United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
JOSPEH J. YEAGER, Plaintiff,
ANNE L. PRECYTHE, et al., Defendants.
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joseph J. Yeager, who is serving a Missouri prison sentence
of life plus 13 years, alleges that the procedures used by
the Defendant State of Missouri officials in denying his
parole requests violate the United States and Missouri
Constitutions. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
The Defendants move to dismiss. Doc. 14. The motion is
1993, Yeager was convicted of second-degree murder and armed
criminal action, and given consecutive sentences of life
imprisonment plus 13 years. He was denied parole in 2006,
2011, and 2016. Yeager alleges that he is a model inmate who
has made tremendous strides to improve himself and to prepare
to rejoin society during his 24 years of imprisonment.
Yeager was denied parole in 2006, the written reason provided
to him stated:
Release at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the
present offense based upon the following:
A. Circumstances Surrounding Present Offense.
Doc. 1, p. 10; and Doc. 1-6. At the 2006 parole hearing,
then-Board member Fannie Gaw, who is not a Defendant to this
lawsuit, remarked that Yeager's crime was “first
degree murder” and he “should be down at Potosi,
” and recommended his next parole hearing be in 10
years, as requested by a victim's family member. Doc. 1,
p. 14. After receiving a complaint from Yeager's mother,
Dana Thompson, then Chair of the Board, wrote Yeager's
mother a letter, acknowledging that Gaw's statement was
inappropriate and that the Board did not have a formal system
for auditing the content of the approximately 1, 000 parole
hearings that it held monthly. Doc. 1-10. However, Thompson
said, the outcome of the parole hearing was not affected
because a majority of the Board members had decided to set
the next hearing in five years, or 2011. He also said that
Gaw's term had expired after Yeager's 2006 hearing.
Yeager was denied parole in 2011 and 2016, the written
reasons provided to him both times stated:
Release at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the
present offense based upon:
A. Circumstances surrounding the present offense,
B. Use of a weapon,
C. Use of excessive force or violence,
D. Community Opposition.
Doc. 1, p. 10; Doc. 10-7; and Doc. 10-8. Yeager alleges that
the Board “arbitrarily” added reasons B, C, and
D, which are “clearly related to the category of
‘seriousness of the present offense, '” and
is overly focused on static factors of the offense.
Id. Further, Yeager alleges, the Board in 2011 and
2016 improperly applied the law and regulations as modified
after the date of his offense.
also generally complains that he was not given access to the
evidence against him before any of his hearings; the Board is
not adequately explaining the bases for its denials or the
reason why it scheduled his parole hearings the maximum
amount of time apart; and he was not permitted to appeal from
any of the three denials of parole.
further alleges that the “high level of secrecy and
lack of oversight the Board enjoys has created a
dysfunctional and disrespectful atmosphere.” Doc. 1, p.
16. “For example, ” Defendant Ruzicka, a Board
member who “contributed to the Parole Board's
decision to deny” Yeager parole on June 2, 2016, was
investigated by the Missouri Department of Corrections,
Office of Inspector General for playing games during parole
hearings. Ruzicka and a parole analyst would compete against
each other to see how many times each could use a particular
word or refer to a song lyric during a proceeding, and on
occasion dressed identically. Id. Yeager alleges
upon information and belief that “the entire Parole
Board and much of its staff were aware of these practices and
condoned them, ” and Ruzicka continues to sit on the
Board and conduct hearings. Id., p. 17. The
investigation report attached to the complaint refers to
“Incident Date[s]” after the date of Yeager's
2016 hearing: 6/21/21/2016, 6/22/2016, 6/23/2016, 7/18/2016,
and 7/20/216. Doc. 1-11, p. 1.
victim impact evidence was permitted at all three of
Yeager's parole hearings. Yeager alleges that
victims' representatives were permitted to provide
“inflammatory” and “inaccurate”
statements about him and the crime. Doc. 1, pp. 13-14. Yeager
and his mother were permitted to speak only for a short
amount of time and Board members asked them very few
questions. In contrast, Board members encouraged the
victim's representatives to share information.
Counts I and IV of the Complaint, Yeager alleges that that
his right to due process of law under the United States and
Missouri Constitutions was violated because, even if he does
not have a liberty interest in parole hearings, the hearings
are the functional equivalent of sentencing, and due process
protections apply at sentencing. Doc. 1, pp. 18-19, 21-22. He
alleges that the Defendants' actions in denying him
parole were erroneous and arbitrary, including the changing
bases for denial, refusal to permit him to review and rebut
evidence presented against him, and denying him notice of and
explanation for the parole determination while citing
seriousness of the offense. Yeager further states that he is
making “'a nonfrivolous argument for extending,
modifying, or reversing existing law, or establishing new
law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2).'” Id., p. 18,
n. 5, and p. 21, n.7.
Counts II and V, Yeager alleges that his parole denials
violate his right to be free from ex post facto laws under
the United States and Missouri Constitutions. Id. at
19-20, 22-23. He alleges that the Board implemented new
parole regulations and imposed new procedures with
retroactive effect, and applied them to his 2016 parole
denial, rather than applying the regulations and procedures
that were in effect at the time of his offense. He further
alleges that “it appears the Board is holding”
him “to the 85% rule, ” which went into effect
only after the date of his underlying offenses. Id.,
p. 19. Yeager alleges that as a result, there is a real risk
of increasing the measure of punishment for his offenses,
from the dates of the offenses, and that he has in fact
already served more than the 15-year, deterrent and
retributive portion of his sentence as defined in parole
regulations. Id., p. 20.
in Counts III and VI, Yeager alleges that his parole denials
amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the United
States and Missouri Constitutions, because of the broad and
inflammatory nature of the victim impact evidence permitted
at his parole hearings. Id., pp. 20-21, and 23-24.
He alleges that because there are limitations on victim
impact evidence that may be presented at a criminal
sentencing, and a parole hearing is like a sentencing, such
evidence should not be permitted at a parole hearing.
Id. Yeager further states that he is making
“'a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying,
or reversing existing law, or establishing new law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2).'” Id., p. 21, n. 8,
and p. 24, n.10.
requests declaratory and injunctive relief.