The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office announced April 8 that it will not retry a man whose conviction for a 2003 murder was thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court earlier in the week.
The prosecutor’s office said it did not accept Keith L. Carnes’ claim that he is innocent of the crime but agreed with the court’s finding that prosecutors had failed to disclose a police report to Carnes’ counsel that could have undercut the eyewitness testimony.
“Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent; however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes,” the statement read.
Carnes was released from prison on April 11.
The Supreme Court on April 5 had ordered a new trial for Carnes, who was serving a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted in a 2006 bench trial for the murder of Larry White in Kansas City. No physical evidence connected Carnes to the murder, and key eyewitnesses who testified against him have since recanted.
The order left unresolved whether an inmate like Carnes could raise a “freestanding claim of actual innocence,” which would not require a demonstration that he suffered constitutional violations at his trial. However, such a claim has never been permitted in a non-capital case.
The prosecutor’s statement said its discovery practices have improved in the years since Carnes’ conviction. However, it also criticized the post-conviction investigation into Carnes’ case, noting the special master’s finding that the investigator who uncovered much of the information in Carnes’ favor also was romantically involved with him for a time.
“In short, the evidence today in Carnes case is tainted from all directions. We cannot proceed and must dismiss the charges,” the statement read.
Prosecutors are still investigating White’s slaying and urged Carnes to share anything he knows.
The case is State ex rel. Carnes v. Buckner, SC98736.