Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2009


Post-conviction investigation, Keith Simpson, Capital punishment, Death penalty


Criminal Law


In 1993, Keith Simpson was arrested for the murder of Joe Harrison; in 2006, he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 2022. Between those two events, Simpson was sentenced to death, had his death sentence vacated by the post-conviction relief court, reached a plea agreement with the victim's family and the new Solicitor, saw the agreement invalidated when the Attorney General's office overrode the family and the Solicitor by appealing the post-conviction court's decision, lost the lower court's decision to an appellate reversal, and won a cross-appeal for a new trial. You just never know. You don't know how a capital case will end, of course, but more importantly, you don't know what facts will determine how it ends. Even now, we-the authors, and post-conviction counsel for Simpson, would be hard pressed to say which facts mattered the most. One reason for this difficulty is that different facts seem to have mattered to the two different courts that reviewed this case. The one thing we do know about Simpson v. State is that investigation mattered. This is a lesson that most of the life stories in this volume repeat, in one form or another, and it's a lesson that bears repetition. Indeed, in the post-conviction setting, the likelihood of review by more than one court along with the possibility that different facts will matter to different courts increases the need for a truly comprehensive investigation, one that covers the range of what might matter. We think, moreover, there may be a second lesson in this case and our belief in the importance of that lesson is the reason we chose Keith Simpson's story. Here is the more speculative and subtle lesson: To be persuasive, postconviction mitigation stories often need a retelling of the client's life and a retelling of the crime itself. Put differently, as much as possible, "life stories" need to be both consistent and complete.

Publication Citation

UMKC Law Review, vol. 77, no. 4 (Summer 2009)

Included in

Criminal Law Commons