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Michael Politte wins parole, will leave Missouri prison this April after 20 years

Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Politte, photographed at the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Sept. 8, has never wavered from his claims of innocence.

Michael Politte was a teenager when he was convicted of murdering his mother, Rita. He has long insisted he did not do it.

Twenty years after he was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager, Michael Politte has been given news that once seemed impossible: He has been granted a release date and will leave prison this spring.

Politte was notified Tuesday that he will be released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center on April 23. At that point, he’ll be 38 years old. He was 14 when he was first arrested and 18 when he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Through a long legal battle, waged first at the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequently in Missouri, former juvenile offenders like Politte are now getting a second chance at freedom.

And in Politte’s case, the parole board’s blessing has special poignancy: He has long insisted that he is innocent — and he plans to continue fighting to clear his name.

“I'm gonna throw punches,” he told St. Louis Public Radio last fall. “I'm gonna keep throwing punches if the Supreme Court denies me, I'm gonna throw another punch. I'm not gonna stop fighting. And justice for Rita.”

MacArthur Justice Center

Politte was convicted of murdering his mother, Rita, in rural Washington County, Missouri, and then setting her body ablaze. He was just 14 at the time of her death.

Experts have pointed to numerous problems with his trial, including the fact that the forensic evidence used to convict him had been disproven even at the time. They note he received a perfunctory defense, with his overworked public defender presenting a defense that lasted just half a day and failed to challenge key pieces of evidence. Multiple jurors have said they no longer believe Politte is guilty and have filed affidavits in his support.

The parole board’s decision, which follows a Jan. 20 hearing, does not consider any questions of innocence, by design. It’s only meant to consider how former juvenile offenders like Politte have matured over time and whether their record in prison suggests they are ready to be released to the community.

Politte’s petition to the Missouri Supreme Court, asking justices to appoint a special master to weigh the evidence against him, was filed last fall by attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. It remains pending.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fenske
Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.
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