Kansas City, Kansas, Man Freed From Prison After Murder Conviction Tossed
Evidence that would have proved the innocence of Olin "Pete" Coones was knowingly withheld by prosecutors, according to Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree.
Olin “Pete” Coones, a Kansas City, Kansas, man who spent 12 years in prison for first-degree murder, was released from prison Thursday after a judge threw out his conviction because prosecutors withheld key evidence.
County Judge Bill Klapper said Coones was framed in a 2008 double shooting that was, in fact, a murder-suicide. Coones' lawyers claimed he was the victim of a “Machavelian plot” by Kathleen Schroll to frame him for murder when she killed her husband, Carl, and took her own life.
“Today was a good day," said Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree. "Justice was served."
In his decision, Klapper highlighted evidence that Kathleen Schroll, the caretaker of Coones’ father, was embezzling money and had written over 100 fraudulent checks in his name. Coones’ lawyers argued these financial crimes were catching up to her and she framed Coones for murder because her family would not receive a life-insurance payment if she committed suicide.
This was the first case brought by Dupree's Conviction Integrity Unit, which he created in 2018 and which investigates credible claims of innocence.
"We believe in upholding our duty to refrain from improper methods as a prosecutor and bringing about convictions that are just," Dupree said.
One of the key discoveries that lead to Coones' conviction being vacated was a bullet found in a plastic bag across the street from the scene of the crime 12 years later. Coones’ laywers argued the bullet disproved the prosecution’s theory that Coones clubbed Carl Schroll with a blunt object before shooting him.
The original medical examiner in the case also changed his opinion on the cause of death, Dupree said. Although he originally ruled the deaths as a double-homicide, he has since testified that it was a murder-suicide and that he wasn't originally given all the evidence needed to make the accurate call. A second medical examiner has given the same opinion.
Dupree said investigators also found numerous pieces of evidence that were either withheld or not examined by prosecutors. For example, the state failed to test swabs that showed gun residue on Kathleen Schroll and no residue on Coones.
Additionally, much of the original prosecution against Coones was based on evidence provided by a jailhouse informant that prosecutors were warned was untrustworthy.
The district attorney’s office knew that and it knew of Kathleen Schroll's financial embezzlement, but failed to disclose either to Coones and his attorney.
Dupree said he believes this case is an unfortunate example of prosecutors being trained to pursue a conviction at all costs, even without proper evidence.
“Prosecutors have two jobs, that the guilty not go free and that the innocent not suffer,” Dupree said. “And I think for a century, prosecutors have gotten so caught up on that first prong. But when there is innocence, we must do our second duty."