A Poplar Bluff man has served nearly 15 years of a life sentence, and of a death sentence. However, the Supreme Court now says his sentencing hearing was unfair.

Terrance Anderson was sentenced to death for shooting to death his ex-girlfriend’s mother in Poplar Bluff. He was also sentenced to life without parole for shooting to death his ex-girlfriend’s father. Anderson’s attorney, William Swift, argued to the Supreme Court that Judge William Sylar talked about the case extensively as it was ongoing with the jury foreperson. Swift tells the Supreme Court Syler was unable to fairly serve because of those conversations, and the Supreme Court agrees.

Listen to the oral arguments HERE.

Had these conversations not occurred, Swift said, it “could have tipped the scales in favor of life.” He added that Syler was “unable to fairly serve; and the overall appearance to a reasonable person was that he could not serve.”

“Certainly if we had actual bias, that would determine the issue,” he said.

The Supreme Court has remanded the case back to the Cape Girardeau Circuit Court for a new hearing on  Anderson’s motion to vacate his sentence,  with aa new judge. It has ordered that Syler recuse himself.  The murder convictions stay. The death sentence remains in place.


The Supreme Court’s summary says that, “A man convicted of murder and sentenced to death appeals the circuit court’s denial of his request for post-conviction relief. In a 6-0 decision written by Judge Patricia Breckenridge, the Supreme Court of Missouri reverses the judgment. Based on the circuit court’s statements throughout the proceedings below, a reasonable person would have factual grounds to find an appearance of impropriety. As such, recusal is required. The case is remanded (sent back) for the court to sustain the man’s motion for disqualification and for further proceedings.”


On the night of July 25, 1997, Terrance Anderson went to the Poplar Bluff home of his girlfriend, Abbey Rainwater, with a gun. Earlier in the day, she had told him that she had gotten a restraining order to keep him away from her and their three-month-old daughter and that visitation would be arranged through the court. Anderson kicked in the door, and Abbey’s mother, Debbie, told her to run. Debbie, who was holding the child, got on her knees and begged for her life, but Anderson placed the gun against the back of Debbie’s head and fired it, killing Debbie instantly. Anderson subsequently took the child and went into the front yard. He pointed the gun at the baby’s head and yelled that he would shoot if Abbey did not come out. After Abbey’s father, Stephen, came home, Anderson approached Stephen, began talking to him, and shot Stephen in the forehead, killing him. Anderson still was holding the child at the time.

Anderson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and was tried in Cape Girardeau County on a change of venue from Butler County. The jury found him guilty of both counts and recommended that he be sentenced to death for killing Debbie Rainwater and to life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole for killing Stephen Rainwater.

View the article from the Southeast Missourian when the original sentence was handed down HERE. (Article is on Page 3.)

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:21)