50 years of life – but only 18 years as a free man

By Kira Dunn

Today, Christopher Dunn turns 50. For the 32nd time, he spends his birthday locked up for a crime did not commit. His innocence is documented by a Missouri 25th Circuit judge in a September 2020 order (embedded on the home page of this site). The judge explains that Chris proved his innocence in a May 2018 evidentiary hearing, and declares that no jury would convict him now. However, the judge feels himself to be bound by the (insane) Lincoln v. Cassady precedent – a narrow interpretation of law that allows a demonstrably innocent person to remain incarcerated in Missouri.

As aptly stated by Rebecca Charles in her Missouri Law Review piece, “Deconstructing the Paradox of the Constitutional Incarceration of Innocent Citizens:”

“No court binding the Missouri Court of Appeals has ever determined that the incarceration of an innocent person is unlawful. While plenty of precedent exists to conclude that such a detention violates fundamental fairness, the Western District in In re Lincoln v. Cassady was unwilling to make such a finding without the prior blessing of the Supreme Court of Missouri. As a result, there is no procedural pathway for a convicted and incarcerated person sentenced to anything short of death to convincingly demonstrate his innocence and obtain relief under Missouri law.”

How is this happening in a democracy? This SHREDS the rule of law. This (insane) precedent negatively affects not only Chris, but many innocent prisoners in Missouri. Even so, I am not writing today about the overall effect of Lincoln v. Cassady. I am writing as Chris’ wife.

This morning, I opened my eyes to a cold and empty bed, as usual. Chris smiled at me from our framed wedding picture. I closed my eyes again, cradled my phone, and hoped for his call to come.

Instead of spending his 50th birthday on a surprise getaway or surrounded by his family in celebration, my husband spent his milestone day locked in a cage. My husband wasn’t allowed a food visit, so will receive only a video of his family singing around his birthday cake, and blowing out the candles for him. None of his birthday cards have reached him, even though they were mailed weeks in advance, because the prison mailroom is short staffed.

With three recent heart attacks under his belt, and overall failing health, Chris does not know how much longer he can wait for Missouri to right this wrong. I am terrified he will leave me a widow, with all of our plans and dreams unexplored. Every time my phone rings, I fear it’s the call I dread will someday come.

At that 2018 evidentiary hearing, my husband and his legal defense team brought many times more evidence of his innocence – including the obliteration of any evidence against him. The judge found Chris’ innocence clear and compelling, and documented this in his order. Yet Chris is still in a cage, more than a year later – because the judge followed the Lincoln v. Cassady precedent.

Yes, Chris is a victim of grievous injustice. But we must never forget the first victim in all of this – the 14-year-old who was shot as he sat with friends on a porch that May 1990 night in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood of St. Louis.

That young boy never had a chance to start his sophomore year, attend prom, graduate, work or attend college, and start a family of his own. His parents will never have a grandchild from their son; his brothers and sisters will never be uncles and aunties to his children. He will never know the joy of being a grandparent himself. What could this boy have been? What could he have done with his life? The world will never know, and the loss is incalculable.

Chris grieves for this boy on the anniversary of his death, every year. He fasts and writes. As much as he needs his freedom, he needs this boy’s family to know that he did not kill their precious child.

Ricco Rogers deserves justice. The person who shot and killed him must be found, and justice administered.

Instead, the word of two young boys – who have since recanted their testimonies and explained that they accused Chris basically because they didn’t like him – was used to take away another innocent life. More loss, more pain, more injustice.

May the next 50 years bring justice for Ricco Rogers. And justice for Christopher Dunn.

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