The man convicted of killing a Houston High School graduate in 1982 may be freed after a recommendation that his conviction be vacated.
The referral comes from retired 11th Circuit Court Judge Richard K. Zerr, who was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to act as special master over three days of evidentiary hearings challenging the evidence used to convict Donald “Doc” Nash in 2009. That was 27 years after the death of Judy Spencer, 21, a Houston High School graduate.
“It is a very good, very detailed report,” Nash’s attorney, Charles A. Weiss, said of Zerr’s 200-page report, when reached last week by the Salem News. The victim’s body was found near Salem.
Weiss said the timing of Nash’s release will depend on if the state objects to Zerr’s recommendation. The high court may also order its own hearing on the matter, but Weiss said it has always deferred to its appointed special master in previous habeas corpus cases.
If it does accept Zerr’s recommendation, it will be up to Dent County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Curley to decide whether to refile charges against Nash. Curley was not immediately reached for comment Friday evening.
Spencer was discovered strangled and shot by a shotgun at the old Bethlehem School site in Dent County on March 11, 1982. Her Oldsmobile sedan was found later that day abandoned on Highway FF about 20 miles away. A jury in Rolla found Nash guilty of Spencer’s murder in 2009, with recovered DNA and fingernail forensics used as the prosecution’s primary physical evidence. Since his conviction, Nash has maintained his innocence while imprisoned in Bonne Terre’s state prison, and his St. Louis-based legal team asserted to the state supreme court that new evidence casts doubt on his guilt.
Nash was represented during the March 3-5 evidentiary hearings in St. Charles by Weiss, Steven Snodgrass and Jonathan B. Potts of Bryan, Cave, Leighton & Paisner. The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Spillane.
Nash was granted a preliminary writ of habeas corpus by the state supreme court last year so additional testimony could be taken to inform its decision whether to vacate his 2009 conviction. The case reached the state supreme court after a 2018 evidentiary hearing was held in Farmington and similar habeas corpus petitions were denied at the circuit court and appeal court level.
Nash’s case is only the third time a preliminary writ of habeas corpus was issued by the Supreme Court of Missouri in its modern history. Most recently, it ordered David Robinson released from prison in 2018 upon vacating his Audrain County murder conviction.