Kansas Man Freed 12 Years After Wrongful Conviction

A judge has thrown out the murder conviction of a Kansas man who spent more than 12 years in prison for a shooting he says that was actually a murder-suicide for which he was framed.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree told the court he would not seek to retry 63-year old Olin “Pete” Coones, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the 2008 death of his late father’s caregiver, Kathleen Schroll, the Kansas City Star reported.

Coones’ defense contended Schroll framed him for murder when she killed herself and her husband, Carl Schroll, in a “Machiavellian plot” because of investigations into how how she handled Coones’ father’s money. Coones had been acquitted of Carl Schroll’s death.

Dupree credited his office’s conviction integrity unit for uncovering exculpatory evidence that prosecutors at the time had not disclosed to Coones or his defense attorney.

“This case was indeed a failure of our system,” Dupree told reporters after the hearing. He publicly apologized to Coones and his family for all they have had to endure.

Coones said he had been praying for this day for years, the Kansas City Star reported. He shook Dupree’s hand and thanked him after his conviction was vacated by the judge.

No physical evidence tied Coones to the shooting. The prosecution’s case was based on a call Kathleen Schroll made to her mother before she died claiming that Coones was in her house, as well as testimony from a jailhouse informant and a legal dispute between Coones and Kathleen Schroll over his father’s money.

Dr. Erik Mitchell, who performed the autopsies, testified at the hearing that he now believed Kathleen Schroll’s death was more likely a suicide, not a homicide as he had initially ruled. He said police did not tell him the gun used in the shooting belonged to Kathleen Schroll. The gun was besides her body when police arrived.

Dupree said that the state had refused to test swabs taken 12 years ago, and that when his integrity unit had them tested they showed gunpowder residue in the hands of Kathleen Schroll.

The state also did not disclose to the defense financial evidence it had of embezzlement and the felony writing of more than 100 fraudulent checks. Neither did prosecutors disclose information such as the changing of beneficiaries on life insurance policies.

Prosecutors at the time also did not disclose that the jailhouse informant who testified had multiple conversations with the district attorney’s office and that other prosecutors had warned them not to use this informant because of his lack of trustworthiness.

After considering all the evidence, the judge found there was indeed manifest injustice and the prosecutors had suborned perjury by allowing the testimony of the informant, Dupree said.