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Judge exonerates man for 1992 murder

Joshua Kezer could go free in 10 days

Allison Retka//February 18, 2009

Judge exonerates man for 1992 murder

Joshua Kezer could go free in 10 days

Allison Retka//February 18, 2009

An Illinois man convicted of the 1992 murder of a southeast Missouri woman has been exonerated by Cole County Circuit Judge Richard B. Callahan.

Joshua Kezer was found guilty of the murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless at a 1993 jury trial in Scott County. Former U.S. Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof lead the prosecution of the case.

Callahan, in ruling on Kezer’s writ for habeas corpus, slammed the police and prosecutorial work that lead to Kezer’s conviction.

 “There is little about this case which recommends our criminal justice system,” he wrote in a 45-page opinion dissecting new and old evidence in the case. “The system failed in the investigative and charging stage, it failed at trial, it failed at the post trial review, and it failed during the appellate process.”

Hulshof was reviewing the opinion and not immediately available for comment.

Kezer had included a claim of actual innocence with his writ, and Callahan responded by setting aside his conviction.

“Confidence in his conviction and sentence are so undermined that they cannot stand and must be set aside,” Callahan wrote.

Kezer was 17 years old at the time of the murder. Witnesses at his December 2008 habeas hearing before Callahan testified Kezer was in Kankakee, Ill., on the night of the murder, hundreds of miles from Benton, where Lawless was found dead in her car on the exit ramp of Interstate 55.

Callahan noted in his ruling that the testimony of these alibi witnesses was credible. Significantly less credible were the three jailhouse informants who claimed Kezer confessed to the murder while he was incarcerated and awaiting trial, the judge wrote.

There was never any physical evidence linking Kezer to the murder, Callahan wrote. Recent DNA testing of blood found under Lawless’ fingernails points to Leon Lamb, a boyfriend who was the last person to see her before her death.

“The new evidence so thoroughly impeaches the trial testimony against Josh Kezer that no reasonable juror could convict him on the basis of the remaining evidence,” Callahan wrote.

Kezer’s case languished for years until was taken up in 2006 by Bryan Cave attorney Charles Weiss, who worked on the case pro bono.

Weiss, who worked on the habeas corpus writ with colleague Steve Snodgrass, said he was elated by Callahan’s ruling.

“We’re thankful there are judges like Judge Callahan who understand what justice is about,” he said.

Scott County Prosecutor Paul R. Boyd has 10 days to decide if he wants to retry the case before Kezer will be released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center. Boyd did not immediately return a call for comment.

A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which responded to the writ for habeas corpus, did not return a call seeking comment.

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