Tuesday, May 25, 2010

John and Mildred Caylor double homicide has taken a curious path on Web, in court

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge A plaque outside River Christian Fellowship in Raytown memorializes John and Mildred Caylor
  • A plaque outside River Christian Fellowship in Raytown memorializes John and Mildred Caylor

A 2004 double homicide in Raytown continues to be notable for reasons apart from the appalling nature of the crime.

John and Mildred Caylor were stabbed to death inside the Bible store they operated on East 63rd Street. Believing that a robbery had turned deadly, investigators used DNA found at the crime scene to identify an ex-con named Kellen McKinney as the suspect.

The murders formed the basis of a (sub)urban legend. Several weeks after the Caylors were killed, a story circulated on the Internet about the daughter of murdered Bible store owners who insisted on swearing to God in a courtroom.

In the telling, the daughter testifies at a murder trial. The bailiff asks: "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

I stood there and waited but she said nothing. She said, "Do you?" I was so stunned, I blurted out "What happened to 'so help me God'?" She came back with, "Do you?" I replied yes, but I was perplexed.
The daughter then goes on to complain about God being removed from courtrooms and the "catering" that wall-of-separation hard-liners receive.

Purportedly authored by a daughter of a "murdered couple in Raytown who had a Bible and Bookstore on 63rd Street," the story all but names the Caylors. But the scenario did not take place as it was described. McKinney was years after from trial. Moreover, the Caylors had three sons -- no daughter.

The story passed from inbox to inbox at a time when Republicans were encouraging the belief that secular culture was at war against Christianity. A month before the Caylors were murdered, the U.S. House voted to protect the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance from court challenges.

In debunking the Raytown "So help me God" story, Snopes.com identified a similar Internet fiction set in Toronto. Snopes indicated that the e-mail was originally written by the daughter of a Florida couple who were stabbed to death in their home in 1996.

The case persists because of the way McKinney's actual trial was conducted.

After his arrest, McKinney tried to escape from jail (tied sheets and chiseled bricks were reportedly involved). Prosecutors in Jackson County elected to add a count of attempting to escape confinement to the first-degree murder charges. Found guilty, he received a life sentence.

The confinement charge formed the basis of an appeal. McKinney's public defender argued that the escape attempt should not have been attached to the murder charges. The Missouri Court of Appeals went for the argument, ruling that the sheet escapade was not sufficiently related to the double homicide. The appeals court ordered two new trials.

Prosecutors appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. The justices, who heard the case last Tuesday, seemed to doubt the necessity of new trials, according to an account by Missouri Lawyers Media writer Scott Lauck.

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