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Clinch murder conviction upheld by Missouri appeals court

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 9:49 p.m. CDT; updated 10:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 22, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Western District Court of Appeals upheld the Oct. 24, 2009, conviction of William Clinch for first-degree murder.

Clinch shot and killed his brother-in-law, Jeremy Bohannon, on Sept. 2, 2007, in a McDonald's parking lot in Columbia. Clinch said he shot Bohannon after the brother-in-law threatened Amanda Clinch — Jeremy Bohannon's wife and Clinch's sister — and the couple's three children.

Boone County Circuit Court Judge Gary Oxenhandler sentenced Clinch to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.

Clinch appealed his conviction on the following grounds:

  • The state acted in bad faith in entering a nolle prosequi, or a dismissal of charges, then refiling the same charges solely for the purpose of obtaining a different judge.
  • The state erred in overruling the use of the word "imminent" in the jury instructions.
  • The state refused to let Clinch's brother testify about the threat Clinch claimed Bohannon imposed on his family.

Nolle prosequi 

After failing to get Boone County Circuit Court Judge Gene Hamilton to include the word "imminent" in the jury instructions, Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight dropped the charges against Clinch and refiled them the same day.

"We were all ready to go to trial. The jury was there. The defense was there. We were in the judge's chambers," said Jennifer Bukowsky, one of Clinch's public defenders. "But then the charges were dismissed. By the time that we had gotten out of the courthouse, the charges had been refiled."

Clinch's attorney, Craig Allen Johnston, said Knight's dismissal of the original charges in order to refile later that day were prejudicial against his client. He said Knight was "forum-shopping for a favorable ruling."

The appeals court, though, sided with the state. The judges wrote, "The general rule is that a nolle prosequi, or a dismissal of a criminal charge, if made prior to the time a jury is impaneled and sworn, is not a bar to a subsequent prosecution for the same offense."

Knight, they said, was acting in his legal capacity when he asked the charges be dropped and then refiled them.

'Imminent' 

Much of the trial centered on whether the shooting was an act of defense for Clinch's sister, her children and Clinch himself.

According to previous Missourian reports, Clinch said he believed Bohannon was an "imminent" threat to the safety of himself and his family, and Clinch said the shooting was a matter of defending Amanda Clinch and her children.

The word "imminent" became a sticking point in the trial and the reason Knight initially dropped the charges. Missouri's "defense of others" statute had changed just days before the shooting to include that someone must believe killing or use of force is necessary to protect someone from "the imminent commission of a forcible felony."

"If the jury had been instructed on the law without the word 'imminent,' the jury could have reasonably found that Mr. Clinch was acting in the defense of others," Bukowsky said.

Clinch and his attorneys argued that the constant fear Clinch felt was enough to place it under the title of "imminent danger."

Bukowsky said the law necessitating imminence "hadn't been tested" and could be used for grounds for an appeal. The appellate court wrote in its decision that it was forced to interpret the "defense of others" statute. It concluded imminence was a necessary component and ruled in favor of the state.

Brother's testimony

Clinch's defense argued in the appeal that by not allowing Clinch's brother to testify, the court was excluding relevant testimony.

However, because Clinch's brother was present throughout the trial, he could not act as a witness, even though Clinch and his attorneys claimed they only learned of Clinch's brother's relevant information after the trial began.

The appeals court reaffirmed Oxenhandler's ruling that Clinch's brother could not testify.

Clinch will remain in prison with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He can still file for appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court.


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