The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 31, 2012

Our View: A call for new Eastburn trial, answers

— Sheena Eastburn, the McDonald County woman serving a life sentence for her involvement in the murder of her husband, deserved punishment.

She says so herself.

But that doesn’t mean the woman, who had turned 17 after killing her ex-husband, Tim, in 1992, deserved a jailer who raped her, a public defender unprepared to try her case and a legal system that looked the other way until they had a use for Eastburn.

The Globe’s Sunday story about Eastburn, who was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder and assessed a sentence of life in prison without parole, shed light on a system gone wrong.

Eastburn didn’t pull the trigger, but was described to the jury as the “mastermind” of the plot in which she enlisted the aid of two accomplices to shoot Tim, then 22, for his money and drugs. All three of them gave full confessions to police outlining their roles in the killing. One of the men plea bargained and received a total sentence of 67 years on a reduced charge of second-degree murder. He is being held at a state prison in Potosi, Mo., but is already eligible for parole. The second man went to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder. He received a sentence of life without parole and is also currently in prison in Potosi.

According to information gleaned through Globe reporting, jurors were never told about IQ tests that raised questions about Eastburn’s capacity to organize a killing, or that one of her defense lawyers said he was not prepared for the trial. He received the case about two weeks before the trial.

Nor were they told that Eastburn had allegedly been raped by a McDonald County jailer, and might have been taken by county officials for an abortion.

Eastburn’s attorney is asking for a new trial. Certainly, she’s entitled to one.

We also think residents are owed an explanation as to why the jailer was not charged with raping Eastburn in 1994, even though authorities were told of its occurrence. The truth about the alleged rape of Eastburn came out in public last year after Terrie Zornes, the jailer, was charged with making sexual advances to a 14-year-old McDonald County girl. Eastburn’s testimony was used by the McDonald County prosecutor in filing a forcible rape charge against Zornes in 2011 for what allegedly happened with Eastburn. Zornes, in a plea deal, entered a guilty plea involving the 14-year-old girl in exchange for a dismissal of the rape charge involving Eastburn. Zornes was sentenced to four years in prison.

This case is no longer just about what Eastburn did in 1992. It calls for a deeper investigation into the actions of many who are now in positions of authority.