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Court battle to test evidence for DNA in 35-year-old Missouri murder case

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HOLDEN, MO (KCTV) -- Patty Prewitt is serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband, Bill Prewitt.

She swears she’s innocent and has since the morning her husband was shot. Her legal team is hoping old evidence will provide new information and prove Patty has been telling the truth all along.

A court battle is currently underway for DNA testing on items collected at the murder scene. DNA testing wasn’t a possibility back in 1984 so that never took place.

February 18, 1984

Bill Prewitt was shot and killed as he slept during an early morning storm. His wife gathered up the kids and drove to a nearby farm for help. She was reportedly hysterical.

Patty Prewitt told neighbors who contacted law enforcement that she woke to what she originally thought was loud thunder but would later realize it was gunshots.

“All I remember is being pulled out of bed by my hair and being thrown on the ground so hard. So hard,” she said.

She told investigators her frantic crying annoyed the attacker so he eventually left.

Patty Prewitt checked on her husband and found blood. She could barely see inside the house because it was so dark. Someone had shut off the power, the phone lines had been cut. Her only choice was to get help.

This was a story that investigators never believed.

“Everyone immediately looked at me. I was told in 99% of cases it’s the spouse,” Patty Prewitt said.

The murder weapon, the family’s rifle, was later found in a pond on the property. Patty Prewitt's boot prints were nearby.

Episode 3: Patty Prewitt’s fight for freedom

There was also the question of life insurance. Patty Prewitt paid the premium for her husband near the time of the murder. Prosecutors viewed that as motive.

Patty Prewitt's past

Patty and Bill Prewitt were a picture-perfect family in Holden.

They had five kids. Patty Prewitt was a member of the PTA and the chamber of commerce. Together they owned the small town lumber yard.

But, Patty Prewitt says a gang rape in a trip to Sedalia in the 1970s fractured their marriage. The two swallowed that secret and moved on.

“There was no counseling in those days that we knew about. You just keep your mouth shut and work on it after kids go to bed,” she said.

Patty Prewitt said the distance between husband and wife grew, and eventually both had affairs. She says at the time of the murder things were strong but police viewed those affairs as motive.

“How’s your marriage? What’s that got to do with that? To me that was 4-5 years before!” she said.

Who killed Bill Prewitt?

Friends and family describe Bill Prewitt as laid back and funny.

He owned the town lumberyard with his wife and help run athletic programs. The family farm was on the outskirts of Holden so it was remote. The idea of a stranger attacking Bill Prewitt didn’t fit for police.

Police zeroed in on boot prints near the family pond where the rifle was found. They matched Patty Prewitt’s boots.

The couple had life insurance that Patty Prewitt would inherit. But her supporters say it wasn’t enough to cover the lumber yard debts.

At trial, three of Patty Prewitt's former lovers testified she made comments about wanting Bill dead.

Patty Prewitt points out the men cut deals to testify, one tried to pressure her into marrying her him, and she says even if she ever said anything, she certainly didn’t mean it.

“You don’t mean that. It’s stupid talk. If I said that, it was stupid talk,” Patty Prewitt said.

Police took pictures of the Hitchcock novels Patty Prewitt read. Those mysteries were considered evidence in the case.

The prosecutor mocked Patty’s claims that she was attacked.

“...That in total darkness he advanced with his murderous manner to enjoy Mrs. Prewitt’s oft enjoyed sexual favors.”

He appealed to the jury to find her guilty.

"The dignity of the institution of marriage and the State and our community requires it.”

The jury did find her guilty and sentenced Patty Prewitt to life with no chance of parole for 50 years.

“I’m doing someone else’s time. My kids and I are doing someone else’s time. How do you ever prove that?” Patty Prewitt said.

Other evidence in the case

Patty Prewitt and her supporters say DNA could prove she’s been telling the truth all along.

DNA testing wasn’t available in criminal investigations in 1984.

Patty Prewitt

Patty Prewitt is serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband, Bill Prewitt.

For decades, everyone believed the evidence in the case was gone. Lost in a flood or simply misplaced throughout the years. It was recently found.

A court battle is underway to test everything from stained pajamas to the phone cords which were cut.

“What would it hurt? What are the they hiding? Why is it hard to get DNA testing?” Patty Prewitt said.

Two of her children testified at trial they believe there was someone else in the house that night. They saw a light on in the basement.

A neighbor told the sheriff there was a strange car near the Prewitt house the night of the murder. And hours before the murder, all three farm dogs went missing. They would later be found dead on a nearby farm.

“We think they were poisoned,” Patty Prewitt’s daughter, Jane Watkins, said.

Watkins and her siblings all firmly believe their mother is innocent. She says her dad was digging into who sold drugs in the town and believe that is a possible motive.

Watkins also says she will never forget what she saw the morning of her father’s funeral.

“I saw her. From her hips to her knees just bruised horrible bruises. As a grownup, I know that’s bone on bone. Her inner thighs were really bad just covered in bruises. I said what happened? And she said he really hurt me that’s all she said,” Watkins said. “Why didn’t take a picture of that?”

What’s next in the case

A decision by the appellate court is expected at any moment to determine if DNA testing is appropriate in this case.

The prosecutor points out Patty Prewitt was not convicted based upon DNA.

She was convicted based on motive and opportunity. DNA on her pajamas would not necessarily conflict with the state’s theory about what happened that night.

The prosecutor said he is limited in his ability to respond because the issue is up for review. But in court, the state has pointed out that none of the items were collected or preserved with DNA testing in mind.

Patty Prewitt’s supporters are also pushing for clemency in her case arguing she’s running out of time. Click here for more.

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