A long-awaited jury trial in St. Francois County concluded Friday with guilty verdicts for an area man accused of murder.
Melvin Scherrer, of rural Bonne Terre, was charged in September 2013 with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, felonious restraint, and abandonment of a corpse after the discovery of Sam “Tick” Francis’ body on July 25, 2013. Investigators found the deceased man’s decomposing body in the septic tank of a then-vacant property with black Gorilla brand duct tape wrapped around his head and used to tie his arms behind his back.
After hearing testimony from 11 witnesses and reviewing multiple evidentiary exhibits, it took a jury a little more than five hours to find Scherrer guilty of second-degree murder, as well as guilty of the other three charges. Scherrer showed no reaction as the verdicts were read.
Scherrer is scheduled to appear back in court on May 6 for sentencing.
Scherrer was represented at trial by Missouri State Public Defenders Cynthia Dryden and Jesse Hardy, while St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Matt Brown tried the case on behalf of the state. Presiding over the trial was Circuit Judge Jerel Lee Poor II.
Following jury selection on Tuesday, the jurors first heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense.
The prosecution’s stance was that Scherrer murdered Francis by taping his head with Gorilla brand tape and forcing him into a truck toolbox, leading to the man’s death by suffocation.
The defense would argue reasonable doubt of Scherrer’s guilt in the case existed as it could not be proven that Francis did not die from methamphetamine intoxication. The defense would also attempt to raise doubts about the validity and truthfulness of key witness testimony.
After opening statements from both sides, jurors began hearing testimony from state witnesses.
The prosecution called nine witnesses to the stand on Wednesday, including Otto Plopper, Brent Bouren, Francis’ wife Amanda, other civilian witnesses associated with the case, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, as well as two Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Crime Lab examiners and an MSHP investigator who worked the case.
State’s Witness Nora Bolin
The state’s first witness was Nora Bolin, owner of a Festus bail bond company, who testified to bailing Francis out of jail in Jefferson County on Dec. 15, 2012 and giving him a ride to Bloomsdale so he could retrieve his wallet and phone from his wife, Amanda Francis. She said they met Amanda at a gas station, and she was with Scherrer, who drove her there in a white truck pulling a white trailer.
Bolin then said that after Francis had spoken with Amanda, he got back in her car and was upset, asking her to take him to The Bullpen Tavern in Festus, which she did. She recalled loaning him $20 for beer, and he mentioned that he would be doing a tattoo party at Scherrer’s house later to earn money to pay for the bail services. She said Francis told her he thought everything would be OK.
Bolin also noted that while on the way to Festus, she saw the same truck and trailer that Amanda got out of at the Bloomsdale gas station heading northbound on I-55.
The state then called a Bullpen Tavern employee to the stand, who confirmed seeing Francis at the business for approximately an hour to an hour and a half. She said he seemed fine until he received a phone call. She testified that his demeanor changed after the call, and she noticed him pacing. The bar employee said Francis later left the establishment while it was still daylight outside, receiving a ride from someone in a white truck pulling a trailer.
State’s Witness Amanda Francis
The state’s next witness was Amanda Francis. She said she had gotten a ride to meet Sam Francis from Scherrer, who was helping her move her things from an apartment in Bloomsdale to a storage facility in Festus as she planned to move in with her mother. During her testimony, it was confirmed that she and Scherrer had an on-again-off-again relationship. The marriage between Amanda and Francis had also become an on-again-off-again relationship, according to the woman.
Amanda said the next time she saw Francis was at Scherrer’s house in rural Bonne Terre. She testified that she arrived around 10 or 11 p.m., and there with Francis were Dustin Eyerly, Scherrer, and a woman named Amy.
Amanda explained that once at Scherrer’s house, Amy tried to initiate a sexual encounter involving herself, Amy, and Scherrer. She said she participated hesitantly, and Francis surprised her by jumping out from the bedroom closet, angrily grabbing her, and forcing her onto the bed. She said she threatened him with mace, and he let her up from the bed.
She said she had been unaware that Francis was at the house and believed he was trying to make it appear as though she was “playing” Scherrer. After the exchange in the bedroom, Amanda said she got angry and shut both Scherrer and Francis out but remained at the house, drinking and partying until leaving around 4 p.m. the next day. She mentioned that Scherrer and Amy remained in the back bedroom for the rest of her time at the residence.
The woman said she went to her mother’s house to take care of her children. She noted that she had planned to return to the tattoo party at Scherrer’s house but could not because of the children. She testified that Francis had called her, asking if she was coming back, and she could hear Scherrer ask if Francis was going to finish the tattoos. She said she told Francis to complete the work and that she was under the impression that Scherrer would bring him by her mother’s house the next day. She then said she turned her phone off at about 8 p.m.
Amanda said when she turned her phone back on the next day, text messages began coming through, and the messages became more erratic as they came in. She said she called Scherrer to see what was going on, and he told her that Francis had left in the middle of the night with an unknown person. Amanda said Scherrer indicated that he wanted her and Francis to leave him alone.
After a few days passed without hearing from Francis, Amanda said she reported him missing to law enforcement in St. Francois County.
State’s Witness Brent Bouren
The state next called Brent Bouren to the stand. He testified to being at Scherrer’s house on Dec. 17, 2012. He said he and his fiancé were there because Scherrer was helping him promote an auto magazine he owned. He mentioned that Francis was also assisting the magazine by drawing up a logo. The man noted that Otto Plopper was at the house, along with Dustin “D” Eyerly, who was training to be a tattoo artist and drawing things with Francis.
After a couple of hours, Bouren said he and his fiancé left the house in frustration as nothing was getting done for his magazine. He said they went back to his South County home, where he later got texts from Scherrer, asking him to come back. The deleted text messages were later recovered from Scherrer’s phone and reportedly stated, “Things are getting hairy … Need you here … don’t say anything,” according to testimony from an investigator assigned to the case.
Bouren testified that he returned to Scherrer’s house to check on him. When he arrived, he said Scherrer was nervous, telling him that Francis had a gun and tried to rob and kill him. He said, at some point, Scherrer came out of his back bedroom with a baseball bat and began hitting Francis all over his body. Bouren said he then saw Scherrer tape Francis’ arms behind his back. He said everyone at the house looked for the gun Scherrer claimed Francis had as the man sat on the fireplace hearth.
Bouren said his fiancé wanted to leave as the situation was very chaotic.
Without telling him why, he mentioned that Scherrer gave him a bag containing items, including jewelry, a laptop, and cash. He said the last place he saw Francis was on the fireplace hearth before they left, heading back to their South County residence.
Bouren was charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action, felonious restraint, and second-degree assault in Francis’ death. As part of a plea deal with former St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin, Bouren’s murder and armed criminal action charges were dropped in January 2016, leaving the charge of second-degree assault and felonious restraint remaining.
On cross-examination, the defense pressed Bouren about why he would plead guilty to any charges if he did not harm Francis. Bouren said he had planned to take the case to trial, but his attorney advised him to take the plea deal if he wanted to go home. He said he should never have taken that deal.
The defense also asked about a handgun that Bouren owned. Bouren admitted to owning the gun but said he did not have the weapon with him when he went to Scherrer’s house the second time.
State’s Witness Otto Plopper
The prosecution called Otto Plopper to testify, who said he was present at Scherrer’s house when Francis was attacked and killed.
Plopper said he went with Scherrer to pick Francis up from the Festus bar about 2:30 to 3 p.m. that afternoon before they went to Scherrer’s house.
At some point, Plopper said he left the house and went to his home in Goose Creek. He said he later received a call from Scherrer, asking him to come back to the house and help because someone was trying to rob him. Plopper said he didn’t go at first because he thought Scherrer was playing games as he had received similar calls in the past. He said Scherrer called about 4-5 times before he decided to go back.
Plopper testified that when he arrived back at Scherrer’s home, Bouren was already there. He said he went to the back door of the residence and was let in by Bouren.
Plopper recalled walking inside and noticing the house was a mess. He said he went to the living room and saw Eyerly and Francis with their hands tied behind their back. He said Eyerly was on the sofa and Francis was by the fireplace. He mentioned that he had untied Eyerly’s hands but could not get to Francis.
Plopper said that Scherrer had his shirt off, appeared to be frothing at the mouth like a dog with rabies, and had a baseball bat in his hands. He testified that Scherrer hit Francis’ legs with the bat, and Bouren hit the man in the face with his fist. Plopper said he saw Bouren kick Francis in the face when the man was on the ground a short time later.
Plopper went on to testify that he, Scherrer, and Eyerly retrieved a truck toolbox from Scherrer’s truck and brought it inside. He said Scherrer made Francis get inside the toolbox, and Bouren was standing next to the box with a gun in his hand. Plopper then recalled Scherrer wrapping Francis’ head with Gorilla tape, starting at his mouth and wrapping the tape all the way up to the man’s head and over his hat. He said Francis did not appear to move much or struggle while the tape was wrapped around his head.
After the tape was applied, Plopper said Scherrer made Francis lie down in the toolbox before closing the lid. He said he heard kicking and gurgling sounds, but the sounds stopped after about 10-20 minutes. He mentioned that he, Scherrer, Bouren, and Eyerly started cleaning the house while the box remained inside. He said Bouren left the residence about an hour after Francis was made to get inside the box. He said after Bouren left, they continued using cleaning products to clean the house for approximately another hour before moving the toolbox back to Scherrer’s truck. He noted that Scherrer backed the truck up to the porch, they slid the box from the porch into the truck’s bed, and he did not hear or feel any movement inside the box.
According to his testimony, Plopper and Scherrer then left in the truck and drove around until they found a vacant house in Bonne Terre with a real estate sign in the yard and a concrete septic tank in the back. He said they dragged the toolbox off of the truck and dumped Francis’ body in the septic tank after removing a concrete block covering an access hole. From there, Plopper said they went to Scherrer’s uncle’s house, where they burned some of Francis’ clothes inside of a dryer. He mentioned that Scherrer took the chip out of Francis’ phone and tossed it.
Next, Plopper said he went with Scherrer to a car wash to clean blood out of the truck bed and then went back to Scherrer’s house. Once at the house, Plopper said Scherrer cleaned the truck box and brought it back inside the residence.
The defense questioned Plopper about several police interviews following Francis’ disappearance in which he initially denied knowing Francis and did not divulge any information to investigators. Plopper said he did not cooperate at first because he was scared for his life. The defense noted that police interviewed Plopper on three separate occasions, offering the man deals for his cooperation.
The defense attorney cited questions asked of Plopper from interview transcripts, mentioning police told the man that if all he did were help move the body, he would not be prosecuted for murder. When asked about the deals offered, Plopper said he did not recall. The defense attorney became visibly frustrated as she asked Plopper how he could remember so many details when the prosecution asked questions, but he could not recall many answers to the same or similar questions she was asking. Plopper explained that he suffered from mental illness and took medications that affected his memory.
During the third police interview in July 2013, investigators again told Plopper that if he led them to the body, he would not be charged with murder. Plopper agreed to take them to the body but could not remember the exact location. He said, eventually, investigators showed him real estate listings from around the time they had disposed of the body, and he recognized the house from one of those listings.
As part of a plea deal, Plopper was later charged with abandonment of a corpse. He pleaded guilty to the charge and received five years probation. He violated his probation and was given a four-year prison sentence.
The prosecution noted that Plopper had served his sentence, was no longer on probation, and did not have any selfish motive in testifying at the trial. Plopper said he was testifying because he felt that Francis’ family deserved justice.
State’s Witness MSHP Trooper David Bauer (Ret.)
The prosecution’s next witness was MSHP Trooper David Bauer, one of the investigators Plopper led to Francis’ body. Bauer said it was between 2:15 p.m. and just before dark when they found the location of the body. He said they had spent 2-3 hours driving around northern St. Francois County searching for the house. Once they showed Plopper the real estate listings and found the address, the trooper said they arrived and found a concrete septic tank in the back next to a large outbuilding.
The trooper said he noticed that the seal on one of the tank lids looked as if it had been broken. He recalled removing the circular lid, shining his flashlight down into the tank, and observing a boot that appeared to be attached to a leg with exposed bone visible.
After receiving written consent from the property owner, Bauer said they called a septic tank company to remove the top of the tank with a backhoe. He said the body was extensively decomposed as it had been positioned in murky water for approximately six months at that point. He described removing the remains using a cage-like fencing material that they placed under the body before pulling it up and out of the tank, placing it on a yellow emergency blanket. He noted that the tanks didn’t appear to have been used and were not filled with human waste as one might imagine a septic tank would be. He said they used sifters to remove any material possible from the murky water.
The trooper also testified about search warrants served at Scherrer’s house where investigators found tattoo equipment, which was photographed but not seized, as well as electronic equipment that was seized. A photo of the tattoo equipment was later shown to Amanda Francis, who identified it as belonging to Francis.
The defense questioned Bauer about the deals offered to Plopper during the previous interviews. The defense attorney read from transcripts, noting that police had asked Plopper if he wanted to go to prison for the rest of his life or take his chances. The defense talked about Plopper stating he had not been on his psychiatric medication and asked the trooper about proceeding with the interview despite the man not taking his medications. The prosecution then rebutted by asking Bauer if there were any rules for interviewing a subject not taking prescribed medication, to which he replied there was not.
State’s Witness MSHP Crime Lab Investigator William Randle
The prosecution’s next witness was William Randle, an MSHP Crime Lab investigator from the lab’s Trace Evidence Division. Randle testified to analyzing evidence, including two fibers found on Francis’ boot and carpet samples recovered from Scherrer’s house. Randle said one of the fibers found on the boot was determined to have a “Class 3 association” with carpet fibers taken from Scherrer’s living room. He explained that a Class 3 association indicates that the carpet fibers were similar but also commonly used in carpeting.
Randle analyzed 21 pieces of Gorilla tape found on Francis’ body and compared the tape to a Gorilla brand roll of tape found at Scherrer’s home. He testified that there was a 1 mm difference in the width of the compared samples and said he determined they were not the same.
State’s Witness MSHP Crime Lab Investigator Shena Latcham
The prosecution called another MSHP Crime Lab investigator, Shena Latcham, to testify about her analysis of a carpet tacking strip recovered from under the carpet near the fireplace in Scherrer’s living room. Latcham said she found blood on the strip, which, when tested, showed a partial DNA profile matching Francis’ blood. Latcham also tested blood found on two baseball bats seized from Scherrer’s house. She said blood on one of the bats was determined not to be Francis’, and the other did not contain enough DNA to draw a conclusion.
State’s Witness Pathologist Dr. Russell Deidiker
Dr. Russell Deidiker, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Francis on July 26, 2013, was the last witness called to the stand by the prosecution on Wednesday. He said he received the body in two bags, and it was in a state of moderate decomposition with skin discoloration and sloughing of the skin. He said one of Francis’ teeth was also missing. He said he did not find any notable indications of trauma but ruled the death a homicide because of the tape around the head and arms and the circumstances.
The pathologist said there was no blood to be analyzed, but he prepared a muscle sample which later showed the presence of .69 micrograms (MCG) per gram (G) of methamphetamine. He said there was no way to determine how much meth would have been present in Francis’ blood or when the meth was used.
State’s Witness MSHP Sgt. Perry Smith
On Thursday, the day began with the prosecution calling MSHP Sgt. Perry Smith to testify. Smith was the lead investigator in the case. Smith and another investigator had gone to Scherrer’s residence on Jan 14, 2013, to ask questions concerning the missing person report after Francis’ disappearance. The conversation was recorded using a recording device inside one of the investigator’s pockets.
The audio recording was played for the jury, and Scherrer could be heard initially stating that he did not know Francis, nor did he know the man was missing. During the questioning, Scherrer did confirm that he had helped Amanda Francis move from her Bloomsdale apartment.
As the investigators continued their questions, Scherrer admitted to knowing that Amanda had been married to Francis but said he thought they were divorced. He said he heard that Francis had beat the woman and kicked her door in, threatening her with a gun a few days before she moved.
Scherrer also admitted taking the woman to meet Francis at the Bloomsdale gas station before going to Festus to unload Amanda’s belongings. He said Amanda was scared of Francis and did not have anywhere to go, so he told her that she could stay with him if she were serious about leaving the man.
The audio recording continued, and Scherrer said Francis told him that Amanda wanted him to steal Scherrer’s safe. Scherrer said he confronted Amanda and asked how Francis knew about the safe. The recording ended shortly after Scherrer admitted to knowing Francis but denied knowing the man was missing.
Smith then testified about the search warrant later served at Scherrer’s home. He mentioned seeing the tattoo equipment and seizing the DVR to Scherrer’s security camera system. He said the DVR contained no footage from before Jan. 6, 2013. The investigator also testified about a separate search warrant later served at Dustin Eyerly’s house, where the tattoo equipment was found.
The state rested its case, and the defense called their only witness to the stand on the final day of the trial.
Defense’s Witness Toxicologist Dr. Michael Mullins
The defense brought in an expert witness, Dr. Michael Mullins, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Mullins said he reviewed the autopsy results before researching case studies about meth toxicology. He cited a study in which rabbit muscles tissue containing meth was analyzed over a period of 24 months. He noted that the meth concentrations in the rabbit muscle remained steady throughout the entire study. He said rabbit muscle tissue was sufficiently comparable to human muscle.
Dr. Mullins cited another study from Japan that found meth concentrations ranging from .2-.5 MCG/G were in the toxic range, with concentrations of .5-.10 MCG/G being consistently fatal. He said the studies showed meth concentrations found in blood differed from meth in muscle by approximately 10%. The defense noted that even with a 10% variation, the meth level of .69 MCG/G found in Francis’ muscle tissue was within the median of lethal amounts cited in the studies.
On cross-examination, the prosecution brought up the fact that Dr. Mullins was not board-certified in toxicology as he had not taken the certification exam. During the state’s questioning, Dr. Mullins said he could not determine how Francis died but could confirm the man had a toxic level of meth in his body.
The defense rested, and both sides delivered their closing arguments.
Justice for Sam
After the jury returned their guilty verdicts, Francis’ family members appeared relieved. The man’s family traveled from parts of southeast and central Missouri, as well as Florida, to attend the trial. Francis’ father, Gary Francis, said it felt good to finally attain closure after so many years had passed.
“I feel like the prosecutor did an excellent job presenting the case to get justice for Sam,” said Gary Francis. “It’s been over nine years, and for the first six months of that time, we didn’t know if he was dead or alive or where he was. And for the last nine years, we’ve been waiting for the day that justice would be served for the one that did this.
“We got closure,” he said. “I want my son back, but that’s not possible. I appreciate so much the people in St. Francois County and how they worked toward getting this case closed, even though it was a long time.”
Russ Francis, one of Sam’s brothers, said he also wanted to thank the prosecutor, the victim’s advocate, and everyone else who helped the family along their way to getting justice.
Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam said she was also pleased with the trial’s outcome.
“I want to thank the jury for their determined deliberations in this case in reaching this verdict,” said Gilliam. “I am extremely happy for the family of Sam Francis, who has waited an extremely long time for this guilty verdict and justice for Sam.”
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com