UPDATE: Columbia man gets settlement in wrongful conviction

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | 11:30 a.m. CDT; updated 5:06 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A man who spent nearly 16 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the southeast Missouri county that put him behind bars.

Terms of the settlement between Joshua Kezer, Scott County and the county's former law enforcement officers were not released.


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A member of Kezer's legal team first confirmed the settlement Tuesday with the Southeast Missourian newspaper but says a judge must still finalize it. Both sides had been meeting with a federal mediator since early spring. (See this April 2009 package on Kezer's conviction.)

Kezer, who now lives in Columbia, said he agreed to the settlement because he "wanted to move on with his life." He declined to reveal the amount but called it "substantial."

"Figuring I would be in a better position to make a difference in this world ... with the vast amount of money I would get in the settlement, I chose to accept it," he said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Kezer was convicted in the 1992 murder of 19-year-old nursing student Angela Mischelle Lawless. In February 2009, a judge ruled that key evidence was kept from Kezer's defense attorneys during his initial trial. The judge exonerated Kezer.

Former Scott County sheriff Bill Ferrell, who directed the investigation of the Lawless murder, and former deputy Brenda Schiwitz were also named in the lawsuit.

"At this point, we're just waiting basically for the check to clear and the case will be dismissed," attorney Stephen Snodgrass told the newspaper. "We're happy with the outcome. We're happy for Josh that he's going to be compensated for all he went through."

Scott County Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said he had no comment on the settlement, noting that the agreement had not yet been finalized.

Kezer, who was 17 at the time of Lawless' death and living in Illinois, sought both compensation and punitive damages for his wrongful conviction and arrest, which were supported by false evidence, including statements made by four incarcerated men who said Kezer confessed to the crime. The men later recanted their statements.

He was convicted of Lawless' murder in 1994, went to prison and was exonerated in February 2009 by Richard Callahan, who at the time was Cole County circuit judge. Callahan ruled that key evidence in the case was kept from Kezer's defense attorneys during his initial trial.

The judge also criticized the courtroom conduct of former special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, who later served six terms in Congress and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2008.

Lawless was found dead in November 1992, insider her car on an Interstate 55 exit ramp just west of the Mississippi River. She was shot three times and suffered a blow to the head.


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tom kelly August 11, 2010 | 1:06 p.m.

Wrongful conviction is bad enough, but it also allows the real killer to laugh and kill again. It's time to put the legal baboons responsible for this pathetic justice system behind bars.

Who wants to bet, part of the settlement is to drop punitive damages? I only hope that others will pick up the pieces and continue to EXPOSE and prosecute the legal criminals.

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