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Now-retired KCK police detective Roger Golubski has been accused of putting an innocent man in jail and terrorizing Black women for decades. KCUR 89.3 and the Midwest Newsroom will continue to follow developments.

Will 'the Lamonte McIntyre issue' help free two Kansas City, Kansas, men who say they are innocent?

Tw men wearing prison-striped uniforms sit in a courtroom with their lawyer.
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Brian Betts, left, and Celester McKinney listen to testimony Monday in Wyandotte County District Court. McKinney's attorney, Sarah Swain, is in the middle.

Now that Lamonte McIntyre's case unveiled the many accusations against former Kansas City, Kansas, Police Detective Roger Golubski, two men see hope for a new trial.

His back straight, his anger barely contained, Brian Betts wondered out loud Tuesday just why, when law enforcement is suspected of lying, should he be the one to pay for it.

Testifying at a hearing that will determine whether he wins a new trial for a 1997 murder for which he was convicted, Betts told a Wyandotte County judge that he is innocent. While wearing a black-and-white prison uniform, Betts said he has spent 24 years and eight months behind bars because witnesses, police and prosecutors lied to secure his conviction.

“I’ve been chained up and locked up behind this,” an emotional Betts said. “Nothing happens to them.”

Betts, 46, along with his cousin, Celester McKinney, 52, were convicted of a 1997 murder that is reminiscent of Lamonte McIntyre’s case. McIntyre, who was exonerated in 2017 for a double homicide he didn’t commit, was allegedly railroaded by former Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department detective Roger Golubski on the false testimony of two eyewitnesses. Those eyewitnesses later said they were coerced by the detective.

Much like the McIntyre case, police never recovered the weapons or any physical evidence and failed to document much of their work in the Betts-McKinney case. There are claims of coercion of witnesses and, also similar to the McIntyre case, there are suggestions that Golubski was protecting a local drug dealer.

In this case, the dealer was Golubski's former brother-in-law, Jimmy Spencer, who ran what was called “The Wet House,” slang for PCP, at 4th Street and Quindaro Boulevard. Spencer admitted that in court on Monday and earlier testified that he was told Betts and McKinney killed his nephew.

Betts’ uncle, Carter Betts, testified Monday that he was forced to falsely testify that his nephews had confessed to the murder of 17-year-old Gregory Miller because Golubski told him that if he didn’t do as he was told, “I’m gonna make you suffer.”

Asked on Monday by Betts’ attorney if he had a history of pressuring witnesses into false testimony, Golubski, who was under oath, replied: “never.” He also said he had no role in investigating Miller’s murder, though Betts’ and McKinney’s attorneys say he did. He also denied any connection to Miller's family.

Golubski is out on house arrest while he faces federal charges of violating the civil rights of two women by raping and kidnapping them in the 1990s. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, settled McIntyre’s federal civil case for $12.5 million.

102522_lowe_mckinney and betts.jpg
Peggy Lowe
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KCUR 89.3
Celester McKinney, 52, (left) and Brian Betts, 46, in the Wyandotte County Courthouse Tuesday. They are seeking a new trial on their 1997 murder convictions.

Betts said he was at home, asleep with his girlfriend and child, when Miller's murder happened at about about 3:30 a.m. on December 29, 1997. McKinney also testified on Tuesday, echoing his cousin’s claims of innocence. McKinney said he, too, was home sleeping when Miller was killed. Both men said they had no firearms or motive to kill Miller.

“I’m actually innocent and I’ve been telling everyone I’m innocent since day one,” McKinney said.

While the hearing was emotional for Betts’ and McKinney’s extended family – both of their mothers were in the courtroom, taking notes and occasionally crying – it’s also been difficult for Miller’s family. Ethel Spencer, Miller’s aunt who now goes by Ethel Miller, cried on the stand on Monday, and said the family believes Betts and McKinney murdered the 17-year-old.

“They just murdered him,” Ethel Miller said outside the courtroom. “They need to do their time.”

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree, who played a crucial role in McIntyre’s release, was questioned on the stand Tuesday about whether the McKinney-Betts case would be reviewed by his Conviction Integrity Unit. Betts’ attorney Kevin Shepherd asked if all Golubski cases will get a review given the “Lamonte McIntyre issue.”

Dupree said he had handed the Betts-McKinney case to a prosecutor in his office and that he will review any other cases where evidence shows an injustice. Pushed further by Sarah Swain, McKinney’s lawyer, Dupree said he has reviewed “dozens upon dozens” of cases that he inherited when he won the office in 2016 and “I cannot say that this one alone raised my eyebrows.”

But “it takes evidence, it takes time,” he said. “Raising of the eyebrow is not enough in court.”

The two-day hearing, before retired Judge Gunnar Sundby, who is overseeing the hearing this week in a senior judge role, ended without a decision on whether the men will get a new hearing. Sundby is expected to take more than a month to ultimately reach a decision.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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