Mo. judge rules woman who was in prison for 43 years is actually innocent

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun8,2024

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (TCN) — A circuit court judge overturned the conviction of a 64-year-old woman who has been in prison for over 40 years, marking the longest sentence a woman has served for a wrongful conviction.

On Friday, June 14, Livingston County Judge Ryan Horsman released a 118-page judgment declaring Sandra Hemme innocent in the 1980 death of Patricia Jeschke because certain evidence “was not disclosed to Ms. Hemme that was material to the outcome of her case.” Prosecutors will have 30 days to determine whether to retry Hemme for the crime.

Horsman said evidence pointed to St. Joseph Police Department officer Michael Holman as the likely killer.

According to the document, Jeschke worked as a secretary at the St. Joseph Public Library. On Nov. 12, 1980, she clocked out at 5 p.m. and told a co-worker she had plans to go to a class at a nearby church.

Jeschke failed to show up to work the next day. Her employer contacted her mother, who went to Jeschke’s house and found her deceased in a pool of blood, naked on her bedroom floor. Jeschke’s hands were tied behind her back with a telephone cord and a pillow over her head. She had suffered blunt force trauma injuries to her head. Police reportedly did not find any signs of forced entry.

Horsman wrote that specific details about Jeschke’s killing were published in the newspaper and shared on television.

Several witnesses saw Holman, the officer, near Jeschke’s house the night she was killed. However, he claimed he was having an intimate relationship with a woman named Mary who lived on the same street. He also said he found Jeschke’s credit card and purse near a ditch at a motel, and he attempted to use it the next day. Some of Jeschke’s jewelry was reportedly found at Holman’s home.

Holman is now deceased.

Hemme was interviewed in connection with Jeschke’s death on Dec. 1, 1980, while she was a patient at a psychiatric facility. Hemme had been committed involuntarily and was “not totally cognizant of what was going on.” The judgment said Hemme dealt with memory lapses and that she was given antipsychotic medication and a sedative prior to her interview.

Hemme told the detective she “may have gotten high with [Jeschke] and caught a ride from her in a small brown car” on Nov. 12. Hemme provided conflicting stories during her interviews, which continued to occur while she was committed at the hospital. She later confessed to killing Jeschke and pleaded guilty on April 10, 1981, to capital murder. Her guilty plea later got tossed, but she was convicted again several years later.

Horsman argued in the judgment that at her hearing in January, Hemme “provided this Court with both live testimony and documentary evidence showing that the State did not disclose substantial evidence supporting her defense, that her statements were unreliable and the person who committed this crime was former St. Joseph police officer Michael Holman.”

Horsman wrote prosecutors “withheld evidence that further implicated Holman,” including his “extensive criminal behavior, which included repeated home burglaries, crimes of dishonesty, and stalking offenses.” He argued the St. Joseph Police Department “failed to seriously investigate Holman as a suspect.”

Plus, he argued, Hemme’s attorney was “ineffective in his failure to use evidence that exculpated her and linked Holman to the murder.”

Hemme’s attorneys at the Innocence Project said, “The only evidence that ever connected Ms. Hemme to the crime was her own unreliable and false confessions: statements taken from her while she was being treated at the state psychiatric hospital and forcibly given medication literally designed to overpower her will.”

The Associated Press reports Hemme’s 43-year sentence is the longest a woman has been in prison for a wrongful conviction.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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