The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a St. Francois County Circuit Court decision in a manslaughter case, saying that the Court was wrong to deny Bryan Dickerson’s appeal without holding a hearing.
In a 6-1 decision written by Judge Michael A. Wolff, the Supreme Court sent the case back to Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Pratte for reconsideration of Dickerson’s appeal. Pratte did not hold a hearing before he denied Dickerson’s motion for post-conviction relief and he failed to provide a legal explanation for his denial of one of Dickerson’s claims, Wolff noted.
Dickerson, 42, of Farmington, claims that his attorneys were ineffective in three ways. He contends the trial attorney should have objected to Dickerson’s shackling in front of the jury and should have objected to the medical examiner’s use of the word “homicide” because it has a “singularly, sinister connotation.”
Dickerson also claims his appellate attorney was ineffective for failing to appeal the admission of evidence that Dickerson was in a fight in another bar on the same day as his June 3, 2003 bar fight with Frederick “Buddy” Jones.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Circuit Court had erred by not holding a hearing on the first and third claims. Letting the jury see a defendant in shackles without just cause undermines the presumption of innocence, Wolff wrote. Pratte should have held a hearing to see if there was evidence to back Dickerson’s claim, he added.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the Circuit Court erred when, without holding a hearing, it overruled Dickerson’s claim involving the bar fight and the ineffectiveness of the appellate attorney. The Circuit Court failed to address that claim in its findings of fact and conclusions of law, and should address that claim, Wolff wrote.
However, the word “homicide” does not connote criminality or intentions, so the trial attorney was not ineffective, the panel of judges ruled.
Dickerson was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 2005. He had been charged with second-degree murder for striking Jones during an altercation at Cuzzin’s Sports Bar in Farmington. Jones fell and hit his head on the concrete floor. Jones died in October and a coroner ruled his death a homicide.
Jurors rejected the second-degree murder charge and instead found Dickerson guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Pratte sentenced him to life in prison.