|Zackary Lee Stewart ( mug shot GCSO)|
Charges of first-degree murder have been dismissed against Zackary Lee Stewart in connection to the November 29, 2006 shooting death of David Dulin.
A Greene County jury found Stewart guilty of murder back in 2008. On May 29th of this year, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously reversed the jury's verdict on evidentiary matters. Today, Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby says he agrees with the High Court's ruling and dismissed the murder charge citing a lack of evidence.
Selby says even though there is no physical evidence linking Stewart to the crime, he believes Stewart received a fair trial with an impartial jury. He says the investigation into Dulin's murder is ongoing and that there is no statute of limitations on filing charges in a murder case.
It was a case every prosecutor dreads...a murder with multiple players with motive, means and opportunity. That was what Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby dealt with for two years before he got the first-degree murder trial of Zackary Lee Stewart, 21, Hurley, before a Greene County jury.
Selby maintained that Stewart was responsible for the murder of 53 year-old David "Dave" Dulin, of Hurley, on November 29, 2006. About four months after Dulin's murder, Selby filed murder charges against Stewart and Leo Connelly. He said the pair went to Dulin's house to rob him and steal his drugs.
A little after midnight Dulin called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that two men in their 20's and 30's had broken into his home and shot him in the head with his own .22 pistol.
As Dulin lay dying, he was conscious on the line with the dispatcher for about 5 minutes while first responders made their way to his rural home. He told the 9-1-1 operator that he did not know who shot him, but stated that the assailants were from Hurley and that one of the men said he was the "Eby girl's boyfriend."
The phone line stayed open for the 25 minutes it took authorities to get to Dulin's home on Tin Can Hollow, the dispatcher could hear the sirens approaching and the sound of the first deputy's footsteps in the house. Dulin had crawled across the living room to unlock the front door for those coming to help him. He had been shot four times and was found dead just inside the front door of his home.
|Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby|
Stewart's trial was moved from Stone County to Greene County on a change of venue, which was automatically granted, because the county has less than 75,000 residents.
I was in the courtroom when the jury returned with their guilty verdict, it was emotional on both sides of the table. Bittersweet for Dulin's family members; shock and disbelief for Stewart's loved ones.
Stewart was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for Dulin's murder, but evidence uncovered during and after the trial has raised questions about Stewart's guilt.
On May 25th, The Missouri Supreme Court granted Stewart a new trial based on an evidentiary matter.
Stewart was an 18-year-old high school senior in Hurley at the time of Dulin's murder. When investigators contacted him, he told them that he had no knowledge of Dulin's murder, but he did volunteer information that had not been released to the public or the media (when the crime purportedly occurred and the caliber of weapon involved). He stated that if he was going to kill someone he would not use a .22 caliber weapon, "something he would have to shoot four or five times with to kill them."
Stewart was again questioned about Dulin's murder a few months later when he was jailed on a DWI charge.
A sheriff's detective told Stewart that a witness placed him, his sister Christy Pethoud, and Christy's boyfriend, Leo Connelly, in a light colored car on a road near Dulin's home the night of the murder. He was told the murder weapon had been recovered in Springfield and was asked if there might be a reason his DNA would be at the crime scene. Stewart maintained that he was not involved, that he did not know anything, and that he had never left his sister's home that night.
Stewart was then placed in an isolation cell while searches were conducted. He later requested to talk to a detective. Crying, scared, and upset, Stewart told Detective Karl Wagner that he thought Leo Connelly was responsible for Dulin's murder.
Two jail house snitches, Coty Pollard and Victor Parker, who shared a cell with Stewart, contacted investigators and said that Stewart told them about Dulin's murder. Both men testified for the State at Stewart's trial.
They testified on the stand that Stewart said he went to Dulin's home the night of the murder with Christy Pethoud, Leo Connelly, his (Stewart's) mother Paula Eby, Mark Myers, and Myers son, Robert to "take his dope."
According to the states witnesses, they arrived in two vehicles (Zack, Christy, and Leo were in a white Ford Escort; Paula, Mark, and Robert in a Jeep Cherokee,) and that Robert guarded Dulin while the others ransacked the house looking for drugs. The duo testified that Stewart told them Dulin pulled a gun and Stewart wrestled it away from him and shot him four times.
Pollard and Parker told investigators it was at that point the group panicked and fled the scene, (Leo and Zackary left in the Escort; the others left in the Cherokee) burned the clothes they had been wearing in a barrel and threw them in the river. Leo Connelly was chosen to get rid of the gun.
Tobin called just one witness–Stewart's sister Christy–who testified that no one left her house the night of Dulin's murder.
The high court says the most alarming problem in Stewart's trial is that family members of Dulin's told Selby during the trial that they had never seen Dulin in possession of a bloody hat that was found at the crime scene and introduced into evidence as belonging to him.
Selby says, "This case was a little bit like reality T.V. at this point in the trial. It is very strange to have a DNA issue come up in the middle of a trial."
He requested an alpha rush to the state crime lab to test the hat to get a DNA profile. On the the third day of Stewart's murder trial the jury was provided with bombshell preliminary DNA results. The DNA on the hat didn't belong to Stewart or Connelly. It belonged to three other people; Dulin, Stewart's brother-in-law Tim Seaman, and another unknown person.
During closing arguments, Selby argued that the preliminary DNA information from the bloody hat reflected a DNA "hit" to Seaman made by an investigative database. He stressed that it was not a DNA "match" confirmed by comparing it with Seaman's actual DNA. Seaman was not identified at trial as a person who was with Stewart during Dulin's murder.
In a statement after Stewart's trial, Detective Wagner said he received a tip that Seaman had disclosed to his brother that he had "taken someones life." Seaman did not indicate whose life he took, but his brother Randy stated that he had not taken Tim's statements seriously until he heard about the bloody hat found near Dulin's body.
Randy Seaman also stated it was his brother's hat or a hat identical to the one he had for a long period of time, and that his brother also drove a light tan or white vehicle.
Robert Bales, Seaman's nephew, testified at a motion hearing that his uncle had confided to him the morning after Dulin's murder that he (Tim Seaman) and his friend, John Mills, were at Dulin's house when he was killed.
Detective Wagner testified that Randy Seaman told him that Tim was at Randy's house in November and they were drinking when Tim told Randy “that he had taken someones life, and asked him how you deal with that.”
In the high court's ruling the justices note, "Seaman allegedly admitted to Robert Bales that he and John Mills witnessed the murder-causing Mills to vomit the next morning. That, combined with the DNA of an unknown person on dentures found, makes two at the murder scene, which is what Victim described in his 9-1-1 call. Detective Wagner testified that Tim also confessed to Randy Seaman that he had taken a life."
Selby ignored the high court's ruling and was adamant about trying Stewart again for Dulin's murder. The case was set to go to trial on Valentine's Day next year.Late this afternoon, (12-3-10) Selby said he's received "more information" about Dulin's death. "Based on all of the information currently available," Selby said, "I do not believe that it is appropriate to continue Zackary Stewart's current prosecution."
The prosecutor, who dismissed murder charges against Connelly for lack of evidence says, "In 20 years of practice I have never had a case reversed on appeal."
Stacie Bilyeu, who along with Grant Rahmeyer now represents Stewart says, "We've been in negotiations with Matt for some time now. We knew this was going to happen....just not today. We're ecstatic! It's been four long years now that an innocent man has been in jail or prison. It's time for him to go home."