System that convicts also exonerates

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In ruling that Joshua Kezer is innocent after he was convicted nearly 15 years ago of murdering a Benton woman, Judge Richard Callahan of the Cole County Circuit Court found reason after reason -- 44 pages' worth -- why he should never have been sent to prison.

In addition to the many mistakes made during the investigation of Angela Mischelle Lawless' shooting death, Judge Callahan found fault at virtually every step of the process that led to the filing of charges and the trial that resulted in a guilty verdict.

Undoing this miscarriage of justice has taken years -- time that Kezer can never get back, months that he will never be able to live as a free man.

Twelve jurors returned their guilty verdict based on what they heard during Kezer's trial in a Ste. Genevieve County courtroom. They didn't have the advantage of the years of follow-up questioning and renewed investigation that showed some of the testimony and evidence they were presented was faulty. They did their job.

It is, however, the rock-hard reaction by Kenny Hulshof to Callahan's decision to free Kezer that is puzzling. Hulshof, who was a special prosecutor for the attorney general's office when he handled the Kezer case, said the system that convicted Kezer worked. He still thinks Kezer is a murderer, despite the facts that have come to light after daunting efforts to set the record straight.

Hulshof's stance is legal arrogance. If he believes the justice system was working when Kezer was sent to prison, he should also concede that the justice system is capable of finding new, more credible evidence that sets an innocent man free.

Hulshof, a native Southeast Missourian, has long been considered a no-nonsense prosecutor and an able politician. Now he is all but squandering an opportunity to uphold the best ideals of a system that can right itself after being so wrong.

American justice is not always neat and orderly. But it is the bedrock of every other institution that makes our nation great. Unless the legal system -- and all those who participate in it -- can embrace the findings that set wrongfully convicted men and women free, there will be serious cracks in that foundation.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: