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ELIZABETHTOWN ee" Prosecutor Todd Lewis was telling of Michael St. Clair and Dennis Reese’s cross-country crime spree when one detail too much was revealed, causing a mistrial in the second trial for the 1991 abduction of Frank Brady.
Early in his opening statement, Lewis told of St. Clair and Reese’s September 1991 Oklahoma jail break, where they overpowered a guard and stole a deputy’s pickup.
Lewis said Reese and St. Clair then stole another truck from a farm in a part of Oklahoma where rural residents carry guns in holsters around their waists.
While invading the farmhouse, Lewis said St. Clair strong-armed a .357 revolver from a man inside.
Lewis’ story of St. Clair and Reese’s three-month crime spree included details.
He told jurors of Dallas, where St. Clair loaded up on cash, two sets of handcuffs and toiletries during a rendezvous with his wife.
He told them of a Dallas-to-Portland bus trip, and a nerve-wracking layover in Denver, where “two suits walking around” the bus station scared the pair into fleeing the bus station and taking their chances on private transportation.
Places Lewis spoke of were on-the-run destinations of Reese and St. Clair before they made it to Sonora ee" where prosecutors say St. Clair kidnapped Brady from a truck stop.
Stealing Brady’s truck and setting another stolen truck ablaze, Reese and St. Clair took Brady into Bullitt County, where he was fatally shot in the face and stomach and left on a dirt road.St. Clair has twice been sentenced to death for committing Brady’s murder.
Reese, too, was convicted of Brady’s murder ee" taking a life sentence for the crime.ee
This trial was for Brady’s abduction. And since Brady was not returned alive, St. Clair faced a second death penalty if convicted.Lewis’ story to jurors hadn’t made it to Sonora, when words got him into trouble and caused a mistrial.
The prosecutor was explaining what had happened to Timothy Keeling ee" the owner of the truck set ablaze near Sonora ee" when things went bad for the Commonwealth.
After the pair left the Denver-area bus stop, Lewis explained how St. Clair and Reese duped the EMT into taking them for a ride in his pickup.
Flashing the wad of cash his wife had provided him, Lewis said St. Clair convinced Keeling he wanted to buy the vehicle.
It wasn’t long thereafter that Keeling was a hostage in his own truck.
Lewis said St. Clair held the .357 to Keeling’s face as Reese drove the trio south from Colorado into New Mexico.
The abductions of Keeling and Brady were similar, according to Lewis’ accounts.
That made his opening statement relevant.
Lewis said Reese left a major highway for a 100-mile stretch of state road in northern New Mexico ee" a road Lewis described as running through the middle of nowhere.
Along that barren stretch of road is where Lewis said Reese stopped sometime before dawn so St. Clair could use the restroom.
Then the words causing the mistrial came out.
“Keeling is ordered to get out, tooee” Lewis told the jury. “Reese is at the wheel staring straight ahead. He hears two shots ee and St. Clair gets back in.”
Keeling did not return to his truck, Lewis explained.
He never said St. Clair killed Keeling. He didn’t have to. The man’s fate was clear to all hearing the story.
St. Clair attorney Vince Yustas quickly objected, bringing to Judge Steven Ryan’s attention that Lewis’ inference to Keeling’s murder ee" something St. Clair had not been convicted of ee" was a violation of the trial rules.
Ryan said he, too, ordered that no talk of Keeling’s murder would be admissible in the St. Clair trial.
An order from Ryan was not found, but those of prior judges were, with the help of prosecutors.
“This is a mistrial, when do you all want to try again?” Ryan asked.
Lewis tried to convince Ryan his statement did not violate the order, since he did not specifically say “St. Clair murdered Keeling.”
He asked for an admonition for jurors to ignore the details about Keeling’s shooting, but Ryan said that simply wouldn’t suffice.
“Be honest with yourself Mr. Lewis,” Ryan said, obviously angered by the prosecutor’s continual protest. “There’s going to be a mistrial.”
Ryan said talk of Keeling’s abduction was relevant to the Brady kidnapping case, but not Keeling’s abduction and murder.
“He’s not been convicted of that murder,” Ryan said, scolding Lewis. “You shouldn’t have done (said) it.”
Heads shook throughout the courtroom as Ryan declared the mistrial.
For many, this month’s planned re-trial ee" an event repeated several times in the 17 years since Brady’s murder ee" was to be the last time they’d relive Brady’s final moments, prosecute St. Clair or provide his due right to a legal defense.
The state's budget is also being brought into play as reason not to re-try St. Clair.
“In light of the terrible budget shortfalls that are afflicting every agency involved in the criminal justice system, and given the status of this case, I just can’t see how it makes any sense for the Attorney General’s office to keep trying to prosecute Mr. St. Clair in Hardin County. It’s a pointless waste of precious resources that are in very short supply now,” wrote Steve Mirkin, who represented St. Clair in previous trials.
All seemed to be upset with the mistrial, some more than others. In a rare moment, St. Clair’s attorney tried to console the Brady family after the mistrial.ee
“We were trying to get this over with,” Yustas told Brady’s wife, Merle, as he shook her hand.
Daughter Melanie Drury said of the judge’s decision, “it’s wrong.”
Drury said despite Lewis being faulted by the judge, she was not disappointed in the work of prosecutors.
Yustas said Lewis had given jurors more information than necessary. And that information wasn’t pertinent to the Brady case, Yustas said.
“He didn’t need to do all that,” Yustas said of Lewis’ opening.
For prosecutors, Monday was the second time they’ve been blamed for upsetting a St. Clair trial.
During the first trial for Brady’s kidnapping, prosecutors used testimony from St. Clair’s ex-wife against him.
On appeal, Kentucky Supreme Court justices ruled in 2004 that such testimony violated Kentucky law.
That ruling overturned the kidnapping conviction.
After the mistrial, one Brady relative voiced her anger while standing up in the courtroom gallery.
She said the Bradys would seek help from Attorney General Jack Conway to ensure Ryan doesn’t preside over the next St. Clair trial.
“We are currently reviewing the ruling today from Judge Ryan and will be determining what steps should be taken as we move forward in this case,” Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner-Martin said in an e-mail.
The second re-trial of St. Clair for Brady’s 1991 abduction is scheduled for Aug. 3 and Gardner-Martin said prosecutors will be prepared to retry the case at that point.ee
Dana Todd, who assisted now-retired prosecutor David Smith during the 1998 and 1999 trials of St. Clair in Hardin County for the kidnapping and in Bullitt County for Brady’s shooting death, said she does not believe Lewis made an error.
Ryan ruled there was no intentional wrongdoing on Lewis’ part. Describing his inference to Keeling’s murder, was a mistake, Ryan said.