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Changes, odd motions delay St. Clair trial

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St. Clair shot, killed Marion County native almost 20 years ago

By The Staff

HARDIN COUNTY - The chaotic prosecution beginning two months after (Marion County native) Frank Brady's 1991 kidnapping and murder entered its 17th year this month with a chief prosecutor retiring, two chosen to fill his shoes and a defendant demanding $20,000 payment for his work defending himself.

The scenarios revolving around the seemingly endless prosecution of Michael Dale St. Clair might be comical if not rooted in two Oklahoma jail escapees' killing spree that ended with after Sonora truck stop hijacking of a Bardstown man who was later executed in a rural part of Bullitt County.

David Smith, 53, has vehemently sought the death penalty for Michael Dale St. Clair for nearly two decades, but after 28 years prosecuting for the Kentucky Attorney General, he announced in September his intent to retire and leave St. Clair's final prosecution to others to follow through with. Smith's retirement is effective Dec. 31. Special prosecutors Todd Lewis and Tom Van De Rostyne are now assigned to the case, alongside Dana Todd, who has been on the case for more than a decade.

Wednesday, during the most recent of several pre-trial hearings since St. Clair's January 2008 trial was delayed, another set of off-the-wall motions was heard and overruled by another Special Judge on the case.

Among St. Clair's nutty requests was a motion for a $20,000 state payment to himself, for the defendant's work on the case since being allowed a hybrid form of pro-se and co-counsel defense.

"Well, since January 2006, I've not been a client. I've actually been a co-counsel," St. Clair told Special Judge Steven Ryan. "At no point did I agree to do this pro bono. I have to spend the few dollars I get on death row for copies, stamps and all that."

Todd said St. Clair's motion for pay was "a frivolous motion that's wasting the court's time."

Ryan dismissed the motion and prodded St. Clair, saying "I'll buy you lunch ... after you're released."

St. Clair has multiple life without parole sentences to serve outside Kentucky and is on death row after being convicted twice by Bullitt County jurors for Brady's shooting death.

Another oddball motion addressed Wednesday implied St. Clair has sympathy for Brady survivors.

Ryan told St. Clair the motion asking for $200,000 state payment to Brady's wife for "pain and suffering" caused by the ongoing prosecution was "a nice gesture," but again reminded St. Clair judges can't appropriate state funds.

St. Clair continues to file reams of pro se motions prompting hearings such as Wednesday's, but blames the sluggishness of the case on courts, judges and prosecutors.

His 1998 death sentence in Bullitt County for Brady's murder and 2001 conviction in Hardin County for the kidnapping were overturned after a judicial panel's review found prosecutors fouled by having St. Clair's ex-wife testify against him.

The mistake was made, but the error did not sway jurors.

After a month of daily court proceedings, St. Clair was re-sentenced to death by lethal injection for the standing 1998 murder conviction in 2005 by a fresh Bullitt County jury.

Defense attorneys knowledgeable of the ongoing Hardin County kidnapping case against St. Clair say it's a prime example of wasting government resources, since the defendant already has been sentenced to death.

"There's no reason for it," Yustas said. "They're doing this as a back up, but if (prosecutors) would dismiss (the kidnapping case) without prejudice, it could be put on the back burner, so if anything goes wrong with the sentence, they could bring it back."

Todd, Smith, Lewis and the Kentucky Attorney General's office continues to refrain from making official comments on the case outside the courtroom.

St. Clair, 51, has mocked the ongoing prosecution and jokingly referred to himself as "the $4 million man," alluding to the state's expense. He sends letters frequently to The News-Enterprise.

Half of Brady's 10 siblings have died since the prosecution began in 1991.

State's "deadliest           prosecutor" rests

Kentucky death row inmates know him well. He's kept nearly half of them there.

In nine trials, David Smith's prosecutorial skills sent seven killers to the last stop in Eddyville.

Two other killers Smith successfully prosecuted received maximum allowable sentences, since no aggravators provided for the death penalty as a possible sentence.

He's presided over the death penalty unit since 1988 and was chief counsel in cases against the last man to go to the electric chair (McQueen); the first to receive a lethal injection (Harper); and Kentucky's most recent execution (Chapman).

He's not necessarily proud of the doom he doles out, but said "he's certainly not ashamed of it."

"It's been my station in life," Smith said. "I've decided all my life to stay at my station and I believe in what I'm doing."

Dana Todd, Smith's co-counsel for more than a decade in the case against Frank Brady's killer Michael St. Clair, said Smith "has been a mentor to me and many others."

Along with sending men to their deaths, 53-year-old Smith, a Fayette County resident, has argued before Kentucky's Supreme Court 111 times and successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court twice - something few even do unsuccessfully once.

After 27 years of state service with Kentucky's Attorney General, Smith announced this summer his Dec. 31, 2008 retirement.

Two attorneys were appointed to fill Smith's absence in the St. Clair case. One of them, Todd Lewis, said "it may take more than that" to fill Smith's shoes.

Editor's note: Bob White is  a reporter at The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown.