Difficult legal path to prove innocence goes to Missouri Supreme Court

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 3:57 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A new brief has been filed by the watchdog group “Common Cause” questioning how and why innocence claims are being challenged by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

It argues the intent of a new state law gave prosecutors the power to correct faulty convictions. It also argues the Missouri Attorney General’s Office warps the intention of the law.

It points to two men seeking exoneration — Michael Politte and Lamar Johnson.

Michael Politte

In Washington County, Michael Politte was just 14 years old when his mother was beaten and set on fire in 1988.

He quickly fell under suspicion because he was angry and defiant at the scene. Testing revealed gasoline on his shoes. It was the central piece of evidence in the trial.

But newer more accurate testing reveals a mistake. There never was gasoline on the shoes. The older test picked up on a solvent used in the manufacturing process. Something even the state crime lab now admits.

Politte is free on parole and challenging his old conviction with the help of the local prosecutor.

The roadblock is the Attorney General’s Office, according to the Common Cause pointing to legal filings which block the exoneration process.

“This is consistent with the Attorney General’s long history of opposition to the exoneration of the wrongly convicted.”

Lamar Johnson

In Saint Louis, a judge recently listened to the evidence in Lamar Johnson’s case that is now crumbling. A ruling is expected at any moment.

Johnson’s legal team points out that two others have confessed to the crime clearing Johnson. The only eyewitness to the crime now admits he couldn’t really see anything that night and felt pressured to pick Johnson.

But it took years to even get the case before a judge even when the prosecutor admitted it was a wrongful conviction. Johnson’s current legal team, which includes Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, describes a hostile process in court records.

Attorneys for the Missouri Attorney General’s office submitted a final brief containing 8 pictures where black or red lines are drawn on Johnson’s face. They continue to argue there is something unique about his face where a person could credibly identify a masked gunman running in the dark even if that person could only see the eyes.

Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson(KCTV5, Court records)

Note: The judge wouldn’t even listen to an expert on the topic after listening to the eyewitness recant.

He also questioned a former detective about the entire investigation

“You sure this isn’t a situation where you guys were a little bit in a rush to judgment to get a conviction?” asked judge David Mason.

What role should Missouri’s Attorney General play?

Common Cause asks the Missouri Supreme Court to clarify the role the Missouri Attorney General should play in upcoming innocence proceedings. The new filing argues the office is confused about the role of county prosecutors play in ensuring justice.

It also calls the Attorney General’s office “obsessive” with its focus on ensuring old convictions still stand.

New Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey took office on Jan. 3.