Woman’s 43-Year Prison Term Questioned After Conviction Overturned in 1980 Murder

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A woman has served 43 years in prison for a brutal 1980 murder, which her lawyers claim was perpetrated by a police officer.

Sandra Hemme is waiting to find out whether she will be released after a judge reversed her conviction last week. He determined that Hemme was in a “malleable mental state” when investigators questioned her in a psychiatric institution while heavily medicated and that prosecutors withheld evidence regarding the discredited officer, who died in 2015.

According to Hemme’s legal team at the Innocence Project, this is the longest period of incarceration for a woman following a wrongful conviction. The family is ecstatic. “We just can’t wait to get her home,” Hemme’s sister, Joyce Ann Kays, said on Monday.

Judge Ryan Horsman concluded late Friday that Hemme’s defense had proved proof of genuine innocence and that she must be released within 30 days, unless prosecutors retry her.

Hemme, a psychiatric patient, incriminated herself in the killing of Patricia Jeschke, a 31-year-old librarian. Hemme is currently 64 years old and confined at a women’s jail northeast of Kansas City.

Hemme’s attorneys have filed a motion for her immediate release.

County prosecutors have 30 days to decide whether to drop the charges or try her again. Karen Pojmann, communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, stated in an email that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office may also become involved. Exonerated people have previously been released if there are no plans to appeal or retry the case, and the Department of Corrections receives written confirmation from all parties involved, according to Pojmann.

The Buchanan County prosecutor and a state attorney general’s office representative did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’s phone and email messages requesting comment.

It all began on November 13 of that year, when Jeschke missed work. Her anxious mother climbed through a window in her apartment to find her daughter’s naked body on the floor, surrounded by blood. Her hands were tied behind her back with a telephone cable, and a pair of pantyhose wrapped around her throat. A knife was under her skull.

The violent homicide made headlines, and police worked 12-hour days to solve it. But Hemme was not on their radar until nearly two weeks later, when she showed up at the home of a nurse who had previously treated her, wielding a knife and refused to leave.

Police discovered her in a closet and returned her to St. Joseph’s Hospital, the latest in a series of hospitalizations that began when she started hearing voices at the age of 12.

She had been released from the hospital the day before Jeschke’s death was discovered, arriving at her parents’ home later that night after traveling more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) across the state. The timing appeared strange to law enforcement.

As the interrogation began, Hemme was being treated with antipsychotic medications that had caused involuntary muscle spasms. She complained about her eyes rolling back in her head, according to the petition.

Detectives reported that Hemme appeared “mentally confused” and unable to completely comprehend their questioning. She made “wildly contradictory” comments, at one point blaming the murder on a man who couldn’t have been the killer because he was at an alcohol treatment clinic in another city at the time.

Finally, she pleaded guilty to capital murder in exchange for the death sentence being abolished. That plea was later dismissed on appeal. However, she was convicted again in 1985 after a one-day trial during which jurors were not informed of what her present attorneys describe as “grotesquely coercive” interrogations.

Who, according to Hemme’s lawyers, is the real killer?
Her attorneys claim that evidence implicating Michael Holman, a police officer at the time in St. Joseph, a community on a bend in the Missouri River about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Kansas community, was withheld.

About a month after the murder, Holman was arrested for falsely reporting his stolen pickup truck and collecting an insurance payout. The same truck had been sighted near the crime scene, and his alibi of spending the night with a woman at a nearby motel could not be verified.

Furthermore, he attempted to use Jeschke’s credit card at a photography store in Kansas City, Missouri, on the same day her body was discovered. Holman, who was eventually dismissed, claimed he discovered the card in a purse in the ditch.

During a search of Holman’s residence, police discovered a pair of gold horseshoe-shaped earrings in a closet, along with property stolen from another woman during a burglary earlier that year.

Jeschke’s father identified the earrings as a pair he purchased for his daughter. However, the four-day inquiry into Holman ended abruptly, and many of the details discovered were never disclosed to Hemme’s counsel.

Horsman considered her trial counsel ineffective, and prosecutors omitted to reveal critical facts that would have benefited her defense, such as Holman’s criminal activity.

Horsman argued that the only evidence linking Hemme to the murder was her “unreliable statements,” and her psychiatric condition provided “fertile ground for her to also internalize, or come to believe, the false narratives she told.”

He said that her comments were also refuted by physical evidence and accounts from credible, independent witnesses. The judge stated that other elements, such as media coverage and police suggestions, “substantially undermine the prosecutor’s argument that Ms. Hemme’s statements contain details that only the killer could know.”

However, evidence “directly ties Holman to this crime and murder scene,” he added.

According to lawyers with the Innocence Project, Hemme was not the only mentally ill individual targeted by St. Joseph cops. Melvin Lee Reynolds, who also spent time at St. Joseph’s State Hospital, falsely confessed to the 1978 murder of a 4-year-old kid after persistent interrogation.

In 1983, Charles Hatcher, a self-proclaimed serial murderer, pleaded guilty to the murder, and he was exonerated and released.

Source: independent.co.uk

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