Roy Michael Roberts (Missouri) Case Summary   Case Chart

Allegation

On March 10, 1999, the State of Missouri, with the acquiescence of the federal government of the United States, executed Roy Michael Roberts. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Roberts’s right to a fair trial. The unfair trial resulted in Roberts’s execution.

Crime

Thomas Jackson, a guard at the Moberly Training Center for men, was stabbed to death during a prison riot on July 3, 1983. Roy Roberts was accused of holding Jackson, while other inmates stabbed him. He was tried and convicted of capital murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Roy Roberts was convicted of capital murder for allegedly holding down a prison guard while other inmates stabbed him to death. No physical evidence ever tied Roberts to the crime. Although it was a bloody murder, the clothes Roberts was wearing on the day had no blood on them. Immediately after the riot, prison officials did a thorough search and confiscated all bloodied clothes from inmates. Roberts’s clothes were not confiscated because they were not bloody.

Roberts was convicted based on what has been called "evolving testimony," that is testimony that evolves over time to fit the facts of the crime. No one implicated Roberts in the murder in the two weeks following it. None of the eyewitnesses mentioned Roberts as being anywhere near the victim, much less holding him down, as was later alleged in testimony, despite the fact that Roberts, a large man weighing over 300 pounds, stood out in a crowd.

Two weeks after the murder, the Department of Corrections submitted a 17-page internal investigative report. It failed to identify Roberts as a participant in the murder. It confirmed that no one knew who, if anyone, had held down the victim. Nonetheless, three guards later testified that Roberts held down the victim. All of these guards knew Roberts prior to the murder and yet failed to identify him as a participant in the murder immediately following it. One of these officers was hypnotized to bolster his memory, and still did not identify Roberts. Roberts’s lawyer cross-examined only one of the eyewitnesses about inconsistencies between his initial statements and his trial testimony. This eyewitness maintained that he had simply forgotten to report seeing Roberts holding Jackson. Roberts’s attorney never cross-examined the other three.

Appeals

Roberts’s appeals in the state courts were denied. In 1986, his direct appeal and his federal writ of certiorari were denied. Again in 1989, his writ of certiorari was denied by the court en banc. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his final petition for certiorari on Jan 11, 1999. Shortly before his execution, his attorneys filed a writ in the Missouri Supreme Court claiming that Roberts was innocent and that the execution of an innocent man violated due process. This petition was denied and an appeal was made to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied hours before his execution.

Conclusion

Roy Michael Roberts was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. There was no evidence that Roberts stabbed the victim. There was very little evidence that he participated in the murder. There was substantial evidence of his innocence. In fact, there is some evidence that he was innocent of the crime that put him in prison in the first place. Roberts’s court-appointed lawyers failed to challenge the little evidence that there was against Roberts, an omission that rendered his assistance to Roberts ineffective and Roberts’s trial unfair. Nonetheless, Roberts was executed.

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