The state Supreme Court in Jefferson City has heard arguments in a child sexual molestation and murder case. In 2015, Jordan Prince was convicted in St. Charles County of sodomizing and strangling his girlfriend’s four-month-old daughter.
The principle question facing the high bench Tuesday was whether Prince’s juvenile conviction for sexual assault was admissible in his murder case.
In November 2014, after Prince was charged but before he went to trial, Missouri law was changed. The new provision authorized previous convictions and criminal acts to be admitted as evidence of a defendant’s tendencies during trials of certain sex crimes against minors.
Such allowances have been admitted on occasion at the federal level, but are generally considered a violation of rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury under the Missouri and United States Constitutions.
Before the high court Tuesday, attorneys spent some time debating the merits of the changed law. In particular, the admission into evidence of Prince’s conviction as a 15-year-old Idaho juvenile of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old was debated.
But in arguments that seldom surface at the Supreme Court level, attorneys found themselves debating the facts of the murder trial itself.
Representing the state, attorney Gregory Baker said Prince admitted that his actions were evidence of guilt. “I will point to this,” said Baker. “Number one. He says that he was responsible for the act. Number Two. He says he’s the only one who had access to her. Number three. He says he was frustrated. Number four. He admits he went overboard.”
Baker also noted that only the blood of Prince and the infant were on a quilt he’d wrapped the child in before the incident.
Prince’s attorney, Craig Johnson, said there was no eye-witness or DNA evidence, or any admission from his client that he had committed the crime. “When he was specifically asked about the strangulation, he said ‘I did not strangle the baby’,” said Johnson. “When he was specifically asked about the sexual events, he said ‘I did not strangle the baby’”.
The infant’s official cause of death was listed as asphyxiation. But police claimed evidence of forcible sodomy with an unknown object was significant enough to have resulted in her death if she hadn’t been strangled.
As far as the evidence of strangulation, Prince had admitted to striking the baby particularly hard while attempting to burp her at one point on the day of the incident. To detectives, he had attributed anal injuries linked to sodomy as the result of him bouncing the baby too hard on his knee. The child was revived by medics. She died at a hospital the next day.
Several months before Prince’s trial, his girlfriend, Jessica Lynn Howell, of O’Fallon, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for encouraging him to sexually assault her infant daughter.
After the incident, detectives obtained phone records and text messages between Prince and Howell. Court documents show that in one of them, she encourages him to sodomize the baby.
Howell: “It is what it is, and I won’t press the issue, but I understand NTM, that would be hottest as (expletive), you going from me to her? Prince: “I just can’t baby, makes me feel like a monster.”
Prince was sentenced in April of 2015 to three life sentences to be served concurrently without parole.
Before the Appeals Court of Eastern Missouri in St. Louis, two of the three judges said they would have reversed the judgment and called for a new trial, contending Prince suffered prejudice when the circuit court admitted Prince’s juvenile court records into evidence.
All three judges agreed the admission of juvenile records raised a question of general importance, and ordered the case to be transferred to Supreme Court. The high bench typically takes more time than lower courts to issue its decisions.
Prince is incarcerated at the Crossroads Correctional Center in northwest Missouri’s Cameron.