Keith Carnes will walk free after Jackson County Prosecutor declines to retry him for murder
Carnes, who is now 52, was convicted of killing 24-year-old Larry White in October 2003 and sentenced to life in prison. The Missouri Supreme Court set aside his conviction earlier this week.
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office said it will not retry Keith Carnes, a Kansas City man whose murder conviction was set aside by the Missouri Supreme Court earlier this week.
Carnes has served more than 18 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the office said it “fully accepted the Supreme Court’s finding.”
“The Court denied Carnes’ claim of actual innocence but directed the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office to decide whether to retry Carnes for the 2003 murder of Larry White,” it said. “Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent; however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes.”
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 Missouri Supreme Court said Carnes met his burden of proving the state failed to disclose material evidence in the case. The court set aside his first-degree murder and armed criminal action convictions, and ordered his release within 30 days unless prosecutors decided to retry him.
The prosecutor’s office said that, while testimony at Carnes’ trial established that Carnes and White were rival drug dealers, shifting witness accounts and the absence of physical evidence made a third trial not feasible. (Carnes' first trial ended in a mistrial.)
The prosecutor’s statement noted that Carnes was romantically involved with his private investigator, who it said pressured witnesses to recant or change their trial testimony.
“If police investigators engaged in such improper conduct, it would require immediate disclosure and conflict procedures to protect the integrity of the investigation,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “This rule does not apply just to police and credible organizations, like the Midwest Innocence Project, which would not allow such bias as part of an investigation. In short, the evidence today in Carnes case is tainted from all directions. We cannot proceed and must dismiss the charges.”
The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office did leave open the possibility of charges being brought in the future against Carnes, since there is no statute of limitations for murder. It asked Carnes to speak to law enforcement about what he knows, including disclosing the identity of an alleged “second culprit” who was present when White was murdered.
“This case remains under investigation,” the statement continued. “We will continue to fight for justice for Mr. White and this community.”
Christopher Iliff, legal director of Miracle of Innocence — which advocated for Carnes’ release from prison — called the prosecutor’s statement “mean-spirited” and an “ad hoc” attack against the private investigator.
“It’s a victory, but a lot of the joy has been taken out of it by virtue of what I consider to be a statement from the prosecutor’s office that focused on, basically, the personality of one of the investigators involved in our exoneration efforts,” Iliff said.
The prosecutor’s decision not to retry Carnes, however, means the Missouri Department of Corrections no longer has authority to hold him. He could be released as early as Saturday, and likely no later than sometime next week.
In its statement, the prosecutor’s office said it had met Friday with the family of Larry White, the murder victim.
“His sister, Juanita White, thanked Jackson County for seeking justice on her family’s behalf,” it said. “For her health, she said she will leave anything further to God, although her family believes that Carnes was one of the men who killed her brother. Larry White's family is planning a celebration of their deceased brother's birthday next week.”