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Helmig v. Fowler

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 11, 2016

Dale Helmig Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Carl A. Fowler Defendant-Appellee Robert J. Westfall Defendant Paul Backues; Osage County, MO Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: November 17, 2015

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         In March 1996, Dale Helmig ("Helmig") was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of Gasonade County, Missouri of the first-degree murder of his mother, Norma Helmig. The conviction was affirmed. State v. Helmig, 950 S.W.2d 649 (Mo.Ct.App. 1997). Post-conviction relief was denied, and the denial was affirmed. Helmig v. State, 42 S.W.3d 658 (Mo.Ct.App. 2001). In 2009 Helmig sought habeas relief in state court, and in 2011 the Missouri Court of Appeals vacated his conviction and gave the State 180 days to retry him. State ex rel. Koster v. McElwain, 340 S.W.3d 221, 258 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011). The State declined to retry Helmig. Helmig then filed suit in federal court against law enforcement officers and Osage County, Missouri under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they violated his constitutional right to due process by not disclosing certain materially favorable evidence, fabricating evidence, and conspiring to misuse evidence. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to the officers and Osage County. Helmig appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         Norma Helmig ("Norma") was murdered in July 1993. At the time of her death, Norma was separated and in the process of getting a divorce from Ted Helmig ("Ted"), Appellant Dale Helmig's father. On occasion, Dale Helmig spent the night at his mother's home in Pointer's Creek, Missouri.

         Norma was away from her home on the evening of Wednesday, July 28, 1993, and returned home sometime in the early morning hours on Thursday, July 29, 1993. On Wednesday, July 28, 1993, Helmig was working in Holt's Summit, Missouri. Because roads were closed due to flooding, Helmig checked into a hotel in Fulton, Missouri. On Thursday, July 29, 1993, Helmig spent the night with Stacey Medlock at a motel in Eldon, Missouri. He tried to call his mother on Thursday, but Norma never answered.

         On Friday, July 30, 1993, Helmig drove with Medlock to his mother's home around noon. When he discovered that his mother was not home, Helmig called the police. Osage County Deputy Sheriff Paul Backues was dispatched to the house. Helmig told Deputy Backues that he had recently been staying with his mother but had been gone for several days for work. He showed Deputy Backues some things that were out of order, and Deputy Backues called Osage County Sheriff Carl Fowler to the scene. Helmig mentioned to Deputy Backues that Helmig had visitation with his two children the next day, Saturday, July 31, 1993. Deputy Backues told Helmig that his children should not be at Norma's house while the search was ongoing.

         Sheriff Fowler and Deputy Backues were still at the house when Helmig and Medlock left. As they drove away, Medlock thought Helmig seemed worried. He told Medlock, "Someone must have gotten crazy drunk and killed her."

         On Saturday, July 31, 1993, the police conducted an aerial search around Norma's home. Helmig was not present during the search. Norma's body was found in a nearby river on Sunday, August 1, 1993. An expert later determined that the time of death was probably between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 29, 1993, and that asphyxiation was the likely cause of death.

         In March 1994, Helmig was arrested and charged with his mother's murder. Helmig was tried by a jury in March 1996. The state's case rested entirely upon circumstantial evidence. Sheriff Fowler and Deputy Backues were among the State's witnesses.

         Prior to trial, Sheriff Fowler, the prosecution, and Helmig's attorney were aware that Norma and Ted were in a divorce proceeding. They were also aware that Norma had taken the following actions: accused Ted of physical abuse, inquired of Sheriff Fowler about a gun, been in contact with Sheriff Fowler about her divorce, and caused a temporary restraining order to be issued and served on Ted.

         At trial, Sheriff Fowler testified that Norma and Ted were going through a divorce, he served the divorce papers on Ted, and Norma had contacted the sheriff's office "on a number of occasions" about the divorce situation. Sheriff Fowler further testified that he served a temporary restraining order on Ted as part of the divorce, and Norma was concerned about the restraining order. He explained that a restraint against physical threats was "pretty much a given" in such an order. Sheriff Fowler also acknowledged that he had received a police report with respect to an incident in which Ted threw coffee at Norma at the Country Kitchen restaurant and told her, "I'm going to have to end this once and for all."

         On the second day of the jury trial, Prosecuting Attorney Robert Schollmeyer learned of a report of an altercation between Appellant Dale Helmig and Norma at the Country Kitchen. Schollmeyer shared the information with Sheriff Fowler, Helmig's counsel, and the court. Sheriff Fowler was not previously aware of this report. On the State's re-direct examination of Sheriff Fowler, he was asked whether he had become aware of the altercation between Dale Helmig and his mother, to which ...


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