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
  • Joplin couple indicted in child porn case

    A federal grand jury indicted a Joplin couple Wednesday for alleged sexual exploitation of a second child in addition to a girl who was the subject of a preceding indictment of the husband for allegedly producing and distributing child pornography.

    July 23, 2014

  • Grand jury indicts Tennessee man on three charges

    A federal grand jury indicted a Tennessee man Wednesday on charges related to the alleged enticement of a minor from Lawrence County for sexual acts.

    July 23, 2014

  • Joplin man faces grand jury indictment in child porn case

    A federal grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday charging a Joplin man with receiving and distributing child pornography over the Internet.

    July 23, 2014

  • High winds overturn empty box truck in Cherokee County

    High winds from Wednesday’s thunderstorm overturned an empty box truck in Southeast Kansas, authorities said.

    July 23, 2014

  • Tulsa man faces robbery charge

    A suspect in a shoplifting incident Monday at the Sears store in Northpark Mall in Joplin was charged with robbery after he and an accomplice reportedly resisted a store employee’s effort to detain them.

    July 22, 2014

  • Wrecks injure two on area roadways

    A Carthage man suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident at 3:35 p.m. Tuesday on East 50th Street, a half-mile east of Joplin in Newton County, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

    July 22, 2014

  • Assault sends man to Joplin hospital

    Joplin police are investigating an apparent felony assault that sent a 20-year-old man to Freeman Hospital West with injuries to his head and shoulder.

    July 22, 2014

  • Joplin man to stand trial in accident case

    A passenger accused of causing an accident on Interstate 44 in Joplin that injured three others as well as himself was ordered bound over for trial Tuesday on three felony counts.

    July 22, 2014

  • Youth shot in shoulder after reportedly encountering burglars

    A male juvenile was treated for a gunshot wound to his shoulder after a reported home invasion early Saturday in the 100 block of South 250th Street, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

    July 21, 2014

  • Joplin couple indicted on child pornography charges

    A federal grand jury today indicted a Joplin couple for alleged sexual exploitation of a second child in addition to a girl who was the subject of a previous indictment of the husband for producing and distributing child pornography.

    July 23, 2014

Local News

Have you ever served as a volunteer for your state's conservation department?

A. Yes.
B. No.
     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video
Raw: Families Travel to Taiwan Plane Crash Site Arizona Execution Takes Almost Two Hours Gen. Odierno Discusses Ukraine, NATO at Forum Gaza Fighting Rages Amid Cease-Fire Efforts Mint Gives JFK Coin a Face-lift Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers Ariz. Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Began Crash Kills Teen Pilot Seeking World Record LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors Raw: Funeral for Man Who Died in NYPD Custody Migrants Back in Honduras After US Deports Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme Former NTSB Official: FAA Ban 'prudent' EPA Gets Hip With Kardashian Tweet Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in the Netherlands Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast