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After 18 years in prison, Kansas City man wins release by Missouri Supreme Court

keith carnes.jpg
Courtesy Photo
KC Freedom Project
Keith Carnes, right, and his mother, Eve Moffatt. The Missouri Supreme Court ordered Carnes be released after serving 18 years in prison.

Keith Carnes, who is now 52, maintained he was innocent of the murder of 24-year-old Larry White in October 2003. The Missouri Supreme Court says Carnes met his burden of proving the state failed to disclose material evidence in his case.

The Missouri Supreme Court has ordered the release of Keith Carnes, a Kansas City man who has served more than 18 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

Carnes, who is now 52, was convicted of killing 24-year-old Larry White in October 2003 and sentenced to life in prison. White was fatally shot in a parking lot at 29th Street and Prospect Avenue, supposedly over a drug deal gone bad.

In a brief order Tuesday, the Supreme Court said Carnes met his burden of proving the state failed to disclose material evidence in his case. The court set aside his first-degree murder and armed criminal action convictions, and ordered his release within 30 days unless prosecutors decide to retry him.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt had opposed Carnes’ release.

In a statement, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, which originally tried Carnes, said it was reviewing the matter and awaiting any further information from the Supreme Court.

Taylor Rickard, one of Carnes' attorneys, said she thought it highly doubtful that prosecutors would opt to retry Carnes, saying the evidence used to convict him "has been entirely discredited."

"His conviction was primarily based on the eyewitness testimony of two witnesses, one who completely recanted, the other who also recanted and then un-recanted, but her trial testimony was entirely contrary to the physical evidence and was completely impossible given the physical evidence of the scene," Rickard said.

One of the eyewitnesses in Carnes' trial, Wendy Lockett, recanted her testimony in 2014 and then recanted her recantation at a court hearing last year. Another eyewitness also recanted her testimony.

"And other than that, no evidence linked key to this crime and there's nothing left that they can use to retry him," Rickard continued.

The Missouri Supreme Court appointed Missouri Circuit Judge William Hickle in 2020 as a special master to review the case. In January, Hickle released a 111-page report finding that exculpatory evidence that should have been turned over to the defense had been withheld.

Carnes’ case was taken up by the Miracle of Innocence, a nonprofit that advocates for wrongfully convicted prisoners. The group was co-founded by Lamonte McIntyre, who spent 23 years in prison for a double homicide in Kansas City, Kansas, he claimed he didn’t commit. McIntyre was exonerated in October 2017.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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