December 5, 2008
St. Louis Post-Dispatch-St. Louis, MO
A man imprisoned since 1994 for the murder of a southeast Missouri college student testified Wednesday he never saw the woman until he was given a copy of her obituary while he was in jail.
Joshua C. Kezer, 33, has maintained his innocence and contends that he was wrongly convicted. He is serving a 60-year prison sentence for second-degree murder and armed criminal action for the 1992 slaying of college student Angela Mischelle Lawless in Benton.
Cole County Judge Richard Callahan is considering whether there was enough evidence to justify Kezer's 1994 conviction in southeastern Missouri. He can order a new trial for Kezer, order him released or keep him prison.
Kezer, who broke down on the witness stand Wednesday when asked about the guilty verdict, said "it felt like the air got sucked out of the room" when the jury announced its decision.
"I didn't know what I had done that would make them want to do this to me," he said.
The case was one of several high-profile prosecutions led by Kenny Hulshof when he worked for the attorney general's office. Hulshof went on to serve six terms in the U.S. House and was the Republican nominee for governor this year, losing to Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon.
No physical evidence tied Kezer to the crime.
Key prosecution evidence included the trial testimony of Mark Abbott, who claimed he saw Kezer near the Interstate 55 off-ramp where Lawless' body was found. However, in an interview with Scott City police 10 days after Lawless' death, Abbott had identified a different man as being near the crime scene.
Kezer's appellate attorneys say his original defense lawyer was not told about the police report. They also contend that Abbott — a federal inmate for the past decade in Wisconsin on drug convictions — has changed his account at least five times.
Kezer also was implicated by three Cape Girardeau County jail inmates, some of whom received deals for leniency on their own charges. One of those witnesses recanted and testified for the defense at Kezer's trial, while another told Kezer he made up his account, yet still testified for the prosecution.
On Wednesday, several witnesses called by Kezer's attorneys testified that Abbott and others told them that the wrong man was in prison.
The hearing will resume next week.