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Appeals court denies Prewitt DNA testing

Jessica Shumaker//May 30, 2019//

Appeals court denies Prewitt DNA testing

Jessica Shumaker//May 30, 2019//

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A woman serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of her husband — and who maintains her innocence — will not get a chance to test newly discovered evidence for DNA following a Missouri appeals court ruling.

On May 21, the Western District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling denying Patricia “Patty” Prewitt’s motion to test for DNA.

Prewitt, 69, was convicted in 1985 in the murder of her husband, Bill Prewitt, a year earlier at their home in Holden. She has maintained her innocence since her conviction.

At trial, prosecutors alleged she alone shot and killed her husband while he was sleeping, according to briefs in the case. Prewitt alleged the prosecution attacked her credibility at trial by entering evidence of her extramarital affairs that occurred years prior to the murder, while the couple was estranged.

Prewitt testified at trial that she awakened to a thunder-like sound and an intruder placed a knife to her throat before sexually assaulting her. She maintains that the intruder killed her husband.

Prewitt’s interest in seeking DNA testing stemmed from news in 2018 that law enforcement authorities in Johnson County still have evidence from her case in custody. She learned of the evidence through a television crew who featured her case in the show “Final Appeal,” which aired in January 2018 on the Oxygen network.

After learning of the evidence, she filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing in Pettis County Circuit Court, seeking to test the items for DNA transmitted through bodily fluids or foreign hairs, or so-called “touch DNA” left through the handling of an object.

Pettis County Judge Robert L. Koffman denied the motion in May 2018 after holding a hearing, prompting Prewitt’s appeal.

In her appeal, Prewitt argued that Koffman did not properly assess whether there was a reasonable probability that she would not have been convicted if exculpatory results were obtained through the DNA testing.

She argued that Koffman wrongly applied the more stringent standard for release under Section 547.037 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, rather than the standard for testing prescribed in Section 547.035. She also maintained that he relied on factual errors and extrajudicial information, including his own recollections of the case, in reaching his decision to deny her motion.

In the opinion, written by Judge Anthony Rex Gabbert, the court disagreed. It found that Koffman properly considered the impact exculpatory DNA would have had on the jury and the probability under 547.035 that Prewitt would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through the requested DNA.

The court also found that Koffman did not rely on factual errors and extrajudicial information. Judges Thomas H. Newton and Edward R. Ardini Jr. concurred.

Gabbert said the arguments Prewitt raises on appeal, including investigatory failures in the case, were presented to the jury as part of her defense.

“The jury still found, beyond a reasonable doubt, Prewitt guilty of Bill’s murder,” he said. “The fact that the jury convicted Prewitt in spite of these defense arguments must be considered in determining how the jury would have reacted to the DNA evidence Prewitt seeks.”

The judges also were critical of Prewitt’s arguments regarding touch DNA. Gabbert pointed to differences in how evidence was handled in the 1980s as compared to the present day, when authorities are mindful of preserving evidence and preventing contamination.

“The State argued at the motion hearing that, in this case, Sheriff’s officers, prosecutors, evidence experts, and even jurors may have touched the evidence, leaving their own touch DNA,” Gabbert wrote, adding that Prewitt does not dispute the assertion.

Gabbert said the only way DNA evidence could be exculpatory would be “if it were linked to an unknown person in the FBI’s database, Prewitt could prove that individual killed Bill, and Prewitt could prove she was not in collusion with that individual.”

Prewitt is represented by the Midwest Innocence Project. The group’s executive director, Tricia Bushnell, could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which represented the state, declined to comment.

The case is State v. Prewitt, WD81759.

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