Richard (Rick) Clay spent 16 years on Missouri's death row before he was granted clemency 36 hours before his scheduled execution.
He was supposed to be executed by the State of Missouri for the murder of Randy Martindale - shot several times in his bedroom in New Madrid, Missouri in 1994. Martindale's wife, Stacy, was convicted of second-degree murder for premeditating to kill him for a $100,000 life insurance policy. She served just 15 years in prison.
At Clay's trial, prosecutors relied entirely on the testimony of two people who had the most motive to committ the crime: Stacy Martindale and the man with which she was having an affair, Charles "Chuck" Sanders. Sanders, a close friend of Richard Clay at the time of the murder, admitted he knew of Stacy's ambitions to kill her husband for months prior to that night, and was originally charged with first degree murder in the case after it was revealed he tried to hide of a box of the same bullets used in the murder. Yet weeks later, he was the prosecution's star witness.
In 2001, Rick was granted a new trial due to a district court decision that his original conviction was based perjured testimony and concealment of evidence by the prosecution favorable to his defense. But the decision was overturned inexplicably a year later by the Missouri Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that Clay's sentence was obtained by a former assistant attorney general, Kenny Hulsholf, who has had 50% of the capital punishment convictions he obtained during his tenure overturned. Three men in the last four years have been released from prison after judges ruled Hulhof-led prosecution teams withheld evidence from defense teams during trial.
In February 2009, Cole County (Mo.) Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled that Joshua Kezer, convicted of murder in 1994, was wrongly found guilty partly because Hulshof exaggerated events in his closing arguments to the jury and withheld evidence from Kezer’s defense lawyers. “We now know that none of what Mr. Hulshof said in the final summary was true,” Callahan said in a ruling that freed Kezer. “There is little about this case which recommends our criminal justice system," Callahan wrote. "The system failed in the investigative and charging stage, it failed at trial, it failed at the post trial review and it failed during the appellate process."
In 2010, DeKalb County (Mo.) Judge Warren McElwain declared the innocence of Dale Helmig, who was serving years on a life sentence for being convicted of murdering his mother. McElwain called Helmig a “victim of a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”
Facts related to Rick Clay's conviction raise considerable doubt regarding his guilt:
There is absolutely no physical evidence linking Clay to the murder of Randy Martindale. Hair fibers and fingerprints taken from the crime scene did not match Clay, and a murder weapon was never found. He was sentenced to death based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Nearly all physical evidence and motive that exists in the case points to Stacy Martindale, including gunpowder residue found on Stacy’s hand in the hours after the crime. Likewise, no evidence of any payment to Clay was ever found. However, a carbon copy of a check for $5,000 made out by Martindale to Chuck Sanders was.
The State claims a crucial piece of evidence linking Clay to the crime was a bullet casing of the same caliber and gun type used to kill Martindale. The casing was found “150-200 yards” away from the closest footprints the prosecution claim were Clay’s.
Clay’s pretrial criminal record made him a target for prosecutors Hulshof and Bock. His pending trial for drug possession and resisting would diminish his credibility in the eyes of jury members.
Prosecutors interviewed 3 eyewitnesses whose accounts support Clay's defense and completely contradict the State's account of the events of the night. However, their testimony was never provided to Clay's court appointed defense team and never heard by the jury that convicted him.
The first officer on the scene that night offered to sign an affidavit claiming that he would have testified to details beneficial to Clay’s defense, but it went unsigned because he felt the document would undermine his working relationship with the New Madrid County prosecutor, Riley Bock.
Taken together, it inevitably leads one to question how Clay can be sentenced based on so many questions and so little evidence. Clay was the only one near the murder scene that night with a (nonviolent) criminal record, and coupled his service in the US Marine Corps and his proficiency with the use of a firearm, his history was a convenient target for prosecutors.
For more case detail, click here
The Death Penalty: Career Builder
In 2007, Curtis McCarty, who had been sentenced in Oklahoma to die three times and spent 21 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, was released after a District Court Judge ruled that the case against McCarty was tainted by the questionable testimony of former police chemist. DNA testing also showed that another person raped the victim. While now free, how does the state of Oklahoma give McCarty back 21 years of his life? They can’t.
But it is cases like McCarty’s that should give even the most fervent capital punishment proponents reason to be skeptical.
While it’s impossible to identify how many innocent people have been put to death by capital punishment, four investigations in as many years indicate that it’s probable – including Larry Griffin. Griffin, sentenced to death in Missouri a 1980 drive-by shooting due mainly to testimony from single eyewitness, was executed before a police officer divulged that he gave false testimony implicating Griffin. In addition, it was later revealed that a second victim injured in the drive-by -- never interviewed by defense or prosecuting attorneys -- claimed the eyewitness wasn’t even there.
According to Northwestern University School of Law's Centre on Wrongful Convictions (CWC), at least 39 executions have been carried out in the United States in face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt. While innocence has not been proven in any specific case, there is no reasonable doubt that some of the executed prisoners were innocent.
In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented 129 death-row inmates who, since 1973, have been exonerated and freed before their executions.
How does this happen?
Is it so idealistic to believe people who are entrusted with the lives and liberties of others should prevent injustices which jeopardize the very things they are sworn to protect? If they stand by and don't act on the information they have, aren’t they just as guilty of criminal activity as those who recklessly and maliciously take other people's lives?
In 2006, three Lacrosse players from Duke University accused of sexual assault by an overzealous prosecutor -- Mike Nifong. In order to win re-election, he was willing to send three men to prison for life despite his knowledge of DNA reports proving these men were in fact innocent of the crime. Nifong was later disbarred by a panel that unanimously found him guilty of fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation. But what the case leads one to believe is that its improbable to think it was the first time Nifong or any other prosecutor has withheld evidence favorable to defendants to enhance his personal motives. If not for the overwhemling attention and scrutiny placed on the case, Nifong's tactics may have gone unnoticed.
In the case of Richard Clay, similar ethical questions about the motives of the prosecutors have been raised.
But this shouldn’t come as a shock for those who are familiar with Hulshof. According to a June 2008 Associated Press investigation, Hulshof handled 31 murder cases in 10 years as a state and county prosecutor, and won death penalty conviction in eight of those trials. The AP review of court dockets, state and federal appellate decisions and other legal records shows that in four cases, prosecutorial errors by Hulshof led to death sentence reversals.
Another accused murderer won acquittal by a new jury at a second trial after his Hulshof-prosecuted conviction was rejected on appeal.
A sixth defendant sentenced to life in prison without parole briefly won his freedom when a federal judge tossed out the conviction, although it was later restored.
Finally, a seventh murder conviction, that of Josh Kezer – who was also convicted almost entirely on the testimony of one witness – was reopened after an interview with Scott City police “surfaced” which showed that witness had previously named another person. Kezer was exhonerated and released in February 2009.
For those keeping track, a majority of Hulshof's death penalty convictions have been either completely reversed or called into question due to prosecutoral error or some degree of apparent misconduct. Another two life sentences were either thrown out, or are about to be.
This is staggering.
“Critics say Hulshof's record reflects a lawyer who crossed the line from zealous representative of the people to a politically ambitious prosecutor willing to bend the rules for the sake of a conviction,” adds the Southeast Missourian newspaper.
That only begs the question: doesn’t Hulshof’s track record make it possible – if not probable – that this record of "bending the rules" led to a conviction in the case of Richard Clay?
Conviction: A Double Entendre with Only One True Meaning
The fact of the matter is that Randy Martindale's death was tragic and senseless, and left two small children without a father.
And despite the fact that she planned the murder for months, ultimately pointing to Clay, from the beginning, Stacy Martindale tried to blame BOTH Sanders and Clay for the murder. In an interview on June 6, 1994, Sgt Steve Hinesly told Martindale that there were only two people who knew the truth about Randy's death. Martindale replied "yeah Chuck and Rick." Sgt. Hinesly told her "no, you and God.”
In addition, Stacy Martindale made no secret of her apparent abuse at the hands of her husband. Chuck Sanders even told Stacy, "that if she was a battered spouse, she needed to get herself a gun and when he beat her she could kill him and then she could claim spousal abuse.”
Each of these things - the documented Interstate 55 incident, Chuck's advice on how to kill Martindale, her affair with Sanders, and a tempting $100,000 life insurance policy -- is evidence enough of a history of abuse and motive for Stacy to kill her husband.
Excerpts from the deposition of Sanders on April 24, 1994 by Clay’s defense team documents Sanders instability and volatile emotional state stemming from his obsession with Stacy Martindale. Excerpts such as:
"I was kind of upset that she left without saying goodbye. There didn't seem to be any kind of closure or resolution to the conflict and Rick said that he tried to make plain to her my position and he said that maybe he hadn't understood what my position was with her, you know, if I wanted to carry on the relationship or what.
“I got a little bit miffed with Rick, you know, because I wanted him to make everything good and right."
“When Clay’s lawyer asked Chuck was it his intention that Clay tell her you still had feelings for her, but you did not want to get involved in anything illegal or what was your intention for him (Rick) to tell her?”
Chuck responded "No, I meant for him to get the relationship part straight. I had made myself plain to her as far as being involved with the killing of Randy goes. I wanted him (Rick) to explain to her that I still cared for her and wanted to see my son, but I didn't want to be badgered anymore or I didn't want her to bring this to me anymore."
Clay's brief conversation with Stacy Martindale the basis for Riley Bock's murder for hire scheme. Sanders, by his own admission, simply asks his friend to play Dear Abby for the sake of Chuck and Stacy's torrid love affair. There is no evidence that Clay ever or in anyway agreed to kill Randy Martindale. Sanders even told the court that Clay told him “that would be a crazy thing to do."
What the prosecution seemed content to ignore was the simple fact that both Sanders and Stacy Martindale planned and plotted to kill Randy Martindale for months. A witness added Stacy Martindale and Sanders practiced shooting Sanders’ .380 caliber handgun on the levee outside of New Madrid.
Stacy Martindale’s own sister says that Sanders came to Stacy's house and gave her something in a bag shortly before Randy's murder.
The lack of evidence and witnesses implicating Clay is mind-boggling. In the years after the crime, people came forward and offered their testimony – people like Randy Martindale’s own friend Rayburn Evans or Keith Neal, Don Fields, and the three witnesses who saw the Camaro that night. They are people that owed nothing to Clay, but who were downplayed and dismissed by prosecutors with their own agenda – lawyers who worried that new witness testimony may taint their best chance at maintaining their claim to high profile conviction. These were the people that might reveal Hulshof and Bock were wrong, and ruin a run at the Governor’s mansion.
In 2001, a journalism class from Webster University in St. Louis took up Clay’s fight after reading his case, shocked at the inconsistencies and the fact a court can condemn a man to die based on so little evidence. The class told Clay they couldn’t believe that Sanders – who admitted to conspiring to killing Randy Martindale and who was originally charged with first degree murder – was given just five years probation for tampering with evidence.
It was inconceivable to these students that the two people who literally and admittedly planned to kill Randy Martindale had either never spent a single day in prison, or who are now freed from jail and carrying on their lives.
Some of the students asked how you can convict a guy to die despite the fact that nothing – even fingerprints and hair submitted from the crime scene – linked Richard Clay to murder.
They never saw an analysis of Chuck Sanders’ hair or Chris Black's fingerprints. Black, Stacy Martindale’s lover from Michigan who sent several letters to Stacy a month before her husband was murdered, was never even considered as a suspect.
Coupled with the diligence and hard work of Clay's attorneys - Jennifer Herndon and Elizabeth Carlyle -- the class’s curiosity and prodding won Clay a new case in 2002. But his appeals were later dismissed, due in large part to mistakes attributable to his original court appointed defense team.
Unfortunately for Clay, his prior police record and reputation as a drug dealer made him the most convenient suspect in the murder of Randy Martindale, and the easiest to convict. The simple fact he was there that night condemned him, in the wrong place at the wrong time, along with the split second decision to run based on a belief another drug arrest would disappoint his family. The fact he served his country as U.S. Marine didn’t make him a hero, it made him the most proficient in the use of a handgun of the three people near the Martindale house that night.
Rick Clay will be the first to tell you that he’s made mistakes. He sold methamphetamine to supplement income, he drank, and took drugs. His marriage had failed and ended in divorce, and the relationships with his family had been strained by a freewheeling lifestyle and the company he kept. He’d been given second chances and wasted them, but like any 29 year old from a small town with a ton of friends, he always figured there’d be a third.
But almost every person who knew him then and knows him today will tell you Rick would do almost anything for those he would sometimes disappoint the most. He’s a brother who still calls his little sisters at least once a week. He’s a son who continues to talk to his mother about God, a son who joined the Marine Corps after high school to honor the legacy of his dad, a winner of the Distinguished Service Cross, who died in Vietnam. He’s a father himself, who simply wants the best for his own son. And to this day, he’s a good friend to most of those same people he ran with 15 years ago, many of whom still make a six hour drive to see him on weekends for food day. He’s the former Kelly High School prom king; he’s that guy that would be willing to help you sort things out with your girlfriend, despite the fact he thought she was a ticking timebomb.
Just ask Chuck Sanders.
But he’s also the guy that wouldn’t reveal the friends who saw him that night with Sanders and Stacy Martindale before leaving Sikeston, all because he knew the drug-related questions the police would ask might bring problems for them as well. Some of those people have chosen to remain quiet to this day, but Rick astutely realizes that their reluctance to talk is now between them and God.
Yet each and every person who knows him understands Rick Clay is not a killer. He would never make the decision to kill the husband of a woman he didn’t trust, not after a ten minute conversation in a car on the way to Hardee’s.
That night in New Madrid, as he hid in the woods behind a levee, Clay says he made a promise to himself. That if he somehow made it through this mess, if the police realized they were fruitlessly looking for a small-time drug peddler in flooded plain, and he was able by the grace of God to get home – he’d change. He’d change the sake of his god-fearing parents, two brothers and three sisters. He’d change for the sake of his ex-wife who he now considered a friend. Most importantly, he’d change for the sake of his then six year old son, Kiefer.
Today, Clay says he puts faith in his religion, realizing that it’s his commitment to his own convictions which will ultimately redeem him for a crime he did not commit.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1 )
Richard (Rick) Clay has been imprisoned for two decades for a crime he did not commit. He spent 16 years on Missouri's death row before his sentence was commuted to life in prison by Gov. Jay Nixon on January 10, 2011.
Prosecuted by an attorney recently found responsible for the wrongful imprisonment of three others like him,Rick remains behind bars despite shockingly similar indications that crucial evidence proving his innocence was withheld at his original trial.
We still need your help to provide adequate council for Rick as he continues to fight his conviction...
Richard D Clay:A Wrongful Conviction in Missouri