‘Am I going to die in here?’ Missouri’s longest-serving female inmate begs Parson for clemency

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 4:14 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 5:00 AM CDT
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VANDALIA, Mo. (KCTV) — There is a renewed push by Missouri lawmakers to get Patty Prewitt released from prison. She’s serving a life sentence for the death of her husband, Bill in 1984. She swears she didn’t do it and even turned down a plea deal from the prosecutor.

“Governor Parson has correctly used the clemency power to show mercy and correct injustice. It is time for him to extend this mercy to Patty Prewitt. We should not be spending taxpayer dollars to keep this 72-year-old grandmother behind bars,” said Representative Tracy McCreery.

At 72, Prewitt is the longest-serving female prisoner in Missouri. She’s a mother and grandmother. In September, she’ll be a great-grandmother. She has high blood pressure, needs glasses to read and has a tremor. Her bones are now brittle. Several lawmakers question the wisdom of keeping Prewitt in prison. They argue she’s not a threat to public safety and the state’s tax dollars could be better spent. But she’s not eligible for parole until 2036.

In the beginning….

Bill and Patty Prewitt were high school sweethearts. They got married on Valentine’s Day. They had five children. While their life together might have looked like something out of a storybook, Patty admits the marriage wasn’t perfect. She admits to having affairs and the couple separated at times, but they patched things up. Bill and Patty were living together in a farmhouse in Holden, MO on the night of February 18, 1984—the night Bill Prewitt was murdered.

Bill and Patty Prewitt were married on Valentine's Day.
Bill and Patty Prewitt were married on Valentine's Day.(Prewitt family)

Bill Prewitt was shot and killed in his sleep. Patty said she was also attacked that night. Someone cut the phone lines and shut off the power. Patty grabbed her kids and ran to a nearby farmhouse for help. It was the home of a retired law enforcement officer.

Investigators zeroed in on Patty and did not believe her account that someone else was in the house that night. They questioned if she cut herself with a knife.

Bill Prewitt was shot and killed in his sleep.
Bill Prewitt was shot and killed in his sleep.(Prewitt family)

“I was just trying to get them to understand that they need(ed) to find who came in and killed Bill,” Patty told us in a prison interview.

The murder weapon was eventually found in the pond on the couple’s land. Investigators believed a nearby boot print matched Patty’s boots.

The case against Patty Prewitt

Prosecutors used Patty’s lifestyle against her. They even questioned her reading material and snapped a photo of her books. She read Hitchcock. But they made the biggest issue of the fact that Patty had had affairs. It was considered a motive at trial. Patty was offered a plea deal, but she refused it. She believed in the system and that she would be found not guilty. But she was the only suspect.

Patty Prewitt is serving a life sentence for the death of her husband, Bill in 1984.
Patty Prewitt is serving a life sentence for the death of her husband, Bill in 1984.(Prewitt family)

The prosecutor mocked her claim that she was attacked. “In total darkness he advanced with his murderous manner to enjoy Mrs. Prewitt’s oft enjoyed sexual favors,” the prosecutor said to jurors, according to court documents.

The prosecutor appealed to the jury to find her guilty. “The dignity of the institution of marriage and the state and our community requires it,” he said.

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“If you are sitting in front of a jury a jury thinks you are guilty- it’s psychology,” said Patty.

The jury found Patty Prewitt guilty and sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

One child screamed and ran from the courtroom.

After the trial

Patty is serving time in a case that is now criticized for being sloppy and sexist—maybe even downright wrong. Lawyers have fought for decades to prove Patty is innocent. They believe Patty’s claims that she was raped and fought in court to have old evidence tested for DNA. But they lost.

The state successfully pointed out Patty Prewitt didn’t tell investigators she was raped- just that the attacker tried. Back in 1984- there was no DNA testing linking suspects to crimes. Patty says she was in shock that night and focused on her kids. Her pajamas from that night remain untested.

Patty Prewitt's pajamas from the night of Bill Prewitt's murder remain untested for DNA.
Patty Prewitt's pajamas from the night of Bill Prewitt's murder remain untested for DNA.(Prewitt family)

Prewitt’s daughter Jane believes her mother was raped. She saw the evidence days after the murder while they were getting ready for the funeral.

“I said ‘What happened?’ and she said ‘He really hurt me,” Jane remembers.

“She had bruises all through her inner thighs,” said Jane. “From her hips to her knees just bruised—horrible bruises.”

All of Bill and Patty’s children believe their mother is innocent. Two children told investigators someone else was in the house that night. A neighbor told them a white sedan was outside the house and the man inside watched Bill and Patty’s house. But the jury never head that, and the jury never heard that the medical examiner originally believed Bill’s death was suicide.

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Supporters criticize the original investigation. There’s no documentation of fingerprints being taken in the house. Very few neighbors were interviewed. No collection of hairs and other items took place near the scene of the crime. Patty’s hands were swabbed for gunpowder just hours after the shooting; she tested negative.

Begging for mercy

Over the years, several people have fought for Patty’s release and Patty has had hope. Governor Mel Carnahan reviewed her case, but he tragically died in a plane crash in 2000. Later, Governor Eric Greitens’ legal team met with Patty’s lawyers, but he left office in disgrace in 2017. Then, two years ago, a letter signed by more than 50 Missouri lawmakers from both sides of the aisle appealed to Governor Mike Parson to consider her release. Nothing ever happened.

Lawmakers recently followed up with another letter to Governor Parson questioning, “Is it prudent for the state to continue to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to keep Patty Prewitt locked up for years to come?”

Patty Prewitt is the longest-serving female prisoner in Missouri.
Patty Prewitt is the longest-serving female prisoner in Missouri.(Prewitt family)

Representative Shamed Dogan points out newer legislation allows people convicted of murder to be paroled after 30 years. But that wasn’t the case in the 1980s, and Patty Prewitt is under those rules.

“Part of me keeps thinking something will happen and I’ll get out,” Patty told us. “I won’t buy a bottle of Pantene until the last minute. I would hate to buy it and then been freed. Now see? That’s the insanity in me.”

When asked what she would say to the governor, Patty responded, “I wrote him once and asked what’s preventing you from granting me clemency? Because I am no risk. You can’t say you are scared I’m going to go out there and kill someone?”

Now, Patty writes him once a week. Sometimes, she writes about the facts in her case. Patty points out her hands tested negative for gunpowder hours after the murder. In another letter, she lays out the cost of keeping her in prison—more than $32,000 a year on average. Patty points out it’s even more expensive as prisoners age. Sometimes she sends poems. Another time it was a simple plea, “Can you possible find it in your heart to free me?’

Parson’s response

Patty Prewitt has yet to get a response from anyone in governor’s office.

We reached out to the governor’s office, too. Parson has granted clemency and pardons to others, mostly in old drug cases. Patty’s clemency petition has never been answered and it’s more than 12 years old.

Governor Parson’s spokesperson points out he has made progress on the backlog of petitions. Parsons inherited 3,695 petitions. It’s now down to 2044.

There was no direct answer to Prewitt’s petition for clemency.

“You grow older and older, and more feeble and nothing ever changes,” said Patty. “And then you think, ‘Am I going to die in here? Are they going to call my kids someday and ask where to ship the body?’”

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