Criminal Justice

This Week in Innocence

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Yesterday, Cole County, Missouri Circuit Judge Richard Callahan issued a stunning opinion in the case of Joshua Kezer, a 34-year-old man who has been in prison for 17 years for the 1992 murder of 19-year-old college student Angela Mischelle Lawless.

Kezer was convicted despite no physical evidence, DNA, or fingerprints linking him to the crime scene; no murder weapon; and no eyewitnesses to the actual murder. The evidence against him consisted of a witness who claimed to have saw him near Lawless' car (that witness later recanted) and testimony from jailhouse informants who say Kezer confessed to them. Two of those informants have since recanted, and one has since testified for Kezer's defense. Another says he made up his story about Kezer's confession, but went on to testify for the state, anyway.

Callahan ordered Kezer released within 10 days unless state prosecutors can come up with a good reason to retry him. Callahan's opinion also included a stinging rebuke of Kezer's prosecutor, who happens to be former congressman, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.). Hulshof served six terms representing Missouri's Ninth District, often citing his record as a capital crimes prosecutor in his campaigns. He was also the state GOP's nominee for governor in 2008, but lost.

Callahan chastised Hulshof for withholding several key pieces of exculpatory evidence from Kezer's trial attorneys, including the witness recantations, witnesses who contradicted state's witnesses, and police notes mentioning other possible suspects.

In his closing argument at Kezer's trial, Hulshof told the jury, "We put [Kezer] at the scene, we put a gun in his hand, we put the victim with him, we have got blood on his clothes."

In ordering Kezer freed, Callahan said this week, "none of what Mr. Hulshof said in that final summary was true. … Testimony putting (Kezer) at the scene is totally discredited. No gun was ever found, and there is no credible evidence that he ever had a gun." There was also no blood on Kezer.

Callahan added, "There is little about this case which recommends our criminal justice system. The system failed in the investigative and charging stage, it failed at trial, it failed at post-trial review and it failed during the appellate process."

Yesterday, Hulshof issued a mind-bogglingly tone-deaf statement that he remains "confident in the jury's verdict."

Then there's this:

An AP investigation found that in four cases — excluding the latest Kezer decision — prosecutorial errors by Hulshof led to death sentence reversals.

Another accused murderer won acquittal by a new jury at a second trial after his Hulshof-prosecuted conviction was rejected on appeal. A seventh defendant sentenced to life in prison without parole briefly won his freedom when a federal judge tossed out the conviction, although it was later restored.

Hulshof parlayed his prosecutorial excesses into a seat in Congress and, after losing his race for governor, to land at a presumably lucrative gig at a Kansas City-based law firm. Kezer, his victim, has spent half of his 34 years in prison for a crime it now seems fair to say he didn't commit. And of course there's also the niggling problem that if Kezer didn't commit the crime, then Angela Lawless' murderer remains free.

And yet it's unlikely Hulshof will suffer much at all from all of this, other than a few days of bad press. Kezer will certainly never see a dime from Hulshof, thanks to the absolute immunity afforded to prosecutors—even in cases where they knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence, as it appears happened in this one. As Hulshof's own career trajectory shows, a string of high-profile convictions can launch a promising career in politics and, in Hulshof's case, the lifetime lucre that comes with having once held federal office (he was at one time considered for president of the University of Missouri). Every incentive points to winning convictions at any cost, and there's rarely any personal or professional sanction for cheating.

This comment left at the Southeast Missourian website is particularly eloquent:

I am constantly amazed at how many people think we have a justice system. We don't, we have a legal system. Any similarity between law and justice is purely coincidental.

That's certainly true in this case. And, it appears, in a number of other cases Kenny Hulshof prosecuted.

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  1. Someone needs to indict this Hulshof fellow on prosecutorial misconduct, or deprivation of civil rights under color of authority, or maybe even just kidnapping.

    Also like this Callahan fellow. I was beginning to think that the bench had been purged of all reasonable people.

  2. There’s not much you can do to Hulshof except disbar him.

  3. There’s not much you can do to Hulshof except disbar him.

    Fuck immunity, right in the ear.

  4. Why doesn’t some major newspaper do a massive story on this? I don’t get it. It involves a perversion of “justice”, a politician, a seemingly sympathetic victim (and by that, I unfortunately mean white), and a murderer still at large.

    What the hell is wrong with the major papers?

  5. You know, if at some point in the future Kezer happened to murder Hulshof, I think granting him 17 years of time served towards his sentence would be acceptable.

  6. “What the hell is wrong with the major papers?”

    Guy holding a notepad asking stupid questions to ARoid: “No bailout of the newspaper industry, no real news and sure as hell no exposes on the people in positions of giving us bailout funds, or their well-connected friends and former colleagues.”

    Fuck, I’m starting to really hate everyone.

  7. There’s not much you can do to Hulshof except disbar him.

    Someone needs to “find” him next to a murder victim’s car, with a gun, and with blood on his clothes.

  8. robc, I was thinking a murder/robbery with a plane ticket already in hand (to a country with no extradition agreements) would be acceptable justice. As long as the robbery were significant enough to live off of.

  9. I’m all for shitting on any prosecutor under any circumstances, but juries that convict on garbage evidence are viler than DAs who prosecute on garbage evidence. They don’t have a material incentive. They just do it. Always.

  10. As a Missouri resident, I have prepared the following response to fully articulate my understanding, analysis, and hopes for future reforms in light of these developments:

    FUUUUUUUCK

    Any questions?

  11. Symbol dude makes a valid point. These fucking juries should be pissed at the prosecutor for lying to them, not convicting.

  12. “This Week in Innocence”

    This week MY INNOCENCE was shattered by Reason:

    http://free2g1c.com

  13. Only Jamie Kelly can make a good enough statement of my outrage.

  14. Gosh, J sub D, why don’t you support the death penalty for rapists and murderers?

    Obligatory thanks to Radley for keeping up with all of this crap.

    It wasn’t in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s largest circulation daily paper.
    How about yours?

  15. I’m going to go ahead and guess that none of these reversal would have taken place until Hulshof was out of office.

    That’s the sad part: judges don’t mind doing the right thing as long as there are no political repercussions. Those fuckers.

    Revolution.
    The only solution:
    The armed response of an entire nation.

    Revolution.
    The only solution.
    We’ve taken all your shit now it’s time for restitution!

  16. Someone needs to “find” him next to a murder victim’s car, with a gun, and with blood on his clothes.

    Preferably his car, and his blood.

    Seriously, for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in a capital murder trial, he should be disbarred. Full stop.

  17. “I remain convinced that Joshua Kezer, a member of the violent Latin Kings gang, is guilty of this crime,” Hulshof said.

    OTOH, I am now convinced that Kenny Hulshof is an immoral asshole who would lie in court, obstruct justice and send an innocent man to prison to advance his political career.

    He noted that the jury didn’t believe Kezer’s alibi witnesses and found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I note that the jury wasn’t given all of the evidence because Kenny Hulshof is a fucking evil asshole lacking the morality of your average Central African despot.

    “My biggest regret is that the family of Mischelle Lawless is experiencing a travesty of justice,” Hulshof said.

    My biggest regret is that this fuckhead scumbag oozing sore on a crack whore’s syphilitic cunt isn’t doing an equal amoun of time as Joshua Kezer was sentenced to.
    ___________________________________________________
    ? wrote

    I’m all for shitting on any prosecutor under any circumstances, but juries that convict on garbage evidence are viler than DAs who prosecute on garbage evidence. They don’t have a material incentive. They just do it. Always.

    Another data point. Americans are too fucking stupid for self-government.

  18. Preferably his car, and his blood.

    That’s not what I meant. What I meant was that he should serve every second of the time his victims served because of him. Since poetic justice and actual justice sometimes overlap, it would be SWEET if he served the time because someone made up evidence against him in a dirty murder trial. Preferably with rape and tax evasion thrown in.

  19. “Seriously, for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in a capital murder trial, he should be disbarred arrested, tried, and, if found guilty, executed. Full stop.”

  20. “Seriously, for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in a capital murder trial, he should be disbarred. Full stop.”

    No: In addition to disbarment, he should have imposed on him the exact sentence that his deception caused to be imposed on his victim.

    Lex talionis.

  21. Pardoning him is on my to-do list.

  22. Gosh, J sub D, why don’t you support the death penalty for rapists and murderers?

    Radley Balko has single-handedly convinced me to not support the death penalty.

  23. Yo, fuck Kenny Hulshof.

  24. The St.Louis MO paper picked up the story.

    Reasonable people can disagree about whether this is a “major” newspaper

  25. Disbarring Hulshof would be a major professional embarassment.

  26. And yet I doubt Hulshof ever has or ever will lose a minute of sleep over any of the cases he’s tried.

    And symbol guy: good point.

  27. I got kicked off the jury for telling the Asst DA I intended to administer justice, not the law.

  28. There’s not much you can do to Hulshof except disbar him.

    Fuck immunity, right in the ear.

    Agreed, both for this pos ad those two judges in Pennsylvania last week who were getting money for sending kids to prison.

  29. “My biggest regret is that the family of Mischelle Lawless is experiencing a travesty of justice,” Hulshof said.

    And here I thought that sending an innocent man to prison just so the prosecutor could be perceived as “doing something” was a travesty of justice. Silly me.

  30. Americans are too fucking stupid for self-government.

    A monarchy is looking better all the time. It could hardly be worse. Since we are rapidly transitioning to a kleptocracy anyway, I’m starting to think a kleptocracy stuffing the pockets of a relative handful is bound to be cheaper for me than a kleptocracy stuffing the pockets hundreds of millions of voters.

  31. Hire more people like Radley Balko and less people like Michael Moynihan and maybe Reason would be good again (kind of like three years ago)

  32. Hire more people like Radley Balko and less people like Michael Moynihan and maybe Reason would be good again (kind of like three years ago)

    Drink!

  33. We don’t, we have a legal system. Any similarity between law and justice is purely coincidental.

    This is true in every case.

  34. Hulshof served six terms representing Missouri’s Ninth District

    He should serve the remainder of the term of the poor SOB he railroaded.

    Honestly. Can you imagine how less cavalier these pricks would be if they were liable for the sentence under fraudulent prosecution?

  35. It was once said that “love never gives up, love cares more for others than one’s self, love doesn’t boast…doesn’t strut…doesn’t swell up…and is never about “me”. Love doesn’t keep score or revel. Love trusts God…looks for the best…and keeps on moving forward. Love is enduring.”

    Why is that important? Because Christ called us to love others the same way he loves us…including those who attack us and abuse us. I’m asking you to keep that in mind when consider the events of my life over the past decade and a half. thank you.

  36. Bottom line, a girl lost her precious life. I feel very sorry for her Parents as they must live with knowing the baby girl they gave life to, left the earth in such a senselss, violent manner. I knew Michelle personally, she was a very quiet, sweet person and likely got tangeled up in something she probably didnt know how to get out of.
    Benton Missouri – a town I grew up in/around lost so much the night of her murder. This marked the start of a downward spiral that reflects a rapidly decreasing morality pervasive in so many small towns, and generally at the heart of it all, is drugs. It’s just a very unfortunate situation for all involved really.

  37. Every case that Kenny Hulshof did should be reopened, as it seems like he has a track record a mile long. The travesty of justice committed here was that an innocent man spent time in prison for something that he didn’t do. That’s how I see it, as least.

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