The Kezer conviction

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Joshua Kezer is serving a 60-year sentence for murder based on the recanted and unrecanted testimony of three inmate snitches, one of whom admitted in a letter it was a scam concocted to bargain down their own jail time with prosecutors.

Meanwhile, other men have reportedly bragged about their roles in the 1992 murder of Mischelle Lawless, which was chalked up to bravado.

Kezer's case has been under the microscope for several months. It was re-opened by Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter more than two years ago. It caught the attention of St. Louis lawyers, the Innocence Project, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and more recently reporter Bridget DiCosmo of the Southeast Missourian. DiCosmo's reporting raised many questions and scenarios about Lawless' death.

Kezer's conviction is anything but certain. It seems troubling that snitches' wobbly testimony and other witnesses' changing stories carried more weight than Kezer's relatives who say they saw Kezer in Kankakee, Ill., two hours before Lawless was killed in Benton, Mo. Not only does DNA evidence nor any other physical evidence put Kezer at the crime scene, there are other suspects who appear at least as likely of having the opportunity of committing the crime.

Walter should be commended for reopening the case. It would also be prudent for the Missouri State Highway Patrol to release evidence (a bullet from a closed death row case) that could shed light on the killer.

If Kezer is innocent, then he has lived out America's worst nightmare. This case serves as a reminder to us all that we are innocent until proven guilty and that finding the truth is much more important than getting a conviction. On June 9, a judge will hear evidence and decide if a new trial or exoneration is warranted. Based on the evidence and testimony provided by court documents, law enforcement and witnesses, a new trial would seem to be justified.

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