Wife of Missouri man who says he was falsely imprisoned for 33 years speaks out

Kira Dunn, the wife of Christopher Dunn, a Missouri man who claims he was falsely convicted, speaks to "ABC News Live Prime's" Linsey Davis. (ABC News)

(NEW YORK) -- A wrongful conviction hearing for a Missouri man who has served 33 years in prison for a murder he claims he did not commit is underway. Now his wife is sharing her hopes for the outcome.

Christopher Dunn, 52, was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder conviction in the death of Rico Rogers, a 15-year-old who was shot to death in May 1990.

There is no physical evidence linking Dunn, who was 18 years old at the time, to the crime, according to Dunn's lawyers. His conviction was based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses, then 12 and 14 years old, who said they saw Dunn nearby just before the shots were fired.

DeMorris Stepp and Michael Davis Jr, the two witnesses, both recanted their testimonies in 2005 and 2015, respectively, which they said were coerced by prosecutors and police. The state attorney general's office said that detectives and prosecutors testified that they never threatened, coerced or manipulated any statements from witnesses.

Kira Dunn, the wife of Christopher Dunn, who he met when she was assigned to write an article about Dunn and later married him in a prison ceremony, spoke with ABC News Live Prime's Linsey Davis about how she and Dunn's family have been fighting for his release for years.

"We're allowing ourselves some joy here and there," Kira Dunn said. "But we know from experience, as you've noted, that that rug can be snatched out so quickly, so we're afraid to be too hopeful or too happy yet."

During the hearing, which began on Tuesday, May 21, defense attorneys for Dunn argued that the testimony from the two witnesses, Stepp and Davis, were "inconsistent, uncertain and unsure."

Prosecutors from the Missouri Attorney General's office maintained that Dunn was guilty, arguing that the witnesses who have since recanted their testimonies were still able to identify Dunn via photo and live lineup.

"Both witnesses and their separate photo array identifications select a picture of Christopher Dunn and say, 'This is Christopher Dunn,'" prosecutors said. "'This is who did it,' 24 hours later, after Dunn had been arrested."

The motion to vacate Dunn's murder conviction was filed in February by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore.

This is the second time a judge has heard Dunn's case for exoneration. In a 2020 evidentiary hearing in Texas County, Judge William Hickle ruled that "new evidence has emerged, in addition to the recantations, which make it likely that reasonably, properly instructed jurors would find [Dunn] not guilty."

Dunn wasn't exonerated, due to a 2016 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that only allowed death row inmates to make a "freestanding" claim of innocence.

Then in 2021, a new law was adopted in Missouri that allows prosecutors to request hearings to vacate convictions if they have information that they feel shows the convicted person is actually innocent or was wrongfully convicted. This expands the rights of inmates who don’t have death sentences to file for exonerations.

"Missouri is actually the only state in the United States where that would be the case, where innocence claims are based on your sentence whether you're released or not," Kira Dunn told Linsey Davis. "But it does feel different this time. It feels as though we just have so many great minds working with us now and advocates that our hope is much greater that the door won't be slammed in our face this time."

In his current hearing, Dunn's defense attorneys brought up Judge Hickle's findings that Dunn had met the standard for actual innocence and called on Judge Jason Sengheiser, who presided over the hearing, to "establish actual innocence and allow you to do what Judge Hickle could not do. Vacate the wrongful conviction of Christopher Dunn."

For Dunn, who has maintained his innocence from the start, time for exoneration feels short.

"Are you concerned that you might die before being able to be vindicated?" Davis asked Dunn in 2022.

"To be honest with you, yeah," Dunn answered. "After that, the truth of what happened to me may never be known."

Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 6:24AM by Tesfaye Negussie and Dhanika Pineda, ABC News Permalink