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By Tom Barr
Landmark News Service
For the second time in as many months, a man already found guilty of four murders was seeking relief from the Kentucky Supreme Court.
After seeking a new sentencing hearing for the Bullitt County penalty of death in the murder of a Marion County native in 1991, Michael Dale St. Clair was before the state's highest court seeking a new trial in Hardin County.
The request is seeking a new trial for the kidnapping conviction in Hardin County which also included the death penalty.
Both cases involved the death of Bardstown distillery worker Francis Brady.
The murder occurred in Bullitt County but Brady was kidnapped and his truck taken earlier that day in Hardin County.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court panel was focused on the Hardin County trial.
It would be the third time the case was tried in Hardin County and much of the arguments from defense attorney Samuel Potter dealt with testimony provided about the death of Timothy Keeling in New Mexico.
St. Clair is currently in New Mexico awaiting a murder trial on that incident.
During the first trial, which was reversed, and during the second trial, which was declared a mistrial, Potter said that various judges handling that case did not allow any discussion about the details of the Keeling murder.
However, during the third trial, Potter said special prosecutor Todd Lewis allowed detailed descriptions of Keeling's death and his work with youth and the ministry.
Potter said that although judge Thomas Castlen and the prosecutor knew about the earlier court rulings on limiting any evidence, the past trial included those details.
He said the judge was in error by allowing the testimony to be presented to the jury.
Some evidence of the Keeling murder was introduced during the sentencing phase of the Bullitt County trial. But Potter said that had nothing to do with the kidnapping of Brady and his truck in Hardin County.
Potter said that the prosecutor took a calculated risk when he mentioned "two shots" were heard and St. Clair was the only one who would return to the Keeling truck. And, Potter believes, he knew that a mistrial could be granted by special judge Stephen Ryan.
During the Hardin trial in 2012, Lisa Hill, widow of Keeling, was allowed to give testimony on her husband and his work with the youth and the church. Potter said that information did nothing but prejudice the jury toward St. Clair.
St. Clair, who has always participated in the various stages of his defense, made a motion at the time objecting to the testimony.
In response to a question by Justice Bill Cunningham, Potter said Hill had the right to testify on a very limited basis, primarily to establish ownership of a truck which was stolen from her husband.
And Justice Mary Noble said it would not be unusual for two judges to determine differently on what evidence could be accepted at trial.
In St. Clair's cases in both Bullitt and Hardin counties, numerous judges have been involved.
William Long Jr., representing the prosecution, said that there was no bad faith involved with the prior prosecutor.
Instead, he said there may have been some confusion due to the various rulings in the case. Throughout the 20-plus year series of trials and hearings, various prosecutors and defense attorneys have also worked on the case.
He did admit that there was mention of the "two shots" at the second trial and that did lead to a quick mistrial.
At no time in either the second or third trial did the prosecutor mention that Keeling was shot to death by St. Clair.
Most of the hour-long hearing involved answering questions from the seven justices.
Scott said that St. Clair's attorneys were not allowed to mention that Reece killed a woman in Oklahoma. And, once he accepted the deal of life in prison without parole for 25 years in the Brady case, he pointed all guilt toward St. Clair.
Potter agreed that his client wanted to provide that evidence in trial in Bullitt County. However, it would have come down to one man's story against the other.
Long said there was a different motive between Reece and St. Clair. And he told justices that there was more evidence than simply the story related by Reece.
For example, while Reece did kill his girlfriend, Long said the reason was because of a drug deal gone bad.
He said Reece was not a killer. Instead, he would steal things. He also targeted homosexuals, who he would pick up and then rob them.
In both Brady and Keeling, Long said those descriptions did not match.
However, for St. Clair, the pattern was to steal small pickup trucks and then kill the victim to do away with any witnesses.
Plus, the style of death -- two bullets to the head -- was a common theme, including Brady and Keeling.
In the only Bullitt County trial, St. Clair testified that he was never in the area and that it was Reece who committed the Brady murder. In later court appearances, St. Clair would admit being in Kentucky.
This is the second hearing that the justices have heard in the past two months. No rulings have been rendered on either.
The case in a snapshot…
In the fall of 1991, Michael St. Clair and Dennis Reece broke out of a Oklahoma jail where they were life sentences. They broke out and stole a truck from a local family.
Their travels included a stop in Denver, where they kidnapped Timothy Keeling and stole a truck. Keeling would later be found murdered in New Mexico. St. Clair is now been charged for that death and it in New Mexico awaiting trial.
The pair also spent time in Texas and Louisiana before heading north on Interstate 65 where they ran into Brady at a Sonora truck stop.
It was at that point that they kidnapped Brady, a distiller worker from Bardstown who liked to go out for drives. His body would later be found off Old Boston Road in Lebanon Junction.
St. Clair and Reece turned Keeling's truck in Hardin County and shot at a Kentucky State Trooper. They escaped and split up. Reece was later captured in Las Vegas and St. Clair was caught in Oklahoma.
Reece pinned all the shootings on St. Clair and took a plea agreement in the Brady case. St. Clair has said that it was Reece who actually committed the murders.