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Missouri Woman Ordered Released By Appeals Court After 43 Years in Prison

An appellate court has ordered the release of a Missouri woman whose murder conviction was overturned after she served 43 years in prison, but the state attorney general is still trying to keep her behind bars as the case is reviewed. Monday’s ruling by a panel of appeals court judges comes after a judge ruled that Sandra Hemme’s attorneys had established “clear and convincing evidence” of “actual innocence.” Judge Ryan Horsman said on June 14 that she must be freed within 30 days unless prosecutors decide to retry her. The appeals court granted Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s request to review Horsman’s decision, but told Horsman meanwhile to establish her bail terms and set her free, the Associated Press reports. The attorney general’s office, which almost always objects to wrongful conviction claims, then asked the appellate court to reconsider, saying the court didn’t give them enough time to argue against her release.

Bailey’s office also argued that Hemme was sentenced decades ago to 12 years for violence in prison, and she would start serving that penalty now. Her attorneys responded Tuesday that keeping her incarcerated any longer would be a “draconian outcome.” Hemme, now 64, has been serving a life sentence at a prison northeast of Kansas City after she was twice convicted of murder in the death of library worker Patricia Jeschke. She’s now the longest-held wrongly incarcerated woman known in the U.S., according to her legal team at the Innocence Project. After an extensive review, Horsman found that Hemme was heavily sedated and in a “malleable mental state” when investigators repeatedly questioned her in a psychiatric hospital. Police ignored evidence pointing to a discredited fellow officer who died in 2015, and the prosecution wasn’t told about FBI results that could have cleared her, so it was never disclosed before her trials. The prosecutor at her trial agreed, four decades later, that nothing linked her to the crime other than her confession, which followed multiple contradictory statements, the judge noted.


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