Government & Politics

St. Louis prosecutors don't have photo at heart of Greitens case

Five things to know about the Greitens scandal

A St. Louis grand jury on Feb. 22 indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.
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A St. Louis grand jury on Feb. 22 indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.

Prosecutors in St. Louis do not possess the photograph that Gov. Eric Greitens allegedly took of a woman without her consent.

Greitens’ attorney, Jim Bennett, told a St. Louis judge Wednesday that he had been informed by prosecutors that the photo doesn’t exist.

Robert Steele, first assistant circuit attorney of St. Louis, said that was incorrect.

“I did not tell them the picture doesn’t exist. I told them we don’t have it in our possession at this time,” Steele said. “We plan to get that picture."

Greitens faces a felony indictment for invasion of privacy based on allegations that in 2015 he photographed a woman while she was blindfolded and partly nude in an effort to keep her from talking about the extramarital affair.

The case could hinge on whether prosecutors can prove the photo’s existence. The governor has refused to directly answer whether he took it.

Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it will be ready for its May trial date.

“And we remain confident that we can prove our case against the Governor beyond a reasonable doubt. I will not get into the specific evidence. This case is to be tried in the courtroom and not in the media,” said Gardner’s spokeswoman Susan Ryan.

A list of evidence released Tuesday included a reference to a photo of the victim, but Greitens’ attorneys quickly put out a statement clarifying that it was a professional head shot of the woman.

Greitens’ team has repeatedly questioned Gardner’s decision to rely on private investigators to conduct the investigation rather than local police.

Gardner’s office has said the decision was made after the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said the investigation would fall outside its purview.

"The circuit attorney spoke to the police chief directly and the police chief said corruption was for the feds. It was a phone call,” said Ryan, Gardner’s spokeswoman. Ryan previously said that the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office declined to take up the case, leading to the decision to use private investigators.

Schron Jackson, a spokesman for the police, disputed Ryan’s characterization in an email Wednesday afternoon without explicitly denying a phone call between Gardner and Col. John Hayden, the city’s police chief.

“While we acknowledge public corruption cases involving public officials are normally investigated by the FBI, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was never asked to investigate Eric Greitens. For the Circuit Attorney to imply the department refused to investigate is untrue,” Jackson said.

Neither Jackson nor Ryan immediately clarified the disagreement between their two agencies.

Judge Rex Burlison has set a trial date for May 14, rejecting a request from prosecutors to hold the trial in November.

Bennett noted that prosecutors’ desired trial date would have coincided with the mid-term election.

Steele said the investigation took place in a condensed time line because of the statute of limitations on the offense, which allegedly took place in March 2015 but did not become public knowledge until January of this year.

Steele said additional investigation is needed, including interviews and collection of records. Greitens’ team said that should not affect the governor’s right to a speedy trial.

“Usual procedure is that if you’ve indicted someone, you’re ready to go,” Bennett said. “If they indicted without any significant investigation, that’s on them, not us.”

The St. Louis indictment has spurred calls for Greitens’ resignation by members of his own party and a legislative investigation, which could be the first step toward impeachment.

“The idea that time isn’t harming our client doesn’t make sense,” Bennett said.

Steele said a survey of cases showed that the normal time between an arraignment and trial is 366 days. He said the defense was seeking a trial for the governor in a “quarter of the time the court usually gives for anyone else.”

Burlison rejected that argument because he said some cases are more complex than others. Greitens is charged with a Class D felony, the lowest possible felony charge, and those cases typically skew toward earlier trials, he said.

The indictment includes a total of three witnesses, Burlison noted.

The judge also noted the case’s impact in Jefferson City as another reason to move quickly.

“This case affects the course of business of the state of Missouri. And I don’t think there’s any case that affects the people of Missouri more than this case,” Burlison said. “To leave it until September or November… I don’t think the people of Missouri are well-served.”

Burlison also referenced the possibility that the ongoing investigation could lead to additional charges against the governor.

If that happens, Burlison told prosecutors, those items could be handled with a separate case number if necessary.

Gardner, the St. Louis prosecutor, also voiced objections to any future requests by Greitens’ team to move the case from St. Louis.

Bennett said the governor’s team had not decided yet whether to bring such a motion.

“A lot of it depends on whether there’s rallies out in the streets,” he said.

Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted he had an extramarital affair in 2015.

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