shooting happened early in the morning. The witnesses only saw the shooter for a brief instance, in Marshall’s case through a screen door partially covered with cardboard. In addition, the witnesses were white, while Campbell was Black.

Judge Heagney’s juror instructions included a reference to cross-racial identification, but the prosecutor told jurors that was not a big deal. He said: “I mean is it a factor you ought to consider? Perhaps. But if you listen to that position, by that, all blacks look alike to all whites. All whites must look the same to all blacks. Nobody can identify nobody. That's offensive.”

The jury convicted Campbell of first-degree murder and armed criminal action on October 7, 2016. He received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 30 years. At his sentencing, Campbell told Gregory’s family members that he was sorry for their loss but that he had nothing to do with the murder.

Campbell filed a direct appeal, arguing that his sentence was too harsh and also that the state had failed to turn over an interview with a man named Randolph Thornton.

After Campbell’s 2013 mistrial, Kessler had learned that Thornton claimed Gregory had a dispute with a man nicknamed “Bird,” and that Bird shot Gregory because Gregory disrespected his sisters. Kessler placed Thornton on his witness list, and he was later interviewed by a detective and investigator from the district attorney’s office. Thornton described Bird as having long hair but quickly clammed up, telling the interviewers that he wasn’t going to help either side. The investigators did not take any notes during the interview, later stating that they found Thornton’s account at odds with the witness descriptions provided by Marshall and the Mooneys.

Kessler filed a second notice of Thornton as a potential witness. Campbell wrote the courts, saying: “It was also brought to my attention that a person went to the District Attorney’s Office and stated that I was not the person who committed this crime, and this person also stated that he knows who did commit this crime.”

The state did not turn over any records to Kessler or Fox. After Campbell’s conviction, Fox filed a motion claiming the state failed to turn over exculpatory evidence. The trial court dismissed the claim, stating that although prosecutors should have turned over any records related to Thornton, they were hearsay and immaterial to his defense. It also said that information about Thornton was already in Campbell’s file when Fox took over his defense. The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed Campbell’s sentence and conviction on August 21, 2018.

Campbell filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief, but it was rejected as untimely because it was filed more than 90 days past the appellate decision. Campbell appealed, stating that his motion was filed late due to no fault of his own. At the time, he was in administrative segregation at prison, with no access to his partially completed motion. Prison officials would not let him meet with his attorney.

On July 1, 2021, a judge in Saint Louis City Circuit Court reopened Campbell’s motion for post-conviction relief and appointed Jenny Young, an appellate lawyer in the office of the Missouri State Public Defender to represent him.

On August 17, 2021, Young and Valerie Leftwich, also an appellate defender, filed a motion for relief, stating that Campbell’s conviction should be vacated because Fox provided ineffective assistance of counsel and because the state failed to disclose that at the time of the trial Hyatt and Sarah Mooney were romantically involved. By now, Fox was no longer in St. Louis; she was the director of Missouri’s State Public Defender System.

The motion said Fox did not pursue the lead about Thornton and “Bird.” If she had, it might have led her to another young man in the neighborhood, named Demetry Coleman, and to a close friend of Coleman’s named Keyon Draper, who was similar to Campbell in stature. Both Coleman and Draper had extensive criminal records at the time of Gregory’s death.

Draper was arrested on unrelated charges in June 2020. The police ran his fingerprints through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and Draper was identified as the contributor to a palm print left on the passenger side of Gregory’s SUV. Although Draper’s prints were in the AFIS system in 2011, they didn’t come up during a search, and there was no manual comparison performed because Draper wasn’t identified as a suspect.

The motion also said that Fox should have presented expert testimony on mistaken witness identification and the situations that can lead to its occurrence. She also failed to get the toxicology report admitted into evidence and didn’t present any testimony to support Campbell’s alibi or bolster the theory that the witnesses identified him because they had seen him around the neighborhood.

Jeffrey and Sarah Mooney testified at the second trial as husband and wife, but court records said they had filed for separation six months earlier. Hyatt learned of the separation and began texting Sarah Mooney, as early as July 2016, according to testimony at an evidentiary hearing. They began living together in 2017 and married the next year.

On December 30, 2022, Judge Timothy Boyer of St. Louis City Circuit Court vacated Campbell’s conviction. He said that Fox failed to adequately investigate the case and to present evidence – such as Jeffrey Mooney’s extensive substance-abuse and psychiatric problems, as well as his previous misidentification – that would have challenged his credibility as a witness. He wrote that the state had no theory of the crime; Campbell did it because the witnesses said he did it. “Here, trial counsel admitted that there were witnesses she should have investigated and called, who would have provided [Campbell] with a viable defense,” Boyer wrote.

He also said the state needed to disclose Hyatt’s relationship with Sarah Mooney, because it had affected their credibility as witnesses. Even if prosecutors didn’t know about the relationship, Hyatt did and had a responsibility to disclose.

On January 19, 2023, Judge Boyer scheduled a hearing to set a new trial date. Before that happened, the prosecutor dismissed the charges.

St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement: “The investigation must be restarted to hold the perpetrator accountable for the crime committed. In every case, the Circuit Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring that it carries out its duty to prosecute criminal cases in a manner that is fair and seeks justice on behalf of the residents of the City of St. Louis. At this time, we ask the general public to provide any information that will assist in the investigation of this crime.”

Campbell had remained incarcerated after his conviction was vacated, but he was released from custody on January 19. In December 2023, Campell filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 2/15/2023
Last Updated: 12/8/2023
State:Missouri
County:St. Louis City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2023
Sentence:Life
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No