Donald "Doc" Nash

Donald "Doc" Nash at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre.

The Supreme Court of Missouri ordered Donald “Doc” Nash’s 2009 murder conviction vacated Friday. The ruling comes after Nash has been incarcerated in Bonne Terre’s state prison for more than a decade in connection to Judy Spencer’s 1982 murder in Dent County. It also follows years of habeas corpus litigation by Nash’s St. Louis-based legal team claiming his innocence.  

“This is very, very good news,” said Nash’s attorney Charles A. Weiss of Bryan, Cave, Leighton & Paisner. “The supreme court was impressed with the special master’s 200-page report. This is my fourth similar case claiming innocence, and this is the fastest a decision has been made.”

Per the Friday state supreme court order, Nash is to be immediately released to the Dent County Jail pending a decision whether he will again face trial for Spencer’s murder. Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Curley notified The Salem News on Friday that he will be deferring the decision to the state attorney general.

Curley writes, “During the deconfliction process, it was made aware to me that my office has a conflict in continuing this prosecution due to the hiring of one of my staff members. I have asked the AG to continue the representation of the state in this case as they are best suited to make prosecuting decisions since they prosecuted the case at the trial and appellate levels.”

The state supreme court’s order states:

“The court concludes the petitioner, Donald Nash, has met the burden of proof necessary to establish his ‘gateway’ innocence claim in light of the discredited forensic evidence and the newly discovered DNA evidence. Mr. Nash has further established his claim of ineffective assistance in that his counsel failed to seek a Frye Hearing regarding the discredited expert forensic evidence. Additionally, Mr. Nash established he should have been allowed to present evidence of an alternative perpetrator. Mr. Nash, therefore, is entitled to habeas corpus relief. Mr. Nash's conviction is set aside, and this court orders Mr. Nash be immediately released from the department of corrections and delivered to the Dent County Jail where Mr. Nash can seek pretrial release pursuant to Rule 33. Mr. Nash shall be released from either further confinement or pretrial conditions and the jurisdiction of the circuit court in this matter 30 days from the date of this order unless the state files an election to retry him in relation to the offense for which he was convicted.”

The state supreme court’s order comes per the recommendation of retired 11th Circuit Court Judge Richard K. Zerr, who was appointed to act as special master over the case. Following three days of evidentiary hearings in St. Charles March 3-5, Zerr submitted a report to the state supreme court recommending Nash’s conviction be vacated. Zerr wrote the prosecution’s expert and forensic theories lacked factual foundation, and new evidence creates reasonable doubt of Nash’s guilt. Additionally, Zerr cites Nash was denied due process during his trial due to use of inadmissible testimony by the prosecution, mischaracterization of evidence to the jury and Nash suffering ineffective assistance of counsel. 

Nash was granted a preliminary writ of habeas corpus by the state supreme court last year so additional testimony could be taken to inform its decision whether to vacate his 2009 conviction. The case reached the state supreme court after a 2018 evidentiary hearing was held in Farmington and similar habeas corpus petitions were denied at the circuit court and appeals court level.

Nash was represented during the March 3-5 evidentiary hearings in St. Charles by Charles A. Weiss, Steven Snodgrass and Jonathan B. Potts of Bryan, Cave, Leighton & Paisner. The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Spillane.