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Helmig v. Fowler

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

September 17, 2014

DALE L. HELMIG, Plaintiff,
CARL A. FOWLER, et al., Defendants.


NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Dale Helmig alleges violations of federal and state laws arising out the Defendants' investigation of him and his prosecution for the murder of his mother, Norma Helmig. At the time of the investigation and prosecution, Defendant Carl Fowler was the Sheriff, and Defendant Paul D. Backues was the Deputy Sheriff, of Defendant Osage County, Missouri. Defendant Robert Westfall was a Trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

In his First Amended Complaint, Doc. 29, Helmig claims that all Defendants conspired to offer untruthful testimony (Count I) and that Defendants Osage County and Fowler failed to establish appropriate policies and adequately train law enforcement personnel (Count II). Helmig claims Defendants Fowler and Backues failed to disclose exculpatory evidence (Count III); fabricated evidence (Count IV); engaged in malicious prosecution in violation of federal law (Count V), and common law (Count VII); and committed false arrest (Count VI).

Pending before the Court is the motion for summary judgment on all counts filed by Defendants Fowler, Backues and Osage County.[1] Doc. 175. The motion is granted.

I. Background[2]

Dale Helmig's parents, Norma and Ted Helmig, were in the process of divorcing at the time of Norma Helmig's death in 1993. Ted Helmig had moved out of the house, and in the months preceding his mother's death, Dale Helmig occasionally stayed there with his mother.

Norma Helmig was away from her home all evening on Wednesday, July 28, 1993 and returned home sometime in the early morning hours on Thursday, July 29, 1993. On Wednesday, July 28, 1993, Dale Helmig was working in Holt's Summit, Missouri. That day, roads closed due to flooding in the area and Helmig checked into a hotel in Fulton, Missouri. On Thursday, July 29, 1993, Helmig spent the night with Stacey Medlock at a motel in Eldon, Missouri.

Helmig took Medlock to his mother's house around noon on Friday, July 30, 1993. Helmig called the police, reporting that his mother was not there. Deputy Paul Backues was dispatched to the house. Helmig told Backues that he had been staying with his mother, but had been gone for several days and had returned at noon that same day. Helmig pointed out to Backues some things that were out of place in the house. Backues called Sheriff Carl Fowler to the scene. Fowler and Dale's Helmig's brother, Richard Helmig, both arrived at Norma's house at about the same time that evening. Helmig told Fowler that Norma Helmig's purse and other personal items were missing.

At some point, Backues learned from Helmig that Helmig had visitation with his two children scheduled for the next day, Saturday, July 31, 1993, and Backues told Helmig that it would not be a good idea for him to have his children at Norma Helmig's house on Saturday. Richard Helmig "told Dale to take the kids and, you know, get a room, go to my trailer, get a room, whatever he needed to do. Because he hadn't seen his kids for quite some time." Doc. 176-12, pp. 2-3.

Fowler and Backues were still at the house when Dale Helmig and Stacey Medlock left. On the drive back to Jefferson City, Medlock thought Helmig seemed worried. Helmig told Medlock that "someone must have gotten crazy drunk and killed" Norma Helmig. Doc. 176-1, p. 13, para. 93.

On Saturday, July 31, 1993, the police conducted an aerial search over Norma Helmig's house, and up and down the Gasconade River. Dale Helmig was not at the house during the search.

Norma Helmig's body was found in a river in Osage County, Missouri, on Sunday, August 1, 1993, clad in a nightgown and undergarments, with a concrete cinder block attached to her torso by a rope. An expert later opined that the time of death was between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 29, 1993, and that asphyxiation was the likely cause.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert Schollmeyer made the decision to charge Dale Helmig with her murder. Doc. 177-8, p. 5. An arrest warrant, signed by the Hon. Ralph Voss, Circuit Court of Osage County, issued on February 25, 2014 and Helmig was arrested on March 5, 1994. Doc. 177-4. Judge Voss held the preliminary hearing on April 8, 1994. The judge concluded, "[T]here's clearly enough evidence to get this... to a jury.... I'm going to find probable cause, and... bind it over to a jury." Doc. 177-10, p. 2.

Helmig was tried by a jury in March 1996. The State presented no physical or direct evidence implicating Helmig. Fowler, Backues and Westfall were among the State's witnesses. Fowler testified that Norma and Ted Helmig were going through a divorce, that he had served the divorce papers on Ted, and that Norma had contacted the Sheriff's office "on a number of occasions about" the divorce situation, but he was not sure how many times he personally spoke with her. Doc. 177-9, pp. 16, 20. Fowler also testified that he had served a restraining order on Ted and that Norma was concerned about the restraining order. Id. at p. 16. Fowler explained that he did not know whether the restraining order included a restraint against physical threats, but that such a restriction would "pretty much" be a given on an ex parte order. Id. at p. 21. Fowler acknowledged that he received police reports from the Jefferson City Police Department in regard to Ted Helmig, and that a complaint had been filed about Ted throwing coffee at Norma at the Country Kitchen restaurant. Id. at p. 19

On the second day of the jury trial, Prosecutor Schollmeyer learned of an alleged incident of violence between Dale Helmig and Norma Helmig and shared that information with Sheriff Fowler, Helmig's defense counsel, and the Court. Doc. 177-8, pp. 11-14; Doc. 177-3, pp. 9-10. Prosecutor Schollmeyer made a late motion to endorse Carol Miller McKinney and Darla Toebben Voss as additional witnesses because McKinney informed the state that Voss may have knowledge of an incident in which Dale Helmig threw hot coffee in Norma Helmig's face. Doc. 177-9, pp. 7-8.

The following exchange later took place during the State's redirect examination of Fowler:

Q. Mr. Jordan asked you some questions about altercations. Have you become aware that Dale Helmig had an altercation with his mother?
A. Yes.
Q. Where?
A. Country Kitchen.
Q. When?
A. The Sunday before her death.

Id. at p. 23. Dale Helmig's trial counsel did not object. Id.

Before he testified, Fowler was not aware of the prosecution's late endorsement of witnesses McKinney and Voss. Doc. 177-3, p. 14. Nor did Fowler know that he would be asked about an alleged altercation between Dale Helmig and Norma Helmig at the Country Kitchen restaurant. Id. at p. 13.

The State subsequently called Carol McKinney. During the State's direct examination of McKinney, the following exchange occurred:

Q. Do you recall an incident a few days before the 28th of July involving the ...

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