KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he still hasn’t made a decision about whether he will take action to free former Kansas City, Missouri, police officer Eric DeValkenaere but criticized the Jackson County prosecutor's handling of the case in a radio interview Tuesday with a local radio station.
DeValkenaere began serving a six-year sentence for second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action last month, nearly two years after he was convicted in the December 2019 shooting death of Cameron Lamb.
TIMELINE | Shooting of Lamb, conviction DeValkenaere
Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs handed down the verdict after a four-day bench trial in November 2021 and the Missouri Court of Appeals for Western Missouri affirmed the conviction last month.
DeValkenaere’s attorneys have petitioned Parson, a former sheriff, for clemency.
“It’s been one of the toughest issues that’s been on my desk I would say, trying to figure it out, just because of my law-enforcement career and trying to figure out how the system works,” Parson said in an interview with KCMO Talk Radio host Pete Mundo. “And whether you let it work or do you feel like it failed.”
During the interview, Parson reiterated that he has “not made a decision yet” and acknowledged that “lots of people have reached out” on behalf of DeValkenaere “and there’s been other people reach out on the other side too, as you know.”
Parson went on to deride Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker for making DeValkenaere’s prosecution a political issue, though he didn’t use her name in the interview portion posted to social media.
“The one thing that bothered me more than anything about that case was the way the prosecutor handled that in Kansas City by the accusations she was making about guilt or innocence without actually even knowing the facts herself,” Parson said. “It’s a time when there was a lot of civil unrest and the problem is you don’t ever want anyone convicted because of the political side of things. But she’s been a poor example of setting the stage and making this more of a political issue when she should be doing what’s right by the law.”
DeValkenaere was indicted by a Jackson County grand jury in June 2020 amid nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder by police officers in Minneapolis.
Lamb’s name was one of several invoked by Kansas City-area protesters.
He was shot and killed Dec. 3, 2019, as he sat in his truck behind his residence in the 4100 block of College Avenue after DeValkenaere illegally entered the property without a warrant, probable cause or permission.
DeValkenaere’s defense team chose not to have a jury seated for his trial and instead had Youngs — and Youngs alone — rule on the case.
He determined that DeValkenaere acted negligently in entering Lamb’s property and shooting him in violation of his Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.
Parson has virtually unlimited power to issue pardons and sentence commutations under Missouri law.
He used that authority to pardon Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who threatened protestors with guns in June 2020 outside their home, but he has declined to use that power in other cases.
Parson said he wasn’t 100% convinced Kevin Strickland was innocent in opting not to pardon him despite an eye witness recanting her statement and the conviction of two other men, who deny his involvement, for the shootings.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which has filed numerous motions in support of overturning DeValkenaere’s conviction after dragging out the appeals process while he remained free on bond, argued that Strickland was given a fair trial and tried to block his release after Baker’s office moved to vacate the conviction.
Strickland was eventually freed under a new Missouri law that allowed Baker to petition for the court to re-examine the case.
Parson also refused to pardon Lamar Johnson, who was convicted despite no physical evidence on the testimony of a since-recanted identification by an eye witness based on the eyes of a masked gunman. He also was eventually freed under the new law.