Tim Prosser Isn't a Killer or a Dealer. So Why Is He Serving a Life Sentence— With No Chance of Parole?

Tim Prosser is doing a no parole life sentence for drug trafficking — the one such inmate in all of Missouri.
Tim Prosser is doing a no parole life sentence for drug trafficking — the one such inmate in all of Missouri. PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI

It was early afternoon, December 12, 2003, when Patrick Prosser heard the phone ringing inside the lakefront home he shared with his wife in a Ste. Genevieve subdivision. The voice on the other end was gruff, no-nonsense and familiar. It belonged to the county sheriff:

"Mr. Prosser, do you want to see what your son has been up to?"

A patriarch in the Old Testament sense, Prosser and his wife had raised a tribe of nine children in the St. Louis suburb of Normandy before moving an hour south to this rural enclave. A few of their grown kids settled there as well, and among them was Tim — or "Timbo" as the family called him. The middle child, Tim had never married and lived alone in a single-wide trailer on a remote patch of land in Ste. Genevieve County. He drew disability benefits for injuries he'd suffered working for the family's moving business. He spent his time hunting and salvaging muscle cars.

Or so Prosser had thought.

The temperature hovered below freezing, and Prosser, who was pushing 70, bundled up and made the twenty-minute drive to Tim's trailer. Up a narrow, dirt-packed road shrouded by trees, Prosser eventually found Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff Gary Stolzer standing amid a crime scene.

The interior of the trailer looked like it had been ransacked. Pots, pans and coffee cups littered the ground, as well as strange-looking glass flasks and lengths of tubing. They were all that remained from the meth lab police had busted in an early-morning raid on the property, the sheriff said. Tim had been arrested and would soon be charged with drug trafficking in the first degree.

That night, several members of the Prosser clan went to see Tim at the county lockup. Bound in a straightjacket, Tim raved and thrashed against his restraints. He begged them to get him out. This was a side of Tim they'd never seen, more a caged animal than a son or brother.

For the most part, the extended Prosser family had been oblivious to Tim's decline into addiction and meth-cooking. But Tim was known to the local drug task force members. In November 2002, officers had even searched Tim's trailer and discovered a meth lab and a trove of drugs. It was more than enough, Stolzer confidently told a local newspaper, to put Tim away for life.

But Tim had been a first-time drug offender with no prior felonies. After the November 2002 arrest, Carl Kinsky, the local prosecutor, merely slapped him with felony charges for possession and unlawful use of paraphernalia.

Thirteen months later, before the first case could be adjudicated, the drug task force raided Tim's trailer a second time. That morning of December 12, as the wind whipped with freezing rain, they confiscated 350 grams of methamphetamine, mostly in liquid form. The officers also pulled a seventeen-year-old girl out of Tim's bed.

"There's no saying what you feel. It was awful," Patrick Prosser says on a recent evening, recounting the events of more than a decade past. Now 80, the elder Prosser sports a shock of white beard and can speak only in a whisper. Tim, now 53, has spent the last thirteen years behind bars.

"He was the poster boy for meth, that's what they made him," Patrick says, speaking with a forcefulness that cracks his voice to a rasp. "We want him out."

Without outside intervention, Tim Prosser will die in prison.

Just as Sheriff Stolzer suggested, Tim was eventually given a life sentence for trafficking methamphetamine in the first degree. Due to the quantity of drugs involved — more than three times the 90-gram minimum for first-degree drug trafficking — he was deemed ineligible for probation or parole.

Tim's descent into meth had followed a familiar path, starting with a spate of injuries that led him to painkillers and then, inexorably, to a substance that provided what the pills could not. He admits that he ran a kind of meth-cooking co-op out of his trailer and attributes his actions to his ravenous drug use. He is sober now. He says he's filled with regret.

Although he has no violent crimes on his record, Tim's 2003 arrest triggered a fate that amounts to a prolonged execution. He is serving a no-parole life sentence for drug trafficking — the only such prisoner in the state, according to a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

On August 19, with the assistance of the Saint Louis University Legal Clinic, Tim mailed an application for clemency to Governor Jay Nixon, a former state attorney general who campaigned on his record for sustaining law and order. Nixon has allowed thousands of such petitions to gather dust on his desk.

But Tim has something those other petitioners would give anything to have: a powerful advocate on the other side of the law.

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