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Missouri Woman’s Murder Conviction Overturned After 43 Years Behind Bars: REPORT

A judge in northwestern Missouri overturned the conviction of a woman incarcerated for 43 years for a 1980 murder after her attorneys argued that a disgraced police officer committed the crime, the Associated Press (AP) reported Saturday.

Judge Ryan Horsman of the 43rd Circuit Court of Livingston County ruled late Friday that there was evidence Sandra Hemme, 63, was innocent and that, failing a retrial, she therefore must be released within 30 days, according to the news report. Hemme’s trial counsel was ineffective and prosecutors failed to disclose helpful evidence, Judge Horsman reportedly said.

“We are grateful to the Court for acknowledging the grave injustice Ms. Hemme has endured for more than four decades,” Hemme’s attorneys told the AP via a statement. They would continue working to dismiss the charges and reunite Hemme, a psychiatric patient, with her family, they reportedly added.

There was no information from Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, the AP said.

“Hemme was wrongly convicted for the 1980 murder of Patricia Jeschke in St. Joseph, Missouri, after police exploited her mental illness and coerced her into making false statements while she was sedated and being treated with antipsychotic medication,” Hemme’s attorneys said via The Innocence Project, a New York City-based non-profit organization using forensic science and legal support to tackle wrongful conviction cases. (RELATED: Missouri Moves Forward With Inmate’s Execution Despite DNA Concerns)

Missouri woman’s murder conviction tossed after 43 years. Her lawyers say a police officer did it

— The Associated Press (@AP) June 15, 2024

Jeschke was a 31-year-old library worker at the time of her death, the AP reported. Jeschke missed work on Nov. 13, 1980. Her mother visited her home to check on her, only to find her lying in the nude in a pool of blood. Her hands were bound behind her back with a telephone cord, a pair of panty hose was wrapped around her throat, and a knife lay under her head, according to the outlet.

Hemme — then aged 20 and repeatedly hospitalized for auditory verbal hallucinations since age 12 — had been discharged Nov. 12, 1980 from St. Joseph’s State Hospital, and appeared two weeks after Jeschke’s murder with a knife at the home of a nurse who had once treated her, the AP reported.

The St. Joseph police reportedly returned her to the hospital, but, finding the timing suspicious, began interrogating her.

Hemme was heavily medicated and physically restrained during the hourslong, “extremely coercive” interrogations, according to Hemme’s attorneys. Her confessions, though reportedly inconsistent, were the only pieces of evidence presented at the one-day trial. There were no witnesses at the trial, and prosecutors failed to disclose that no DNA collected from the crime scene was linked to Hemme, according to the attorneys.

One month after Jeschke’s killing, the police arrested one of their own, Michael Holman, after he collected an insurance payout for his pickup truck, which he falsely reported stolen, the AP report revealed. The truck reportedly was the same one seen near the crime scene.

Holman argued that he stayed with a certain Mary at a motel adjacent to Jeschke’s home at the time of the murder, but witnesses at the motel and its gas station could not recall seeing Holman or Mary, Hemme’s attorneys said.

Holman also had attempted to use Jeschke’s credit card at a camera store in Kansas City, Missouri, on the day Jeschke’s body was found, but he claimed to have found the card in a purse discarded in a ditch, according to the AP.

Investigators searching Holman’s home found Jeschke’s uniquely designed wishbone earrings, Hemme’s attorneys said. Jeschke’s father reportedly identified the earrings. Investigators also found jewelry stolen from another home burglary, the attorneys added.

The police concealed the evidence implicating Holman from the jury, Hemme’s attorneys argued. They also said the St. Joseph police had also targeted and wrongfully convicted another psychiatric patient — Melvin Lee Reynolds, then 24 — of the 1987 murder of a four-year-old boy in 1979.

A frustrated Hemme, meanwhile, wrote to her parents on Christmas Day 1980, “Even though I’m innocent, they want to put someone away, so they can say the case is solved … Just let it end. I’m tired,” according to the AP. She pleaded guilty in the spring of 1981, avoiding the death penalty.

A lawyer, Larry Harman, believed Hemme was innocent and later helped get her plea rejected on appeal, but a court reconvicted Hemme in another one-day trial in 1985, the AP reported.

Holman, aged 22 at the time of Jeschke’s murder, was fired and jailed after the investigations into the insurance fraud and burglaries. He died in 2015, the AP separately reported.

“The system failed her at every opportunity,” Harman — who later became a judge — reportedly said.


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