Government & Politics

Baker declines to charge Greitens despite 'probable cause' for sexual assault

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker considered a variety of criminal charges against former Gov. Eric Greitens — there was probable cause for sexual assault, she said — but ultimately declined to bring a case against him.

Baker announced on Friday that she would not bring criminal charges against Greitens stemming from a 2015 extramarital affair in which his then-hairdresser alleged that Greitens took a compromising photo of her, coerced her into oral sex and struck her.

Citing statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass, insufficient evidence on a short timeline and potentially missing evidence, Baker said she could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

She said that during the course of the investigation her team discovered that 31,000 files had disappeared from Greitens' phone between an April review conducted by his legal team and a forensic examination in May ordered by a St. Louis judge.

“They’re gone. I know that they’re gone. Whether or not they were intentionally deleted, why they were deleted, how they were deleted, I do not know," Baker said when asked if she believed evidence had been destroyed.

Jim Martin, an attorney representing Greitens, said he agreed with her decision that there was not enough evidence against his client.

He disputed the notion that data went missing from Greitens' phone, saying that the May extraction of the phone's data produced two more photos than the April search had revealed.

"We think somehow she is mistaken about that," he said.

“All I can tell you is the Kansas City prosecutor’s office was provided everything that was extracted from the phone in April," Martin maintained.

Baker was appointed special prosecutor on May 22, giving her staff and investigators with the Missouri Highway Patrol not quite three weeks to evaluate whether to re-file a felony invasion of privacy charge against Greitens, as a St. Louis prosecutor previously had done, or another charge.

Her office considered charges of sexual assault, domestic assault, stalking and a lesser invasion of privacy charge before Friday's decision to end the probe. She said there was probable cause for a sexual assault charge, but that her office lacked the evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We ran this as late as we could… We were still attempting to gather additional evidence today, literally today," she said.

Martin said that Greitens' team was never concerned about the possibility of a sexual assault charge.

Short on corroborating evidence, Baker said, much of the case would have rested on the shoulders of the victim, whom Baker said was credible and telling the truth.

"In the words of the victim, 'My heart just can't bear it,' " Baker said. "That statement still weighs heavily on me."

Baker pointed out that the victim spoke to investigators, grand jurors, lawyers and lawmakers no fewer than nine times since the affair was revealed in January. Each time, Baker said, the victim gave consistent statements.

"What is important to note about this victim through all of this is that she did not waver," Baker said. "Though she repeatedly faced a large, aggressive team of expensive lawyers — I’m told that list may be as high as 40 lawyers — she held her own."

And she bore the brunt of invasive questioning and attacks, Baker said.

"I'm hopeful for one thing: I hope today the vicious attacks against this woman will stop," Baker said. "She deserves to be protected from further harm. I am going to do my best to protect her from further harm."

The woman in the Greitens case was notified of Baker's decision ahead of Friday afternoon's announcement. A statement from her attorney Scott Simpson thanked Baker and the Missouri Highway Patrol for their support and for believing her story.

The statement also criticized the woman's ex-husband, who secretly recorded her confession of the affair, a St. Louis television reporter who first aired news of the affair and Greitens for being "willing to spend millions of dollars spreading lies about her in an effort to save his political career."

"No woman should have to endure the trauma that comes from her ex-husband selling her private story for a six-figure payout," Simpson's statement read. "No woman should have to turn on the television and watch as the most private and difficult moments of her life are broadcast despite pleading with the reporter for privacy. No woman should be forced to answer countless hours of highly personal questions that are in no way relevant to the issue of whether a nude photograph was taken without her consent."

Friday's news appears to put an end to Greitens' criminal legal problems, which had blossomed into several investigations earlier this year.

A St. Louis grand jury charged Greitens with felony invasion of privacy on Feb. 22. The criminal charge stemmed from a 2015 encounter in the basement of his then-St. Louis residence with his hairdresser at the time.

The woman, identified in court records only as K.S., alleged that Greitens tied her up to exercise equipment and took a photo of her partially nude. Greitens then made a threat that implied he would circulate the photo if she discussed the affair with anyone, she said.

Greitens acknowledged the affair, but denied blackmailing her. He has never publicly given a straightforward answer about whether he took the photograph or not.

In any case, investigators appeared to never get a hold of the photo, if it ever existed.

St. Louis City Prosecutor Kim Gardner brought the case all the way to jury selection before she suddenly dropped the charge after a St. Louis Circuit Court judge granted a motion that made Gardner a witness in the case. That ruling came after a number of missteps by Gardner and a hired investigator marred her case.

Gardner's decision to drop the case resulted in Baker's appointment as special prosecutor, meaning it became her decision whether to pursue charges or not.

Even though the affair never resulted in criminal charges that would stick against Greitens, the revelation of it in January kicked off a chain of events that cut short his once promising political career, less than two years into his term as governor.

Greitens had pushed back against the allegations against him, claiming a political conspiracy shepherded by Democrats, low-income housing developers and others.

Greitens had also faced a felony charge of computer tampering related to an allegation that he purloined a donor list from a veterans charity that he then used for political fundraising. That charge was dropped in a deal struck with Gardner that included an acknowledgment that there was sufficient evidence to take the case to trial.

As investigations piled up and with the prospect of impeachment by the Republican-controlled Missouri House in play, Greitens resigned from office in disgrace on June 1.

Baker confirmed Friday that her office had also had contact from Greitens' team both before and after his resignation, but that it opted against any similar deals.

Greitens, an up-and-comer in the GOP political scene on account of his background as a Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar, had aspirations for the White House.

Al Watkins, a St. Louis-area attorney who represented the ex-husband of the woman involved in the Greitens affair, said, "You have to respect the decision of the prosecutor."

Missouri state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said Baker's decision validated the idea that Gardner mishandled the case, but added "I don't think the governor can honestly say he never did anything wrong."

"I'm happy that it's over and hopeful that Gov. Greitens can move on with his life, that K.S. can move on with her life and both get to the business of healing their families and the state can move past this sort of episode," Fitzpatrick said.

Rep. DaRon McGee, D-Kansas City, said he believed Baker's account that files were missing from Greitens' phone.

"I don't think that's beyond his character and his integrity," McGee said. "Hence why he is now former Gov. Greitens."

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