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Court wrestles with Helmig case

An appeals court wrestled for nearly two hours this morning with the fate of Dale Helmig, who was convicted of murdering his mother but released from prison after what a trial judge called “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”

Senior Judge Warren McElwain ruled last year that new evidence indicated Helmig didn’t kill his mother in 1993 and that his trial wasn’t constitutionally sound.

Now judges from the Western District Court of Appeals must decide if the new evidence is enough for Helmig to get a new trial — despite multiple other courts’ rulings to affirm Helmig’s conviction.

A handful of Missouri inmates have been freed after discovering evidence that exonerates them. But as the appellate judges said today, the new evidence merely “pokes holes” in the original case against Helmig.

The court must decide if a jury hearing that evidence probably would reach a different conclusion than was reached at the original trial. Judge Cynthia Martin said there is little direct caselaw to guide the decision.

“This is new ground that we’re going to have to decide,” she said.

Helmig, who is free on bond, attended today’s hearing in Kansas City.

The case is State ex rel. Koster v. McElwain, WD73211.