• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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US woman cleared of murder in Missouri after 43 years behind bars

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A woman who was a psychiatric patient when she incriminated herself in a 1980 Missouri murder has had her conviction overturned after spending 43 years behind bars.
Sandra Hemme’s lawyers say a now-disgraced police officer was responsible for the killing of 31-year-old library worker Patricia Jeschke.
It is the longest time a woman has been imprisoned for a wrongful conviction in US history.

Judge Ryan Horsman ruled Ms Hemme had established evidence of actual innocence and must be freed within 30 days unless prosecutors retry her.

He said her trial counsel was ineffective and prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that would have helped her.

“We are grateful to the Court for acknowledging the grave injustice Ms Hemme has endured for more than four decades,” her attorneys said in a statement, promising to keep up their efforts to dismiss the charges and reunite her with family.

A spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Ms Hemme was shackled in leather wrist restraints and so heavily sedated that she “could not hold her head up straight” or “articulate anything beyond monosyllabic responses” when she was first questioned about the death of Ms Jeschke, according to her lawyers with the New York-based Innocence Project.

In a petition seeking her exoneration, the allege authorities ignored her “wildly contradictory” statements and suppressed evidence implicating Michael Holman, a 22-year-old then-police officer who tried to use the dead woman’s credit card.

The judge wrote that “no evidence whatsoever outside of Ms Hemme’s unreliable statements connects her to the crime.”
“In contrast,” he added, “this Court finds that the evidence directly ties Holman to this crime and murder scene.”

The brutal killing of Ms Jeschke grabbed the headlines after her worried mother climbed through her apartment window in St Joseph, Missouri, and found her daughter’s naked body on the floor surrounded by blood on November 13, 1980.

Ms Hemme wasn’t on the police’s radar until she showed up nearly two weeks later at the home of a nurse who once treated her, carrying a knife and refusing to leave.

Holman, a suspect questioned at the time, was fired after investigations for burglary and insurance fraud. He died in 2015.
During a search of Holman’s home, police found a pair of gold horseshoe-shaped earrings in a closet, along with jewellery stolen from another female burglary victim earlier that year.

Ms Jeschke’s father said he recognised the earrings as a pair he bought for his daughter.
A four-day investigation into Holman ended abruptly, with many of the details uncovered never given to Ms Hemme’s attorneys.