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Man convicted in Laquey baseball bat murder trying to overturn sentence
LAQUEY, Mo. (May 19, 2010) — A man convicted and sent to prison for a nearly ten-year-old murder with a baseball bat asked Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield for post-conviction relief Monday, arguing that if he’d known he wouldn’t be getting credit for nearly a year and a half spent in jail, he wouldn’t have accepted a plea bargain of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Herbert Alan Dodd Jr., 39, is now incarcerated in the South Central Correctional Center in Licking on charges of second-degree murder for killing William Hammond in 2000. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with no possibility of parole, but on July 18, 2005, Dodd pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder and admitted in a signed plea agreement that on Dec. 4, 2000, he “with others went to the home of William Hammond to commit a burglary” and that “in the commission of burglary, William Hammond died as the result of being beaten with a bat.” On Nov. 10, 2005, he was formally sentenced to the term of life in prison with the possibility of parole that had been stipulated in the plea bargain.

Not long afterward, on April 27, 2006, Dodd filed a request for post-conviction relief that has taken more than four years to process through the court system; the full case has generated hundreds of pages in three large folders and one smaller folder in the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk’s office.

Dodd’s current public defender, Karl William Hinkbein, now says key evidence was obtained from the home Dodd shared with his girlfriend without first obtaining a proper search warrant or permission to search. He also said Dodd’s original lawyer, Eric Hutson of Lebanon, assured Dodd that he’d be able to get credit for time already served in jail.

“So you are saying that if you had known that you would not be getting credit for 533 days served, you would have been willing to go to trial, with the possibility of life in prison without parole?” asked Joe Schlotzhauer, the assistant attorney general assigned to the case.

“That was one of my main issues when he came back with the plea offer,” Dodd said.

The other main issue involved the validity of the search of the home Dodd shared with his ex-girlfriend. Several witnesses said police didn’t obtain proper permission for that search, and Dodd said he should have sought subpoenas for those witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Dodd’s half-brother, Micah Brothers, said he came home on Sept. 30, 2001, found his home had been broken into, and called Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies on suspicion that the items stolen could be found in Dodd’s home. Brothers said he met Dodd’s girlfriend at the home, saw her drinking an alcoholic beverage, possibly rum, and wasn’t able to get permission from her to enter.

“I kept asking if they had taken our stuff and said if she did, I wanted it back,” Brothers said. “I was pretty upset, obviously, and I wanted to get into the house to see where my stuff was.”

“So your testimony today is (the ex-girlfriend) did not give you consent to search the residence, but you don’t know whether she may have given police consent to search?” asked Schlotzhauer.

Schlotzhauer also objected to proposed testimony by Karen Wilson, Dodd’s mother, on the grounds that it would be hearsay.

Hinkbein disagreed and was able to obtain permission from the judge to put Wilson on the stand testifying as to what Dodd had told her that his original lawyer had said.

“The issue in this case is whether he was misinformed about his prior time credit,” Hinkbein said. “What he was told about prison time credit is the crux of the matter.”

“(My son’s attorney) said he would take care of all of it and make sure he got it,” Wilson said, after Sheffield allowed her to testify.

That lawyer said he’d discussed the matter extensively with Dodd, but said he didn’t tell him he’d be able to get credit for time served awaiting trial on a Laclede County case for which he was later convicted of unlawful use of a weapon and sentenced to four years in prison, only that he’d attempt to do so.

“We had many conversations on that matter. Alan was very concerned about getting credit for time served,” Hutson said. “We had done considerable research on the matter … what we could not find was any link that he was being held in Laclede County on the Pulaski County charge.”

Hutson said he had also tried but failed to get evidence admitted that another one of Hammond’s relatives might have committed the murder.

“(The relative) denied that he had participated in the murder; he did admit that he had done some research online about how to deceive the polygraph examiner,” Hutson said.

Under polygraph examination, the relative had denied killing Hammond, said he didn’t know who had committed the murder, said he didn’t try to get other people to commit the murder, and said he didn’t know where items stolen in a related robbery could be found.

Rather than submitting oral closing statements, both lawyers requested permission from the judge to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Sheffield gave both Hinkbein and Schlotzhauer until June 18 to file their written statements; she said she’ll rule the following week.

The long-running Dodd case has consumed large amounts of time by police, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The case almost went to trial and nearly 200 potential jurors was summoned in Hannibal who would have been narrowed down to an actual jury brought to Pulaski County to hear the case, but on the morning that the jury panel was being screened, Dodd agreed to a plea deal.

Only five days before the jury selection got underway, Associate Circuit Judge John Clayton heard and granted a last-minute motion by Dodd’s lawyers demanding additional data about a relative of the murder victim who had just admitted days earlier in a court deposition to having killed a family member several years earlier “by putting his father’s revolver to her head and pulling the trigger.” That disclosure resulted in a July 8 letter demanding that Laura Kriebs, who was then the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney, and state prosecutors disclose additional information related to that earlier death that had been claimed to be accidental, arguing that “at a minimum” the credibility of the relative’s testimony had been impaired by the admission of having been involved in another fatality after previously claiming to have been “cleared” of an “accidental” shooting.

That wasn’t the only problem in the case as it was investigated by the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, then led by Sheriff J.T. Roberts who held office until 2004, and later prosecuted by Kriebs, who was elected as the county’s first full-time prosecutor in November 2002 and took office at the beginning of 2003.

Hammond’s dead body was found on Dec. 5, 2000 in his home on the 23000 grid of Seal Road in the Laquey area after a citizen reported an abandoned car. Evidence was collected at the crime scene including cigarette butts from which DNA was taken, but it took some time to identify a suspect and present charges.

Almost a year later, on Oct. 1, 2001, while investigating a series of burglaries in Pulaski County, deputies found numerous items concealed in Dodd’s residence on the 25000 grid of Highway 7 including two remote-control boats with chargers and controllers, ten packages of incense and a cell phone which deputies believed had been stolen from Hammond’s home ten months earlier. Two days later after the items were discovered, deputies interviewed a woman with whom Dodd had been romantically involved “for a number of years” but later broke up with Dodd and told Dodd that she had become involved in an ongoing relationship with Hammond.

“She stated that Dodd became very angry and called her at the Hammond residence and threatened to kill her,” according to police reports. “He was very upset and jealous of her relationship with Hammond.”

Dodd was arrested that same day in Lebanon during a domestic dispute and arrested on domestic violence charges as well as unrelated active warrants. He refused to answer questions or provide a DNA sample; two days later deputies obtained a search warrant forcing him to give a DNA sample and two months later, on Jan. 10, 2002, deputies received confirmation that Dodd’s DNA matched DNA on three cigarette butts taken from close proximity to Hammond’s vehicle and DNA taken from a beer bottle found beside Hammond’s body that also had Hammond’s DNA.

According to the report filed by a deputy who is now the county’s chief deputy, the sheriff’s department investigation concluded that Dodd “knowingly and unlawfully entered the Hammond residence to do bodily harm to the victim… by waiting at the entry door and striking the victim immediately upon his entry into the residence, knocking him to the floor with a blunt object,” then dragging Hammond “to the center of the floor where his hands and feet were bound with duct tape and he was violently and repeatedly beaten with a blunt object until dead.”

After the initial arrest, more than a year and a half later, on Nov. 4, 2003, Kriebs re-filed new first-degree murder charges against Dodd, which generated a later complaint that the court had “allowed charges to be re-filed even though no new evidence was presented to the court.” The new charges accused Dodd of killing Hammond by beating him to death with a baseball bat; later court filings were more specific, indicating that the wounds killing Hammond were “severe head trauma” caused by blows to his head with the baseball bat.

Other court documents show that in the 12-month interval between the December 4 murder and Dodd’s arrest in December 2001, deputies and state troopers “investigated numerous people” with at least 50 people interviewed by law enforcement “as to their knowledge of the matter” and at least nine fingerprint samples and at least 11 DNA samples submitted to the state patrol crime laboratory for analysis.

“The defendant himself was not a suspect until a year later when a burglary investigation was being conducted,” according to court records.

The case continued to be marred by additional allegations that the county prosecutor had failed to turn over evidence to the defense attorneys, which is required by state and federal law.

As late as March 23, 2005, just months before the trial was scheduled to take place, Dodd’s defense attorney was writing complaint letters to Prosecuting Attorney Laura Kriebs objecting that there were still “several items of evidence which have not yet been produced” including key items such as boots which were alleged to match a plaster cast of a footprint taken at the scene where Hammond’s car was located, guns which were “returned to the rightful owner,” ceramic dolls, beanie babies, assorted stones and assorted items.

Dodds’ original attorney wasn’t happy that Kriebs had not turned those items over to the defense.

“Regarding the ceramic dolls and beanie babies, and possibly the ‘assorted stones,’ Sgt. (Tom) Cristoffer told us he believed those items have been returned to the ‘rightful owner.’ Who are these ‘rightful owners?’ Is there any documentation of their release or receipt regarding their return?”

That complaint was made just a few months after the current sheriff, J.B. King, took office but involves an investigation long before he was elected in November 2004 and took office in January 2005. Lack of recordkeeping in the evidence room for older cases has been one of King’s major concerns since taking office.

In an additional complaint letter, Dodd’s attorney objected that Kriebs hadn’t complied with a Jan. 7, 2005 order by the judge in the case for prosecutors to “produce all … evidence by the March 7, 2005, pre-trial conference.” What happened instead was that Kriebs gave a “‘new’ stack of photos” to the defense attorneys and assured them that they had all the evidence, but according to defense attorneys, “unfortunately that does not appear to be quite accurate,” citing numerous examples of missing photos that state troopers had said they had taken which were in their office but had not been turned over by the prosecutors, 18 new photos that had not previously been disclosed, and 74 photos which were in earlier evidence lists but not in what was claimed by prosecutors to be a complete list.

Missing evidence in Laura Kriebs’ office was a significant problem in the case, according to defense attorneys.

“Laura, when we spoke in October at the time of the DNA hearing, you mentioned you were not sure who had taken which photos. Specifically, you were not sure which photos were from the Highway Patrol and which photos were photos from the Sheriff’s Department,” Dodd’s attorney wrote in a complaint letter to Kriebs. “I need that information as soon as possible so we can give it to our experts. Part of my concern is that since we don’t have a ‘full set’ of photos yet, and since we don’t know where the photos came from, I am not sure whether we can tell from what we have received whether we have a ‘full set.’ Could you please ask the appropriate personnel for an explanation?”

Family members weren’t happy with the delays, either.

In a victim impact statement filed in September 2005, nearly two months after the plea bargain struck by Dodd, the victim’s sister Donna Van Wagner wrote that she was “curious to know why it took five years to ‘put this to rest,’” said she was having a hard time following advice of church members to forgive Dodd, and said that “my only hopeis when he meets ‘his maker’ he will burn in hell for eternity.”

Van Wagner also asked to be notified of any future proceedings in the case. It’s not clear whether she was notified of the Wednesday morning hearing, but she was not present in the courtroom.

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