Wesley Bell Creating Unit to Investigate Past Convictions in St. Louis County

St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell announces charges in the case. - DOYLE MURPHY
St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell announces charges in the case.

St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is creating a new unit to investigate — and possibly overturn — past convictions.

The new Conviction and Incident Review Unit will be walled off from the rest of office, answering only to Bell.

"The obligation of every prosecutor is to pursue justice, an obligation that cannot be met if the public lacks confidence in the integrity of criminal convictions," Bells says in a statement.

Similar units are rare, but they're on the rise across the country as a wave of progressive prosecutors have been elected. The National Registry of Exonerations reported there were 44 conviction integrity units in 2018, nearly triple the number of five years ago.

They operate on the idea that sometimes prosecutors get it wrong. Bell cites national statistics that put the number of exonerations of those wrongly convicted at 2,446 in the past 30 years. Fifty of those were in Missouri, according to Bell.

"From the data we know wrongful convictions happen all over the country, which is why it’s imperative to critically review cases where credible challenges are raised," Bell says.

Bell took office earlier this year, replacing Bob McCulloch, who held the post for 28 years. Although today's announcement doesn't mention McCulloch, the unit will almost certainly consider convictions from his tenure.

Four defendants were exonerated last year in Missouri, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. That included two men convicted in separated murders in Texas and Scott Counties, and two teens who were convicted of raping a woman in St. Charles County.

The teens were only cleared after the woman filed another rape complaint, and police began to suspect she was mentally ill.

Bell is now seeking to hire a director of his new unit.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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