EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, June 20, 2016

Court Denies Missouri Man New Trial Despite Victim's Daughter Recanting Her Eyewitness Identification

According to an article in the Southeast Missourian

A Missouri judge refused to grant freedom to a man convicted of sexually attacking and killing a St. Louis woman more than three decades ago.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green last week ruled there was not enough evidence to back Rodney Lincoln's claim of innocence in the death of 35-year-old JoAnn Tate. She was killed in her home in 1982. Her two young daughters were assaulted.

The 2014 opinion of the Missouri Court of Appeals lays out the facts of the case in more detail:

According to Lincoln v. State, 457 S.W.3d 800 (Mo.App. 2014),

On April 27, 1982, Joanne Tate and her two daughters were at home in a first-floor apartment in a multi-family flat. At approximately 4:00 a.m., an upstairs neighbor heard a loud noise from Tate's apartment. Around 10:00 a.m., Tate's brother and her boyfriend entered the apartment and found her dead, lying face down in a pool of blood. Tate's two daughters, M.D. and R.T., were lying in a bed, covered in blood, both with multiple stab wounds. 

M.D. and R.T. were interviewed by the police, and a composite drawing was made and released to the media. [Lincoln] was identified by two of Tate's relatives, and M.D., then age 7, identified a photograph of [Lincoln] in a photo display. She later identified [Lincoln] as her attacker in a four-person lineup at the police station. At trial she testified that on the night of the murder, she woke up when she heard a scream, and she saw her mother laying down on her stomach in a pool of blood near the door to her bedroom. She stated that she saw a naked man, who came over to her bed, picked her up, and carried her to Tate's bedroom, put her on the bed and removed her clothes. She said he tried to get her “to do a few things.” He began to hurt her by stabbing her repeatedly, and she tried to play dead until he stopped. She testified that he washed off the knife, and she hid under R.T.'s bed. She heard him hurt her sister. She stated that she got a good look at the killer when she was in Tate's bedroom. M.D. said that she did not recall his name at that time, but she remembered seeing him prior to that night, and a long time ago, Tate, M.D., and R.T. spent the night at [Lincoln]'s house, which was across from a park with a playground. She said that [Lincoln]'s mother and some pets lived at his house. She identified the playground at the park from photos.

M.D. examined photos of Tate's boyfriend and of R.T.'s father, and stated that neither was the man who hurt her. She examined other photos and stated that none of them were the killer. She identified a photo of [Lincoln] as the man who hurt her, R.T., and Tate. She recalled identifying [Lincoln] in a police lineup and verified that identification using a photo of the police lineup. She identified Movant in the courtroom as the man who hurt her, Tate, and R.T. She explained why she initially told people questioning her that “Bill did it[,]” which was that she was sick and hurt and everyone kept bothering her for a name, so she said “Bill.” She stated several times that “Bill” and [Lincoln] were the same person, and that at the time of the attacks, she did not really know [Lincoln]'s name.

The court's 2014 opinion was written in response to Lincoln's claim that he was entitled to a new trial based upon incorrect hair evidence presented at trial. The police recovered a pubic hair from a blanket found in Tate's bedroom, and criminalist Harold Messier testified at trial that he compared the public hair

to pubic hairs from 39 people: Tate, [Lincoln], and 37 others, and only [Lincoln]'s “matched[,]” and that in two hundred cases that he has handled, he had never found one where a hair recovered from the crime scene matched to more than one person.

After Lincoln was convicted, subsequent DNA testing revealed that the pubic hair did not belong to Lincoln. Nonetheless, the court did not grant Lincoln a new trial, concluding that 

the hair evidence was not the “determinative factor” or “pivotal” to the State's case, and the State did not “assertively and repetitively” use that discredited evidence as affirmative proof of [Lincoln]'s guilt. As the motion court found, M.D.'s testimony was the key

Given this conclusion, Lincoln seemingly had a good chance at succeeding in his current appeal. That's because M.D. "is among those now supporting Lincoln, saying she was wrong when, at age 7, she implicated him in the crime." M.D.

began to question whether Lincoln was the real killer last year, when the TV show "Crime Watch Daily" questioned whether serial killer Tommy Sells, who once lived in St. Louis, could have committed the crime. The episode focused on the work of a private investigator that drew similarities between Tate's death and killings by Sells.

Davis said in a deposition seeing the mugshot of Sells gave her "a flash of recognition."

The State responded as follows:

Lincoln now claims that he is actually innocent based on a recantation the surviving victim made more than three decades after trial, blaming the killing on a notorious, now executed serial killer whom a television show she watched blamed for the murder. The recantation is not reliable and does not establish that no reasonable juror would convict.

The court sided with the State and denied Lincoln relief.



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Of course, the memory of a seven year old child is reliable.


Posted by: Daniel | Jun 23, 2016 3:02:42 PM

Why LOL? This is the memory of an adult analyzing her reactions as a seven-year-old. Her current might or might not be as reliable as those of her younger self. I would love to hear a tape recording of her initial interviews, but these are unlikely to exist.

Posted by: Hal Porter | Jun 25, 2016 4:57:30 PM

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