State v. Edwards

Citation116 S.W.3d 511
Decision Date26 August 2003
Docket NumberNo. SC 84648.,SC 84648.
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Kimber EDWARDS, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

Janet M. Thompson, Charles D. Moreland, Office of the Public Defender, Columbia, for Appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Evan J. Buchheim, John M. Morris, Asst. Attys. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Jefferson City, for Respondent.


A jury found Kimber Edwards guilty of the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, Kimberly Cantrell, and recommended a sentence of death. The trial court entered a death sentence in accordance with the jury's recommendation. Mr. Edwards appeals both the determination of guilt and the imposition of a death sentence. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction pursuant to Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. For the reasons set out below, this Court affirms the judgment in all respects.


Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, State v. Thompson, 985 S.W.2d 779 (Mo. banc 1999), the record reveals the following facts:

Fourteen-year-old Erica Edwards called her Aunt Phyllis on the evening of August 23, 2000, to see whether her aunt knew where Erica's mother was. Erica's father, Kimber Edwards (defendant), and her mother, Kimberly Cantrell (the victim), had divorced in 1990. Erica was in the primary physical custody of her mother and usually lived at her mother's home in University City, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb.

Mr. Edwards was 37 years old and worked as a correctional officer at the St. Louis City jail. He had initially been ordered to pay $35.00 per week in child support for Erica, but the amount of child support was more than doubled, to $351.00 per month, in 1995. In March 2000, the prosecutor charged Mr. Edwards with failing to pay any of his court-ordered child support for the 12-month period from March 1999 to March 2000, a class D felony. He pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor offered what was described as a standard plea bargain under which Mr. Edwards would receive a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) and five years probation in return for his agreement to plead guilty, to make a lump-sum payment of $1,500, and to pay $500 per month thereafter ($351 towards current support obligations and $149 towards his arrearage). He had to decide whether to accept the prosecutor's offer at a settlement conference, or court appearance, set for August 25, 2000.1

For the three weeks prior to August 22, 2000, Erica had been staying with her father, his wife, Jada, and their two children, Tierra and Britney, in their home in the City of St. Louis. Erica's mother, Ms. Cantrell, was due to pick up Erica the next day, but had not called Erica to make final arrangements, and no one answered the telephone at Ms. Cantrell's house. Ms. Cantrell had last been seen leaving her place of employment around 5:06 p.m. on August 22, but did not show up for or call her work on August 23, which was unusual for her. Ms. Cantrell also failed to show up for the first night of an evening class held on August 22 at a local community college.

After Erica called her aunt the evening of August 23, 2000, the aunt, along with Ms. Cantrell's mother-in-law and another friend, went to Ms. Cantrell's house. They discovered Ms. Cantrell's body about 9:30 p.m.; she had been shot twice in the head at close range. The police were called. After speaking with the victim's family and partially investigating the crime scene, detectives decided to drive to Mr. Edwards' home to speak with him about who might have killed Ms. Cantrell. The detectives arrived at about 3:00 a.m. on August 24. They informed Mr. Edwards that Ms. Cantrell was dead and asked him, his wife, and the children to accompany them to the police station to assist in their investigation. Mr. Edwards and Jada traveled in one car, the children in another. At the station, Mr. Edwards was taken to an interrogation room, Jada to a secretary's office, and the children to the deputy juvenile officer's office. Police said that none was arrested or placed in custody, although Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were potential suspects.

During his August 24 interview, Mr. Edwards did not make any incriminating statements. He told detectives that he had been working out of town and had not returned until August 22, 2000. He said he spent that day taking his daughters to doctors' appointments and doing some electrical work at one of his rental properties on Palm Street in St. Louis. He said he last saw his ex-wife on August 10. He avoided seeing her because they argued about custody and child support and she was angry about an ongoing dispute over child support. He told detectives that he did not kill his ex-wife and that he knew of no one who would want to kill her. After his interview, detectives drove all of the family but Erica home. Erica, who had been scheduled to go to her mother's house, went home with her Aunt Phyllis. The next day authorities placed Erica in her aunt's custody pending their investigation of Ms. Cantrell's death, noting in their petition that Mr. Edwards was a potential suspect.

Later that morning, police questioned Ms. Cantrell's next-door neighbors to see whether they had seen anything related to the murder. Christopher Harrington, then in ninth grade, told police that he had seen and heard a black man wearing a black backpack banging on Ms. Cantrell's door in the late afternoon of August 22, and that the man walked away after there was no answer. Christopher's younger brother, Brandon, age 12, heard shots and a woman scream at around 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. while he was home watching television.

The next day, August 25, 2000, detectives drove to Mr. Edwards' rental properties to verify his statement that he had been there on August 22 repairing electrical problems. While approaching the property detectives saw a man, who later identified himself as Ortell Wilson, sitting on the front steps.2 Mr. Wilson lived in one of Mr. Edwards' rental properties rent-free in exchange for performing maintenance work and other jobs.

Because Mr. Wilson matched the description of the person that Christopher Harrington had seen knocking on Ms. Cantrell's door on August 22, detectives asked him to come to the police station, where he was interviewed and photographed. They searched his apartment and seized a black backpack in which they found rubber fingertips. Christopher Harrington later picked Mr. Wilson out of a photographic show-up. Mr. Wilson was charged with the first-degree murder of Kimberly Cantrell.

The following day, August 26, 2000, a police officer who was related to the victim arrested Mr. Edwards on an unrelated charge, alleging that Mr. Edwards interfered while the officer was trying to ticket him for having cars parked on the grass. He was booked and held. While Mr. Edwards was being held, police again questioned Mr. Wilson. As a result of the questioning, Mr. Wilson took the police to a vacant building where he said he had hidden the murder weapon. A gun and a box of ammunition were found. The weapon had recently been fired, and three rounds were missing. Bullets found in Ms. Cantrell's apartment later were determined to be from the weapon to which Mr. Wilson led the police.

Mr. Wilson implicated Mr. Edwards in the murder, and University City police arrested Mr. Edwards for Ms. Cantrell's murder the afternoon of August 27, as he was being released by St. Louis police. Defendant was put in an interrogation room and was informed by detectives that Mr. Wilson was in custody and had spoken with them and that they had recovered the murder weapon. Defendant orally waived his Miranda rights and signed a waiver of those rights. Police showed him the weapon and some photographs of the crime scene. At first, he continued to deny involvement. Police told him they would have to keep investigating his claims, including re-interviewing his wife and children. At that point, he agreed to make a statement if it would avoid the need for his family to be interviewed again. He said that he had hired someone named "Michael" to kill Ms. Cantrell. He said that "Michael" overheard him talking about the problems that he and Ms. Cantrell were having, including their upcoming court date regarding child support, and approached him offering to take care of the "problem" for $1,600 dollars. He recounted later discussions between himself and "Michael" and said that they eventually agreed to the price. He told "Michael" that he would deal only with him, gave "Michael" Ms. Cantrell's address, told him her regular routine, and let him know that he would be able to get a key to her apartment.

Detectives asked whether "Michael" was really Ortell Wilson. Defendant said that he was not but that Mr. Wilson had approached him and asked why he was not given "the job." On that same day, he saw Mr. Wilson sitting in the passenger seat of "Michael's" car. Defendant further said that Mr. Wilson approached him and said that he helped with the murder and wanted some money. Defendant said he told Mr. Wilson that he'd have to get his money from "Michael." Defendant refused to repeat his statements on videotape but did confirm what he told detectives in a written statement.

Detectives again spoke with Mr. Wilson on August 28. They then re-read defendant his Miranda rights, received a written waiver, and re-interviewed him. After being told that Mr. Wilson's statement differed from his own, defendant told detectives that he had left out some details earlier. He then gave them a second oral and written statement in which he said that Mr. Wilson had approached him on August 3 and told him that he and "Michael" were working together. At first he had pretended not to know what Mr. Wilson was talking about, but later told Mr. Wilson that he would get paid whatever he and "Michael" agreed upon. The statement...

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