Death penalty hearing delayed: Murderer could die before sentence

News-DemocratApril 9, 2014 

A hearing to determine whether convicted murderer Gregory A. Bowman would once again face the death penalty has been delayed for a year because he has a terminal illness.

Bowman, 62, is facing sentencing for a murder 35 years ago in St. Louis County. Circuit Judge David Vincent, the judge presiding in Bowman's case, set the hearing for April 27, 2015.

Bowman was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 16-year-old Velda Rumfelt who was abducted from a busy Brentwood, Mo., intersection. DNA found in Rumfelt's underwear was a 1 in 459 trillion match to Bowman.

Bowman, who also was convicted of killing two young women from Belleville, denied his guilt in the Rumfelt case from the witness stand to then-St. Louis County prosecutor Joe Dueker at the first sentencing hearing in 2009.

The Missouri Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 2011. The court ruled that during the sentencing phase of the trial, the judge erred when he allowed testimony regarding Bowman's conviction of the murders of 14-year-old Elizabeth West and 21-year-old Ruth Ann Jany, both of Belleville.

"It would be hollow if he passes away in prison but as long as he doesn't hurt any other women, we can live with that," said Teresa Rumfelt, Velda Rumfelt's friend and sister-in-law. "He's the lowest of the low. We would rather see him executed, but, at this point, we will take what we can get."

"We were aggravated about what happened with the (Missouri) Supreme Court," Teresa Rumfelt said. "We followed the rules and we did what we were supposed to do and he still slipped out just like he did over there."

West was abducted from West Main Street in Belleville. Her body was found in a small creek near Millstadt on May 5, 1978. Two months later, Jany was abducted from a Belleville bank's parking lot. Her skeletal remains were found a year later in a field near Hecker.

Both the St. Clair County convictions were overturned after St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters questioned the manner in which his confession was obtained.

The newspaper reported that Bowman was "tricked" into confessing by former investigator Robert Miller, who got jail prisoner Danny Stark to plot an escape with Bowman, who confessed to delay his transfer to Menard Correction Center where he was to serve a sentence for abducting another Belleville woman from a coin laundry.

Associate Judge Richard Aguirre found the confession to Miller was not given freely and gave Bowman a new trial. Bowman posted bond and was released from jail for the first time in 29 years.

His freedom didn't last long.

Former Belleville Police Chief James Rokita, then retired, took a DNA profile offered by Bowman in the Belleville cases to Missouri and urged investigators there to compare it to their cold cases.

Scientists were able to discover the semen in Rumfelt's underpants. Prosecutors said Bowman allowed Rumfelt to dress after her rape, preserving the DNA that would eventually be matched to Bowman's DNA profile.

Bowman was free just over a week before he was arrested for the Rumfelt murder. This time, the trial would be in St. Louis County, where Bowman would face a capital murder case.

Steve Evans, Bowman's defense attorney, argued that Bowman's conviction was the only one in the state based solely on DNA evidence. Evans argued further that the DNA evidence should have never been sent to Missouri for comparisons to cold cases there.

Jurors voted to convict Bowman of Rumfelt's murder. Her body was discovered June 6, 1977, in a field near the Six Flags amusement park in Eureka, Mo. She had been raped and strangled with a shoestring, and her throat had been slashed.

After Bowman received the death sentence in Missouri, then St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida dismissed the West and Jany murder charges.

Bowman remains in the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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