Executed November 15, 2000 by Lethal Injection in Missouri
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77th murderer executed in U.S. in 2000
675th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
5th murderer executed in Missouri in 2000
46th murderer executed in Missouri since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
James Wilson Chambers
Jerry Lee Oestricker
Following an altercation at a bar, Chambers struck Oestricker as they were leaving, knocking him to the ground. As Oestricker got up with his hands raised in the air Chambers fired a single shot into Oestricker's chest. After the shooting, Chambers pistol whipped him in the fcae and dragged him across the parking lot stating, "take that you..tough guy," and "get up...and fight like a man." Chambers was on a prison furlough at the time of the shooting, having been imprisoned for shooting a man at a bar. His convictions and death sentence were twice set aside, resulting in 3 trials, all resulting in a death sentence.
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State v. Chambers , 714 S.W.2d 527 (1986).
Public Interest Litigation Clinic
In May of 1982, James and his family spent Memorial Day camping on the Meremac River. James decided to try to get a boat to go out on the river fishing. James along with Donny Chapman proceeded to the Country Club Lounge to attempt to get a boat from the Turners, who were friends of Chapman. The Turner family had left the bar before James and Chapman arrived. They found the Turners at their home but the Turners boat was dry docked. The Turners suggested a neighbor had a boat he might be able to use.
James and Jackie Turner returned to the Country Club Lounge to find the neighbor and see if they could get the boat. James walked up to Jerry Oestricker and old acquaintance and asked if Oestricker intended to buy him a drink. Oestricker responded negatively and an argument erupted between James and Oestricker. The owner of the bar told the two men to take their problem outside. After a brief exchange Oestricker hit James and knocked him down and stabbed him with a pair of pliers. James shot Oestricker from the ground as Oestricker was moving toward him.
The prosecution's case was that this was a premeditated attack by James to avenge an altercation between Jackie Turner and Oestricker earlier in the day. The jury convicted James of first degree murder and returned a sentence of death. After the conviction and sentence the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the conviction because the trial court failed to give a self-defense instruction. The conviction was followed by a retrial which was reversed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals because of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In James' third trial he was again convicted and sentenced to death. The Missouri Supreme Court, the District Court, the Eighth Circuit and United States Supreme Court have all denied relief from James third trial.
Jessica Oestricker Coplin of Herculaneaum said the May 1982 shooting death of her brother Jerry Oestricker by James Wilson Chambers "should never have happened."
Chambers had received a 3-year sentence in July 1972 for the felony of 2nd-degree burglary. Then-Gov. Christopher Bond freed Chambers through commutation about halfway through his sentence. A few weeks later, Chambers was arrested for shooting a man in the stomach outside a bar in Jefferson County. In April 1975, Chambers received a 15-year sentence for felony assault with intent to kill, according to state records provided by Nixon's campaign. Seven years after beginning his second prison sentence, Chambers received a Memorial Day weekend pass and killed Jerry Oestricker while outside prison walls. In September 1982, while awaiting trial for the Oestricker killing, Chambers' sentence for shooting Griffin was commuted by Bond. Chambers is now on death row for the Oestricker slaying. Ms. Coplin said no commutations should have been approved by Bond: "This was senseless and should never have happened."
The Missouri Supreme Court set the new execution date for Chambers, thrice-convicted and long under death sentence for a tavern slaying nearly 2 decades ago. Chambers has been convicted 3 times of killing Jerry Oestricker outside an Arnold, Missouri bar on May 29, 1982. Jerry had inadvertently bumped into a friend of Chambers's outside the bar restroom. Chambers challenged the victim to step outside and after hitting him over the head with a gun, shot him in the chest, pistol-whipped him, then dragged him across the parking lot, and taunted him before fleeing. Two of the convictions were set aside, with a state court and a federal appeals court each ordering new trials. Chambers was tried and convicted a 3rd time in 1991. Chambers won a stay of execution from the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit last November after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide about the federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act law's application in a Nevada death row case. Last April, the Supreme Court upheld the decision from Nevada. That's when Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a motion with the 8th Circuit to lift Chambers' stay of execution. The Missouri Supreme Court sets state execution dates.
Capital Punishment in Missouri from Missouri.Net
On May 29, 1982 Jerry Lee Oestricker was in the Country Club Lounge in Arnold, Missouri, While playing pool he bumped into the chair of another patron, Jackie Turner. There was a verbal exchange between Oestricker and members of the Turner party that resulted in the owner of the bar asking the Oestricker and the Turner parties to leave. The Turner party left, but Oestdcker remained at the bar.
About three hours later at 10:00 p.m. James Chambers made his first appearance at the Country Club Lounge. Upon entering he asked an employee where the Turner party was and she told him that they had left. Chambers then left the bar.
About 30 minutes later Chambers returned to the bar with Jackie Turner. Once inside the bar Chambers approached Oestricker and asked him to buy him a drink. Oestricker strongly declined the offer calling Chambers by his nickname "Bimbo,' No physical blows were exchanged, but the confrontation was described by one witness as loud. Following this exchange in which Oestricker told Chambers that he was no friend of his, the owner of the bar asked the two men to leave. Witnesses testified that both men challenged each other before they left the bar.
Chambers left the bar first and as Oestricker was going through the front door, according to one witness, Chambers struck Oestricker with a pistol knocking him to the ground. As Oestricker got up with his hands raised in the air Chambers pointed the pistol at the victim and fired a single shot into Oestricker's chest. After shooting Oestricker, who was laying prostrate on the ground, Chambers proceeded to pistol whip the victim about the face. He dragged him across the parking lot stating, "take that you..tough guy," and "get up...and fight like a man." Chambers reportedly told the victim that he "better get up and call the hospital because you are going to die." Jerry Oestricker was transported to a local hospital where he died the next morning at 4:05 a.m.
Chambers then fled the scene in a waiting automobile. He was later apprehended that evening by Arnold Police in a liquor store in St. Louis County.
James Chambers was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 15, 1952.
On July 14, 1971 Chambers was arrested in Jefferson County, Missouri for Burglary Second Degree. He was later sentenced to three years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
On August 12, 1971 Chambers was arrested in Jefferson County, Missouri for two counts of Intent to Defraud. He was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail on one charge and granted a one year probation on the second charge.
On January 1, 1974 Chambers was arrested in Jefferson County, Missouri for Assault with Intent to Kill with Malice. He was sentenced to 15 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
On May 29, 1982 Chambers was arrested in Jefferson County, Missouri on the present charge of Capital Murder.
5/22 - James Chambers shoots and kills Jerry Oestricker at the Country Club Lounge in Arnold, Missouri
7/7 - Chambers charged in the Jefferson County Circuit Court with capital murder
11/20 - A Jefferson County jury found Chambers guilty of capital murder and recommended a sentence of death.
12/23 - Circuit Court sentences Chambers to death.
6/19 - The Missouri Supreme Court overturned Chambers' conviction and sentence because the trial court did not give a self-defense instruction.
5/9 - A second trial was held in Jefferson County. The jury found Chambers guilty of capital murder and recommended a sentence of death.
6/5 - Circuit Court sentences Chambers to death
7/15 -The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Chambers' conviction and sentence.
12/22 - The Missouri Court of Appeals of the Eastern District of Missouri affirmed the denial of Chambers' motion for post-conviction relief.
7/19 - The United States District Court for the East District of Missouri denied Chambers federal habeas corpus challenger to his conviction and sentence
9/15 - A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and granted habeas corpus relief on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
11/8 - The Eighth Circuit granted a rehearing en banc.
7/5 - The en banc court granted habeas corpus relief on a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for not interviewing and calling a witness.
10/28 - A third capital murder trial is conducted on a change of venue to Cole County, Missouri.
10/31 - The Cole County jury found Chambers guilty of capital murder and recommended a sentence of death.
1/7 - The circuit court sentenced Chambers to death.
9/14 - Chambers filed a Missouri Supreme Court motion for post-conviction relief.
3/31- The circuit court held a hearing on Chambers' motion for post conviction relief.
10/14 - The circuit court denied Chambers' motion for post-conviction relief.
12/20 - The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Chambers' conviction and sentence and the denial of post-conviction relief.
4/21 - Chambers filed a federal habeas corpus petition in the US District Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri. The case was transferred to the Western District.
3/12 - The district court denied Chambers' federal habeas corpus petition.
9/23 - The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial for habeas corpus relief.
6/21 - The US Supreme Court declined discretionary review of Chambers' federal habeas corpus case.
7/7 - The Missouri Attorney-General filed a motion to set an execution date with the Missouri State Supreme Court.
8/30 - The Missouri Supreme Court issued a warrant of execution scheduling Chambers' execution for September 29, 1999.
9/15 - the Missouri Supreme Court issued a stay of execution. The Court scheduled a new execution date of November 10, 1999.
11/4 - The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay.
11/9 - The US Supreme Court denied a motion to vacate the stay for execution issued by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
10/5 - The Missouri Supreme Court issued a warrant of execution scheduling Chambers' execution for November 15, 2000.
Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
"Killer's Long Stay on Death Row Wanes," by Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch.
Sentenced in 1982 to death for fatally shooting a man during a bar fight, James W. Chambers of Jefferson County has lingered on Missouri's death row for 17 years while higher courts have reversed his first two convictions. His wait is almost over. A federal appellate court in September denied the appeal of his third conviction. Chambers' attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments on Chambers' behalf. A response from the court is expected in mid-June, said George M. Winger, a Kansas City-based attorney assigned to Chambers' case.
Chambers killed Jerry Lee Oestricker outside the Country Club Lounge in Arnold on May 29, 1982, after an argument in the bar. Earlier that night, Oestricker shoved Jack Turner, a friend of Chambers', for no apparent reason. All sides agree the fight began when Chambers entered the bar later and asked Oestricker to buy him a drink. When the bar owner asked the men to leave, Chambers walked out, saying, "We'll settle this outside." Oestricker followed. What happened next is in dispute. According to the state, Chambers shot Oestricker standing in the doorway and shouted into the bar: "The rest of you want some of this?" According to the defense, once the two men were outside, they faced each other briefly and exchanged words. Oestricker knocked Chambers to the ground. As Oestricker moved toward him, Chambers shot him in self-defense.
During his ride through the judicial system, three juries agreed with the state's version, that Chambers pulled the trigger as revenge for Oestricker's shoving Turner. All three juries condemned Chambers to death. Chambers' lawyers admit they have a slim chance of being heard by the Supreme Court, which hears about 60 cases per year out of 10,000 petitions and traditionally rules only on cases that will have a broad impact. "The odds are astronomical they will do anything but summarily deny it," said Kent E. Gipson, another Kansas City-based attorney working with Winger on Chambers' defense. If the Supreme Court denies Chambers' petition, he'll be executed this year, possibly as early as August, Gipson said. If the court heard the case, it could affirm the capital murder conviction and the death penalty; affirm the conviction but order a new hearing for thepunishment; or order a fourth trial to determine guilt and punishment.
Since he was first convicted of murder in 1982 and sentenced to death: The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the first conviction because jurors were not told that they could consider whether Chambers shot Oestricker in self-defense. In the second trial in 1985, Chambers was again convicted and sentenced to death. The conviction was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court, although a dissenting judge questioned why Chambers should be sentenced to death for "an ordinary barroom altercation."
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned the second conviction because Chambers' attorney in that trial decided against calling a witness, James Jones. Jones could have said that Chambers shot Oestricker in self-defense, the defense said.
In the third trial, Chambers was convicted in October 1991 and sentenced to death. This time, Jones testified he was in the tavern's parking lot at the time of the killing and that Chambers was thrown to the ground first in the fight. Chambers then got up and shot Oestricker, Jones testified. The third conviction was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court.
In 1997, U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs denied Chambers' request for a new trial. "This case seems to have been comparatively well tried, even If some may consider the result surprising," Sachs wrote.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of Chambers' appeal in September 1998.
If given the opportunity to present their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Winger and Gipson will try to demonstrate that Chambers is the victim of a succession of ineffectual defense lawyers, that a key witness for the prosecution changed his account of the shooting at each trial, and that, in the first place, Chambers never should have been charged with capital murder.
The death penalty usually is reserved for the most heinous, premeditated murders, those involving torture or rape, Gipson said. It's never been proved that Chambers intended to kill Oestricker, he said. Witnesses have said Oestricker was drunk and aggressive the entire day leading up to the fight with Chambers. Gipson said Oestricker is partly responsible for causing his own death. "The thing that struck me is there has never been a case in America where someone has been executed for killing someone in a bar fight," he said. "I've researched this exhaustively." How, then, Gipson asked, does it happen that Chambers is on death row? Sachs addressed that question in his 1997 opinion. While a tavern-related homicide may be unfamiliar context for capital punishment, 36 jurors have found it appropriate," he wrote. "They could have found (the shooting) a successful assassination attempt or the deliberate execution of a large but lightly armed antagonist."
Winger and Gipson also would argue that executing a man who's been on death row for so many years is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of Chambers' rights under the 8th and 14th amendments. This is called a "Lackey claim," after a similar death penalty case in which the claim was made. Other judges have rejected that claim in Chambers' case, including Circuit Judge Richard S. Arnold: "Delay, in large part, is a function of the desire of our courts, state and federal, to get it right..." Chambers' wife, Darlene, hopes a fourth trial would downgrade the capital murder conviction to second-degree murder or manslaughter, which would carry a penalty of about 20 years in prison. If that happened, Chambers already would have served most of that sentence and could be released by his 50th birthday.