The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

September 28, 2012

Our View: There’s more to Sheena Eastburn's story

They say justice delayed is justice denied.

Let’s hope that’s not the case for Sheena Eastburn.

In the past week, Circuit Judge Tim Perigo denied the McDonald County woman’s appeal for a new trial, citing a technicality. We are disappointed by the ruling.

However, we also know this case is fraught with complications and unanswered questions.

Eastburn, then 17, was charged in 1992 with being an accomplice in the murder of her ex-husband. She was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole..

Tests 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. Her IQ scores ranged from 80 to 91. Mild mental retardation is an IQ of 70 to 75. Her public defenders at the time did not introduce that information during the trial.

The jury also did not hear that Eastburn allegedly was raped two times by a jailer while being held in the McDonald County Jail. The jury also was not told that Eastburn allegedly became pregnant while in jail and that her pregnancy was aborted.

Even though McDonald County Sheriff Don Schlessman was told about the rapes, no court action was taken against the jailer, Terrie Zornes, 47, of Pineville until last year, some 17 years after Eastburn’s family reported the alleged rapes.  Zornes was charged in the Eastburn rape case after new evidence came to light last year. Using Eastburn’s case, prosecutors offered Zornes a plea bargain. In return for his pleading guilty to making sexual advances toward a 14-year-old girl in 2010, the rape charge against him connected to Eastburn’s allegation was dropped. He is serving four years in a state prison.

But Eastburn is serving life.

Eastburn’s primary public defender, Frank Yankoviz, has testified that he became involved in her defense two weeks before the trial. He testified that Eastburn did not receive a fair trial and that he felt “worse about this case than any other case” in his 20-year career as a public defender.

Her public defenders clearly botched the case. That was followed by gross mistreatment in the McDonald County Jail. The legal system then used Eastburn in another case and has now tossed her aside.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court found that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility for parole for juvenile homicide offenders.

If ever there was a case for a retrial, this is it.

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