Prosecutorial Misconduct, Closing Arguments. Bernard Rhodes was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of Dorothy Martin during a home robbery. During closing arguments at the penalty phase, the prosecutor demonstrated how the victim was murdered while asking the jury to imagine themselves as the victim, experiencing every detail of the crime. Arguments for imposition of the death penalty that are “designed to cause the jury to abandon reason in favor of passion are improper.” State v. Taylor, 944 S.W.2d 925, 937 (Mo. banc 1997).

The Missouri Supreme Court found “the prosecutor’s inflammatory argument did not in any way assist the jury in making a reasoned and deliberate determination to impose the death penalty” and “unduly infect[ed] the jury’s decision with passion.” Rhodes, 988 S.W.2d at 529. Since Rhodes objected to this error, both at trial and in his motion for new trial, the trial court error was timely preserved, creating the presumption of prejudice. Id. Therefore, the Court reversed the sentence of death because the prosecutor’s improper personalization denied Mr. Rhodes a fair trial on the issue of punishment.

On remand, Mr. Rhodes was resentenced to life without parole.