Newly appointed St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore announced Thursday that he was pulling a request to vacate the murder conviction of Christopher Dunn, who has spent 33 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.
The city’s top prosecutor says more time is needed to review the case. He noted the motion to vacate Dunn’s sentence was made days before his predecessor Kim Gardner resigned from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.
“We will conduct a full review of Mr. Dunn’s case and proceed as the law and facts dictate,” Gore, appointed by Gov. Mike Parson last month, said in a statement Thursday. “As Circuit Attorney that is my responsibility.”
Arrested at 18 years old, Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes during a two-day trial. He stood accused of fatally shooting a 15-year-old boy named Ricco Rogers in St. Louis on May 18, 1990.
At the time, Dunn previously told The Star, he was three blocks away with his mother, uncle and siblings when they all heard gunfire and went back inside their home.
But Dunn was ultimately convicted on the word of two boys, ages 12 and 14. Both witnesses later recanted and admitted they lied at Dunn’s trial.
In the years since, Dunn, now 51, has become wrapped up in the appeals process as lawyers, activists and one Missouri judge have concluded he should not be in prison.
In 2020, two years after lawyers for Dunn presented evidence seeking to exonerate him, Judge William Hickle said a jury would likely not find him guilty. But the judge declined to free Dunn, concluding it is unclear in Missouri if innocence alone is enough to exonerate prisoners.
Hickle’s decision was based on the fact that Dunn is not on death row. Legal precedent in Missouri restricts freestanding innocence claims — ones made without constitutional violations — to prisoners who have been sentenced to die.
Since then, Missouri lawmakers have given county prosecutors new tools to help exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners by allowing them to file petitions when they believe an innocent person is in prison. The law, which took effect in 2021, helped free Kevin Strickland, wrongly convicted of a 1978 triple murder in Kansas City, and Lamar Johnson, exonerated of a. 1994 murder in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, in Dunn’s case, lawyers and activists have long urged the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to do the same for Dunn. A motion filed by the office last month said Dunn was innocent of the crime and he “should not remain in custody a day longer.”
Dunn is represented by the Midwest Innocence Project, a legal defense organization focused on exonerating the wrongly convicted. The latest development in his case was disappointing news, said Tricia Rojo Bushnell, the group’s executive director.
“We’re disappointed with this development, and the delay that it entails,” Rojo Bushnell said. “But we believe that any independent review of the facts of Mr. Dunn’s case prove his innocence and will show his innocence. And we are looking forward to working with Circuit Attorney Gore’s office on Mr. Dunn’s case in the future.”