Missouri Supreme Court affirms Livingston County judgment in Aaron Hecker case

Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City (Photo by Jason Hancock - Missouri Independent).

The Supreme Court of Missouri issued an opinion on November 7 affirming a circuit court judgment on an appeal from Livingston County. Aaron Hecker appealed the circuit court’s ruling over his motion for post-conviction relief.

The opinion, authored by Chief Justice Mary Russell, states Hecker pleaded guilty to one count each of second-degree assault of a special victim and resisting arrest. He claimed in the motion that his attorney had been ineffective during his guilty plea and sentencing proceedings by not adequately addressing his competency.

The Supreme Court of Missouri found that the circuit court did not err in its conclusion that Hecker’s attorney was not ineffective for failing to investigate his competency during the guilty plea and sentencing.

The opinion details that Hecker faced charges following an incident in August 2017 where he allegedly fired at two police officers during his arrest attempt. He was initially charged with two counts of second-degree assault of a special victim, one count of resisting arrest, unlawful firearm possession, and armed criminal action.

In March 2019, Hecker’s counsel entered a limited appearance solely for the plea and sentencing proceedings. Following a plea agreement, Hecker pleaded guilty to second-degree assault of a special victim and resisting arrest, with the other charges dismissed.

Hecker stated in his testimony that he had been on three medications for around two months and had taken the prescribed doses in the past 48 hours. He mentioned that he did not recall the medications impairing his judgment and affirmed his capacity to comprehend and respond to the court’s inquiries. He acknowledged that by pleading guilty, he was forfeiting certain rights.

The circuit court affirmed that Hecker’s pleas were informed and voluntary, with sufficient factual basis. The court accepted the pleas and requested a sentence assessment report. Hecker, advised by his counsel, did not partake in the report interview.

During the July 2019 sentencing hearing, Hecker’s counsel highlighted his prior schizophrenia diagnosis and suicide threats. The counsel suggested these factors should mitigate Hecker’s sentence. Hecker did not personally address the court due to his mental health status, on counsel’s advice.

Hecker received a 15-year sentence for one count and a four-year sentence for the other, to be served consecutively. He later filed a motion for post-conviction relief, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel regarding his mental health assessment and competence at the plea and sentencing stages.

At an evidentiary hearing, Hecker’s counsel admitted not requesting a competency evaluation, despite being aware of Hecker’s prior incompetency ruling in Kansas. The counsel believed Hecker understood the legal proceedings.

A psychiatrist, after reviewing Hecker’s records and an April 2021 evaluation, opined that Hecker was not competent during his plea and sentencing. Hecker’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing was deemed disjointed and not credible by the Livingston County Circuit Court, which overruled the relief motion. The court found the trial script and counsel’s evidence more persuasive than the psychiatrist’s testimony.