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Convicted killer fights to prove innocence

The petition case of a St. Louis man convicted of manslaughter more than 30 years ago continued Friday in a Cole County courtroom.

Rodney Lincoln was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of JoAnn Tate, who was killed in St. Louis in 1982. Her two daughters were also brutally attacked, but they survived.

Lincoln’s sentencing was mostly based on the account of one of the daughters, Melissa DeBoer, who was 7 years old at the time. However, DeBoer realized last December she might have made a mistake and is now trying to get Lincoln freed.

DeBoer said new memories were triggered after she saw a mugshot of serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who was executed last year in Texas. She says Sells’ facial structure and hair seemed familiar after she allowed her memory to come back.

Lincoln said he understands what happened.

“Who am I going to blame, Melissa? She was 7 years old.” he said. “If I was in her place, I’d do the same thing.”

Lincoln has spent more than 30 years in prison for Tate’s death.

A Facebook group of Lincoln’s supporters, called “Pack the Courthouse to Support Rodney Lincoln,” said this week’s hearing was a “full evidentiary hearing.” The group said the hearing was scheduled after a conference last Friday at which officials decided that the hearing on motions should be expanded to a full evidentiary hearing.

DeBoer, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said police pressured her to identify Lincoln as the killer at the time, telling her that it was her responsibility to keep the bad guy in prison. She was emotional during Friday’s hearing, saying: “You grow up telling your story over and over again, and it becomes a script. And you start believing it yourself.”

The judge must now make a ruling in the case, which he said he will issue as soon as possible.

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