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Keith Carnes' wrongful conviction case moves forward, as judge considers new evidence

Keith Carnes
Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-15 19:29:18-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As many people await a judge's ruling in Kevin Strickland's case, a man who many say was wrongly convicted, a similar case in the Kansas City area is getting attention.

Keith Carnes is serving life in prison without parole in the 2003 murder of Larry White.

Carnes has insisted he didn't do it, and he has a second chance to prove it.

"That's always the consistent theme, that at some point, someone, some court, some judge, will agree and say, 'Hey, this guy was wrongfully convicted and release him,'" Darryl Burton, founder of Miracle of Innocence, said. "So that's the cry with Keith Carnes and anyone else who is in prison for things they didn't do."

Miracle of Innocence took on Carnes' case and have been fighting for his release for years. They say more evidence could be revealed this week.

Advocates are optimistic after Judge Bill Hickle decided to hold a second evidentiary hearing that is set to take place at the Jackson County courthouse this Thursday at 9 a.m.

"That happens very seldom," Chris Iliff, executive director of Miracle of Innocence said. "The Supreme Court has to have been very impressed with the likelihood of innocence for them to appoint a Special Master."

If one person involved in the case submits an affidavit by Tuesday, the hearing may not take place because the judge wouldn't have to hear the evidence in person.

As of Monday afternoon, that affidavit had not been turned in yet.

The Supreme Court appointed a Special Master last winter to review Carnes' claims of innocence.

His attorneys argued why he should be released at the first evidentiary hearing in September.

They say there is no physical evidence connecting Carnes to the shooting that killed White near east 29th Street and Prospect Avenue. White was found in the parking lot of what was then a Fish Town fast food restaurant.

Carnes' team points to eyewitnesses who have recanted their original testimony under oath and now say Carnes wasn't the shooter.

Other people also gave statements that it couldn't have been Carnes because they were with him at the time of the shooting, down the street at an apartment.

Carnes' team says there's even more.

"Some of the evidence is things that did not come out at the first trial and were not turned over by the prosecutor's office," Iliff said. "And that results in a constitutional violation called a Brady Violation, where evidence is not turned over. That almost always results in a new trial."

Miracle of Innocence hopes Carnes will be declared innocent and released without having to go through a new trial nearly 20 years later.

The Jackson County prosecutor's office would make the decision whether to re-prosecute if the judge sides with Carnes' team or dismiss charges.

In the Ricky Kidd case, who spent more than 20 years in prison for a double murder he didn't commit, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker's office dismissed the charges after a judge found he was innocent.

The prosecutor who originally put Kidd on trial, Amy McGowan, is the same prosecutor in Carnes' case. McGowan retired in 2019 after outcry for her to step down.

Burton said these evidentiary hearings are huge for someone like Carnes, who's tried to get someone to listen to his story.

Burton can relate; he spent 24 years in prison for a murder in St. Louis that he had no part of. Now, he advocates for people who have suffered because of the same injustices.

"That's hopeful and that's powerful for us that he can get this hearing and get back home to his family and get back home to living life, what he has left of it," Burton said.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office is on the opposing side in this case. They are defending the State in Carnes' post-conviction hearings and appeals.

Carnes' supporters are planning a rally this Thursday outside the downtown courthouse before the 9 a.m. hearing.

Miracle of Innocence and the KC Freedom Project are among his supporters.

Both Schmitt's office and Carnes' team have until Nov. 30 to turn in their findings and then a judge will make a decision.