Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wrongly Convicted Joshua Kezer Gets Out

In Jefferson City MO, the dramatic events leading up to the release of Joshua Kezer have come to fruition. The Miami Herald carried the story.
A man who spent half of his life in prison for a 1992 slaying was freed Wednesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongly convicted and had to be retried or released.

Joshua Kezer, 34, left the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Wednesday afternoon when Scott County prosecutor Paul Boyd said he would not seek a new trial.

The victim was Angela Mischelle Lawless, a 19-year-old nursing student at Southeast Missouri State University. Kezer was 17 at the time, and apparently a gang member with a bad reputation. His conviction was partly based on testimony of another suspect in Lawless' death who said he saw Kezer at a nearby convenience store on the night of the killing.
But Mark Abbott, who is serving a 20-year drug sentence in federal prison, gave conflicting testimony in police interviews and subsequent statements.

Three Cape Girardeau County jail inmates also claimed that Kezer had confessed to killing Lawless, but they later acknowledged lying in hopes of getting reduced sentences on their own charges.

In his ruling, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan criticized the special prosecutor who helped persuade a jury to convict Kezer of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Lawless. Callahan ruled that special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof improperly withheld several key pieces of evidence from Kezer's defense attorneys.

On the Talk Left site there was an article posted about this case in December during the hearings that led up to yesterday's ruling. One of the comments was especially illuminating. It was by Jeralyn Merrit (here's her bio). What she shared with us is that Mr. Hulshof while working as prosecutor was no stranger to bending the rules a bit in order to get his man. This is not the first time he's had murder convictions reversed. When asked about that he said that he remained, "convinced that Joshua Kezer, a member of the violent Latin Kings gang, is guilty of this crime."

Even I can see the logic in this kind of thinking. A kid is in a gang, he's well known to other young thugs, he might have done the crime at hand and certainly has done others. For the good of society, and even for his own good, you get him off the streets. You do it any way you can. That's the way they think, isn't it?

Here's what Preaching to the Choir had to say about it. Including a quotable quote: "I think jailhouse informant testimony is worth less than my IRA."

What do you think about that? Is it good for society in the long run? Isn't this the same rationale some use for the death penalty? It's expedient, they say. Mistakes are kept to a minimum, and overall we're way ahead of the game.

I believe these attitudes which are quite prevalent among prosecutors, policemen and judges need to be changed. When they go too far like in the cases of Mr. Hulshof, they need to be prosecuted themselves. When a person lies or conceals the facts in order to achieve his goal, I say that's criminal, or it should be.

As far as motive goes, I think we'd be generous to presume that the ones who engage in this are all doing so for the good of society. In many cases I would imagine personal gain through career advancement is the true motive, which would make it all the worse.

What's your opinion. Please feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Mike,

    I agree with you on this case.

    IF the prosecutor broke the law, (s)he needs to be tried and convicted of the crime.

    We have enough people in jail for crimes they did commit, we don't need anyone to cast doubt on the judicial system.

    I disagree on how prevalent it is. I think the fact these are rare enough to be newsworthy proves that. If sentences were being overturned daily, if prosecutors were breaking the crime daily it would be a regular column and not a front page item.

    It is hard to remember the sheer scope of our judicial system. There are over 305,000,000 people in America. The system should get it right every time but unfortunately it doesn't.

  2. +1 My thoughts exactly Bob. (As if that's some suprise...I urged Thomas to get his own blog, which is fantasic. I would not do the same for you, Buddy, you'd just steal all my readers and ideas I suspect ) : ]

  3. I hate to break it to you, guys, but this sort of withholding of evidence by prosecutors happens far more often than is reported in the news. The sad truth is there just aren't consequence for prosecutors who do withhold evidence. Convictions or sentences aren't often overturned. For every case you hear about, there are easily 10-20 more that don't result in any relief for the defendant or any sanctions for the prosecutor. In my career, I have had appellate courts find prosecutorial misconduct in dozens of cases. Exactly one of those findings resulted in an overturned conviction.

    Bob, I don't believe that any state has a specific criminal penalty for a prosecutor withholding exculpatory information. Nifong truly is the exception because the vast majority of prosecutors who violate the law in this respect are not able to be prosecuted criminally. Certainly the prosecutor who presses criminal charges against a fellow prosecutor would not be well-received among his/her colleagues.

    I wish I could say that the state ethics' boards do much about it, but they do not. In my state, I am only aware of one prosecutor receiving any actual sanction and that was not for misconduct that was actually related to a conviction.

  4. I'll admit this, before you hit me with it Bob. I hold prosecutors and law enforcement people to a higher standard than I do your average criminals. Is that wrong? Does the law-and-order mentality and the personal responsibility philosophy allow for that? I think it should. Where folks are sworn to serve the public and that trust is broken, the crime, whatever it is, is compounded. What do you think?

  5. Mike,

    I hold them to the same level of personal responsibility. However, they OFFICE requires a higher degree of responsibility then the average person.

    While I expect everyone to do their job as best as they can, some jobs have a different level of care in execution.

    If the person mowing lawns for a living makes a mistake, it isn't going to cost someone years in prison, so yes there is a difference.

    Note, that is the office that has the higher level. It is the professional level that is different. I expect every person to try their best regardless if they are a paper boy, a donut maker, doctor or lawyer.

  6. Bob, Is there really a difference between stating that the "office requires a higher degree of responsibility" than saying the person does.

    Are you trying to disagree with me at any cost, even to insisting on a semantic nuance like this? Or is there really a difference?