JEFFERSON CITY — Shirley Lute on Friday took the last step on a winding legal road as she was released from a state prison in northern Missouri more than 25 years after she was convicted of helping kill the man she said had been abusing her. Lute, 76, was initially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years. She was convicted of aiding her son in killing her husband, Melvin, who she said physically tortured and mentally tormented her.
In 2004, Gov. Bob Holden commuted her sentence to make her immediately eligible for parole, but the state Board of Probation and Parole refused to release her. Then, earlier this year, the state Supreme Court overturned the board and ordered her released.
The state high court also ordered the Parole and Probation Board to consider whether to release Lynda Branch, who was convicted of shooting her husband, Raymond, in 1986. Branch, 54, said she grabbed the gun after he threatened to shoot her and her daughter.
The board approved Branch’s parole. But Hauswirth said there is a “technical problem” with Branch’s parole that will likely be worked out in time for her to be released by next week.
“It’s wonderful to be free,” Lute told her daughters, two law school students and a small group of media who gathered to watch her release.
Lute’s daughters, who were adolescents
when their mother was convicted, gave her a basket of flowers as she left the prison, The Kansas City Star reported Friday on its Web site.
“I’m ready to be your daughter if you’re ready to be my mom,” Krenda Carleton, 40, of Jefferson City, told her mother.
Lute planned to go to Columbia, where daughter Cody Welch lives.
“I’ll probably get up in the morning, sit in bed and wait for head count,” Lute told the Star.
Lute will remain on parole for the rest of her life and must follow certain restrictions. All parolees must abide by some general requirements, such as not using drugs, following the law and not possessing weapons. Some parolees also have special restrictions on top of that.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he could not discuss Lute’s parole conditions because they are confidential. Spokesman Brian Hauswirth said she is registered to live in a district that covers Boone County and will be supervised by a Columbia parole office.
Hauswirth said Lute was released to two family members at 10:45 a.m. to shouts of support and cries of “We love you, Ms. Lute!” from inmates at the Chillicothe Correctional Center.
Roy Welch, Lute’s son, was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of Lute’s husband. He remains at the Jefferson City Correctional Center for two unrelated crimes — an assault and weapons offense — committed while he was in prison for the murder. Roy Welch is scheduled to have a parole hearing in December, Hauswirth said.
Washington University law professor Jane Aiken, who represented Lute since 1998, said she never expected her client to actually be released.
“It (the petition for clemency) went through to get the grace of a governor and the attention of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chance to win at both levels is pretty small,” Aiken said. “For me, it’s a shot in the arm. You see so many times where people don’t win when they should.”