- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Cole County judge has rejected a Kirksville man’s challenge of a 1999 murder conviction that targeted the scientific work of a respected former medical examiner.

Circuit Judge Daniel Green on Tuesday rejected Jessie McKim’s request for a new trial in Wendy Wagnon’s 1997 drug-related death. McKim and his uncle, James Peavler, were each found guilty in Adair County of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Peavler has since died.

The appeal relied on testimony from five pathologists who said former Boone County medical examiner Jay Dix wrongly ruled that Wagnon died from suffocation.

But the judge said that other trial evidence indicated that the two men also could have killed Wagnon -whom they considered a snitch for her plans to testify in an upcoming drug trial - with an intentional methamphetamine overdose.

McKim is not innocent of the murder if he killed the victim by lethal injection rather than asphyxiation,” Green wrote, adding that McKim “has not come close to setting out a case of actual innocence” under Missouri law.

Before Peavler died behind bars four years ago, he solicited sworn testimony from three medical examiners who said that Dix mistakenly labeled Wagnon’s cause of death. Peavler passed his concerns on to McKim, who got similar assessments from two more pathologists. One of those expert witnesses, Eddie Adelstein, a Missouri pathology professor who succeeded Dix as county medical examiner, worked alongside him at the university and remains an assistant Boone medical examiner.

Dix was a highly respected official who left Columbia for a job as deputy medical examiner for New York City before returning to Missouri two years later. He continued to teach at the university, where he was named chief of forensic pathology, and helped write the state’s guidelines for child death investigations. He died of cancer in 2002 at 54, and is memorialized in an annual Columbia charity road race that bears his name.

Attorney Jennifer Bukowsky said she plans to appeal the decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, which has previously rejected McKim’s efforts at release.

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