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Man wrongly convicted in KCK murder marks his first victory in trying to free others

By Betsy Webster

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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — A Kansas City area man sentenced to life for a murder he says he didn’t commit will soon be on his way to home.

On Friday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker dismissed the case against Keith Carnes after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that he didn’t get a fair trial.

The legal team representing Carnes in his appeal were working for a non-profit called Miracle of Innocence, an organization co-founded by Lamont McIntyre, whose wrongful conviction in Wyandotte County received nationwide attention.

McIntyre was freed four years ago after 23 years in prison.

“This is our first exoneree. I mean, this is big,” McIntyre said, beaming with excitement.

McIntyre has never met Carnes. He flew into Kansas City from Arizona, where he now lives, eager to welcome Carnes

“I’m going to hug him. I’m going to kiss him if he want it or not. I’m going to hug him and kiss him and let him know, I mean, I’m going to hug the guy. I know how he feels,” said McIntyre.

Keith Carnes is now 51 years old. He’s been in prison for 18 years.

The Jackson County prosecutor’s office said in a statement that there is insufficient evidence to prove that Keith Carnes fatally shot a rival drug dealer, 24-year-old Larry White, in 2003 in a Kansas City parking garage.

The announcement came just three days after the Missouri Supreme Court set aside Carnes’ first-degree murder and armed criminal action convictions, ordering him to be released from prison within 30 days unless prosecutors move to retry him.

Baker released a two-page statement which stated, in part, “Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent; however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes.”

One issue was that a special master who reviewed the case found that Kansas City police did not give Carnes’ original defense team a report from a confidential informant that might have led to his exoneration.

Also, two witnesses who identified Carnes as the killer recanted their testimony in 2014, saying they had been pressured by police and Jackson County prosecutors.

Another witness also said police had intimidated him when they interviewed him about the night of the killing. He said White had an argument with another drug dealer — not Carnes — and warned the other man not to come back to his property shortly before the killing.

But in a twist to the case, one of the witnesses testified last year that her original testimony was correct and said she had recanted because of threats from Carnes’ supporters.

“Eyewitness testimony is thrown into question with recantations, including a recantation of a recantation,” the prosecutor’s office said in the statement. “We also do not have physical evidence to corroborate certain eyewitness accounts.”

The statement was highly critical of Carnes supporters, alleging witnesses were pressured to recant or change their testimony.

“In short, the evidence today in Carnes case is tainted from all directions,” the statement said.

Christopher Iliff, Miracle of Innocence’s legal director, took issue with Baker’s criticism of a supporter, among other things.

“The upshot of the press release is to create an ad hominem attack upon the woman who assisted in gather critical evidence of Keith Carnes’ actual innocence and that the Special Master found her evidence credible and compelling,” Iliff wrote.

Iliff noted that the law prevents a prisoner from presenting claims of “actual innocence” unless on death row.

“He’s innocent. That’s why he’s free,” said McIntyre. “He’s got to start his life over, and no one knows how difficult that is. And the people who speak, the district attorney and all them people, they don’t care. That’s why they speak that way.”

Baker indicated she dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning she can re-file charges at a later time if she finds more evidence.

Baker’s statement stressed that the case remains under investigation, adding that witnesses indicated that there was a second person present when White was killed. The statement said law enforcement would like that person’s identify.

“We will continue to fight for justice for Mr. White and this community,” the statement said, adding that the family continues to believe Carnes was one of the killers.

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