Mother turned private investigator works to free those wrongfully convicted

Posted: 10:46 PM, May 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-02 11:36:50-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The determined mother turned private investigator once successfully fought her son's capital murder case.

Latahra Smith investigates murders. A skill set she acquired in 2008 while fighting to clear her 21-year-old son of a capital murder case in Texas.

"Had I not investigated my son's case back then. My son would be sitting in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, serving life without parole," said Smith.

Smith said through study and persistence she was able to successfully file a motion to change attorneys. A better attorney along with information she was able to find resulted in the charges being dropped against her son.

"10 days before trial, that second-degree murder case was dismissed against my son. And that attorney also was disbarred, as a result of my filing complaints, being persistent, being tenacious," said Smith.

Smith said her son's case prepared her for her mission in life. She founded the KC Freedom Project.

Now, she's gone from being an advocate for those wrongfully accused of a crime to a licensed private attorney in the state of Missouri.

Smith is now working on the 2003 Keith Carnes murder case. The Kansas City man is serving life without parole for first-degree murder. Carnes said he's innocent. Smith believes him.

"You don't want an innocent person to be in prison for something that they didn't do," said Smith.

Kent Gipson is Keith Carnes' attorney.

"She has been able to find literally scores of people who have some knowledge about the case. They saw it or saw something that happened just before or just afterwards that would exonerate Mr. Carnes," said Gipson.

Gipson is grateful for Smith's work, but says getting the information in front of a Jackson County judge will be challenging.

"We've got a real problem in Missouri, because there is no mechanism by which you can get back into a trial court if you've got newly discovered evidence of innocence. It's totally discretionary. You don't have an automatic right to any sort of hearing, and the vast majority of those cases are summarily denied," said Gipson.

Despite the odds being against him, Smith says she'll continue her fight to prove Carnes' innocence.

"I've found witnesses and have proof that Mr. Carnes is innocent. I won't quit working on his case. For me, this is a calling. This is my ministry. This is what the Lord called me to do." said Smith.