The voicemail left on St. Louis police detective Roger Murphey’s cellphone carried a clear sense of urgency, ProPublica reports. A prosecutor was pleading with Murphey to testify in a murder trial, the sort of thing the lead detective on a case would routinely do to see an arrest through to conviction. The prosecutor told Murphey that, without his testimony, the suspect could walk free. From San Francisco to Philadelphia, prosecutors like St. Louis's former circuit attorney Kim Gardner have faced pushback from the police and, in several cities, from their own courtroom assistants. Gardner stepped down from the position in May. Politicians and voters have tried to remove some of these prosecutors from office — and, in a number of cities, they have been successful. Murphey’s resistance to Gardner — Assistant Circuit Attorney Srikant Chigurupati’s boss when Brian Vincent’s case went to trial — was unusual and, perhaps, extreme. By his own account, he was willing to help murder suspects walk free to make a point, even if he arrested them and believed that they should be behind bars. In 2019, Gardner added Murphey to a list of police officers who would not be allowed to apply for criminal charges because of questions about their credibility, and she said her office would evaluate whether those officers could testify in court.
Although the identities of those officers were not made public, one of Murphey’s supervisors notified him that his name was on Gardner’s list. Weeks later, a prosecutor in Gardner’s office notified Murphey that the office not only would let him testify in the cases he had led that were heading to trial — it expected him to do so. Murphey, who retired in September 2021, said he felt stuck in a Catch-22. If Gardner was going to impugn his character and question his credibility, he decided, he wouldn’t cooperate with her prosecutors. He believed that if he went to court, defense lawyers would use his inclusion on Gardner’s list to attack him on cross-examination, making the trials more about him than the defendants. Since that time, he has refused to testify in at least nine murder cases in which he served as lead detective. He said he told prosecutors that, if they subpoenaed him to testify, “I’m going to sit on the stand and I’m not going to answer any questions.” Vincent was acquitted after Murphey's refusal to testify.