Convicted killer seeks new trial

Evidence of the man’s mental disability was not presented to the jury, his attorney says.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The attorney for convicted “Ruby Tuesday Killer” Earl Ringo Jr. argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday that Ringo should get a new trial because his jury was not presented with evidence that he was mentally disabled.

Ringo, 29, of Jeffersonville, Ind., was sentenced to death in July 1999 for killing Dennis Poyser, 45, and JoAnna Baysinger, 22, during an attempted robbery of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant at 2010 Bernadette Drive. Ringo, a former employee, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the July 4, 1998 killings.

On Tuesday, Melinda Pendergraph, Ringo’s appellate attorney, argued that his trial lawyers failed to present evidence that Ringo suffered from mental illnesses as a child and at the time of the crime. If that testimony had been presented during Ringo’s trial, Pendergraph said, the jury might have sentenced him to life in prison instead of giving him the death penalty.

“He really had deficits,” Pendergraph told the justices. “He really struggled. The jury never knew that.”

Pendergraph recalled the Supreme Court’s June 2003 decision in which a Maryland death row inmate was granted a new trial because his lawyers failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into abuse he may have suffered as a child, a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel.”

But Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Morrell countered that Ringo’s defense attorneys did investigate their client’s mental condition, but chose not to use it in court. Ringo’s lawyers decided to withhold the expert testimony of a social worker, a psychologist and a child specialist, Morrell said, because it could have contradicted testimony by Ringo’s family.

Ringo confessed to killing Poyser, of Fort Wayne, Ind., who arrived at Ruby Tuesday to make a delivery before the restaurant opened. Baysinger, a manager, was there to accept the shipment of supplies when Ringo and his accomplice, Quent Jones Jr., attempted to rob the restaurant.

In a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Jones admitted killing Baysinger, but claimed that Ringo had forced him to pull the trigger. Jones testified that Ringo planned the robbery and shot Poyser in the head. Jones is serving three consecutive life sentences, one without possibility of parole.

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