State to seek death penalty again in 1977 slaying

CLAYTON (AP) — The St. Louis County prosecutor said he will seek the death penalty again for a man whose sentence in a cold-case murder was overturned last year.

Gregory Bowman was convicted in 2009 of raping, strangling and cutting the throat of 16-year-old Velda Joy Rumfelt in 1977.

In April 2011, the state Supreme Court affirmed Bowman’s conviction in the killing but reversed the death penalty, sending the case back to the trial court for resentencing. The state Supreme Court ruled that during the sentencing phase of Bowman’s trial, jurors improperly heard information about Bowman’s convictions in the deaths of a 14-year-old girl and a 21-year-old woman in Belleville, Ill. Both of those convictions were overturned after a sheriff’s deputy admitted tricking Bowman into confessing.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Thursday he did not find such a mention in the transcript from Bowman’s 2009 trial, only evidence the state said linked him to the Illinois murders.

“It’s always difficult to get the death penalty — no matter how deserving they are,” McCulloch said. “But in this situation, the decision makes it more difficult because it is unclear what (the Supreme Court thinks) was inappropriate.”

David Kenyon and Robert Steele, two lawyers with the capital litigation division of the Missouri public defender’s office, declined comment after a hearing on the case Thursday. Bowman remains in custody, where he has been for most of the past three decades. It’s unclear when jurors will get the chance to hear the case again.

Rumfelt’s body was found in a field the day after she disappeared.

The following year, Bowman was already headed to prison on an unrelated conviction when he confessed to killing 14-year-old Elizabeth West and 21-year-old Ruth Ann Jany. Bowman pleaded guilty in March 1979, only to recant several days later, saying his statements were coerced.

An Illinois appellate court overturned his convictions in those cases in 2001. Bowman won release on bail in 2007, after which St. Louis County police obtained Bowman’s DNA profile from Belleville investigators, and used it to connect him to the killing of Rumfelt.

He was arrested soon after his release in Illinois and convicted in St. Louis County in 2009.

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