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A Killing in the Hills 

For decades, the Spencer family fought for justice for Judy. But what if they got the wrong man?

Page 7 of 7

click to enlarge COURTESY OF THE MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL
  • COURTESY OF THE MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL

Nash’s first defense attorney, Frank K. Carlson, is based in Union, but on a recent December afternoon, he sits down with a reporter at O’Connell’s Pub in St. Louis. Ordering a shot of Jameson and a pint of Guinness, the grizzle- jowled lawyer recalls a case that, as he puts it, has been a burr in his saddle for a long time.

Carlson explains that his first rule as defense counsel is to avoid deciding on his client’s guilt or innocence. Rather, he lasers in on the state’s evidence and attacks it.

“Frank fights like hell for the benefit of his clients,” says William “Camm” Seay, the now-retired judge who presided over Nash’s arraignment. “He can even be overbearing at times.”

When Carlson first weighed the state’s case against Nash, he thought it so feeble that he doubted it would survive a preliminary hearing. But it did.

Within a year, the state offered him a deal: Have Nash plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 27-year sentence with the possibility of parole after nine years. But Carlson broke his own rule: He concluded Nash was a nice man, and incapable of murder. He and his client chose to take their chances with a jury.

After the conviction, Carlson appealed directly to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the justices upheld the verdict in May 2011.

At that point, Nash wanted new counsel.

Carlson, meanwhile, wanted to give the incoming attorneys a chance to attack him as ineffective, a standard avenue of appeal that he himself couldn’t have pursued. He took out a deed of trust on Nash’s property to secure the fees for himself and six colleagues; those fees exceeded $1 million. Then he withdrew.

Carlson officially moved on, but his client’s plight never left him. “I still lose sleep over this case,” he says, staring at the table top. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you.”

The worst part, Carlson asserts, is that there’s a whole different side of this murder that he never got to present to the jury.

“Donald Nash did not commit this crime,” he says. “I know who did.”

Next week: Part 2, "Trail to Nowhere," is now online.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at info.nphillips@gmail.com


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