Hearing challenging Kezer murder conviction to start this week in Cole County courtroom

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A hearing begins this week in Cole County challenging the murder conviction of Joshua C. Kezer for the killing of a college student in Benton, Mo., in 1992.

Kezer, currently serving a 60-year sentence for second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless, was awarded the hearing in August after a Cole County judge agreed to hear evidence indicating Kezer may have been wrongly convicted.

Kezer's attorney, Charlie Weiss, said he intends to call at least 13 witnesses in court this week, and enter six to 10 depositions of people unable to appear in person.

Michael Spillane, handling the case for the attorney general's office, will likely present only a couple of witnesses, Weiss said.

Neither former Scott County Sheriff Bill Ferrell nor U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who prosecuted the case in 1994, will likely be called to testify during the hearing because several original investigators will be testifying instead, Weiss said.

"We're optimistic that the evidence we have will be very, very compelling," Weiss said Friday.

Kezer is expected to testify at some point during the hearing, Weiss said.

After hearing all of the testimony in the case, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan will have to decide whether sufficient evidence exists to show Kezer's actual innocence, whether to uphold the conviction, or if Kezer deserves a new trial.

The hearing, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Cole County Courthouse, will likely span at least two days and could extend to three, according to Charles Weiss, Kezer's attorney.

Weiss, a lawyer with the Bryan Cave law firm in St. Louis, took the case pro bono in fall 2006 after learning about Kezer's innocence claim at a meeting of the American College of Trial Lawyers Association.

Earlier in 2006, current Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter decided to reopen the investigation into Lawless' murder, resolved under Ferrell, after hearing for years that more than one person was responsible for the killing.

The new investigation unearthed an old police report, taken 10 days after Lawless was killed Nov. 8, 1992. It contradicted the witness who placed Kezer, then 17, close to the crime scene near the northbound Benton exit ramp of Interstate 55 on the night of the murder.

The report presents a possible violation of due process because Kezer's former trial attorneys said it was not disclosed to them before or during the original trial in 1994.

The Missouri State Attorney General's office, representing the state in Tuesday's hearing, questioned the validity of the police officer's signature on the report, but handwriting analysis confirmed its authenticity.

Physical evidence never linked Kezer to the crime, and several witnesses who implicated Kezer in their original statements to investigators have recanted their stories, including a woman who testified she saw Lawless rebuff Kezer's advances at a party.

That witness has now said she was mistaken, and Lawless argued at the party with another man, a story corroborated by several others, including the hostess of the party, and supported by an entry in Lawless' diary describing the incident.

Representatives from the attorney general's office could not be reached for comment Friday.



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