In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction and death sentence for the “Ruby Tuesday Killer” Earl Ringo Jr. The ruling rejects an appeal that the defendant’s trial lawyers failed to investigate his history of child abuse.
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.
In September, Melinda Pendergraph, Ringo’s appeals attorney, argued that his trial lawyers failed to present evidence that Ringo suffered from mental illnesses traced to childhood abuse. If testimony had been presented during Ringo’s trial, Pendergraph told the judges, the jury might have sentenced him to life in prison instead of giving him the death penalty.
Pendergraph’s appeal relied on a June U.S. Supreme Court decision in which Maryland death row inmate Kevin Wiggins was granted a new sentencing hearing because his lawyers failed to investigate his history of child abuse. The court deemed that failure a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of legal counsel.
Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Morrell argued in September that Ringo’s trial attorneys adequately investigated their client’s mental condition but strategically withheld expert testimony because it could have contradicted testimony by Ringo’s family.
In Tuesday’s decision, the high court said Ringo’s trial lawyers did investigate his history of child abuse and presented testimony by four experts who evaluated Ringo’s mental condition. The high court said in its decision that his lawyer’s choice to withhold additional expert testimony was not reason enough to rule that Ringo’s rights were violated or to set aside his conviction and death sentence.
Possible actions for Ringo include asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal or challenging the constitutionality of his death sentence and conviction in federal district court, said Scott Holste, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. Pendergraph could not be reached for comment.
“This effectively ends the involvement of the state courts in the Ringo case,” Holste said.