Helmig struggles after wrongful conviction release

A central Missouri man who was freed from prison last year after his conviction for killing his mother was overturned is struggling to adjust to his freedom.

Dale Helmig, 55, has been unable to find a job since his December 2010 release, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/umPT4z) reports. Helmig was serving a life sentence for the 1993 death of his mother, Norma, before a judge overturned the conviction as the result of a tainted trial. His freedom was further secured in April after Osage County prosecutor Amanda Grellner decided to not refile charges against him.

“I’m still in limbo,” Helmig said. “I can’t move forward and get on with my life until I find a job and get my own place.”

Helmig continues to live with his brother in Rocky Mount, near the Lake of the Ozarks north shore and a short drive from his adult son in Eldon and a 16-year-old daughter in Jefferson City. Rich Helmig has staunchly supported his brother since he was initially accused in the early 1990s of killing their mother, whose body was found tied to a concrete block along the Osage River during the 1993 Midwest floods. She was 55 when she died.

Sean O’Brien, the Kansas City attorney and law school professor who led the legal fight to exonerate Helmig, said his client would be in far worse shape without that kind of support.

“If not for Rich he would be homeless,” O’Brien said.

The weak economy has also hindered Helmig’s attempts to find work as a maintenance man or janitor in the lake area or Jefferson City. He’s also convinced his prison stint has helped scare away potential employers.

Helmig doesn’t attempt to hide his 15-year detour through the Missouri prison system, said O’Brien, who teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Rather, he uses news clippings about his case to show that a northwest Missouri trial court judge found he was the victim of a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.” The state Court of Appeals upheld that ruling,

“His biggest handicap is he’s very honest,” the attorney said.

DeKalb County Senior Judge Warren McElwain ruled in 2010 that Helmig was “actually innocent of the crime.” The judge said a former special state prosecutor and the Osage sheriff misled the trial court and jurors, while the special prosecutor and Grellner’s predecessor as county prosecutor relied on false testimony by a state trooper who mischaracterized a statement from Helmig as a confession.

Helmig spends much of his idle time fishing with his brother.

“Being in prison, no matter how you got there, is one mark against you,” Helmig said.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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