Three times since 2004, Jackson County prosecutors have charged Marlyn Standifer with murder.
And three times he has gone free.
In the one murder case in which a jury found him guilty, the 25-year-old Kansas City man won a new trial after accomplice Marlawn Chaney, who had testified against Standifer, recanted. Chaney said he was the one who shot James Atkinson Sr. to death in January 2007.
In a letter to Standifer’s attorney, Chaney wrote that he needed to “get myself right with God.”
It turned out to be a timely move.
Before Standifer’s second trial in Atkinson’s killing, Chaney was found shot to death on the front porch of a Kansas City house. Without his testimony, a jury acquitted Standifer.
Now Standifer is back in custody, charged in a southeast Kansas City home invasion and attempted robbery that left a victim with multiple gunshot wounds.
That crime earlier this month occurred 15 days after Standifer was released after serving eight months of what was supposed to be a 24-month sentence for probation violations in a federal gun case.
“I wanted to throw up,” Atkinson’s sister Tonia Reid said of hearing that Standifer had been arrested once again.
In two of Standifer’s murder cases, and a handful of others involving nonfatal shootings, court records are no longer available. Records of criminal court cases that end with a dismissal or acquittal are closed to the public.
But attorneys who handled those cases say they were dismissed because witnesses and victims either did not cooperate or could not be found to testify.
Standifer’s first murder charge was filed when he was 16. In January 2005, he was certified to stand trial as an adult in the June 21, 2004, killing of Ronald Taylor and assault of two other people.
Taylor was shot to death during an apparent attempted robbery near 29th Street and Flora Avenue, and Standifer was charged with second-degree murder along with another man, Gemayel Martin.
Martin, whose fingerprint was recovered from the car Taylor was in when he was killed, later entered a plea to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
But the case against Standifer was dismissed because the only witness disappeared, according to Dan Miller, an attorney in private practice who handled the case while he was an assistant Jackson County prosecutor.
“When it was all said and done there were no witnesses,” Miller said.
In January 2007, Atkinson, the father of three young sons, was found shot to death at 30th Street and Lister Avenue.
Standifer, Chaney and another man were implicated as suspects. The night before Atkinson was found dead, surveillance video showed him and Standifer entering a hospital together. According to court documents, Standifer was wearing a sweatshirt with the words: “Felons with guns. One will get you five. None will get you killed.”
He was wearing the same shirt when detectives questioned him a few days later.
Standifer remained free while detectives built their case. Within months, he was charged in federal court with being an illegal drug user in possession of a firearm during a March 2007 shooting and with participating in an April 2007 kidnapping scheme that ended with one of his accomplices shot dead by the would-be victim.
Standifer and three others were charged with murder for the death of their companion, Keith Wooden, because it occurred during the commission of a dangerous crime.
By then, prosecutors also had charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Atkinson after Chaney gave a statement to police. Chaney said Standifer shot Atkinson because he didn’t pay for drugs.
In June 2007, Standifer pleaded guilty to the federal gun charge, and in March 2008, he was sentenced to the five years in prison presaged by his “felons with guns” sweatshirt.
For the two murder cases pending in Jackson County, Chase Higinbotham, an attorney in private practice, was appointed as a special prosecutor. Higinbotham also was assigned to handle two assault-robbery cases involving Chaney.
In October 2009, a jury found Standifer guilty of first-degree murder in Atkinson’s death. In December of that year, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Efforts to prosecute Standifer for the assault-robbery cases and the kidnapping-murder case, however, were thwarted by witness and victim noncooperation, Higinbotham said.
“Not one person came forward to testify,” he said, so those cases had to be dismissed.
Standifer remained in custody for the Atkinson murder conviction, which he appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. The appeal was pending when Chaney sent his confession letter to Standifer’s attorney in July 2010.
“I was high that night, but I can’t let my friend go down for something I did,” Chaney wrote.
Based on that letter, the appeals court sent Standifer’s case back to Jackson County for a hearing to determine whether he should get a new trial. Chaney, who was in custody on an unrelated robbery, testified at that hearing and a judge granted Standifer’s request for a new trial.
Shortly after that, Chaney was released from custody. In September 2011, he was found shot to death on the front porch of a vacant house in the 1800 block of Newton Avenue.
“He was shot execution-style,” Higinbotham recalled.
That killing remains unsolved.
Because Chaney was no longer available to testify, the judge ruled that none of his statements could be used at the second trial. Without that testimony, Higinbotham said, no evidence supported the premeditated murder charge.
Higinbotham amended the charge to second-degree murder, but in August 2012, jurors found Standifer not guilty.
He was released from state custody and taken into federal custody to serve the sentence in the gun case. However, Higinbotham said, federal prison authorities gave Standifer credit for some of the time he had already served and he was almost immediately released.
In November 2012, he was cited for violating conditions of his release, and in January a federal judge sentenced him to an additional 24 months.
But once again, federal prison officials calculated that he should receive credit for some of the time he had previously served, and Standifer was released on Sept. 5.
On the morning of Sept. 20, Standifer allegedly accosted a man taking out trash in the 7100 block of East 111th Terrace and ordered him at gunpoint to knock on the door of a neighbor’s house, according to court documents.
He knocked, and when the neighbor looked out and saw what was going on, he ran to a bedroom and grabbed a gun of his own. According to court documents, Standifer allegedly forced the man he had originally accosted inside, and yelled at the homeowner, “You got 10 seconds before this turns into a murder scene.”
The homeowner said that when he came out of the bedroom, Standifer fired at him and the homeowner fired back, according to court documents. The man who had been accosted outside was struck by several shots but survived.
Standifer and several co-defendants fled in a vehicle but were arrested after a chase, according to court documents. He is charged with attempted robbery, kidnapping, burglary and armed criminal action and is being held on a $250,000 cash bond.
Court records do not list a current attorney for Standifer, and police and prosecutors declined to discuss his criminal history because of the pending case.
But members of Atkinson’s family said they are still angry about what happened in their case, and hope Standifer will be convicted of the charges he faces.
“He needs to be off the streets and off the streets for a long time,” said Atkinson’s father, Harold Atkinson.