A Shot in the Arm

A federal appeals court says Darryl Burton might very well be innocent of the 1984 murder of Donald Ball. But there's nothing they can do about it.

"Burton's habeas petition troubles us because his legal claims do not provide him an adequate foundation upon which to present his considerable claims of factual innocence," Bye writes. "Though our jurisprudence offers Burton no relief, we express hope that the state of Missouri may provide a forum (either judicial or executive) in which to consider the mounting evidence that Burton's conviction was procured by perjured or flawed eyewitness testimony. In the final analysis, Burton may well be guilty, but the new evidence he has unearthed suggests his case at least deserves a second look."

"That's the hardest denial opinion I've ever received, and I've received many denials," Darryl Burton says. "It was the hardest because they saw it. It was crystal clear. They actually recognized the actual claims of innocence. And they wouldn't do anything. They just passed the buck. It's heartbreaking, man."

Tim Lane
Tim Lane

Burton sits in a starkly furnished interview room in the newly constructed Jefferson City Correctional Center. Dark-skinned and small in stature, he has grown muscular behind the razor wire and timed locks of his confinement. His head is shaved bald. Aside from large, gold-rimmed glasses and a tiny pin proclaiming "Jesus Is Love," he is dressed simply, in gray sweatpants and a maroon sweatshirt. Though it's midday, you'd never know it from the cinderblock, fluorescent-illuminated surroundings. Save for a Formica desk, two chairs and an aging desktop computer, the room is unadorned. Two guards wait outside.

"For the life of me I can't understand this opinion," Burton says. "It moved me to tears. It crushed me."

Even so, Burton takes solace in the story of Joseph Amrine, a man wrongfully convicted who was denied federal habeas relief but was later granted his freedom by Missouri's supreme court. "I'd like to get out there with Joe Amrine," he says. "That's great."

Toward that end, along with attorney Cheryl Pilate and investigator Jim McCloskey, Burton is preparing to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Cole County. The strategy, Pilate says, is to start small and try once more to build the factual record in state court.

"I'm hoping that this is Darryl's year," Pilate says. "There is no reliable evidence of guilt left -- none."

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