The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

July 10, 2012

Reopening of McDonald County woman's first-degree-murder case disputed in court

PINEVILLE, Mo. — A dispute over a March 2011 agreement to reopen Sheena Eastburn’s first-degree-murder case resurfaced again Tuesday in a hearing before Circuit Judge Tim Perigo in McDonald County Circuit Court.

This time, Eastburn’s attorney, Kent Gipson, of Kansas City, directed his frustration at Jonathan Pierce, the McDonald County prosecutor.

Pierce and the county’s assistant prosecutor, Sherrie Hansen, argued that Perigo did not have jurisdiction to proceed on the case since Pierce had not agreed to reopen the case.

Gipson produced a document that was signed by Pierce in front of Perigo in which he agreed to reopen the case. Pierce, who had been on the job for just two months, said he thought he was signing an agreement to have a hearing and that he did not know that it was an agreement to reopen the case.

Pierce said it was his mistake. He said he had learned a lesson.

Gipson countered by saying that Pierce was backtracking on a procedural issue after the court had already heard two days of testimony on arguments for and against reopening the case on grounds that Eastburn’s public defenders had failed to adequately represent her at trial.

Perigo said the agreement would stand and directed both attorneys to present proposed findings on two issues within 40 days. The issues pertain to the effectiveness of Eastburn’s legal representation on the first-degree murder charge and a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole.

Gipson presented an order to the court at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing that would have vacated Eastburn’s conviction of first-degree murder in the slaying of her ex-husband, Tim Eastburn, in 1992. Perigo said he did not approve of the form of the order submitted by Gipson, questioning whether the sentence — not the conviction — should be set aside.

“I’m not signing it today,’’ said Perigo.

Eastburn, who was 17 at the time of the slaying, was sentenced in 1995 to life imprisonment without parole for being an accomplice in the murder of her ex-husband. An appeal for a new trial because of ineffective counsel was denied two years later.

Gipson said vacating the conviction is the only judicial remedy and that could happen by “judge, jury or by agreement.’’

He said the Supreme Court struck down Missouri’s statute that permitted juveniles in cases of first-degree murder to be given either the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole. He said a judge does not have the authority under Missouri law to sentence someone convicted of first-degree murder to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

He argued the conviction must be vacated and reduced to second-degree murder, which would effectively reduce Eastburn’s sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Gipson, in arguing that Eastburn did not have adequate counsel during her trial, sought a new trial in an effort to have her sentence reduced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court’s decision could accomplish that without a new trial.  

Eastburn, 36, who appeared in court Tuesday in leg chains and handcuffs, did not testify during the hearing. Representatives of the Eastburn family did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

In previous testimony, Eastburn testified she had no “lengthy meetings” with either of her public defenders before her trial.

While Eastburn was being held in the McDonald County Jail, she allegedly was raped by jailer Terrie Zornes. Gipson said Eastburn’s public defenders at the time of her murder trial could have used the incident to reach a plea deal in which Eastburn would plead guilty to second-degree murder instead of murder in the first degree.

Zornes, 47, of Pineville, was charged in the Eastburn rape case after new evidence came to light last year. In a plea bargain in September, he obtained dismissal of the rape charge in exchange for pleading guilty to making sexual advances toward a teenage girl in 2010. He is serving four years in a state prison for making the advances toward the 14-year-old girl.


TESTS FOR HER TRIAL in 1995 showed that Eastburn was competent to stand trial, but that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of sexual assaults at age 13. She also was suffering from depression, according to court records.

Text Only
Crime & Courts
  • Neosho man hurt in scooter accident north of Goodman

    A Neosho man was injured in a scooter accident at 3:40 p.m. Friday on Missouri Highway 59, two miles north of Goodman in Newton County, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

    April 18, 2014

  • Joplin police seize pound of meth after traffic stop

    Joplin police seized about a pound of methamphetamine and $2,000 cash in a traffic stop Thursday at 17th Street and Maiden Lane.

    April 18, 2014

  • Two-year-old boy, stepfather suffer gas-fire burns

    ARMA, Kan. — A 2-year-old boy and his stepfather suffered burns Friday afternoon when a plastic gasoline container left near a fire pit ignited, according to the Arma Police Department.

    April 18, 2014

  • Court date set for defendant in stabbing case

    GIRARD, Kan. — A suspect is being held at the Crawford County Jail on a charge of attempted murder in the stabbing of another man Wednesday afternoon in Girard.

    April 18, 2014

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Embezzler from Joplin car dealerships sent to prison

    A federal judge has sentenced Kathryn M. Stayton to 13 months in prison for embezzling more than $100,000 from Frank Fletcher Ford and Credit Cars of Joplin. U.S. District Judge Greg Kays assessed the 36-year-old Joplin woman the prison term at a sentencing hearing this week in federal court in Springfield. The judge also ordered the former controller at both car dealerships to pay restitution totaling $121,249. 51.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    A family whose teenage daughter’s suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department.

    April 18, 2014

  • Jeffery Bruner.JPG Defendant denied change of venue in MSSU coach slaying

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a motion for a change of venue for Jeffrey Bruner, the defendant charged with killing Missouri Southern State University assistant football coach Derek Moore.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Reeds man granted probation in case involving gunshots

    A Jasper County judge has granted suspended sentences to a rural Reeds man who tore up a campsite with his truck in a drunken rage and fired a gun at another driver and a sheriff’s deputy.

    April 17, 2014

  • Joplin man faces burglary charge after incident

    A 31-year-old man is facing a burglary charge following an incident Wednesday afternoon at a business near downtown Joplin.

    April 17, 2014

Local News

Missouri Republicans are considering a new approach to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws the state considers to be infringements on gun rights: barring them from future careers in state law enforcement agencies. Do you think this proposal has merit?

     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest