Wed, Feb

Murder, mayhem, overturned verdicts -- and a missing sentence

SEDALIA, Mo 5/9/14 (Beat Byte) -- "A Jefferson County man probably would be alive today if state authorities had not 'lost' a record of a concealed weapons conviction against Joseph Franz Arbeiter."

This Daily Capital News editorial is referring to the same Joseph Arbeiter police in neighboring Pettis County arrested last week for assault and attempted rape.  They've since found human remains around his property, including an arm in a metal container near his mobile home. 

But the time, the case, and the alleged victims the editorial references are entirely different.   Nearly forty years ago, Arbeiter was arrested, tried, and exonerated for the murder of Herculaneum, Missouri tavern owner Louis Hasty and sodomy against Hasty's girlfriend.   

Like a cat with nine lives, Arbeiter was on the streets when he should have been in prison on a concealed weapons rap.   One serious felony after another, Arbeiter's life story is the stuff of frustration and disgust with American criminal justice, which too often convicts the wrong person while letting the guilty go free to re-offend. 
"Although it sounds incredible...St. Louis County court officials say Arbeiter's file shows that he was sentenced to serve four year sentences concurrently on each of a burglary and auto theft convictions of October, 1971, and that the two year concealed weapons sentence would follow, making a total of six years," The Daily Capital News reported.   "But Arbeiter was released from his four year term by the prison on Aug. 1, 1974, and his concealed weapons conviction apparently was never served."

An admitted neighborhood burglar in his early teens, Arbeiter years earlier confessed to killing St. Louis resident Nancy Zanone with a butcher knife during a botched robbery in 1963.   His admission came with a prescient thought:   "I'm only 15 years old," Arbeiter said.  "They can't do anything to me."

A jury convicted Arbeiter of Zanone's murder not once, but twice.   The Missouri Supreme Court overturned each verdict.   He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole the first time, but the Justices freed him on the grounds Arbeiter had not been remanded to juvenile authorities, a legal requirement.   The prosecutor re-tried him for Zanone's death in 1968;  a jury found Arbeiter guilty of second degree murder;  and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.  

But that conviction was overturned in 1970, when the Justices found it was based on an inadmissable statement Arbeiter made to a juvenile officer.

Freed in February of that year for Zanone's murder, Arbeiter was charged, tried -- and acquitted -- for the rape of a 20-year-old St. Louis woman six months later.  
After pleading guilty to burglary, auto theft, and a concealed weapons charge about a year after that, Arbeiter was sentenced to four years in prison on the two theft charges, and two more years for illegally carrying a concealed weapon. 

It was October, 1971.

Less than three years later, a burglar shot Louis Hasty to death and sexually assaulted his wife before taking a cash box from Hasty's tavern.   Arbeiter had been in the tavern earlier that evening.  

Arbeiter did time for drug charges from 1982 to 1992; and violating parole from 1994 to 2002.  He's been a free man since 2002. 

As for the "lost" concealed weapons conviction, "Was this the fault of the court or the Department of Corrections?" the Daily Capital News editorial asked so many years ago.   "The 'lost' conviction record needs to be cleared up.  Missouri citizens are entitled to know what happened and whether other convictions are being misplaced, lost or destroyed." 

No reports of an investigation into Arbeiter's "lost" conviction have surfaced, but he is back in the news on suspicion of a violent felony -- or felonies -- once again.  Authorities are now treating the human remains as a homicide investigation.   The remains were identified as those of a 35-year-old Marshall, Missouri woman, Mandy Black. 

In what may be the understatement of 2014, "Mr. Arbeiter certainly does have a long list of interactions with the criminal justice system over the years," Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond told reporters this week.

UPDATE:  Arbeiter confessed to the murder and dismemberment of Mandy Black and has been charged with her murder earlier this year.