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Helmig lawsuit dismissed

Osage County, sheriff, others cleared of freed inmate's accusations September 19, 2014 at 4:50 a.m. | Updated September 19, 2014 at 4:50 a.m.

U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey has dismissed all seven claims Dale Helmig had made against Osage County, former Sheriff Carl Fowler, former deputy Paul Backues and former Missouri Highway Patrol trooper Robert Westfall.

In a 20-page ruling Wednesday, Laughrey granted the defendants' motion for "summary judgment," which means no factual issues are left to be decided by a trial.

Helmig, now 58, was convicted in March 1996 for the July 1993 murder of his mother, Norma Helmig, 55.

She last was seen on July 28, 1993, and Helmig reported her missing on July 30, 1993. Her nightgown-clad body was recovered from the flood-swollen Osage River, near the mouth of the Maries River, on Aug. 1.

Helmig was charged with her murder in February 1994 and arrested on March 5, 1994. His trial was held in Hermann two years later, on a change of venue, with the prosecution presenting "no physical or direct evidence implicating Helmig" to the Gasconade County jury, Laughrey wrote.

After his conviction, Helmig was sentenced to life in prison, without parole - but he was released 15 years later, in March 2011, after the Missouri Appeals Court's Western District found that Helmig had shown "a fundamental miscarriage of justice" during his original trial.

The court gave Osage County Prosecutor Amanda Grellner 180 days to "retry Dale Helmig for the murder of Norma Helmig, if at all," or he was to be "discharged from the State's custody."

Grellner in August 2011 said she had "decided to dismiss the case at this time," but said that "there is no statute of limitations for the crime of murder. This case remains an open and ongoing investigation."

Helmig sued in the U.S. District Court, ultimately filing seven counts of false arrest, "malicious prosecution" in violation of both federal and common law, conspiracy to "offer untruthful testimony," failure to disclose evidence favorable to his defense, fabricated evidence and failure to establish appropriate policies or adequately train law enforcement personnel.

Laughrey's ruling rejected all those claims.

Among her findings, Laughrey said there was no "false arrest" because a "police officer is empowered to make an arrest based on reasonable grounds to believe that the person is guilty of the offense."

Liability for making a false arrest "cannot be based on the bare fact that the suspect is later proven innocent, or the charges are dismissed," Laughrey wrote.

Likewise, Helmig's claim for malicious prosecution "would fail because the existence of probable cause for Helmig's arrest and prosecution defeats it," the judge wrote.

She found his conspiracy claims to be "an attempt to demonstrate a conspiracy to offer untruthful testimony," but said Helmig couldn't make that case because a "conspiracy claim cannot be based on such a premise, because prosecutors have absolute prosecutorial immunity, and witnesses have absolute testimonial immunity."

Laughrey also found that Helmig "cannot establish the deprivation of any constitutional right."


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