Koster appeals ruling overturning Helmig conviction

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | 2:29 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY— The state's attorney general asked an appeals court to keep a former house painter behind bars while prosecutors appeal a judge's decision to overturn the man's 1996 murder conviction.

Attorney General Chris Koster filed his appeal on Monday, the deadline for the state to challenge DeKalb County Senior Judge Warren McElwain's decision earlier this month to overturn Dale Helmig's conviction, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Helmig was convicted of murdering his mother, Norma Helmig, in 1993. Her body was found tied to a concrete block in a flood-swollen river in Osage County. Her son was sentenced to life in prison. He won a new trial in a federal case alleging jury misconduct in 2005, but that decision was overturned on appeal.

Koster has not taken a position on Helmig's guilt, but has said it is appropriate for an appellate court to review whether McElwain acted within his jurisdiction in tossing out the conviction.

Helmig's attorney, Sean O'Brien, also filed paperwork on Monday asking the appellate court to release Helmig on bond.

"There is no reason that Dale can't observe the holidays with his brother and his daughter while the Attorney General resists his inevitable exoneration," O'Brien said. Helmig remains in custody at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron.

McElwain cited prosecutorial zeal, false evidence and poor representation in overturning the 1996 conviction. He called the case a "miscarriage of justice" and subsequently warned Koster's office that he would release Helmig on bail unless documents were filed by Monday.

Koster's appeal argues that Helmig's claims are "procedurally barred from review as a result of his failure to litigate the claims either at trial, on direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding." And even if the claims had been brought up previously, they still do not warrant a new trial, the appeal argues.

McElwain, who serves in the northwest Missouri county where Helmig is imprisoned, suggested in his ruling that Norma Helmig's husband, Ted, was a more likely suspect than Dale Helmig. Ted Helmig and his wife were going through a bitter divorce at the time. Their rift included an incident at a Jefferson City diner where Ted Helmig threw a drink at his wife — a dispute wrongly blamed on Dale Helmig at his murder trial.

New testimony presented earlier this year showed that Norma Helmig's purse — which washed up along the Missouri River six months after her body was found — included several personal checks canceled by her bank 10 days after her disappearance.

That scenario refutes the prosecution's account that Dale Helmig threw her purse out of his car window while driving back to a Fulton motel the night his mother went missing. Ted Helmig has consistently denied killing his wife.

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