Judge says he will rule on Kezer case as quickly as possible

Thursday, December 11, 2008
ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
David Rosener testifies Thursday as the final witness in a three-day hearing at the Cole County Courthouse challenging Joshua Kezer's murder conviction.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The judge who will decide the fate of Joshua C. Kezer said he will rule as quickly as possible.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan, who is hearing the wrongful conviction suit because Kezer is imprisoned in his jurisdiction, heard from the last witness Thursday, wrapping up a hearing that started Dec. 2 and continued Dec. 3.

Kezer, 33, is serving a 60-year sentence for the November 1992 shooting death of Angela Mischelle Lawless, a Southeast Missouri State University student killed near her home in Benton, Mo.

Callahan may order a retrial in the case, throw out the conviction or deny the motion acknowledging that Kezer was wrongly convicted.

He said the sheer amount of paperwork in the case will require time for deliberatation and that he would not make a ruling for at least five to 10 days.

ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Joshua Kezer talks with attorneys before the start of the third day of a hearing in Cole County Circuit Court challenging Kezer's armed criminal action and second degree murder conviction in the killing of Angela Mischelle Lawless.

If the ruling frees Kezer, he could be out of prison as early as Christmas.

"This Christmas season, everyone else can have their toys and clothing and lights," Kezer said in a recent letter to the Southeast Missourian. "I'll take what most of this world already has, and too often doesn't appreciate -- my freedom."

In the letter, Kezer, who has maintained his innocence since his 1993 arrest, credited his faith in God for giving him hope.

"I have been an unjust slave for nearly 16 years," Kezer wrote.

Kezer's attorneys are arguing for his release on the grounds that, in light of new evidence, a reasonable juror today would not find him guilty and that he was denied a fair trial because several investigative reports were not disclosed to his original defense attorneys.

Michael Spillane, handling the case for the Missouri attorney general's office, argued that the bulk of the state's case against Kezer remained intact. Physical evidence found at the crime scene never matched Kezer, Spillane argued, so it can't be considered new evidence of Kezer's innocence.

On Dec. 2, one of the original trial witnesses testified she had been mistaken when she identified Kezer as the man she'd seen arguing with Lawless a week before the murder.

Her recantation takes away any motive for Kezer to have committed the crime, argued Charles Weiss, Kezer's attorney.

"None of Kezer's friends knew Lawless, none of Lawless' friends knew Kezer, and no one had ever seen them together," Weiss said Thursday.

The last witness to testify Thursday was David Rosener, part of Kezer's 1994 trial defense team along with Cape Girardeau lawyer Al Lowes. Rosener had been unable to appear last week because of a medical emergency.

Rosener's testimony centered on an interview he conducted in 1993 with Shawn Mangus, a jailhouse informant.

Rosener, now a lawyer in Festus, Mo., worked on Kezer's case fresh out of law school. Lowes, Kezer's chief defense attorney during the trial, asked Rosener to interview witnesses, including Mangus.

Mangus was the first of three jailhouse informant to implicate Kezer, saying he heard the then-18-year-old confess to the murder. Rosener testified that his goal when he'd interviewed Mangus in the Cape Girardeau County Jail had been to get the truth and that he suspected Mangus was lying about statements Kezer made.

Mangus eventually admitted Kezer never mentioned the murder to him and that he'd made up the story to get leniency on his own sentence, he said.

During questioning by Kezer's current attorney, Rosener testified he had no reason to believe that Mangus still intended to testify for the prosecution after admitting he'd made up the story.

Kenny Hulshof, special prosecutor who tried the 1994 case for the Missouri attorney general's office, filed a motion shortly before the June 1994 trial asking to have Lowes and Rosener disqualified as Kezer's legal representation.

Hulshof claimed Rosener threatened Mangus into changing his story.

"It came as a bombshell, and it came as a personal attack on me," Rosener testified.

During a hearing to decide on whether the lawyers would remain on the case or Rosener would testify as a witness, Hulshof stated that Rosener's behavior violated the ethical standards to which lawyers are held.

"He tried to make me look like a scoundrel," Rosener testified.

According to Rosener's testimony, Hulshof told him in private not to take the accusations personally and that Rosener had put himself in a bad position by interviewing Mangus without a witness.

"He said it was just a case," Rosener testified.

In previous interviews with the Southeast Missourian, Hulshof has denied making those statements to Rosener.

Rosener, who remained on the case instead of testifying at the request of Kezer because his family had run out of money to hire more defense counsel, denied making any threats to any of the witnesses.

He further testified that he hadn't been aware of a statement Mangus made to an investigator with the Scott County prosecutor's office, a document that reflected the same story Mangus told Rosener and would have supported Rosener's defense against Hulshof's allegations. That document was discovered last month in the files of an investigator who was assisting Hulshof with the case.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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