Missouri Woman Freed After 43 Years as Murder Conviction Is Overturned; Defense Points to Police Officer

Missouri Woman Freed After 43 Years as Murder Conviction Is Overturned; Defense Points to Police Officer

A Missouri woman who was a mental health patient and testified about herself in 1980 over a murder that, according to her lawyers, was carried out by a now-discredited police officer has had her conviction overturned by a judge.

Sandra Hemme, who has been incarcerated for 43 years, was ordered to be released from prison within 30 days unless prosecutors bring her case against Judge Ryan Horsman, who made this decision late on Friday. She had ineffective trial counsel, he claimed, and the prosecution withheld material that could have been of assistance to her.

It is the longest period of incarceration for a woman due to an incorrect conviction, according to her lawyers. Seeking her prompt release, they filed a motion.

Her attorneys released a statement expressing gratitude to the court for recognizing the serious injustice Hemme has suffered for over forty years. They also pledged to continue working to have the charges dropped and Hemme returned to her family.

When a text or email was sent on Saturday asking for comment, a representative for Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey did not immediately answer.

His lawyers at the New York-based Innocence Project claim that when Hemme was first questioned about the death of 31-year-old library worker Patricia Jeschke, she 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.”

Authorities allegedly disregarded Hemme’s “wildly contradictory” assertions and hid evidence that implicated Michael Holman, a former police officer who attempted to use the deceased woman’s credit card, according to a petition filed to have her exonerated.

Image – Union Leader

According to the judge’s ruling, Ms. Hemme is not connected to the crime by any evidence other than her untrustworthy assertions.

“On the other hand, this Court determines that Holman is directly connected to this crime and the murder scene,” he continued.


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It began when Jeschke failed to show up for work on November 13, 1980. Fearful, her mother scaled the apartment window and saw her daughter’s naked body, covered in blood, lying on the ground. An elastic band was fastened over her neck and hands, securing them behind her back with a telephone cable. Beneath her head was a knife.

Investigators worked 12-hour days to solve the horrible killing, which made headlines. However, it wasn’t until Hemme turned up almost two weeks later, wielding a knife and refusing to leave the home of the nurse who had previously treated her, that they became aware of her.

She had been hospitalized several times since she first began hearing voices at the age of twelve. The police discovered her in a cupboard and returned her to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The night before Jeschke’s death was discovered, she had been released from that very hospital and had hitched more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) across the state before arriving at her parents’ house later that evening.

Law enforcement thought the timing was strange. Hemme was receiving antipsychotic medication, which had caused involuntary spasms in his muscles, at the start of the interrogation. Per the petition, she expressed dissatisfaction over her eyes rolling back in her skull.

Hemme appeared “mentally confused,” according to detectives, and was unable to completely understand their inquiries.

Lawyers for Ms. Hemme claimed that each time the police got a statement out of her, it was very different from the last, frequently including justifications for newly discovered facts.

She later said that she had witnessed Jeschke’s death at the hands of a man called Joseph Wabski.

She faced capital murder charges against Wabski, whom she had met while both were admitted to the state hospital’s detoxification unit. On discovering he was attending an alcohol treatment facility in Topeka, Kansas, at the time, however, the prosecution promptly dismissed the case.

Hemme wept when she realized he couldn’t be the murderer, declaring that she was the only one who was killed.

However, authorities were also beginning to investigate one of their own as a possible suspect. After claiming his pickup truck stolen and receiving an insurance settlement, Holman was caught around one month after the killing. The policeman’s alibi that he slept the night with a woman at a nearby motel was untrue because it was the same truck that was seen close to the crime scene.

In addition, he attempted to use Jeschke’s credit card on the day her body was discovered at a camera store in Kansas City, Missouri. A pocketbook that had been left in a ditch had the card, according to Holman, who was eventually fired and passed away in 2015.

In addition to jewelry taken from another woman during an earlier burglary that year, officers searching Holman’s residence discovered a pair of gold horseshoe-shaped earrings in a closet.

The earrings belonged to a set that Jeschke’s father claimed to have purchased for his daughter. But the four-day probe into Holman stopped suddenly, and Hemme’s lawyers were never provided with much of the information that was found.

Meanwhile, Hemme was becoming more and more hopeless. “They want to put someone away, so they can say the case is solved,” she said in a Christmas Day 1980 letter to her parents, although she was innocent. She said she might as well change her plea to guilty.

“Just let it end,” she said. “I’m tired.”

And that is what she did the following spring when she agreed to plead guilty to capital murder in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table.

Even that was a challenge; the judge initially rejected her guilty plea because she couldn’t share enough details about what happened, saying: “I didn’t know I had done it until like three days later, you know, when it came out in the paper and on the news.”

Her attorney told her that her chance to not be sentenced to death was to get the judge to accept her guilty plea. After a recess and some coaching, she provided more information.

That plea later was thrown out on appeal. But she was convicted again in 1985 after a one-day trial in which jurors weren’t told of what her current attorneys describe as “grotesquely coercive” interrogations.

Larry Harman, who helped Hemme get her initial guilty plea thrown out and later became a judge, said in the petition that he believed she was innocent.

“The system,” he said, “failed her at every opportunity.”

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