JEFFERSON CITY — The courtroom conduct of former Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a 2008 Republican nominee for governor, is again under scrutiny in a new appeal of a murder conviction obtained by the one-time special state prosecutor.
Dale Helmig, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1996 for the Osage County murder of his mother three years earlier, filed a petition with the Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday seeking a new trial. Norma Helmig's body was found tied to a concrete block near her home in the central Missouri town of Linn during the 1993 Midwest floods.
The petition seeks a court order allowing the defense to test hair and blood found on the mother's sheet and hairs found in the trunk of her car. Such tests were not available at the time of Dale Helmig's trial.
The 106-page appeal also takes aim at Hulshof. It accuses Hulshof, the six-term congressman from Columbia and former finalist for the top job at the University of Missouri System, of withholding evidence from Helmig's defense attorneys and "knowingly present(ing) false testimony" and false evidence.
The petition notes that a Cole County judge in February ruled that Joshua Kezer, convicted 15 years ago of murdering a southeast Missouri college student, was wrongly found guilty, in part because Hulshof withheld key evidence from defense attorneys and embellished details in his closing arguments.
Kezer was released the next day after a local prosecutor said he would not retry the case.
In the Helmig case, Hulshof is accused of distorting accounts of a fight between Norma Helmig and her estranged husband. Witnesses said that Ted Helmig, who had been under a court order to stay away from his wife, threw a cup of hot coffee in her face three days before her disappearance on July 29, 1993.
Hulshof instead attempted to elicit testimony from Osage County Sheriff Carl Fowler, a Jefferson City police officer and a Country Kitchen waitress that the fight was between Dale Helmig and his mother, not a couple in the midst of a contentious divorce.
The appeal also claims Hulshof manipulated the testimony of a state trooper who interrogated Dale Helmig. Hulshof elicited testimony from the trooper that Helmig never denied killing his mother, even though the officer's own written report of the interview contradicted that account by noting that Helmig denied involvement.
"Hulshof is a repeat offender when it comes to prosecutorial misconduct," said Helmig's defense attorney, Sean O'Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor.
Hulshof went into private practice after losing the 2008 governor's race to Democrat Jay Nixon, his former boss at the state attorney general's office. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment made through a spokeswoman for the Kansas City law firm of Polsinelli Shugart.
A 2008 Associated Press investigation found that in addition to the Kezer case, prosecutorial errors by Hulshof led to four death sentence reversals, although in several cases subsequent trials led to new convictions.
Another accused murderer won acquittal by a new jury at a second trial after his Hulshof-prosecuted conviction was rejected on appeal. And a Chillicothe man convicted of killing his neighbor's wife also won a new trial after an appeals court identified previous prosecution errors.