- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) | As a star prosecutor, Kenny Hulshof’s commanding presence and oratorical skills led to convictions in some of the state’s most gruesome death-penalty cases - and paved the way to six terms in Congress.

Now Mr. Hulshof wants to be governor of Missouri, a job that includes the ability to grant a pardon or commute a death sentence.

But in the midst of his Republican primary campaign against state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, his seven-year record as a state prosecutor specializing in small-town murder cases is coming under scrutiny.

An Associated Press review of court dockets, state and federal appellate decisions and other legal records shows that in four cases over that seven-year period prosecutorial errors by Mr. Hulshof led to death-sentence reversals.

Another man accused of murder won acquittal at a second trial after his Hulshof-prosecuted conviction was rejected on appeal. A sixth defendant sentenced to life in prison without parole briefly won his freedom when his conviction was thrown out by a federal judge, although it was later restored.

And a sheriff who helped Mr. Hulshof convict a man in the 1992 killing of a college student has reopened the investigation into her violent death. On Monday, a judge will hear a request for a new trial in that case. No appeals court has faulted Mr. Hulshof’s conduct in that case.

Mr. Hulshof’s errors cited by appeals courts often occurred during closing arguments, or in a trial’s penalty phase. Judges said Mr. Hulshof too readily embellished arguments with his own opinions, or with facts outside the court record.

In one case, a murder conviction was tossed because a highway map given to jurors during deliberations hadn’t been introduced as evidence. In another, an undated note from a slain woman describing her marital troubles was rejected as hearsay by an appeals court after Mr. Hulshof introduced it as evidence in the husband’s murder trial.

“This is kind of the way he operates,” said Sean O’Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who represented Faye Copeland and Dale Helmig - two of the six defendants whose Hulshof-led sentences were overturned - as an appellate defense lawyer.

“He’s always very aggressive. He is extremely skilled. And he creates suspicion out of no evidence.”

Mr. Hulshof says the seven disputed cases show that the legal system and its inherent checks and balances worked as intended.

“The tension of the system working is that you have an aggressive defense attorney, and you have a tough but fair prosecutor,” he said. “And once you walk into the courtroom … you have equal adversaries presenting a case to a jury. The judge is the referee. And then whatever the jury says is justice.”

He said he is confident no probe could find any misconduct.

State special prosecutor Tim Finnical - known as “Dr. Death” for his success at death-penalty cases - recommended, based on facing Mr. Hulshof in trial, that Republican state Attorney General Bill Webster hire Mr. Hulshof as his successor. When Democrat Jay Nixon defeated David Steelman in 1992, the new attorney general kept the Republican lawyer on board.

Mr. Nixon, who remains attorney general, is the likely Democratic nominee for governor. His role as Mr. Hulshof’s former boss makes it unlikely that the Republican’s prosecutorial record will become a campaign issue, Mr. Hulshof acknowledged.

But the campaign of primary rival Ms. Steelman is not reticent.

“Kenny Hulshof has been running away from his overspending and earmark record in Congress,” said Steelman spokesman Spence Jackson. “Now these revelations bring into question his overall competency and ability to do the job it takes to be governor. This is a very disturbing pattern of behavior from Congressman Hulshof.”

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