Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker will serve as a special prosecutor in the invasion of privacy case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens
The move comes as St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner bowed out on Monday from being involved in the matter. And the decision to appoint a special prosecutor left open the possibility that Greitens could be charged with another offense.
Last week, Gardner dropped Greitens’ invasion of privacy case, in which the GOP chief executive was accused of taking a semi-nude photo of a woman with whom he had an affair, without her consent. That came after St. Louis Judge Rex Burlison allowed Gardner to be called as a witness. But Gardner broached the possibility of a special prosecutor or someone from her office refiling the case.
Burlison appointed Baker on Monday to serve as special prosecutor for "alleged criminal activity in regard to an incident on March 21, 2015.” That’s the date Greitens was accused of felony invasion of privacy. Burlison’s order also allows Baker to look into “other incidents involving the same victim from that date through September 1, 2015.”
In a statement, Baker said she “quickly assembled a team of prosecutors and other staff to begin our process to review this matter.” The statute of limitations on the invasion of privacy charge runs out on June 11.
“No elected official relishes involvement in such difficult matters as an investigation of criminal wrongdoing by another official, but we also understand our duty I directed my staff that we will go about our review of this case as we review any case. It will be thorough and our decisions, as I have stated before, will be made without fear or favor,” Baker said. “We will need to work as quickly as possible. We do not know what the result of the review will be. But let me stress that this review will be based solely on the evidence. Politics, affiliations or other matters beyond the evidence will not play a role.”
In a statement, Gardner said that Baker, a former Democratic state legislator, is “respected by both the public and the legal community.”
“I continue to believe in the credibility of this victim. I also believe there is ample probable cause to reissue this charge against Gov. Greitens,” Gardner said. “I will be sharing the evidence we have collected on the invasion of privacy case with Ms. Baker immediately.”
Gardner bows out
The primary reason that Gardner dropped the case stems from her decision to hire retired FBI agent William Tisaby as an investigator. Tisaby ended up interviewing several witnesses in the case, including the woman with whom Greitens had an affair. He was accused of making false statements during a deposition — and ended up invoking his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Because Gardner was in the room when Tisaby interviewed the woman, Burlison ended up allowing her to be a witness in the case at the defense’s request. Monday’s order suggests that Gardner could still have to testify if a special prosecutor ends up jump-starting the case.
An order that Burlison signed said “once a special prosecutor is selected, the circuit attorney and [her staff] are prohibited from any further involvement in this matter except to serve as witnesses in the case.”
“The court orders that if any decision is made to present evidence to the grand jury in this matter, such decision will be made by and the presenter will be an individual independent and not employed by the [circuit attorney’s office],” the order states.
Last week, Greitens attorney Scott Rosenblum said he didn’t expect the case to be refiled because of a lack of evidence. Gardner’s office never found the photo they alleged that Greitens took — and also didn’t produce proof it was sent to the iCloud or a computer. A spokesman for Greitens’ legal team said he had no response to the appointment.
For her part, Gardner, whose office could face sanctions for how she handled the Greitens case, said I “believe the accusations made by Mr. Greitens, his defense team and their political operatives are unfounded, without any merit and politically [motivated].”
“However, when the role of the prosecutor distracts from any criminal case she is prosecuting, with or without cause, the best course of justice is to transfer the case to a new pursuer of fact,” Gardner said.
It isn’t the first time Baker has been appointed to address a difficult case in another part of the state. In 2013, Baker investigated allegations of rape against a Maryville high school football player in which charges had been dropped by a the local prosecutor for what many claimed were political reasons. The suspect, the grandson of another former state legislator, eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
In 2012, Baker also indicted Bishop Robert Finn of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a case of child sexual misconduct involving a priest in the diocese. Finn’s guilty plea was the first conviction of a sitting Catholic bishop in the United States. Finn resigned in 2015.
Greitens is also facing charges for felony computer data tampering over obtaining a fundraising list from The Mission Continues, a veterans charity the governor founded before he came into office. Lawmakers are also mulling whether to impeach Greitens in a special session that began Friday.
Brian Ellison of KCUR contributed to this report
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum