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Trooper recants 1996 testimony in murder case

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 | 10:05 p.m. CDT

MAYSVILLE — A former Highway Patrol trooper on Wednesday recanted testimony he gave 14 years ago that helped convict a central Missouri man for the murder of his mother.

Robert Westfall, who is now a traffic accident investigator based in Mexico, Mo., had testified at Dale Helmig's 1996 trial that during a series of interrogations, Helmig never denied killing his mother, Norma Helmig. Although Westfall's police report about the interviews indicated otherwise, Helmig's lawyer at the time, Chris Jordan, never sought to correct Westfall's testimony.

Helmig is serving a life sentence without parole in the slaying of his mother, whose body was found tied to a concrete block near her home in Linn during the 1993 Midwest floods. He has appealed his conviction.

During a hearing Wednesday on Helmig's request for a new trial, Westfall admitted in a videotaped deposition that he testified inaccurately at the first trial.

Helmig's current lawyer, Sean O'Brien, asked Westfall in the deposition if Helmig ever denied killing his mother. Westfall replied, "Yes."

That contradicted what Westfall said on the witness stand during Helmig's murder trial in Hermann in 1996. Under questioning by special prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, Westfall was asked about his interviews of Helmig.

"Sir, at any time during these contacts and particularly during this conversation that you've just shared with us, did Dale Helmig ever deny killing Norma Helmig to you?" Hulshof asked, according to the trial transcript.

"No, sir, he did not," Westfall responded.

However, Westfall's police report said Helmig "stated that he did not murder his mother and that the sheriff was after him."

Norma Helmig disappeared the night of July 28, 1993, from her home near Linn. Her body was found in the flood-swollen Osage River four days later.

Although no direct evidence linked Helmig to the crime, prosecutors used statements he had made to convince a jury he knew things only the killer could.

Westfall gave no explanation in the videotaped deposition about why his original testimony was inaccurate. But he said it had caused him considerable consternation for "the last several years."

O'Brien has partly blamed Jordan's trial performance for Helmig's conviction and alleges that Jordan was impaired by drug use.

Assistant state Attorney General Stephen Hawke, who is defending the conviction, declined to comment on whether Jordan would be called as a witness.

O'Brien also claims that Hulshof — an assistant attorney general who later won election to Congress and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2008 — withheld evidence from Helmig's attorneys and presented false testimony.

The hearing is expected to last the rest of the week.

 


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