Recently uncovered document could have changed outcome of Joshua Kezer's murder trial, his former defense attorney testifies

Tuesday, December 2, 2008
ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Joshua Kezer listens to witness testimony during today's hearing.

By Bridget DiCosmo

Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A document discovered last week by the Missouri attorney general's office could have saved Joshua Kezer from his 1994 murder conviction, Kezer's former defense attorney said Tuesday.

The document in question is a statement by key prosecution witness Shawn Mangus to Bill Stokes, then an investigator for the Scott County prosecuting attorney. In the Dec. 6, 1993, report, which runs seven pages, Mangus tells Stokes he lied when he told other investigators that Kezer had confessed to the murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless.

Taking the stand in Kezer's last-chance court battle to overturn the conviction, Cape Girardeau attorney Al Lowes said the document could have been used during the trial to raise doubts about Mangus' testimony. The document was discovered in the files of Luther Van Godsey, an investigator for the attorney general who was assisting special prosecutor Kenny Hulshof with the case.

Al Lowes, Kezer's trial attorney, testified Tuesday that Mangus' statement, had he known about it at the time of the murder trial, might have changed the outcome.

While Lowes' co-counsel, David Rosener, had a signed statement from Mangus admitting the story was conjured up in exchange for leniency, Mangus testified during the murder trial that Rosener threatened him into signing it.

"He claimed that Rosener leaned on him, and I think 'Cool Breeze' put him up" to saying that, Lowes testified, using his nickname for Hulshof.

In the new evidence offered Tuesday, Magnus told Stokes he made up the story about Kezer's confession to get a deal on the stealing charges he faced.

Lowes testified the newly uncovered statement taken by the prosecuting attorney's investigator would have supported Mangus' recantation of the confession story and refuted the claim that Rosener threatened him.

"We commend the AG's office for turning that over to us," said Charlie Weiss, Kezer's current attorney.

The state's case against overturning the conviction is being presented by assistant attorney general Michael Spillane.

Mangus, now deceased, was the first to implicate Kezer in the crime several months after the murder.

Kezer is in court before Circuit Judge Richard Callahan in a civil case challenging whether key evidence was withheld and whether new evidence shows he is innocent. The case may last through Thursday. Callahan's options are to let the conviction stand, order a new trial or overturn the conviction.

Angela Mischelle Lawless, a college student from Scott County, was found murdered in her car in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, 1992, at the Benton, Mo., exit on Interstate 55. She had been beaten and shot three times.

Investigators from the Scott County Sheriff's Department and other agencies were stymied. They began to focus on Kezer when Mangus became a jailhouse snitch while an inmate at the Cape Girardeau County Jail. He initially claimed in February 1993 that Kezer had confessed to the crime while the two were together at a friend's apartment.

Kezer, a Cape Girardeau native who lived in Kankakee, Ill., at the time, was returned to Scott County in April 1993 on an assault charge that was later dropped. Kezer was convicted of second-degree murder and armed criminal action June 17, 1994.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter, who discovered Lawless' body while working as a reserve deputy, reopened the investigation in 2006.

The release of the document is dramatic new development. It adds to questions about the withholding of evidence that were also raised around a report by then-Scott City police officer Bobby Wooten dated in November 1992. In that report, Wooten writes that Mark Abbott, later to become a key witness against Kezer, placed another man near the crime scene.

DNA evidence found at the scene did not implicate Kezer.

Also testifying Tuesday were two women who came forward three days after a jury convicted Kezer in June 1994.

Dawn Pierce and Lacey Hall both testified they told investigators they were bothered when they read a newspaper article saying a witness testified that Lawless argued with Kezer at a party.

The party had been at Pierce's house in Benton, Mo., on Oct. 31, 1992, but both women testified that Kezer had not been at the party.

"I knew every male at my house that night," Pierce testified.

Both women said Lawless had an altercation with another man, but they were certain it wasn't Kezer and that they'd never seen Kezer before.

Walter testified that since he reopened the murder investigation in 2006, he hasn't found any credible evidence linking Kezer to the homicide.

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

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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