Darryl Burton served 24 years in prison for a murder in St. Louis he didn’t commit. Joe Amrine served 17 years. Both innocent men found no relief in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Yet both Missourians are free now.
Ricky Kidd has served 16 years of a life sentence without parole for a murder in Kansas City he didn’t commit, he says. Like Burton and Amrine, Kidd also lost his battle in the Eighth Circuit Court, which represents Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
If Kidd were in Colorado or other circuits, he would be a free man too, said Kidd’s attorney Sean O’Brien, former chief public defender in Kansas City and current board member for the Midwest Innocence Project.
However, inconsistencies in the federal courts are prohibiting justice to be served in wrongfully-convicted murder cases, and Kidd’s case is a prime example of that, O’Brien said.
On May 9, O’Brien filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court for a “writ of certiorari.”
“It’s Ricky’s last best chance,” O’Brien said.
The purpose of the certiorari is to bring the Eighth Circuit Court in line with other federal circuits. Currently the Eighth Circuit’s standard for reviewing claims of innocence is “impossibly high and limited in scope,” O’Brien wrote in the May 9 petition.
“If they do that, then Ricky will have his day in court,” he said.
Kidd said that his lawyer failed to present key evidence and witnesses during his trial.
In a conference call with Ricky Kidd from prison, he said, “I had the worst representation that you could possibly get. The facts of my case have always been true. Unfortunately, I am uncovering the rubble now.”
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Hassell, who is representing the state, declined to comment on the petition or the case.
On February 6, 1996, three men wearing black skull caps robbed and murdered George Bryant and Oscar Bridges at Bryant’s home in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bryant’s four-year-old daughter, Kayla Bryant, witnessed the crime.
Although there were three perpetrators, only Ricky Kidd and Marcus Merrill were charged with the crime. Kayla Bryant said the men who shot her father had come to her house two days before the shooting, according to the petition.
During the trial, Kayla identified Marcus Merrill as one of the three men. The prosecutor asked Kayla twice if she saw the man who shot her daddy in the courtroom, and both times she replied, “No.” When shown a photo array that included both Marcus Merrill and Ricky Kidd, she selected only Merrill, as the “fat one.”
Kidd became a suspect because he was one of 10 men named in anonymous calls to police. He was arrested on February 14, 1996, while in the company of his girlfriend, Monica Gray. In separate interrogations, Kidd and Gray told police that they were together all day on February 6, 1996, and they had gone to the sheriff’s office at Lake Jacomo to apply for a gun permit.
The only direct testimony linking Kidd to the crime came from Richard Harris, who lived on the same street. Harris was walking by Bryant’s house when he saw Bryant run out of his garage, with blood on his sweater, yelling “Somebody help!” Bryant was pursued by two men, one of whom carried a gold-plated pistol.
The first suspect grabbed Bryant and put him on the ground, and the second suspect walked up to Bryant and shot him. When the attackers saw Harris, he turned and fled. Harris identified Ricky Kidd at trial as the shooter, though there were inconsistencies in his description that didn’t match up to Kidd.
No physical evidence linked Kidd to the crime. The murder weapon was never found. A slice of bread on the kitchen floor and a piece of linoleum recovered from the crime scene bore shoe impressions that did not match the footwear of George Bryant, Oscar Bridges or Ricky Kidd.
Jackson County Sergeant Tim Buffalow has identified a copy of Kidd’s application to buy a gun, signed by Kidd and dated February 6, 1996, the day of the murder.
Computer files show that a criminal record check was run on Kidd at 1:37 p.m. that day. On cross-examination by the state, Sergeant Buffalow testified that Kidd’s application could have been received on February 5, 1996. Kidd’s lawyer never tried to obtain the VHS surveillance tapes at the sheriff’s office.
Gary Goodspeed Sr. (“Big Gary”) and Gary Goodspeed Jr. (“Little Gary”) were never charged with the crime, but evidence implicated both.
Richard Harris identified Little Gary from a video line-up as the man who tackled Bryant as he ran from his garage. Merrill and Little Gary shared an apartment in Decatur, Georgia, and airline and hotel records established that Merrill and the Goodspeeds flew from Atlanta to Kansas City several days before the homicide, stayed at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, and returned to Georgia several days later. At Alamo Rent-A-Car near the airport, Big Gary rented a white Oldsmobile Sierra that was believed to be the getaway car. Big Gary’s fingerprint was on a Carmex lip balm wrapper found in the rental car with a price tag from a “Good To Go” convenience store a block and a half from the crime scene.
Merrill’s counsel argued to the jury that the Goodspeeds committed the crime, and since the police developed four suspects in a crime committed by three people, the issue was whether Merrill or Kidd was the third accomplice or the odd man out.
Merrill and Kidd were found guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree. Kidd was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for each murder, and life imprisonment on each count of armed criminal action.
Since then, the Midwest Innocence Project accepted Kidd’s case and followed fruitful avenues of investigation that were obvious from the police reports, O’Brien said. Merrill also testified at the federal hearing that he and the Goodspeeds committed the murders, and that Kidd had no involvement.
At the federal hearing, a friend of Merrill’s, Eugene Williams, said that Merrill had appeared at his house on the morning of the murders, and the Goodspeeds arrived later. In Williams’ presence, the Goodspeeds and Merrill discussed plans to rob a drug house. Williams also knew Jean Bynum, Big Gary’s ex-wife, and was aware that she was having an affair with George Bryant, and that Big Gary was angry about it.
When Williams saw the murder on the news that evening, he knew what had happened.
Williams further made clear that Kidd had not been at Williams’ house, and his name had never come up in the conversation. Although Williams is named in police reports, the federal habeas counsel’s investigator was the first person ever to interview Williams about the crime.
At this point, in order to prove Kidd’s innocence, the U.S. Supreme Court must recognize the Eighth Circuit’s inconsistencies.
Kidd believes he has proven his innocence based on a 1995 case Schlup v. Delo. This case establishes that Kidd must show substantial evidence that “impeaches” the state’s main witness, establishes an alibi and identifies the actual perpetrators of the crime to prove innocence.
“They only have to look in Schlup,” Kidd said. “Didn’t we address this 20 years ago?”
The Third, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits have interpreted the Schlup case in the same way. However, the Eighth Circuit limits Schlup because it claims that Kidd must bring forth evidence “was not available at trial and could not have been discovered earlier through the exercise of due diligence.”
Though Kidd’s trial lawyer was inadequate, his lawyer could have found and presented the “new facts,” so the court refused to hear them.
“We know who did the crime and we can prove it,” O’Brien said. “Not many can go to court with convincing evidence like that.”