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.

But during this trial, the one for Buckley's murder, Lyner also told the jury that Goldman promised he'd recommend to the court that her own sentence be reduced in exchange for her testimony against Reasonover.

Lyner, who was 35 at the time and working as a secretary for the Clayton law firm Swimmer and Associates, told the court that, beginning in 1978, she was convicted for a long string of bad-check and stealing counts. In fact, by the time of her testimony that day, Lyner had been convicted of 12 felonies and one misdemeanor, and when she shared a cell with Reasonover in February of that year, four more felonies were pending in St. Louis County and at least one other felony was pending in the city of St. Louis.

"And basically you are testifying that in exchange for these pending cases you had, in exchange for this testimony, Mr. Goldman recommended that you receive a one-year sentence, is that correct?" one of Reasonover's attorneys, Madeline Franklin, asked.

"That's correct," Lyner said.
The attorney then noted that when Goldman approached Lyner about testifying against Reasonover, Lyner was in the middle of making a deal with the police in exchange for any information she had about drug trafficking at the jail where she was being held.

"Now you have testified that you have had 12 felony convictions and one misdemeanor conviction, and I believe your testimony is you have never served one day in the penitentiary, is that right?" Franklin asked.

"That's right."
"Is that because you have been a snitch and have been going around making deals with prosecutors to stay out of the penitentiary?"

"No," Lyner answered. "This is the first time."
"So you were looking for a way out of the penitentiary, isn't that right?"
"Yes."
"And you were looking for a deal?"
"Yes."

"A deal with the State, with Mr. Goldman, would that be correct, a deal with the police, a deal with anybody, as long as you didn't have to go to the penitentiary?"

"That's right," Lyner said.
Reasonover says she remembered Lyner from the holding cell but never admitted Buckley's murder to her. The fact that Lyner herself admitted to making a deal with Goldman in exchange for her testimony allowed Reasonover a little more hope with the jury.

When Jolliff got up on the stand, however, the landscape of the trial changed dramatically, because Jolliff, 32, previously on probation for mail fraud and passing bad checks, said she hadn't made any deal with Goldman in exchange for her testimony.

Jolliff, who pleaded not guilty on Dec. 10, 1982, to three counts of passing bad checks -- one for $274, one for $207 and a third for two checks written for $83 and $232, all Class C felonies, according to St. Louis City Court records -- was placed in a holding cell with Reasonover on Jan. 7, the same day Reasonover and White's conversation was secretly taped. She later testified that Reasonover confessed the Buckley murder to her.

But she swore to the jury that she'd made no deal with Goldman.
"Did I or anybody else ever offer to make a deal with you in regard to that pending case?" Goldman asked Jolliff on the stand.

"No."
Later, Goldman asked again, "Did I or anybody ever promise your lawyer you would get any deal or you would get any kind of deal on it for testifying?"

"No."
"Were you ever promised that you would get any kind of recommendation on that case at all, or did I ever promise you anything in that regard?"

"No."
Reasonover, who sat watching Jolliff testify, says she remembers feeling, even at that point, that the jury wouldn't convict her. The prosecution had called no witnesses who said they'd seen her at the Vickers that night, had no fingerprints and no murder weapon, and had produced no evidence that she shot James Buckley other than the testimonies of Mary Ellen Lyner and Rose Jolliff.

"I was thinking that they would find me innocent ... and I knew the judge wasn't going to let them frame me and take my whole life," Reasonover says. "I thought everything would be fine, that they would find me not guilty.

"I didn't really take any of it very seriously, you know? I didn't think an innocent person could, you know, get framed. I really didn't."

Among the standard instructions to the jury was, "If the evidence in this case leaves in your mind a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was present at the time and place the offense is alleged to have been committed, then you must find the Defendant not guilty."

When Goldman got up before the jurors for his closing arguments and began telling them what a "cold-blooded killer" and "liar" she was -- "She intended that he die ... took the life of James Buckley ... she tells you these lies ... she is making all this stuff up ... these stories are crazy ... she will kill.... " -- Reasonover says she started crying, because the jurors stared at her as though she were Satan.

Her only hope was that her own attorneys' closing argument would bring them back around: "Ellen Reasonover became an easy way to wrap this case up and get that publicity off the Major Case Squad and off of Dellwood, and they can report to the news media, 'Ah, we have got our killer, we are done, the police work is accomplished,'" Forriss Elliott told them.

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