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Michael Politte released from prison Friday - attorneys blame bad science for conviction

Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 5:01 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Michael Politte has spent more than half his life behind bars. He was convicted of killing his mother when he was 14-years-old. Michael has been the focus of a recent KCTV5 investigation because the physical evidence used to convict him was wrong.

Michael is being released from prison, not because the justice system got it wrong, but because of new sentencing guidelines for juveniles.

Rita Politte died in 1998. An autopsy showed she was beaten unconscious, then set on fire. Michael was home at the time of the crime, and said he tried to put the fire out with a garden hose, but it wouldn’t stretch far enough. Michael was the prime suspect very early in the investigation. Authorities questioned his emotional reaction at the scene. Michael was angry and defiant. At times he was quiet.

Michael Politte
Michael Politte(KCTV5)

“I remember the hair on the back of my neck rising up... I didn’t know what to do,” said Politte. “What’s a 14-year-old kid supposed to do in that moment?”

A police dog alerted investigators to Michael’s shoes. Testing revealed there was gasoline on them.

Long-awaited trial

Michael Politte was not tried until 2003, four years after the murder. He had a public defender and court records indicate the science behind the testing of Michael’s shoes was never challenged, despite that testing improved in the late 90s. A Washington County jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison.

Michael has always maintained his innocence.

Since his conviction, many question whether the court got it right. Michael’s current legal team, which consists of two innocence projects, quickly zeroed in on the science—and the shoes. They pushed for new testing and learned that the substance on Michael’s shoes wasn’t gasoline. It was a solvent used in the manufacture of the shoes. The state crime lab agrees, saying, “it is now known that solvents in footwear adhesives have similarities to gasoline.”

Politte was convicted because the jury was given bad information. And his attorney says, the state knew it.

“They knew that science wasn’t good, even if they didn’t retest it and know it was definitely false,” said Megan Crane, one of Michael Politte’s attorneys. “They knew that the testing they used wasn’t good. And yet they presented it to the jury.”

The timeline of Rita Politte's murder and Michael's court trial.
The timeline of Rita Politte's murder and Michael's court trial.(KCTV5)

More than half of the living jurors now believe Politte is innocent or he should have a new trial.

“Bad science” leads to bad convictions

Politte’s is not an isolated case. The Innocence Project says forensic science contributes to 43 percent of wrongful convictions.

The Innocence Project states that forensic science contributes to 43% of wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project states that forensic science contributes to 43% of wrongful convictions.(KCTV5)

There is less confidence now in bite marks and blood splatters, too.

The Innocence Project points a critical finger at comparative bullet lead analysis and some arson conclusions. After all, initial tests showed Michael’s shoes had accelerants, but it was glue in the shoes.

“When they get it right- they celebrate it,” said Politte. “When they get it wrong, it’s hush hush. I think that’s the biggest problem with the justice system.”

Michael isn’t not letting go after his release. He says he will continue fighting to clear his name. Even though he’s being released, at this time, his conviction stands.