The following facts are undisputed:
In 1991, Kris Helton resided with his then fiancee Marcella Gunderson, and her three children, from a previous marriage (a six-year old, four-year old, and a 22-month old named Marshall), in Little Torch Key, Florida.
On July 31, 1991 Kris had been out of the house and arrived home at 9.30pm. Marcella claimed that she put the two youngest children to bed at 8.30pm, before Kris had returned home. Upon his arrival, she put the 6-year old to bed.
Kris ate his meal. At approximately 11pm Marcella checked on the kids, before going to bed with Kris to watch TV before falling asleep.
At approximately 1.30am, Kris was awoken by Marcella "bumping into him”. He sat there, partially awake. Marcella sat up and asked him what was wrong, whereupon he told her she had woken him up. Marcella decided to go and check on the kids again. Marshall was not in his crib. She told Kris, and asked him to help her look for the baby. Kris got up and went around the house, turning on the lights and looking in all of the rooms.
Meanwhile, Marcella claimed she found the front door standing open, and saw the baby at the bottom of the front steps, face down, not breathing, and with the back of his head "soft to the touch". She called to Kris, and they attempted to administer CPR until the ambulance they called arrived. Marshall was dead on arrival at the hospital.
Kris Helton #864458
Marion Correctional Institution
P O Box 158
Lowell, FLORIDA 32663-0158
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Kris was subsequently charged with murder in the first degree, based upon Marcella's statement that he had been sitting up in bed when she awoke, and "acting nervous". Despite the absence of any direct evidence, Kris was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, based solely upon circumstantial evidence.
Florida has a law that permits a finding of guilty in a criminal case that is based solely upon circumstantial evidence and without any direct evidence, only where the evidence is such that it permits no other reasonable theory than guilt. If there is any other possible theory of innocence, the jury may not convict and if they do, the conviction may not stand.
Based upon this law and the state of the evidence in the case, the Court of Appeals reversed Kris' conviction on the basis that there were other reasonable theories of innocence, including that a stranger had done it, that Marcella's ex had done it, that it could have been an accident, or that Marcella had done it. The conviction was reversed for insufficient evidence, thus barring a retrial and setting Kris free. (1993 Florida App.LEXIS 5033) The Prosecutor however, obtained a "Rehearing" in the Appellate Court, and they subsequently reversed their prior decision and upheld Kris's conviction. [(1994) 641 So. 2d 146.]
Eventually, Kris' attorney, Mel Black filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Florida Federal Court. This resulted in a grant of the writ based upon ineffective counsel and insufficient evidence (Helton v Sec'y. 2000, 273 F3d 1322). Once again, Kris had shown the Court that he was innocent. However, the State Attorney somehow obtained a further Rehearing, (2001 U.S. App. LEXIS 15952) and on the Rehearing, the Court found that the Petition had been filed late, thus vacating the award of relief to Kris and leaving him in prison despite the finding that he is innocent. (259 F3d 1310). Kris' Petition for Rehearing was denied (92 Fed. Appx. 783), despite the showing that it was the lawyer's error that resulted in the untimeliness of the Petition, a factor which has been determined to warrant "equitable tolling" and forgive untimeliness of a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition. Yet the court refused to extend this tolling to Kris.
Subsequently, Kris obtained an independent review of the autopsy materials by the former Broward County, Florida Medical Examiner, Ronald K. Wright, a renowned forensic pathologist and expert in his field, and who is also a professor of forensics, teaching current experts in the field.
There had been discrepancies throughout the proceedings as to the time of death. Kris did not arrive home until 9.30pm; this was undisputed. Marcella claimed to have put the two younger kids to bed at 8.30pm, and to have checked on them at approximately 11pm. If Marshall was already dead, then Marcella lied and is likely the perpetrator.
The initial medical examiner was unable to determine the time of death with any precision, but opined that, based upon several factors, including reports of rigor mortis and a cursory examination of the stomach contents, it "could have been 2-4 hours" before the body was found, at 1.30am. This timing places Kris home at the time of death. Notably, defense counsel failed to investigate these facts, prepare himself to know or understand the facts, and failed to cross-examine the Medical Examiner on this opinion.
However, upon subsequent review by Dr. Wright after Trial, it was established that the use of rigor mortis was flawed based upon the condition of the body, and that a proper examination of the stomach contents demonstrates conclusively that Marshall died within a short time after eating the rice and strawberry yogurt Marcella admitted to having fed him, shortly before 6.30pm. Based upon the independent forensic analysis of the stomach contents and the state of the rigor mortis, it conclusively establishes that the baby was dead before Kris got home at 9.30pm.
This demonstrates that it was most likely Marcella, getting out of bed, to dump her baby's body down the front steps, that awoke Kris at 1.30am, and she used this to develop her story, putting on an act from then on.
Kris has been unable to find a way to put the report of Dr. Wright into the Courts, and is looking for assistance to do so.
“Kris Edward Helton was my high school sweetheart. We met and fell in love at 14 years old.
I heard stories from his family, about how his parents and his mother’s five sisters all doted over him while he was growing up. Kris learned to love and respect women early in life, which is why I fell head over hills in love with him.
Kris was a tot when his sister Kim was born. She was his heart. I even have a picture of him sleeping under her bassinet. He loved, adored and cherished her. He coached her in track among other things as they grew up. They were always very close.
Kris got driving speed boats and helped with the Key West Boat Championship where he met Don Johnson, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn and Kurt & Goldie’s children.
He graduated from three prestigious law colleges in the state of New York.
Kris is a man of honor. He dots his I’s and crosses his T’s. In prison he helps others with their cases. He’s always looking out for others.
Kris is a very thoughtful son, brother, husband, father and friend.
Please help him come home!”