Earlier this week a grand jury in St. Louis, Missouri returned indictments against attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey for unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering, but the public hasn’t been able to actually read the indictments for themselves because prosecutor Kim Gardner has suppressed the indictments, a move that several Missouri legal experts say is highly unusual.
John Lynch has twenty years of experience as an attorney in Missouri, and he told KSDK-TV in St. Louis that he can’t recall a lot of cases where prosecutors have taken similar steps.
Lynch is one of several experts who told 5 On Your Side the decision to shield the public from the indictments has left them puzzled.
Typically, judges and prosecutors suppress indictments if there is a flight risk or to give officers an advantage when arresting dangerous suspects, Lynch said.
He added that federal grand jury indictments are almost always suppressed, but it’s unusual to see it done at the state court level.
“If you have an organized crime case or a child murderer, you might want to suppress the indictment until arrests are made, but this is far from that,” Lynch said. “It’s not a very well-kept secret with McCloskey saga.
“The suppression effort by the state is to continue manipulating the process out of pure political motivation which puts a dark stain on St. Louis again while the rest of us are trying to work.”
Anders Walker, a professor at St. Louis University who teachers both law and history courses, also says the move to suppress the indictments is extremely odd.
“I was a little surprised; often indictments are sealed so that the defendants can be apprehended and arrested and I don’t think there’s any fear that the McCloskeys, in this case, are going to try to evade arrest,” Walker said. “I think it’s probably political.
“These charges are relatively light charges and they’re also flimsy. Conservatives have focused heavily on this case as a waste of prosecutorial resources so there may be an effort to not draw further attention to the case until perhaps after the election.”
Even the McCloskey’s own attorney Joel Schwartz says that he hasn’t seen a copy of the indictments, which is highly unusual.
On Thursday afternoon the judge in the case granted the prosecution’s request to keep the indictments sealed, supposedly over concerns about the safety of witnesses in the case.
“Given the international attention this matter has generated, and the violence and vitriol directed towards the Circuit Attorney’s Office for the prosecution of this case, the witnesses were understandably reluctant to cooperate and did so with the understanding that the Grand Jury proceedings, and their testimony therein, would remain confidential,” according to the motion Assistant Circuit Attorney Eusef Robin Huq wrote. “Requiring the witness’ full, unredacted names to be disclosed has a chilling effect on witness’ and victims’ participation in the criminal justice system.”
Judge Rex Burlison granted the prosecutors’ motion late Thursday, so the indictments contain only the initials of the 16 witnesses who testified before the grand jury.
With the witnesses’ names redacted, there should be no reason to withhold the indictments themselves from the public’s view. Instead, some of the court documents are starting to leak out in dribs and drabs. KSDK, for instance, got ahold of documents regarding the prosecutor’s claims in the evidence tampering charge.
Prosecutors allege Mark and Patricia McCloskey “altered a Bryco Arms semi-automatic pistol with the purpose to impair its verity in the investigation of an unlawful use of a weapon that occurred on June 28 on Portland Place, an official investigation, and thereby impaired the obstructed the prosecution of Patricia McCloskey for the crime of unlawful use of a weapon,” according to the indictment.
Patricia McCloskey’s pistol has been a source of controversy surrounding the evidence in this case.
Missouri law requires prosecutors to prove the gun was operable and “readily capable of lethal use,” when it was used during the commission of an alleged crime.
The McCloskeys — who are attorneys — told police the pistol was inoperable when officers seized it because Patricia McCloskey had used it as a prop at a trial against a gun manufacturer.
Crime lab workers wrote that the gun was inoperable when it arrived at the lab, and Gardner’s Assistant Circuit Attorney Chris Hinckley ordered them to fix the gun so it could fire, according to documents obtained by 5 On Your Side in July.
McCloskeys’ attorney, Joel Schwartz, said: “The only entity that can be proven to have tampered with the evidence is the state through the Circuit Attorney’s Office.”
What evidence did prosecutors provide to the grand jury that indicated the McCloskeys altered the pistol held by Patricia McCloskey after she displayed the pistol as hundreds of protesters were marching through their private neighborhood? We have no idea, and with even outside legal observers noting that the suppression of the grand jury indictments was likely made for political purposes, I think it’s reasonable to be suspicious of the prosecutor’s claims.
Of course Kim Gardner could clear up a lot of the confusion if she’d simply release the indictments to the public. The fact that she’s refusing to take that step only serves to cast even more doubt and suspicion on the prosecutor’s case against the couple.