LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — A six-time convicted killer condemned to death for a 1991 slaying in Kentucky has lost a bid for a new trial and sentencing after the state's high court on Thursday found that a large amount of evidence and testimony warranted the verdict.
The decision by a unanimous court turned away 57-year-old Michael Dale St. Clair's bid for a fourth sentencing hearing in Bullitt County in the death of distillery worker Frances "Frank" Brady of Bardstown. St. Clair had won new trials or sentencing in Brady's death three times.
The high court is still weighing a conviction and death sentence in Brady's kidnapping in Hardin County.
St. Clair and another inmate, 53-year-old Dennis Gene Reese, escaped from an Oklahoma prison and went on a cross-country crime spree that ended shortly after Brady's death. Reese pleaded guilty to his role in Brady's killing and testified against St. Clair. Reese is serving life in prison in Oklahoma.
St. Clair has also been convicted of kidnapping 22-year-old Timothy Keeling from the Denver area and killing him in the New Mexico desert.
The 101-page opinion takes on 32 claims brought by St. Clair, including challenges to the admission of testimony from the wife of a victim, even though he had not been convicted in that case at the time and the use of what is now considered junk science by prosecutors.
Justice Mary Noble, writing for the court, found that allowing Keeling's widow to testify at St. Clair's sentencing, even though no one had been convicted of Keeling's slaying, was a mistake. But, Noble wrote, the error proved harmless. Keeling's widow, Lisa Hill, who now lives in Texas, testified about Keeling's personality and work with a youth ministry.
"Though Hill's testimony was not relevant to whether St. Clair should receive the death penalty for murdering Frank Brady, it paled in comparison to the other evidence, both in length and nature," Noble wrote.
Reese implicated St. Clair in Brady's slaying, telling jurors that St. Clair talked about how killing people was like killing dogs, an act that got easier after the first time. St. Clair also testified, telling jurors about four slayings he committed in Oklahoma, saying the victims were drug dealers and deserved to be killed. St. Clair also told jurors he bribed jailers in Oklahoma for special treatment that eventually allowed him to escape.
St. Clair also attacked the use of comparative bullet lead analysis, which the FBI has abandoned as unreliable evidence in dozens of cases across the country. The analysis was based on the idea that bullets made as part of the same batch had identical trace elements throughout that could be matched later. The FBI concluded that bullets cannot be matched to the same batch or box based on trace elements, and now such evidence is inadmissible in court.
An FBI agent testified at St. Clair's first trial that bullets used to kill Keeling were very close in composition to the bullets used to kill Brady.
Noble said the bullet analysis was only a small part of the evidence used against St. Clair and that the testimony of his former co-defendant, Dennis Gene Reese, and other evidence and testimony were more valuable to prosecutors.
"In light of the other evidence in this case, there is little chance, much less a reasonable certainty, that St. Clair would have received a different verdict given what we now know about the limits of (bullet analysis), nor is it probable that the result would change if a new trial was granted," Noble wrote.
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