Kim Gardner

Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner meets with Lamar Johnson’s lawyer after the Aug. 1 hearing on Gardner’s motion to reopen Johnson’s 1995 murder conviction.

Let’s start this week’s EYE with a quote that says it all.

“How ‘bout that motherf---ers? I don't show up to the Council meetings. I don’t do f---ing s---. I’ve been sitting at my house for the past two months f---ing raising money and then won by 20%! The world’s a f---ed up place.”

It sure is.

Of course, that quote is from former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, and his outrageous, click-bait quotes have been circulating on social media since federal prosecutors released a pre-sentence memo filed on Aug. 2. Prosecutors said Stenger should get the maximum prison term allowed – nearly four years – for a pay-to-play scheme that began even before he took office in 2015.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry will sentence Stenger on Aug. 9.

But one thing that could easily get lost is that this conman routinely punished African Americans.

According to federal prosecutors, Stenger tried to economically punish a well-known minority contractor – not because he did anything directly to Stenger, but because the contractor’s mother supported someone else during his re-election.

If you connect the dots, this is Tony Thompson, of Kwame Building Group, and Betty Thompson, who prosecutors described simply as a former state representative.

Stenger was supporting St. Louis County legislation that would fund the expansion of America’s Center in downtown St. Louis, prosecutors wrote. The proposed expansion would create substantial construction jobs for area companies. The sentencing memo states that Stenger advised his executive staff on December 3, 2018, that the contractor (Tony Thompson) would not receive any work on the project solely as a result of his mother’s (Betty Thompson’s) political actions.

“We’re not going to advance our bill if [contractor] is anywhere near this thing, it’s not happening. Not. His f---ing Mom did commercials against me. If we let that go, we’re just the f---ing pussies of the universe. It’s not going to happen. It sends a message to him. F--- you. And to her, f--- you. He just lost out on probably 2% of a giant project. I mean, literally, that’s 7 million dollars to him.”

There is more to this story than just some commercials.

Betty Thompson actually supported Stenger when he first ran for office and even brought him around to black churches. She ended up working part-time as a coordinator for St. Louis County’s Community Empowerment and Diversity Program Manager’s office. The EYE remembers when on March 1, 2016, Betty Thompson told us, “I walked out this morning.”

A few days before, Stenger had dismissed the office’s executive director Annette Slack, who is also an attorney.

“She was hardworking, a registered nurse, a lieutenant colonel in the Navy for 30 years,” Betty Thompson said. “She was good. They walked in and got rid of her.”

Betty Thompson went in and told Stenger’s chief of policy Jeff Wagener, “I will not stand by and watch an African-American woman be mistreated.”

Stenger made up some lame excuse for firing Slack, that she was using county equipment to grade her students’ papers. But Slack said the real reason was that she kept asking questions about why Stenger hadn’t allocated any resources to diversity initiatives.

We learned through the indictment that around the time of Slack’s firing, Stenger was orchestrating a “sham” consulting contract of $130,000 to improve the county’s image after the Ferguson unrest – to which the contractor, his political donor, did no work, the federal investigation found and Stenger admitted.

In July 2016, John Rallo, owner of Cardinal Insurance, received the consulting agreement for $130,000.

Although Betty Thompson didn’t know all these dirty details, she knew Stenger wasn’t actually helping the African-American community as he promised – and he fired an African-American woman who was onto his scam. So Betty Thompson walked out, and then she helped Mark Mantovani campaign against Stenger in his re-election.

The EYE reached out to both Betty Thompson and Tony Thompson about the sentencing memo. Tony Thompson responded by press time saying, “I’m rarely shocked. But I must say that I was shocked. I did nothing to this man.”

This was clearly “economic lynching,” Tony Thompson said, and this can’t be brushed over. The EYE’s sources said that Stenger was known to use the n-word. But Tony Thompson said, even if those words aren’t written in any federal documents, people need to read the “venom” of his words and the entire context of his actions. How often did he talk this way to those people who still wanted to see him become the czar in the city/county merger?

“This is a sad day when you can have an elected official who everyone was pushing to be the mayor of the region,” Tony Thompson said, “and now we know that he is not only corrupt but also racist. We cannot downplay that.”

More f---ed up sh-t as an innocent man is imprisoned 24 years 

When Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan stepped into the courtroom on Thursday, Aug. 1, it was immediately apparent that a man who Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner believes was wrongfully convicted of murder 24 years ago would not be walking free anytime soon.

First of all, the entire courtroom at the Carnahan Courthouse was full. Gardner was sitting at one of the two tables in front. There was no way the white female judge didn’t know Gardner was sitting there, or that most of the people were there because of Lamar Johnson’s case.

Twenty-four years ago, Johnson was convicted of murdering Marcus Boyd on Oct. 30, 1994, though evidence shows that Johnson was at a friend’s house and would not have been able to commit the crime.

Did Hogan take up that case first? No. She called up another attorney to the bench to talk about another case that no one could hear and made everyone wait 30 minutes.

That was the first diss.

Everyone was there to hear what the judge had to say about the prosecutors’

67-page motion, filed on July 19, that attempts to prove Johnson’s innocence and grant him a new trial. It also provides evidence that the homicide detective allegedly made up witness testimonies, which the witnesses only learned about years later. It also provides documentation that an assistant circuit attorney paid off the only eyewitness and cleared some of his outstanding tickets.

This is the first case Gardner’s new conviction-integrity unit has brought forth – and the first that any prosecutor in the City of St. Louis or St. Louis County has presented to the court – so the process of how the case will play out is still unclear, according to those close to the case.

Well, Hogan made it pretty apparent how it was going to go on July 29 when she ordered that the Attorney General’s office represents the State. The Circuit Attorney’s office represented the State in Johnson’s conviction, and Gardner’s team argued in the motion that the prosecutor has an obligation to right the wrong.

So one of the first questions that Gardner’s team had for the judge at the Aug. 1 hearing was: why did you bring in the AG’s office on this case?

Jeffrey Estes with Gardner’s office told Hogan that there are only three reasons why the AG can appear in a case according to state law. They can be appointed by the governor, appointed by the prosecutor or brought in when the prosecuting attorney has a conflict. The first two didn’t happen, he said, and, “We are not aware of any conflicts.”

Hogan responded, “As of today the court cannot find any authority that would authorize this motion. As far as conflicts are concerned, I think you have also demonstrated that there are conflicts.”

What happened next is extremely important. Johnson is being represented by a team of lawyers with the Midwest Innocence Project. One of them interrupted Hogan and asked her to put the discussion on the record.

But Hogan just kept on rolling. Hence, this entire conversation was not transcribed or recorded and cannot be entered into proceedings.

Hogan said, “Well we can settle this right here. It would appear that someone contacted jurors in violation of the court ruling. The circuit attorney and Innocence Project are alleging misconduct and potential liability on behalf of the circuit attorney’s office, so that would be another conflict. So those were two glaring reasons why the court thought it would be best to have the attorney general also looking at these issues.”

Gardner then got into the conversation and told Hogan that it’s her obligation as prosecutor to correct the wrongful conviction. And Hogan responded that she’s not questioning the case.

“The court’s questions are procedural,” she said.

Hogan explained that in other states with conviction integrity units, the state legislatures have passed laws to establish procedures but Missouri has not done that. She said she couldn’t find any cases that suggest a proper procedure, though Gardner responded that there are many.

Then Gardner addressed the elephant in the room.

“Under the constitution and under the ethics and duty of a prosecutor, if you’re saying that if we are to correct the wrongs whether they are inside our office or other law enforcement, then basically every law enforcement agency should conflicted on” any case that arose out of their own office.

In other words, are you not able to investigate your own office?

Then Hogan said, “I am not removing the circuit attorney’s office from the case.”

Here’s how all that breaks down. Hogan is saying that she has no authority and can’t figure out how to proceed when the city’s elected circuit attorney comes to her and says that a man that was convicted of murder 24 years ago is innocent. But yet she felt completely comfortable going outside of state law and bringing in the attorney’s general office in the case.

She said that Gardner has a conflict in the case, but if that were true, she could not keep her on the case. Now both AG attorneys and Gardner’s team must submit a briefing on what they think should happen in the case by Aug. 14.

This is such a painful example of how messed up the system is, particularly St. Louis courts. Why should a man who is innocent of murder sit in jail a minute longer?

Hogan is among the judges who don’t approve of the way Gardner handles the circuit attorney’s office. And her husband, Joe Hogan, is among the St. Louis Police Association’s lawyers.

And one more thing, the homicide detective, Joseph Nickerson, served several years in St. Louis County Police Department as a homicide detective after he left the city. He is currently a background investigator with the county police. 

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