WATCH: Michael Politte released from prison, will continue fight to clear his name.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Michael Politte is finally free, released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Friday after spending more than two decades locked up for murdering his mother, Rita.
Politte was 14 at the time of her death and has always maintained his innocence.
Politte was not released because any court admits a mistake was made. Rather it was because sentencing guidelines for juveniles have changed. He will continue working to clear his name, but Friday, he’s just enjoying freedom.
“I’m speechless,” said Politte outside the correctional center. Among those there to greet him on the outside were his sisters, their children, and a childhood friend.
“I never thought the day would come. I don’t see barbed wire,” Politte said. “It’s all open. It smells different it’s just different!”
And his first order of business? Reliving the old times with that childhood friend.
“We’re going to take a bike ride from the parking lot to the railroad tracks — first thing we’re doing! (It’s been )23 years since I rode a bicycle! I’m leaving the same way I came in — on a bicycle,” said Politte.
Rita Politte’s murder was exceedingly gruesome. She was beaten, then set on fire. Michael and a friend were asleep in the house at the time, and woke up to smoke filling the mobile home. Michael tried to put the fire out with a garden hose, but it wouldn’t stretch far enough to reach the fire.
“I ran until to the into the hose all the slack is gone,” Politte told us in a previous interview. “I knelt down to see what I can see. And when I did, I seen my mother’s legs and I seen blood on her legs and she was on fire from her waist up.”
Police expected Michael to be more emotional at the crime scene, maybe even shed tears. But he didn’t. He was quickly identified as a suspect.
“This kid never had a chance,” said Politte’s attorney, Megan Crane.
Michael had a public defender for his trial. He was convicted because the physical evidence used in the trial was wrong. Prosecutors convinced the jury that Michael had gasoline on his shoes. But newer tests showed it wasn’t gasoline, it was the adhesive in his tennis shoes.
More than half of the living jurors in Politte’s trial believe he is innocent, or should get a new trial.
Two innocence projects continue to fight for him. His case attracted the attention of The Midwest Innocence Project and the MacArthur Justice Center. His current attorneys point the court to another possible motive. The week of Rita Politte’s murder, she was granted alimony, child support, and part of her ex-husband’s pension.
At the time, Ed Politte reportedly told his ex-wife, “you will never see the day when you’ll get the money.”
Investigators found a boot print behind the burning trailer, but Ed Politte was quickly dismissed as a suspect in the case. He had an alibi. He was at work at the time of the murder. But attorneys with the innocence projects say they found witnesses who place a cousin of Ed’s near Rita’s home the morning of the fire. There is also circumstantial evidence suggesting the cousin had a financial windfall shortly after the murder.
Still work to be done
KCTV5 Investigates contacted Ed for a response to the attorneys’ arguments. He responded that, “I did a dozen or so interviews with the law. I did a lie detector test, a blood test, a DNA test and fingerprints. I cooperated 100% with the law.”
Ed Politte also told us he’s glad his son was released, but Ed was not invited this morning when Michael had his first taste of freedom after 20 years.
With the help of his attorneys, Michael vows to continue fighting to clear his name. He hopes the local prosecutor will look at new evidence in the case. For now, he has to get used to a new life. He has a job lined up already. He’ll be detailing cars. Maybe he’ll even learn to drive one.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Politte “rebuild his life” after spending 23 years behind bars.
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