Report in Kezer case to undergo analysis

Monday, July 7, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Joshua Kezer is hopeful of his release from prison. A hearing is scheduled for June 9.

Tests to verify the authenticity of a police report related to the 1992 shooting death of Angela Mischelle Lawless are currently being performed in Jefferson City, Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said Friday.

The report, a statement taken by then Scott City officer Bobby Wooten, has become a key piece of evidence in the wrongful conviction case of Joshua C. Kezer, who was convicted of Lawless's murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Physical evidence never linked Kezer to the homicide, and he was convicted largely on the testimony of Mark Abbott, a witness who placed Kezer near the crime scene.

Shortly after Walter re-opened the murder investigation in 2006, suspecting that more people had been involved in the killing, Abbott's statement to Wooten surfaced, dated 10 days after the Nov. 7, 1992, slaying, which cast further doubt on the conviction.

In that statement — made several months before Abbot picked Kezer out of a lineup — Abbott named another man, someone he knew, as the person he saw near the crime scene.

Kezer's trial attorneys said they never saw the report, which could present a discovery violation if proven to be true, but the state recently filed a motion contesting whether the document is real.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan granted the state's motion for the handwriting analysis June 12.

In a May interview with an investigator from the attorney general's office, Wooten said he doesn't believe the signature on the document was his, though he signed a statement in January for Kezer's attorneys, saying he remembered drafting the report.

"As the witness has questioned the authenticity of the document, and whether it is his signature on the document, expert analysis is needed to determine if it is actually Lt. Wooten's signature on the document," the state's petition said.

The state suggested using a private forensic expert, formerly an employee of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Laboratory, to perform the testing. Now in private practice, that analyst will compare the document with a sample from Wooten and attempt to determine whether Wooten signed the report.

"It is obvious that the report is authentic," Charlie Weiss, attorney for Kezer, said in an amended petition.

"Rather than acknowledging that a mistake was made by not turning over the report, however, respondent is unjustifiably attempting to question its genuineness," the petition said.

The amended petition argues that the signature on the report shouldn't be compared with a recent sample of Wooten's handwriting, because the style of a person's signature changes over time.

A comparison between the report and other examples of Wooten's signature on official Scott City police department records from the same time period would be a more valid and accurate test, the petition said.

The case is set for a status hearing July 28 in Cole County.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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