Dale Helmig Awaits Word On Retrial
On Feb. 24, 2011, a hearing was held in Kansas City before the Missouri Court of Appeals. Dale's attorney, Sean O'Brien, and Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke presented oral arguments before the court.
The assistant attorney general asked that the Court of Appeals overturn Judge McElwain's order granting Dale a new trial. If he wins, Dale will be arrested and returned to prison. Dale's attorney asked that Judge McElwain's decision be affirmed, which would require the state to retry Dale or let him go. It could be months before the court of appeals makes its decision.
In the meantime, Dale is out on bond.
Conviction Tossed, Helmig Leaves Prison
Dale finished up his prison chores and called back his brother Rich.
“Pack your bags, brother,” Rich told him. “You’re coming home.”
After nearly 15 long years, Dale changed out of prison garb, put on civilian clothes and walked out of jail on Dec. 13, 2010. The lights from the news cameras were blinding.
Just a few hours later, he was having his first meal out of prison – a big, juicy steak. The next day, he got a call from an old friend, congratulating him on his freedom, as he sipped hot coffee at his brother’s breakfast table. He made plans to reunite with family and friends.
It was all really happening: Dale was a free man.
The Missouri Court of Appeals ordered his immediate conditional release Dec. 13.
On Nov. 3, 2010, a Missouri judge granted Dale Helmig a writ of habeas corpus which vacated his 1996 conviction in the case of Norma Helmig's murder in the summer of 1993.
"There was no physical evidence linking Petitioner to the murder. The thin circumstantial evidence has been substantially weakened by the newly discovered evidence," Judge Warren L. McElwain wrote.
"This case presents the rare circumstance in which no credible evidence remains from the first trial to support the conviction. This Court determines based on the record that under these rare circumstances, there is clear and convincing evidence of Dale Helmig’s innocence. As such his conviction and sentence cannot stand and must be set aside."
The writ, signed by Judge McElwain, establishes Helmig's innocence by clear and convincing evidence and cites that his constitutional rights were violated and that he was the victim of "manifest injustice."
It ordered Dale to be released immediately pending the state's decision to retry Helmig within 180 days.
The case for innocence was based in part on the testimony of a former Missouri State Highway Patrolman Robert Westfall, who retracted his trial testimony that Mr. Helmig tacitly admitted that he killed his mother.
Additional evidence presented in the case included "testimony of Osage County Sheriff Carl Fowler establishing that there was no basis for allegations at trial that Mr. Helmig had assaulted his mother three days before her death, and new evidence tying the cancelled checks in Mrs. Helmig’s purse, which went missing at the time of her death, to Ted Helmig, a viable alternate suspect in this murder," Judge McElwain wrote.
Judge McElwain's decision also states that there is "sufficient evidence" that Dale's attorney Christopher Jordan was "impaired by drug use at the time of his trial."
"Jordan’s conduct of the trial raises serious questions about his mental competence and moral fitness to conduct a complex, high-stakes jury trial in which his client’s life was on the line," Judge McElwain wrote.
"The Court finds that Mr. Helmig’s evidence that Mr. Jordan was impaired is credible and persuasive."
In Missouri's case against Dale, Judge McElwain also wrote that the state relied heavily on statements from Dale that "inferred guilty knowledge," including the claim that Dale told police his mother would be wearing her nightgown.
In the case for innocence, a cousin and neighbor of Norma Helmig testified that it was Norma's sister, Dorothy Bauer, who noticed that Norma must be wearing the nightgown she was found in.
Further testimony and evidence presented corroborated Dale's alibi the night of his mother's murder that he was staying in the Travilier Motel in Fulton, Mo., because the bridge was closed due to a flood.
Witnesses said they saw Dale at Walmart that night buying toiletries and clothes and that he was in a "very good mood" because he was going to have visitation with his children and mentioned his mother was going to come with him.
The decision also addresses a map that was provided to jurors at Dale's original trial before they had reached a unanimous verdict, but was not entered into evidence.
"The potential influence on jurors deprives the defendant of his right to a fair and impartial jury reaching a verdict based on evidence received at trial. The Court finds that allowing the map into the jury room violated Petitioner’s rights under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution," Judge McElwain wrote.
"It caused the holdout juror to change her vote where no other evidence could."
Dale is represented by UMKC Law Professor Sean O’Brien and Midwestern Innocence Project Staff Attorney Ken Blucker.
Helmig's story aired on AMW in May 2009 and again in July 2010.
The Story Of Dale Helmig
On Sunday, Aug. 1, 1993, a boater found the body of 55-year-old Norma Helmig floating in the Osage River, 10 miles east of Jefferson City, Mo.
The midwestern United States had experienced heavy flooding that summer, causing widespread destruction and taking many lives. So when the woman’s body was discovered, she was presumed to be another unfortunate victim of the raging floodwaters – that is, until they examined the body.
She was dressed in a nightgown and had been tied to a cement block. This was no accidental drowning.
Norma Helmig had last been seen Wednesday, July 28, 1993. It had been an exciting day for her because she and her oldest son, Dale, had received some very good news: Dale’s estranged wife, Teresa, had finally given him visitation with his two kids for the weekend.
It had been months since Dale and Norma had spent time with the children, so they planned on having a big family barbecue at the house they shared at Pointer’s Creek.
Norma's husband, Ted, had recently moved out of that house. After 39 years of marriage, Norma was finally divorcing Ted because of what court papers describe as physical and mental abuse.
But even after the separation, their relationship worsened. After a restraining order was issued, witnesses say that Ted threatened Norma, threw hot coffee in her face at a diner, and sold off their mutual assets.
That's when Dale moved in with his mother.
Pointer's Creek is a farming and recreational area with few houses, used by campers, hunters, and boaters, 10 miles southeast of Linn, Mo.
Two rivers lie between Jefferson City and Linn: the Missouri River, which borders Jefferson City, and the Osage River, which is 10 miles farther east towards Linn.
During the summer of 1993, both the Missouri and Osage rivers broke their boundaries, flooding much of the surrounding area.
Dale had spent Tuesday night, July 27, with friends in Holt's Summit after floodwaters closed down the Missouri River Bridge in Jefferson City, his usual route back to Pointer’s Creek.
On Wednesday morning, the bridge was still closed, this time due to a propane tank that had washed downstream and become lodged under the bridge.
So Dale drove the 48 miles east to Hermann -- but the bridge there was closed too. Dale then drove another hour west to Fulton.
At around 8 p.m., Dale stopped by the Fulton Walmart to buy toiletries before checking into the Travelier Motel. At the same time, 25 miles away, the Missouri River Bridge re-opened to traffic in and out of Jefferson City. That’s where Norma was meeting her sister, Dorothy, at the American Legion hall to play bingo.
After the bingo game ended around 9:30 p.m., Norma had a few beers at the Legion's bar with a male friend. According to the bartender, a short time later, Ted came in and sat at the other end of the bar. After drinking beer, he left at 10:30 p.m., without saying a word to Norma.
Meanwhile back in Fulton, Dennis Hazelwood was delivering a pizza to Dale's room at the Travelier Motel. Dale says after eating the pizza and watching some TV, he went to sleep.
Witnesses said at 11:30 p.m., Norma left the American Legion bar and drove to the Country Kitchen diner, also in Jefferson City, where she frequently ate a late breakfast after bingo.
She left the diner at 12:30 a.m. Thursday to drive back home to Pointer's Creek -- a 40-minute drive. She was never seen alive again.
At 2:30 a.m., a neighbor saw car headlights pull up to Norma's house. He saw no lights on in the house. It was later reported that there had been a power blackout in that region between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
That Thursday morning, around 9:30, Dale says he checked out of the Travelier Motel, drove across the re-opened Missouri River Bridge into Jefferson City and went to the La Casa Restaurant, where he met a co-worker.
The two left to go bid on a painting job, returned to the La Casa in the afternoon and had beer and dinner with friends. Then, Dale drove with another friend, Donny Martin, to the Jungle Bar, where he ran into an acquaintance named Stacey Medlock. She and Dale ended up spending the night together.
On Friday morning, Dale invited Stacey to the house at Pointer's Creek. He told her that he'd be picking up his kids later that day and wanted her to meet them.
When they arrived at the house, Norma's car was in the driveway, but she wasn't there. Inside, Dale noticed that things were out of place, and after searching the house and yard, he called family members, and then the sheriff.
After inspecting the house, Sheriff Carl Fowler seemed to believe that foul play was involved – even though there was no sign of a robbery or violent struggle. And Fowler began to suspect Dale of the crime almost immediately.
Sheriff Fowler reportedly told Dale's younger brother, Rich, "I knew your brother did this from the minute I walked down here."
Saturday, while family members and law enforcement continued the search for Norma at the house, Dale spent the day in Jefferson City with his two children.
Sunday, two days after she was reported missing, Norma's bloated body was found in the Osage River, with a cement block tied around her waist.
Sheriff Fowler considered Dale the prime suspect, even though Ted Helmig had a history of violence against Norma and had violated the very restraining order the sheriff had served him.
»Arrest and Interview of Dale Helmig
»Norma Helmig Murder Police Report
»Country Kitchen Incident
According to Ted, Fowler even told him, "You ought to be my number one suspect, but you're not."
Dale was ultimately charged with his mother’s murder, and the case went to trial March 4, 1996.
Attorney's Alternate Theory Proves Unconvincing
Dale's defense attorney was Chris Jordan, whose counsel Dale says proved to be more of a detriment than a help.
A recent petition to the court best summarizes the trial: "Dale Helmig was convicted of murdering his mother only because the weakness of the state's case was exceeded by the lawyer's inept defense."
In order to fairly present the events of the murder trial, AMW repeatedly tried to interview the key players in this case, including prosecutors Kenny Hulshof and Robert Schollmeyer, defense attorney Jordan, Sheriff Fowler, and Missouri State Trooper Robert Westfall. All declined our requests.
At the trial, the prosecution contended that Dale killed his mother over a $200 phone bill. They stated that Dale then drove to the Osage River Bridge and dumped his mother's body into the floodwaters below, yet they offered no factual evidence linking Dale to the crime.
Throughout the trial, prosecuting attorneys Schollmeyer and Hulshof skillfully presented a torrent of innuendo, hearsay and facts turned upside-down.
Dale and his mother's mutual love was transformed by the prosecution into a relationship filled with distrust, greed and fear. The incident in which Ted threw hot coffee in Norma's face was changed into Dale doing the deed. Dale's evening at the Travelier Motel became a 17-hour tale of disappearance and murder.
A statement by Norma's sister Dorothy Bauer that Norma was still wearing her favorite nightgown ultimately became a statement by Dale -- confirming for jurors that Dale knew too much, too soon, and therefore must be the killer.
And Dale had a guilty conscience, Schollmeyer said, because he refused to come back to the house on Saturday to search for his mother with the other family members -- withholding from the jury the fact that Dale had been told by Deputy Sheriff Paul Backues not to come to the house on Saturday with his kids.
But, prosecutors went a step further: They elicited testimony from Missouri State Trooper Robert Westfall that contradicted his own written report:
Mr. Hulshof: Sir ... did Dale Helmig ever deny killing Norma Helmig to you?
Trooper Westfall: No, sir, he did not.
That statement, according to Westfall's own report, was false, and the defense never challenged it.
Jordan's primary defense of Dale was the assertion that Norma's death had been self-inflicted -- an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription medication -- which is an absurd claim, considering that her body was found in a river, tied to a cement block.
Jordan called no alibi or character witnesses and failed to challenge any of the prosecution's distortions and outright falsehoods.
It took the jury four-and-a-half hours to find Dale Helmig guilty of murder.
He was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of probation or parole. Dale has been incarcerated for 14 years.
On May 5, 2010, there was a preliminary DNA Evidence hearing in Hermann, Mo., before Judge Gael Wood. The hearing was to present arguments for and against the testing of DNA on the evidence. The judge ordered that the Missouri State Highway Patrol inspect the evidence to determine whether there was enough DNA to test.
During that hearing, Sheriff Carl Fowler stated that Dale did not throw hot coffee in his mother's face at the Country Kitchen diner.
It has since been determined that there is indeed enough DNA still on the evidence to test.
From July 6-8, 2010, a writ of habeas Corpus hearing in Maysville, Mo., was held before Judge Warren McElwain. Dale's Attorney, Sean O'Brien, subpoenaed two-dozen witnesses to testify, either in person or by videotaped deposition, including many whom we interviewed and had never been allowed to testify during the original trial. Also called were Sheriff Fowler, Deputy Sheriff Paul Backues, and former State Trooper Robert Westfall.
In his taped deposition, Robert Westfall admitted that Dale did deny killing his mother when he was interrogated, thus contradicting his testimony during the trial.
The state prosecutors called no witnesses.