On the morning of May 19, 1990, a 15-year-old boy named Recco Rodgers was fatally shot on the steps of a friend’s home in St. Louis, Missouri. Not far away, an 18-year-old boy named Christopher Dunn was at home, he said, speaking on the phone with a friend who had just had a baby and his family was in the same home watching a program on television.
In the following days two kids from the neighborhood, 14 year-old DeMorris Stepp and 12-year-old Michael Davis, would testify under oath that Dunn was at the scene of the crime.
His public defender spent very little time on the case, encouraging Dunn to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a reduced prison sentence, a suggestion which he refused, Dunn told ABC News.
The public defender was reluctant to visit Dunn's neighborhood, said Dunn, and she ultimately interviewed only two potential witnesses in person, telling Dunn she couldn't find other people on the list he had provided to her, he added. She died in 2013.
Dunn was arrested for the murder of Rodgers, later convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 90 years. Dunn maintains his innocence.
Dunn, who is now 50 years old, sat down with ABC News’ Linsey Davis to discuss his case and his fight for freedom.
St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner has pledged to take on Dunn’s case after Lamar Johnson's December hearing, another person who alleges they were wrongfully convicted.
Johnson, Dunn and another wrongfully convicted man named Kevin Strickland have been dubbed by Dunn the “Missouri Three” -- each serving decades in Missouri prisons for crimes they claim they did not commit.
After serving 43 years in prison, Strickland was released last year because of a new law, Senate Bill 53, that gives prosecutors an avenue to free innocent prisoners who had exhausted their appeals. Previously, it was nearly impossible for prisoners to be released due to the state’s ruling in a 2016 case, Lincoln vs. Cassady, which limited releases to capital punishment cases.
Dunn was sentenced to life in prison and therefore does not qualify for release under the current state law, without the prosecutor or the governor’s intervention.
In 2021, the Missouri Supreme court refused a petition to hear a case also citing Lincoln vs. Cassady, upholding the precedent.
Gardner has the power to request Johnson and Dunn's release, yet the decision is ultimately with the Attorney General.
"We have an attorney general in this state that believes in finality and regardless of whether someone is wrongfully convicted or not, should be held even after there is evidence that they've been wrongfully convicted," said Gardner. "Because if you had a governor right now... they could commute someone's sentence, but that’s up to the Governor."
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is currently running for Senate in Missouri, and Gov. Mike Parson did not respond to ABC News' repeated requests for comment.
Johnson, who has a hearing later this year, has spent 28 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. The sole witness in the case has recanted his statement and others have confessed to the crime.
“I knew Kevin. I knew Lamar,” Dunn told ABC News. “Anybody that’s actually innocent, they spend most of their time in the law library.”
“You spend most of your time walking the yard with each other,” he said, “trying to figure out what they did to you in the event that they might try to do it to me. You become your own community.”
“Mr. Lamar Johnson is going to be the city of Saint Louis’ test,” Gardner told ABC News. “Do we have the will to correct wrongful convictions? And this will set the tone for other people who come after Mr. Lamar Johnson.”
When both of the witnesses to Dunn’s alleged crime recanted and a new witness testimony was submitted, the judge wrote in a 2020 decision: “the court does not believe that any jury would now convict Christopher Dunn under these facts.” However, even in light of the court’s decision Dunn could not walk free due to the precedent set by the 2016 ruling in the Lincoln vs. Cassady case.
The 32 years that he has served in prison have tested his faith, and the faith of his loved ones.
Dunn’s wife, Kira Dunn, who he met when she was assigned to write an article about Dunn and later married him in a prison ceremony, said, “it seems like an impossible battle sometimes, but we will never give up.”
“I know I can speak for all of us,” she said. “We will never give up trying to get Chris home.”
“I’m just tired,” Dunn’s mother Martha told ABC News. “I’ve been through a lot.”
“I fear that the truth of what happened to me may never be known,” said Dunn. “What type of life do I have? I have to sit in prison every day. Is this all my life is worth?”