Burned

Ellen Reasonover has served 16 years of a life sentence for murder. But new evidence -- a secret tape and a forgotten memo -- suggests that the prosecution may have committed the real crime.

She recalls the descent when she first became a murder suspect and then the accused, beginning with the fateful night James Buckley was murdered:

On that night, Reasonover says, she waited to put 2-year-old Charmel to bed before she went out to do the laundry. What happened in the next few days and weeks, she says, destroyed the slim faith she had in fair play to begin with.

"When I first went to the police, I told them I couldn't positively identify anybody, because I really didn't get a good look at the guy," Reasonover says of the night she viewed more than 250 mug shots at the Dellwood police station after Buckley's murder. "But they told me, and I remember this to this day, they told me, 'Look at the nose, the eyes -- if anything looks familiar to you, pick him out, and we'll check into it.'

"Well, I picked out a lot of photos. Then they turned some of them over in front of me, and Mr. Chapman, he said, 'That's OK if you can't positively identify them, but just for the record, on the back of these pictures, write that you did positively identify them.' I remember this specifically," Reasonover says as she leans forward in her chair, "because I couldn't spell 'positively,' and I asked him how, and he told me."

That day Reasonover picked out two photos, of men named Isaac Scott and Herman Staples. That same day, another person who was at the Vickers station the night of the murder, Kenneth Main, also described seeing a black man wearing a green army jacket, blue jeans and black boots. Main, in his late 20s at the time and working at the St. Louis County's Sheriff's Department, chose one of the same mug shots Reasonover had picked, the one of Isaac Scott.

But Scott and Staples were in jail on the night of the Vickers robbery, so the next day, Reasonover looked at more mug shots and picked out one of William Love, who later passed a stress test, during which he said he wasn't at the scene. Because of these three mistaken identifications, and because Reasonover's description of the car she saw at the 7-Eleven was similar to that of the car Stanley White drove, Chapman decided to bring White in for questioning as well.

Chapman, like many of the people involved with this story, says he can't comment about the case now because of the federal court hearing, but transcripts from Reasonover's trial in late 1983 quote Chapman as saying he never told Reasonover that she should just pick out any mug shot that looked familiar.

Though that may or may not be so, it is clear that not everyone who was unsure about who they saw that night became a suspect in Buckley's murder.

For instance, White was placed in a lineup for Kenneth Main to view. According to Main's trial testimony, when he looked at the lineup and tried to identify the man he saw at the Vickers station that night, "The first two wasn't him, the third kind of looked like him, but the fourth resembled him pretty much."

The fourth man in the lineup was Stanley White.
"I was pretty positive," Main testified, "but there was something about him that I couldn't say that I was positive that it was the man."

Main then submitted a voluntary statement to the police stating, "Number One and Number Two were not the men I saw at Vicker's. I remember the man having a tall, lean build, like suspect Number Four. Number Three's face somehow reminds me of the man I saw, but I can't be sure. Number Four's build reminds me of the man I saw and his profile reminds me of the man, but I only glanced at him at Vicker's and can't be sure it's him."

Unlike Reasonover, whose fruitless identifications made her and Stanley White suspects, Main was asked to undergo hypnosis the day after viewing the lineup. After the 20-minute hypnosis session with a psychiatrist, Dr. Jon Tek Lum, Main again viewed White in a lineup and positively identified him as the man he saw in the Vickers service station. In a later interview with John Hoogstraten, a private investigator, Main said the detail that "clinched it" for him was that after the hypnosis, when he saw White's profile in the lineup, "the muscles popped out on his jaw."

On the afternoon of Jan. 7, while with her friend Valerie Clark, Reasonover was arrested, and Clark was also brought in for questioning

According to an interview Clark had with Hoogstraten later: "Valerie said the police had them in separate rooms and they kept coming into Valerie's room and saying, 'We know that you know she did it.' At one point Valerie said the police came into her room and said, 'You know, there's a $3,000 reward. If you put her away you can get it.' At another time (Valerie Clark) said that a policeman said, 'You can get $3,000. All you have to do is change your story.'"

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