On Friday, October 13, Lamonte McIntyre, wrongly convicted for a double-murder in Kansas City, Kansas in 1994, walked free after spending 23 years in prison. The UMKC Innocence Project Clinic, under the direction of Lindsay Runnels, is part of the team who achieved this outcome. In addition, the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) Attorney, Tricia Bushnell, and investigator, Quinn O’Brien, serve as adjunct faculty at the law school, teaching the fact investigation course. UMKC School of Law students played an important role in rallying support, conducting juror interviews, planning events and helping litigate the case for McIntyre’s freedom.
In 1994, 18-year-old McIntyre was sentenced to two life terms for the double murders of Doniel Quinn, 21, and Donald Ewing, 34. The case against McIntyre included no physical evidence, no motive, and no evidence he knew the victims.
A few of the students from Professor Lindsay Runnels’ Innocence Project Clinic shed light on how the innocence case proceeded.
The clinic students were given a memo and summary of the case, to start. Previously, the students did juror training in an investigation course led by Quinn O’Brien. Lamonte’s legal team, including Runnels, did a reconstruction of the crime scene and the students later conducted juror interviews where they found jurors who said they would have had reasonable doubt about McIntyre’s guilt with the new information.
“Even with all the information counsel had already, they were still trying to get every ‘I” dotted, every ‘T’ crossed,” said Micah Moore (J.D. ’18).
The students helped uncovered information during those juror interviews that helped counsel develop a supplemental constitutional claim of juror misconduct. Students discovered during juror interviews that one of the jurors and the trial judge had a close friendship that was not disclosed before the trial.
The juror claim was one allegation among many that pertained to official misconduct in Lamonte’s case. An exhaustive investigation by Lamonte’s legal team uncovered longstanding and pervasive misconduct by the lead detective, Roger Golubski.
“Detective Golubski terrorized members of the community,” said Sydney Ragsdale (J.D. ’18), the President of the Midwest Innocence Project Student Organization (MIPSO). “An overwhelming number of witnesses that counsel spoke with during the course of a nearly eight year investigation either knew about Golubski’s reputation for misconduct, or had been personally victimized by him.”
Counsel believed this was a direct attack on McIntyre’s family; when police showed witnesses a photo array, three of the five photographs were members of the McIntyre family. McIntyre was convicted based solely on the testimony of two eyewitnesses—one who recanted her identification before trial, and the other whose identification was vague and confusing, and whose opportunity to see is now known to have been severely limited.
The students did everything from transporting witnesses, to tracking down and serving subpoenas, to writing direct examinations that Runnels and the attorneys would have used during the hearing. They also quickly became event planners.
Cheryl Pilate wanted a safe space for the community and asked the students to organize a vigil for Lamonte. On Friday, October 6, supporters gathered to rally and pray for McIntyre.
“This was a way for the community to say, ‘We’re here. We’re not afraid,’” said Matias Bichara (J.D. ’18). “This was the first time they were given a public forum to support Lamonte.”
On Thursday, October 12, before the hearing started, MIPSO and students also held a peaceful rally.
“We gathered in front of the Wyandotte County Courthouse,” Ragsdale said. “We brought rally signs and banners from the vigil. We probably had about 40 or so people out there that morning, and we were all chanting in unison what we wanted to see: justice for Lamonte. When Rosie, McIntyre’s mother, arrived, we all impromptu marched over to her as she got out of her car. We then filed behind her and continued chanting as she walked into the building. She had been so nervous about the hearing so it was really great we were able to show her that kind of support. It was such a powerful moment.”
The students expected it to take anywhere from six months to a year to find out if McIntyre would be granted a new trial. Instead, with overwhelming evidence of his innocence and reporters waiting, he walked free the next day.
On the second day of what was expected to be a week-long hearing, after presenting just the tip of the iceberg of all of the evidence against the prosecution, the students watched as Melanie Morgan, Pilate’s partner walked into the courtroom and held Tricia’s hand, trying not to cry.
“Our whole row realized what was happening,” said Ragsdale. “We all started holding hands.”
While the Wyandotte District Attorney, Mark Dupree Sr., did not admit to any official wrongdoing, he said that if the jurors had the evidence that exists now, they would have had reasonable doubt about McIntyre’s guilt. Dupree stated that a “manifest injustice” had occurred at trial. When the State moved to dismiss the charges against McIntyre, the room erupted in cheers
Ragsdale described the next moments as a flurry of excitement. Everyone retrieved their rally signs and quickly edited them from ‘Free Lamonte’ to ‘FreeD Lamonte’.” Ragsdale burst into the street, shouting in victory.
One of the victim’s mothers said that she could finally visit her son’s grave after the hearing. She couldn’t bear to visit before, knowing her son’s death had taken away an innocent man’s freedom. Throughout the years, the relatives of the victims stood by McIntyre’s family in asserting that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.
Ragsdale, Bichara, and Moore all echoed the sentiment that McIntyre has shown nothing but gratitude and kindness since his release.
“They’re such bright, caring people,” Moore said. “It’s a miracle that you can come out on the other side of all of this, loving and supportive.”
The McIntyre family are looking to move forward with their lives. Kansas is one of 18 states that does not compensate wrongfully convicted individuals. Since his release, over $16,000 has been raised for McIntyre, and the Midwest Innocence Project and others will continue to try to help McIntyre get back on his feet and have created a site to donate funds to McIntyre.
As a recent event, the students, MIPSO, and the Midwest Innocence Project organized an Exoneration Celebration the week after McIntyre’s release. Watch a video of the celebration.