More hearings have been ordered stemming from Donald “Doc” Nash’s habeas corpus petition contesting his 2009 murder conviction. A Rolla jury found Nash guilty of first-degree murder in connection to Judy Spencer’s 1982 death. He has since been serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 50 years at Bonne Terre’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.
Nash’s St. Louis-based legal team with Bryan, Cave, Leighton & Paisner contend new scientific findings cast doubt on evidence presented at Nash’s original trial. Specifically, the prosecution’s claim that Nash’s DNA being found under Spencer’s fingernails after her death is evidence of his guilt.
The Missouri Supreme Court granted Nash a preliminary writ of habeas corpus last year after petitions entered at the circuit and appeals court levels were denied. Retired 11th Circuit Judge Richard K. Zerr was appointed special master for the case. Zerr has since scheduled testimonies to be taken in St. Charles between March 2 and March 6, according to the case docket. He will ultimately recommend to the state supreme court whether Nash’s conviction should be vacated.
Nash’s attorneys Charles A. Weiss and Stephen R. Snodgrass previously detailed their claims during a 2018 evidentiary hearing in Farmington attended by The Salem News. During proceedings they challenged the original trial testimony of Criminologist Supervisor Ruth Montgomery of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s crime lab in Jefferson City. Specifically, Montgomery’s testimony that Spencer washed her hair shortly before her murder, and that action would have had “great effect” on removing any DNA there. The prosecution later told the jury the presence of Nash’s DNA under Spencer’s fingernails implicates him in the murder.
At the 2018 evidentiary hearing, Montgomery withdrew her previous claim and instead said the shampooing would have had “more than no effect.” She cited a forensic study which found even after test subjects had the underside of their fingernails scrubbed with soap and brushes the DNA of other individuals was found there.
An expert witness called by Nash’s legal team, Moses S. Schanfield of George Washington University, used the same study to question the DNA evidence. Schanfield further testified it is common for cohabitating individuals to have each other’s DNA under their fingernails.
Spencer was killed on the morning of March 11, 1982, in a rural area near Salem, where she lived with her boyfriend, Nash. Spencer's body had been dragged to and dumped in the foundation of an abandoned outhouse near the old Bethlehem School and then covered with tree branches and logs. She had been strangled with a shoelace pulled from her shoe and then, after she died, had been shot in the neck with a shotgun. Her vehicle was later found abandoned miles away on State Route FF in Dent County.
Two former Dent County law enforcement officers were also called to the stand at the 2018 evidentiary hearing and testified that they felt evidence implicated other suspects in Spencer’s murder. They pointed to Anthony Lambert Feldman, whose fingerprint was found on Spencer’s abandoned vehicle and who had a criminal history of sexual violence. Feldman killed himself with a shotgun in 2008 in Quincy, Illinois. The fingerprints of John Hyer III were also found on the vehicle, while Nash’s and Spencer’s were not.
Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Spillane objected repeatedly to the deputies’ testimony on grounds of relevance and hearsay. Judge Shawn McCarver sustained Spillane’s objections and allowed him to enter a continuing objection to the testimonies but allowed the officers to continue as an offer of proof for the record.
Nash’s legal team further offered for consideration that an unidentified male’s DNA profile has been recovered from a shoe Spencer was wearing when she was killed, and that Nash has been excluded from matching the shoe DNA, as had the highway patrol trooper who recovered it. They further pointed to tire tracks at the murder scene not matching Nash’s vehicle and Nash’s lack of shotgun ownership as exculpatory.