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State highway patrolman prevails in suit after wrongful conviction

Jessica Shumaker//March 3, 2020

State highway patrolman prevails in suit after wrongful conviction

Jessica Shumaker//March 3, 2020

A jury has sided with a Missouri State Highway Patrol sergeant accused of suppressing exculpatory evidence in the case of Brad Jennings, who was convicted of killing his wife and later found to have been wrongfully convicted.

On Feb. 25, following a six-day trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Springfield, a jury returned a verdict for Sgt. Daniel Nash in Jennings’ civil rights suit against the patrolman.

Robert Ramsey of St. Louis represented Jennings. He said his client intends to file a motion for a new trial and a post-trial motion for relief.

“We believe that the court’s orders allowed the defendant to present prejudicial evidence of bad character,” Ramsey said. “It was suggested he committed a murder, and that is extremely problematic in our opinion because the state has admitted that they cannot even prove that a homicide even took place.”

In 2018, Jennings filed suit against Nash; Dallas County and its sheriff, Michael Rackley; and Nash’s supervisor at the MSHP, Lt. George Knowles; stemming from his wrongful conviction for the 2006 death of his wife, Lisa Jennings.

Law enforcement officials initially ruled her death a suicide based on a positive test result for gunshot residue on her right hand and a negative test result for gunshot residue on her husband’s hands.

Lisa Jennings’ sister and daughter asked Nash to re-open the investigation, according to Brad Jennings’ suit. Nash contacted Rackley, who allowed him to review the county’s investigative file and crime-scene photographs.

Nash concluded through review of photographs of bloodstain patterns that Lisa Jennings’ death was a homicide. His reports formed the basis of charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action against Jennings.

Jennings was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder and five years for armed criminal action, to run consecutively.

Jennings alleged in his suit that Nash had no prior training or expertise in bloodstain pattern analysis. He also alleged that at his trial, Nash misrepresented himself as a certified expert on the subject.

After the murder trial and ensuing appeals, Jennings’ attorneys discovered Nash deliberately suppressed exculpatory evidence. His attorneys also learned during habeas corpus proceedings that Nash had fabricated investigative reports, omitting key facts.

The Texas County Circuit Court issued a writ of habeas corpus in February 2018 vacating Jennings’ convictions and remanded the case for a new trial. In June 2018, the Missouri Attorney General dismissed all charges against Jennings.

In January, U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey, who previously presided over the case, granted summary judgment for Dallas County, Rackley and Knowles, finding they were covered by qualified immunity.

She also partially granted Nash’s summary judgment motion, throwing out claims against him for fabricating evidence, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, common law false arrest and common law malicious prosecution. The only count before the jury in Jennings’ civil case was a procedural due process claim for the alleged Brady violation.

Ramsey said he asked the jury to consider actual damages in excess of $2 million, including about $1.2 million in lost wages and impact on future earnings. He declined to discuss pretrial negotiations.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office represented Nash. A spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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Civil Rights

Venue: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri

Case Number/Date: 6:18-CV-03261/Feb. 25, 2020

Judge: Willie J. Epps Jr.

Plaintiff’s Experts: Greg Chatten, St. Louis (computer forensics); Dr.Terri Weaver, St. Louis (clinical psychologist); Stan Smith, Chicago (economics); Daniel Jackson, St. Louis (criminalist); Joseph Slemkpo, Edmondton, Alberta, Canada (bloodstain-pattern analysis)

Caption: Brad Jennings v. Daniel F. Nash

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Robert Ramsey and Elizabeth Ramsey, Law Office of Robert Brooks Ramsey, St. Louis; Erica Mynarich, Carver, Cantin and Mynarich, Springfield

Defendant’s Attorneys: Daniel E. James and Michael Pritchett, Missouri Attorney General’s Office, Jefferson City; Diane F. Peters, Missouri Attorney General’s Office, Kansas City

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