State v. Link

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation25 S.W.3d 136
Parties(Mo.banc 2000) . State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Martin Link, Appellant. SC78466 Supreme Court of Missouri Handdown Date: 0
Decision Date01 August 2000

25 S.W.3d 136 (Mo.banc 2000)
This slip opinion is subject to revision and may not reflect the final opinion adopted by the Court.
State of Missouri, Respondent,
Martin Link, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Missouri
Handdown Date: 08/01/2000

Appeal From: Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Hon. Evelyn M. Baker

Counsel for Appellant: Mark T. Kempton and J. Christopher Spangler

Counsel for Respondent: Linda Lemke

Opinion Summary: Martin Link kidnapped, raped, and murdered an eleven-year-old girl before she met her school bus in St. Louis in January 1991. He was convicted of these crimes and, on the jury's recommendation, sentenced to death. The post-conviction court overruled his Rule 29.15 motion after an evidentiary hearing. He appeals.


Court en banc holds:

(1) Although expert testimony that relates to witness credibility is inadmissible because it invades the province of the jury, it did not invade the province of the jury for an officer to explain the general concept of false sightings or state specific facts to discredit a witness's sighting of the victim. But it was improper to say police classified the witness's information as a false sighting. Despite this error, Link has not shown prejudice or manifest injustice. The witness's testimony that she was not sure she saw the victim was more damaging than the officers' testimony.

(2) Allowing a state expert to testify that a defense expert's report showed the defense expert had "no knowledge" of how to interpret mixed stains was a direct comment on credibility that invaded the jury's province. But in the context of the state's expert's entire, devastating testimony, prejudice was negligible.

(3) An expert's testimony that used the "product rule" was admissible. The expert multiplied the odds that someone at random would match the DNA profile based on one piece of evidence by the odds that someone at random would match the DNA profile of another piece of evidence, to arrive at the probability of both of the profiles matching two individuals picked at random.

(4) (A) An officer's testimony that five other suspects were eliminated did not invade the jury's province. Assuming the officer's testimony that the others had alibis was hearsay, it did not amount to manifest injustice.

(B) The officer's testimony that the victim's sister told him where she found the victim's umbrella was hearsay. It was not so prejudicial as to require reversal. The sister testified.

(5) The state's proof of custody of the vaginal swabs was adequate. A chain of custody does not require proof of hand-to-hand custody or elimination of all possibility that the evidence has been disturbed. The court may assume, absent bad faith, ill will or proof, that custody officials properly discharged their duties and no tampering occurred.

(6) The prosecutor's closing argument, though mostly a proper "send a message" argument, goes over the line in calling the jury to "raise that window and say we're mad as hell." Under the circumstances, it did not constitute manifest injustice.

(7) The motion court did not err in adopting the state's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The errors Link identifies are either minor or not errors, and none establish the court failed to thoughtfully and carefully consider the claims. (8) Counsel was not ineffective for failing to present expert testimony on Link's abuse as a child. Counsel chose not to open the door to personality disorder or mental makeup evidence. Both sides' experts would testify Link had no mental disease or defect, fixated on sex with young girls, was anti-social, and would repeat criminal behavior and kill again.

(9) The sentence passes statutory proportionality review.

Opinion Author: Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr., Judge

Opinion Vote: AFFIRMED. All concur.


Martin Link was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis of kidnapping, section 565.110, RSMo 1986, forcible rape, section 566.030, RSMo Supp. 1990, and murder in the first degree, section 565.020, RSMo Supp. 1990, and the trial court, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced Link to death. The post-conviction court overruled his Rule 29.15 motion after an evidentiary hearing. Because the death penalty was imposed, this Court has exclusive jurisdiction of the appeals. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3; Order of June 16, 1988. The judgments are affirmed.


The facts, which this Court reviews in the light most favorable to the verdict, State v. Ferguson, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Mo. banc 2000) (No. SC78609, decided May 30, 2000, slip op. at 2), are as follows:

On Friday, January 11, 1991, just before 6:30 a.m., eleven-year-old Elissa Self left her house at 3844 Humphrey Street in South St. Louis to walk less than three blocks to catch her bus to Enright Classical Junior Academy, a school for gifted children. It was a cold, rainy morning, and Elissa's mother insisted that she wear boots and carry an umbrella. Elissa never arrived at school, and at about 8:20 a.m. the school called Elissa's parents to tell them that Elissa was not present. Elissa's parents drove around the neighborhood looking for her, but they were unable to find her, and they went home and called the police.

During the next four days, police canvassed the neighborhood, interviewed possible witnesses, and investigated calls and letters on possible sightings. On Tuesday, January 15, 1991, two persons who were scavenging at the Black Bridge recreation area along the St. Francis River, 135 miles south of St. Louis in Wayne County, found Elissa's body in a large pile of debris that had washed up on the riverbank. Police soon searched the area and found Elissa's boots, but none of her other belongings. One of the small boulders that defined the perimeter of the parking area had been pushed out of place, and there was a tire rut in the gravel leading up to that boulder.

Elissa's body was autopsied twice. The autopsies revealed two fresh oval-shaped bruises on Elissa's upper left arm, which were consistent with someone grabbing her arm tightly. Her lips were bruised and torn on the inside from being pressed against her teeth. The autopsies also showed that she had been raped. Her external genitalia were bruised and swollen, and there was a five-millimeter tear in the area leading to her vagina. Her hymen had been torn as well. Inflammation had begun in her vagina, and blood in her panties had partially dried, indicating that she survived for some time after the rape.

The cause of death was ligature strangulation. There were two long, thin bruises, about five to seven millimeters wide, around her entire neck. These bruises were consistent with a cord having been wrapped completely around her neck, with each end of the cord held in front of her. A pathologist testified that Elissa had been strangled to death slowly, losing consciousness after about five to ten minutes and dying after about thirty minutes. Although she still may have been alive when her body was dumped in the river, the amount of brain damage she sustained from the strangulation indicated that she never would have regained consciousness. Because the cold water had preserved her body, the time of death could be established only during the interval between the time of her kidnapping to twenty-four hours before she was found.

At about 9:24 p.m., on January 26, 1991, eleven days after Elissa's body was found, a City of Kirkwood police officer saw Martin Link driving with a headlight out and attempted to pull him over. Link led the officer on a high-speed chase, eventually crashing his car into a telephone pole, and was then taken into custody. In a search of the car, officers found a jar of petroleum jelly with Link's fingerprints on the jar and flecks of blood embedded in the jelly. In addition, officers took tape lifts from the inside of the car in order to obtain fiber evidence.

During the investigation, officers discovered that Link had grown up five blocks from where Elissa was kidnapped and had attended the school near Elissa's bus stop. In the early 1980s, Link lived in a house less than a mile away from the Black Bridge recreation area, the place where Elissa's body was found. At the time Link was arrested, he was living in South St. Louis, about 1 1/2 miles from where Elissa was kidnapped.

Officers also discovered that Link was registered at a motel just outside of St. Louis from January 9, 1991 to January 11, 1991. Link checked out at an unknown time on January 11, the morning that Elissa was kidnapped. That night, at about 1:55 a.m. on January 12, Link checked into a motel in Desloge, Missouri, which is about seventy miles north of Black Bridge on a direct route from Black Bridge to St. Louis. A witness noted that Link's car was loud, "like a car that had a bad muffler on it." At about 8:30 a.m., Link called the S&S Muffler shop and "was very insistent" that he get his car fixed that day. He was told to bring in the car that afternoon and did so at 2:30 p.m. He explained to the employees that he was coming from further south and that he had to get his muffler fixed or else he would get a ticket in St. Louis. While he was at the shop, he kept pacing in the waiting room and checking to see if the work on his car was finished.

While a mechanic was working underneath Link's car, clumps of orange clay of the same type found in the St. Francis riverbed fell from the bottom of the car. The tailpipe was bent and broken loose from the muffler, and the muffler had been hit by something that smashed and punctured it. The muffler of Link's car had twelve inches of clearance, which was also the height of the rock that had been moved out of place at Black Bridge, where Elissa's body was found.

As part of the investigation, a special agent at the FBI crime laboratory compared three fibers found on the front passenger seat of Link's car with fibers from the sweater Elissa...

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