To Live And Die In Belton USA

Oct 10, 2009 - by J. J. Maloney - 0 Comments

Updated Dec. 19, 2007

Belton Missouri

The story of Jeffrey Gardner, a young man sentenced to prison for shooting an abusive husband who was threatening his wife with a knife.After the printing of this story, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, on March 2, 1999, overturned the conviction of Gardner -- who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the shooting.  Gardner was a boarder in the couple's home at the time of the shooting. On Dec. 7, 1999, the Missouri Supreme Court did overturn the appellate court opinion. Gardner is serving his sentence at the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo. Click here to read the Missouri Supreme Court decision.

by J.J. Maloney

Carol Drummond could feel feel the noose tightening around her throat.

For more than five years the 38-year-old Belton resident had been stalked, threatened and vilified by the friends of Phillip Hancock, her late husband.

In August, 1991, Drummond called police after Hancock threatened her with a bayonet. In December, 1991, the 6-foot-2-inch Hancock hurled Drummond to the ground, breaking her collarbone because her dog had urinated on the floor. A judge ordered Hancock to stay away from Drummond.

Hancock then lived with a friend, Mark Lassince, until he made up with Drummond and moved back in with her, in January, 1992. Also living in the house were Jeffrey Wayne Gardner, an attractive, soft-spoken, 28-year-old boarder, and Jackie, the 8 year old daughter of Hancock and Drummond (she kept her own name after the marriage).

In the early afternoon of March 7, 1992, Hancock called the Belton police and talked with the dispatcher. Hancock wanted police to eject Gardner from his house. The dispatcher explained that, since Drummond was half-owner of the house, if she wanted Gardner to stay, there was nothing the police could do. Gardner asked if the police would come over and take Gardner's gun away from him. Hancock said he feared Gardner and Drummond would plant the gun on him, to get his probation revoked. The dispatcher said there was nothing the police could do about Gardner's gun, either. Hancock expressed bitterness, saying he was, "screwed, I don't have any rights."

The dispatcher then gave Hancock fatal advice: If there were an altercation between Hancock and Gardner, the dispatcher said, the police would probably make Gardner leave (since he was not an owner of the house).

Two hours later the police received a frantic call from Drummond saying Hancock was armed with a knife. When the police arrived Hancock was dead - shot once in the left shoulder and twice in the chest. The body lay between the bed and the far wall of a bedroom. A huge hunting knife was at Hancock's feet. A German Luger was in the kitchen.

According to Drummond and Gardner, Hancock had gone berserk. He'd wielded the knife, threatening to "field dress" Drummond like a deer. Gardner said he'd come into the house to gather up some of his clothes, so he could leave, and heard Drummond's call for help. Gardner said he went into his bedroom, loaded the Luger and then went to the couple's bedroom. He said Hancock advanced with the knife and he shot him. He fired the Luger five times before it jammed. Det. Lance Crull found a spent bullet on the bedroom carpet where Hancock's body had been laying. A four-foot section of carpet was ripped up and taken away as evidence. Shell casings were scattered around the room.

Gardner was arrested, and then released the following day.

A week later Det. Crull returned to the house and searched Drummond's garage, looking for a diary allegedly written by Drummond, and said by Mark Lassince to contain details of a plot to kill Hancock. No diary. Crull would later testify that all of Hancock's clothes were gone from his closet a week after his death, and Gardner's bed was made a week after the shooting, whereas it was unmade a week earlier. This was interpreted as proof that Gardner was sleeping with Drummond.

A police report of the shooting contends that Gardner shot Hancock in the shoulder, causing him to drop the knife, and that Gardner then approached the "now unarmed victim" and stood over Hancock and shot him "as the victim's arm was held in front of him in a defensive gesture." Gardner denies this version of what happened.

 

A BEST FRIEND WITH A MISSION

Phil Gill, Hancock's best friend, and other friends of Hancock, gathered a petition, containing 180 names, asking police to investigate further. Gill contended that Drummond and Gardner were having an affair - that they'd deliberately provoked Hancock so Gardner would have an opportunity to kill him.

Gill visited Hancock's grave often - talking to his friend and holding seances.

Gill and Hancock had been friends for 25 years, since fifth grade. Gill hounded the police and prosecutors, he led caravans past the house where Drummond and Gardner continued to live.

On the first anniversary of Hancock's death an explosion outside of her house rattled Drummond awake just after midnight. Her daughter was screaming in fright. The police found several of Gill's business cards in the driveway. Gill admitted leading a caravan of cars past the house, and throwing the business cards in the driveway, but denied causing the explosion. Belton police chief James Person opined the explosion was a cherry bomb or other large firecracker, and said someone appeared to be reminding Drummond of her husband's death.

At that time Gill told The Kansas City Star: "I won't stop until one of three things happen. Either they are dead. Or they are in jail. Or I'm dead. That's when I'll stop. He was my best friend for 25 years. This is how it has to be, and that's how it has to end."

The Cass County prosecutor was Dennis Laster. He finally took the case to the grand jury, which returned a "no true bill," meaning the grand jury did not find enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime.

Normally, that would end the case, unless new evidence was discovered. Cass County, however, is a bit of a twilight zone. A plaque outside the courthouse tells of the time toward the end of the last century when county officials made an ill-advised investment in railroad bonds. When it was learned the bonds were worthless, two county officials tried to escape by train. A group of Cass Countians stopped the train and killed the county officials, along with a friend of theirs.

That's ancient history, you say. This is the 1990s.

The grand jury that heard the evidence on Hancock's death was the first grand jury in Cass County since 1970. It had been convened to hear evidence of rampant corruption in the Cass County Sheriff's Department, which included allegations of theft, a woman being raped by a jailer, people being held in the county jail with no charges being filed against them, and the manufacturing of evidence in a murder case. A judge later wrote that one of Sheriff Homer Foote's employees thought the lawful penalty for someone merely accused of drunk-driving was "eternity."

Cass County was facing a raft of lawsuits that, by one estimate, posed $20-million of liability.

Tim Finnicle, an assistant Clay County prosecutor, was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the situation. Sheriff Foote was eventually ousted from office by a judge. While Finnicle was investigating Sheriff Foote, Ray White, presiding Cass County commissioner, tried to extort $5,000 from Finnicle. When Finnicle kept ignoring Commissioner White's blatant hints that he wanted $5,000 in order to vote for the $101,250 Finnicle was to be paid over a two year period, White, in frustration, contacted Vicki Thomas, an assistant Cass County Prosecutor, and told her to go tell Finnicle what he wanted for a yes vote on Finnicle's compensation. Thomas and Finnicle went to the FBI together, and White was prosecuted and convicted in federal court.

After one witness, Aaron Fowler, appeared before the grand jury to testify against Sheriff Foote and one of his deputies, Fowler was arrested and tossed into the county jail with no charges against him. Fowler then sued and the county settled with him. How much money he received was never revealed. The rape victim was paid $100,000, the most she could be paid under state law. On the merits of the woman's suit, Vicki Thomas, assistant prosecutor, said: "We're guilty as can be."

Three indictments obtained by Special Prosecutor Finnicle, in 1994, still remain sealed in the courthouse vault. Finnicle refuses to say who was indicted, what the charges are, or what he intends to do with the indictments. This is highly unusual.

 

BELTON IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT

A lot of Kansas Citians think of Belton as being in Jackson County, but it is in Cass County. In the 1970s it was known, among other things, as a hangout for bikers, many of whom sported a Confederate emblem on their motorcycles. In the latter part of the last century the mayor of Belton was Richard M. Slaughter, a doctor and former Confederate colonel. He served two terms as mayor and was on the board of aldermen. In October, 1992, seven months after the death of Phillip Hancock, a ceremony was held at the Belton Cemetery and an official Confederate grave marker was placed on Slaughter's grave - complete with color guard and multi-gun salute.

In late 1992 a spat broke out between Gina Selland, the Belton Police Department's victim advocate, and city prosecutor Bill Marshall, over Marshall's lenient treatment of abusive husbands. Marshall routinely asked that wife-beaters be given a suspended jail sentence with probation. Selland wanted abusers to have to undergo six months of counseling. Marshall argued that six months was too long, and would cost too much. There was a good deal of wife-beating in Belton in 1992 - as many as 10 incidents in one week, according to a news report.

Cass County, for many years staunchly Democratic, began to turn Republican in 1992. That year Ed Hartzler was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, and Brian Mills was elected a county commissioner. Two years later Republicans also captured the offices of presiding county commissioner and prosecuting attorney.

The new prosecutor, Chris Koster, a former Republican assistant attorney general for Missouri, took office in January, 1995. In March, 1996, although no new evidence had surfaced, Koster filed charges of manslaughter and armed criminal action, against Jeffrey Gardner in connection with Hancock's death. When Brian Gepford, Gardner's attorney, pointed out that the statute of limitations had expired on manslaughter, Koster raised the charge to second-degree murder, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and has no statute of limitations.

 

THE TRIAL BEGINS

The murder trial began in late June at the Cass County Courthouse in Harrisonville. Assistant prosecutors Greg Hill and Bryan Covinsky represented the state. At one point the trial was moved from the decorum of the regular courtroom to the local American Legion hall, where the jury, spectators and witnesses sat on folding metal chairs, and Judge Joseph P. Dandurand presided from behind an old oak desk with ornate legs.

In this day and age every defense lawyer is on the lookout for a local Det. Mark Fuhrman - he of the infamous O.J. glove and I-Never-Said-The-N-Word fame.

Gepford found his Fuhrman in Det. Lance Crull, a tall, well-built detective who speaks in short, clipped bursts and accessorizes his suits with cowboy boots. Who testified that the knife at Hancock's feet had a pair of men's underwear wrapped around the blade, implying that was reason to doubt that the knife had actually been wielded by Hancock. On cross-examination he admitted that dying people occasionally thrash around (the defense thus implying that even if the knife blade was covered, it could have occurred while Hancock was dying).

Captain D. Chandler, who'd been in charge of the investigation (and who has since left the Belton Police Department), testified that he did not recall anything covering the blade of the knife.

Crull testified there were no fingerprints on the knife. That testimony was startling, since Hancock had died bare handed. However, when Capt. Chandler testified, he said there were fingerprints.

Capt. Chandler said it was his opinion the shooting was a result of Hancock assaulting Carol Drummond with a knife. He said that prior to Hancock's death, Drummond had been to his office several times to talk about Hancock's abusiveness. "In my opinion there was a strong scenario of self-defense," Chandler testified.

The prosecutor, stung by Chandler's testimony, asked him if he'd ever been to Drummond's house apart from the investigation of Hancock's death, and Chandler said he had been once - after Hancock's death. Hill then began to allude to Chandler's "relationship" with Drummond.

The crux of the prosecution's case was its contention that: the shell casings were in the wrong location in the bedroom to have been fired from the doorway, as Gardner said they were; the angle of the bullets in Hancock's body suggested he'd been shot after he was on the floor; the bullet laying on the carpet under Hancock's body could only have gotten there if he was shot while he was on the floor, and Gardner had fired the gun too many times for it to be self-defense.

John Cayton, from the Kansas City Police Department's Regional Crime Lab, testified he'd been contacted by the Cass County authorities only a week prior to trial.

Cayton said he fired several of the bullets recovered on March 7, 1992, for ballistics comparison. He then took some 9 millimeter ammunition they had at the crime lab, and fired the Luger to see where the shells would go. He testified that four of the five shells fired were ejected to the front and left, and one was ejected to the front and right. He did not say how far to the front they were thrown, or how far right or left.

The prosecution argued that the bullet laying on the carpet was proof Hancock was shot while on the floor. However, since both of the chest wounds went completely through Hancock, it is possible that one of those bullets bounced off the wall behind Hancock and landed on the carpet.

Cayton said he tested the trigger pull of the Luger, and found it to be 8 1/2 pounds - meaning you would have to exert that much pressure on the trigger before the gun fired. Cayton described this as a stiff trigger pull. Unanswered, however, was the effect on the gun laying in a police evidence room for nearly five and one-half years before being tested.

The prosecution entered the bedroom carpet into evidence, and showed the jury a hole - asserting it to be a bullet hole. However, they did not ask Cayton to test the carpet (for lead or copper traces) to see if the hole was, in fact, caused by a bullet.

Dr. Bonita Peterson, who'd been medical examiner of Jackson County in the 1970s, had been paid to perform an autopsy on Hancock at the Mount Moriah Funeral Home. She testified that of the three bullets that hit Hancock, the one in the shoulder hit him level. The wound on the right side of the chest was at a slight upward angle, and the wound on the left side of the chest was at a 45-degree angle. Dr. Peterson said the wound on the right side of the chest had severed the aorta, causing Hancock to rapidly bleed to death. There was a wound that penetrated Hancock's forearm, and Peterson said this was most likely caused while his arm was raised, and that most likely a single bullet went through the arm and into the chest.

The prosecution would argue that the angle of the bullets proved Hancock was shot twice after he was on the ground and helpless. Gepford argued that the angle of the bullets proved that the first round hit the shoulder, knocking Hancock backward. Then the second bullet hit at a slight upward angle, knocking Hancock even further down, causing the third bullet to hit at a 45 degree angle as he fell to the floor.

Everyone kept waiting for the "real evidence," the stuff that would clearly convince a jury that Gardner had murdered Phillip Hancock, rather than shooting him in self-defense. Then the prosecution suddenly rested.

 

CAROL DRUMMOND TAKES THE STAND

The prosecution had listed Carol Drummond as a witness, but did not call her to testify. The prosecution knew Drummond would testify, on cross-examination, about the abuse she had suffered at Hancock's hands, and that she would say his killing was self-defense. Gepford would then be able to say in his closing argument that the prosecution's own witness said it was self-defense.

Gepford, knowing that a number of Hancock's friends, including Drummond's own sister, Karla Corum, had told police that Drummond had confessed to them that she was going to kill her husband, decided to call her to the stand and ask her only whether she had been subpoenaed as a witness by the prosecutor, and then let her go. He wanted the jury to know it was the prosecutor's decision not to have Drummond testify.

However, on cross-examination, the prosecutor began to question Drummond about the alleged incriminating statements she is alleged to have made. Gepford objected, but the judge ruled Drummond was fair game.

Gepford says the cross-examination of Drummond, on whether she told people she was going to kill Hancock, should not have been admissible against Gardner - particularly where Drummond has never been charged with any crime, and flat out denies making the statements.

In any event, the prosecutor went after Drummond like a rat terrier - to such a degree that Koster, who'd come into the courtroom to observe, began calling his assistant up to the railing for long conferences. Drummond, an openly emotional woman with straight brown hair, was a feisty witness and obviously hostile to the prosecution. She said that the day of the shooting, the police only questioned her for five minutes, that "they didn't want the whole story." When the prosecutor tried to limit her answer to one question, she accused him of not wanting to hear the truth. At other times she cried

She described a long pattern of abuse by Hancock, saying he would rage at their daughter if he were awakened (he worked nights at the Fairmont-Zarda Dairy). Drummond testified that it was originally Hancock's idea to have Gardner move in, because they could use the rent money (he was paying $350 monthly). After Gardner was there, however, she said there came a point when Hancock began to refer to him as "your boyfriend." She denied ever having anything but a platonic relationship with Gardner, saying that he was like a younger brother to her. She said that Gardner continued to live at her house for two years following the death of Hancock, because she needed the rent money, and because she was afraid of Hancock's friends.

Although it never came out on the witness stand, Drummond claims Gill sexually assaulted her months prior to the shooting, but that she'd been afraid to tell Hancock - fearful he would blame her, rather than Gill. After the shooting she finally obtained a restraining order against Gill, on a charge of stalking.

Drummond denied telling her sister, or anyone else, that she intended to kill her husband. She said she and her sister hate each other and have for years. Gepford called as a witness a neighbor of Drummond's who occasionally baby-sat for Jackie. The neighbor testified she went to Drummond's house the day of the shooting, and that Hancock was in a rage. She said Hancock was threatening to kill the child and threatening to kill the defendant. She said she took the child to her home, and that Drummond and Gardner came over also. Drummond reportedly went home to see if she could calm Hancock down. Gardner followed shortly afterward. The prosecution challenged the neighbor's account, saying that the day of the shooting she'd mentioned nothing to police about Hancock threatening to kill the child.

Gardner testified, saying he'd originally met Hancock and Drummond through his sister and her boyfriend. When they would come to his sister's house to visit he would often play games with Jackie (he has children of his own). He'd been living with his parents, he said, while going through a divorce.

Gardner said he met Hancock and Drummond in April, 1991 and moved in with them that August. In addition to paying rent he also baby-sat for them occasionally.

Gardner said he was an Army veteran and had received the Good Conduct Medal. In addition to being a veteran, he had a clean criminal record.

Gardner said the day he moved in with Hancock and Drummond that Hancock became enraged at something and attacked a dresser with a bayonet. Gardner said he'd gotten along with Hancock until the December incident when Drummond's collarbone was broken. Recalling that incident, he said the argument had begun in the house and then Hancock followed Drummond into the yard. He said he watched from the front window as Hancock shoved Drummond to the ground several times. When he realized that Jackie Hancock, then 8 years old, was also watching, he led her away from the window.

Gardner said Drummond began calling to him to come and help her, and he went into the yard. As soon as he arrived, he said, Hancock charged over to him and told him to get his ass back inside, or he would get what she was getting. He said he immediately retreated to the house.

Gardner said he didn't intend to shoot the Luger as many times as he did (that he panicked is evidenced by the fact that, at point-blank range, he missed the 6-foot-2-inch Hancock two times out of five).

As soon as the defense rested its case, the prosecution called Phil Gill as a rebuttal witness to Drummond.

 

PHIL GILL FINALLY GETS HIS DAY IN COURT

Phil Gill is a bantam rooster type of guy. Compact, he has a slight swagger. Where most people, when taking the oath, say "I do," or "yes," when asked if they will tell the truth, Gill proclaimed, loudly, "ABSOLUTELY!"

Gill said he was called over to Hancock's house one evening in January because Hancock was having car trouble. He said he went into the house to use the bathroom and Drummond stopped him to ask what Hancock "was saying about J.W. (Gardner) staying there."

Gill said Drummond told him, with Gardner sitting next to her, that, "He's not going to get away with pushing me down, and treating me and JW like shit. If we have to, we'll blow his fucking head off, then put a knife or gun in his hand to make it look like self-defense, and then we'll call 911."

At that point Brian Gepford fairly leaped out of his chair objecting. After a lengthy conference among the lawyers and the judge, a recess was announced. Outside the courthouse Gepford explained to Gardner that he could have a mistrial if he wanted one, because the prosecutors had never disclosed that Gill was going to say Gardner was present when this statement was allegedly made by Drummond. (If a person is present when an incriminating statement is made about them, and fails to deny the statement at the time it is made, there is a presumption that the statement is true).

Gardner was undecided. He was worried about losing any additional work from his job. As the 96-degree sun beat down, Gardner asked first one person then another what they thought.

Gepford, a former prosecutor himself, advised him to take a mistrial.

However, when the jury was called back into court, it was announced that the trial would be recessed until the following Tuesday (this was on Thursday). Judge Dandurand explained that this was the first time in his 11 years on the bench that he'd had to recess a trial for so long.

The purpose of the long recess was to allow Gepford time to prepare for his cross-examination of Gill. Gepford said later that he didn't think the jury believed Gill, that his testimony was too patently absurd. He felt Drummond's testimony, overall, had helped Gardner, by giving the jury a clear picture of Hancock's abuse against not only Drummond, but his own daughter. Gepford said he felt Hancock's friends would come across as obvious perjurers on the witness stand.

In his chambers just after the jury began its deliberations, Judge Dandurand, however, told Pat O'Connor, editor of the New Times (a Kansas City alternative newspaper), that he had felt Gardner would almost certainly be acquitted until Drummond was called as a witness. The calling of Drummond opened up Pandora's box for the defense.

Gepford, one of the most highly regarded criminal lawyers in Kansas City, had agreed to try the case because Gardner had originally been represented, in 1992, by Gepford's father (former Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Gepford), who had since died. Gepford's normal fee in a murder case tried to a jury would be many thousands of dollars. He was representing Gardner primarily out of a sense of obligation to his late father. When the trial reconvened on Tuesday it was at the American Legion hall.

Phil Gill repeated his earlier story, leaving out the part about Gardner being present when Drummond made her statement. He added that Drummond had grabbed his hand and told him not to tell anyone what she had said. He said he told Hancock "they're scheming on you," and that Hancock replied, "I know."

Gill said Hancock had been his best friend - "still is" he added. He said he hadn't held a seance at Hancock's grave for more than a year. Gill denied ever threatening Drummond, but Gepford finally got him to admit "maybe I was" prosecuted for stalking Drummond.

Andre Lassince, the brother of Mark Lassince, testified that he was at Hancock's house one evening, talking with Drummond while Hancock was asleep, and that Drummond had asked him about statutes on self-defense. Lassince testified that Drummond asked him "if I would still be her friend if she had to kill him in self-defense." Lassince said he never reported this conversation to Hancock, although he said he did believe she was serious. He also testified that Drummond broke her collarbone when "she slipped in the snow," saying that both Hancock and Drummond had said that was how it happened.

Karla Corum, Drummond's sister, said she was at Drummond's house one time and saw Drummond and Gardner rubbing on each other. She said she commented to Drummond, "Oh, you got some butt, huh?" and that Drummond had just laughed. She said she was at a restaurant the night before the shooting and heard Drummond say, "I'm going to kill Hancock." She said that she didn't believe it at the time, but that the next day Phil Gill came to her home in tears and said Hancock was dead. She denied being more than an acquaintance of Gill's. Asked if she knew who Doris Drummond was, she responded icily, "that's my birth mother." She denied being a drug addict, saying she'd suffered a stroke in March. Only 43, she is prematurely aged. The prosecution recalled John Cayton, the regional crime lab expert, back to the stand, and used him to increase the angle of the chest wound from the 45 degrees Bonita Peterson found at autopsy, to 75 to 80 degrees, based on his looking at a photograph of the body. He also described one wound as a "cookie cutter" type wound (no tearing, with clearly defined edges), indicating the flesh behind the wound was resting against something (the floor) when the bullet exited the body. Bonita Peterson, who said she has performed thousands of autopsies in her career, made no such observations, although she actually worked on Hancock's body, rather than simply looking at photographs as Cayton did.

Mark Lassince, with whom Hancock had stayed while estranged from Drummond, said Carol Drummond had asked him to shoot Hancock during deer season, so it would look like an accident. He also said Hancock had shown him Drummond's diary, in which she had laid out her plans to murder Hancock (one wonders why Hancock forgot to mention this to police when he talked with the police dispatcher hours before his death).

Jeffrey Drummond, Carol Drummond's brother, testified that he was also at the restaurant the evening before the shooting and that his sister Karla Corum was drunk. He said Corum was finally asked to leave that night.

Doris Drummond - mother of Carol Drummond and Karla Corum - testified that Corum and Carol Drummond had not been friendly for a "very long time." She said she would never believe her daughter, Karla Corum: "She's had a problem with the truth all her life."

The case was turned over to the jury about 2 p.m., July 2. Judge Dandurand instructed the jury on second-degree murder, with a range of punishment of 10 years to 30 years, or life imprisonment, or the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

 

THE VERDICT

A criminal trial is a deeply emotional event for the people involved. Lawyers waiting for a jury verdict relive the trial, agonizing over everything they might have done differently. The friends and family of the victim are on one side of the room; the friends and family of the defendant on the other. Animosity between the two groups is usually palpable. This case was no different. On one occasion I was leaving the courtroom about 10 feet behind John Dawson, Brian Gepford's investigator. As I went through the door to the hallway, someone in Phil Gill's group spoke to Dawson, and he responded. Then as Dawson continued down the hall I heard someone else in the group say, "Don't be talking to him, he's on their side."

Jackie Hancock, now 13, was there with Carol Drummond. It was apparent from her demeanor around Gardner that she has affection for him. According to Drummond, Jackie hated her father.

An hour after the jury began deliberating, Judge Dandurand called everyone back to the courtroom. It had been pointed out to him that the instruction for voluntary manslaughter failed to specify what the difference was between second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. So he gave them a new instruction which included language on the heat of passion. Then he sent them back to the jury room.

Phil Gill and his buddies waited on the east side of the courthouse, with Gardner and his entourage on the west side. The July heat was nudging 100 degrees. Drummond was wearing the same brown knee-length boots she'd worn each day of the trial, causing me to wonder if she had options.

Jeff Gardner seemed confident he would be acquitted, even though he'd been cautioned more than once that a jury trial is always a crap-shoot. In this age of "law and order," with more than a million people in American prisons, and with that number spiraling crazily upward annually, many experienced criminal lawyers despair of getting a fair shake from a jury.

Gardner seemed oblivious to these possibilities. He's a good looking guy, intelligent, perhaps even charismatic. His biggest worry seemed to be that he was losing time from work. Try as I might, I couldn't picture him as a cold blooded killer. No, he was the kind of guy who'd panic, and miss you two out of five times at point blank range.

Watching Gardner as he sat on the courthouse porch, puffing cigarettes and brushing the stray bead of sweat, I got every impression that he believed, unquestioningly, that he would be acquitted.

When word came that there was a verdict, Gardner seemed almost eager to go up to the courtroom.

Phil Gill and his group filed into one side of the courtroom, Carol Drummond and the friends and family of Jeffrey Wayne Gardner on the other. Police officers and deputy sheriffs were thick, in case trouble should break out when the verdict was announced.

The jury foreman gave the verdict to the clerk, who gave it to Dandurand. As he read the verdict Dandurand had a slightly troubled look on his face. Then he read it aloud.

Guilty of second-degree murder, with a sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

I heard startled sobs behind me - pleased gasps across the aisle. The jury filed out of the courtroom, then a deputy sheriff tapped Gardner on the shoulder, to take him into custody. Gardner seemed to leap from his chair and obediently followed the deputy to a bench in the corner of the courtroom.

A huge grin split Phil Gill's face. He slapped palms with police and prosecutors. As he was leaving the courtroom Gill was heard to say, "she's next."

Jeffrey Gardner will be sentenced on Aug. 25, but I think his case is far from over. It may well be overturned on appeal.

I discussed the case with Timothy O'Leary, who retired as a highly respected Jackson County circuit judge a few years ago, and is now with the law firm of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy. O'Leary seemed disturbed that the judge gave a new manslaughter instruction, adding language on "heat of passion," without allowing Brian Gepford to argue to the jury just what that meant.

Gepford talked to one juror after the verdict, and she told him that she hadn't the foggiest idea what "heat of passion" meant. She thought it had something to do with sex (passion). She voted guilty, she said, because she felt Gardner had fired the gun too many times. Even though he missed two out of five times at point blank range.

 


 

[Editorial note] On March 2, 1999, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, overturned the conviction of Jeff Gardner -- ruling that the trial judge erred in allowing the prosecuting attorney to cross-examine Carol Drummond on matters prejudicial to Gardner.   It is expected that the state will ask for a rehearing before the full Court of Appeals, and a date for a new trial will not be announced until after that request is disposed of.   This ruling by the Court of Appeals affirms defense attorney Brian Gepford's trial strategy.  The Court of Appeals declined to rule on additional allegations of trial error,  since this ground alone called for a new trial.   To read the court's entire opinion Click Here.

On Dec. 7, 1999, the Missouri Supreme Court did overturn the appellate court opinion. Gardner is serving his sentence at the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo. Click here to read the Missouri Supreme Court decision.

[Editor's Note: 12/19/2007] In early 2003, Gardner accepted a plea bargain offer, pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Phillip Hancock. He was released from prison on March 31, 2003. In an email to Crime Magazine in late 2007, Gardner wrote that he has managed "to move on, get married, and have a fairly normal life. At this point I am looking to try to get this thing expunged."

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