The Midwestern Innocence Project:

The Midwestern Innocence Project: Johnny Lee Wilson was never a troublemaker in school. He had no history of violence. But according to mental disability professionals in Missouri, Johnny Lee Wilson functions at the lowest one percentile of the U.S. population. Wilson¿s mental retardation was the principal reason he spent nine years in prison for a murder he didn¿t commit.

In April 1986, the body of Pauline Martz was found inside her burned home in Aurora, Missouri. She had been beaten, bound and gagged; her home was ransacked. Town resident Gary Wall told authorities that Wilson had told him he knew about the crime. Five days later, local police arrested Wilson and began to interrogate him. 

Aurora police only focused on Wilson despite credible information from sources pointing to other suspects. Local school officials said Wall was a ¿deceptive liar.¿ An eyewitness saw someone other than Wilson enter the Martz home. Leads were provided by Joplin, Missouri, authorities that a career criminal named Chris Brownfield was known to have tied up and robbed elderly women in the past.

After waiving his right to have an attorney present, his interrogation lasted for more than eight hours. Wilson vigorously denied that he had any connection to the crime at first, but with investigators repeatedly asking leading questions and threatening Wilson with harsh reprisals ¿if he didn¿t tell the truth,¿ Wilson began to wither.
At first, authorities were able to get Wilson to say that he and two other men were involved in the crime; then, interrogators used leading questions to get Wilson to admit he acted alone. With a documented IQ of 76, Wilson was no match for authorities, who received the confession they sought. When the police tried to get details of the crime from Wilson, he was only able to give information that they knew was inaccurate.

Wilson initially entered an Alford Plea ¿ claiming no guilt but acknowledging the state has enough evidence to convict him ¿ at his trial in 1987. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, Wilson continued to maintain his innocence. In 1988, convicted murderer Brownfield told authorities at a Kansas prison that he had murdered Martz. Despite this fact and others, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Wilson¿s sentence, ruling that Wilson knew what he was doing when he entered his plea.

According to documents sent to Governor Carnahan¿s office in 1993 by Wilson¿s attorney, David Everson, people with mental retardation like Johnny Wilson ¿see and comprehend the world differently than people with average intelligence. They are often excessively trusting and easily manipulated. They also will try excessively hard to agree with or seek to please others in an effort to be accepted ¿ a trait called `acquiescence.¿¿ Wilson¿s disability made him an easy target for investigators seeking to solve a murder.

It was at this point that Wilson¿s attorney and current chairman of the Midwestern Innocence Project, David Everson, turned to the Missouri Governor¿s Office. Documentation highlighting Wilson¿s mental capacity, the leading and descriptive questioning of authorities during Wilson¿s interrogation and the failure of local authorities to pursue other leads in the case were provided to Governor Carnahan¿s Office in 1993. Two years later, on September 29, 1995, Governor Carnahan pardoned Johnny Lee Wilson. ¿You¿re a free man,¿ Everson told Wilson the day the pardon was announced. Wilson left the Jefferson City, MO Correctional Center in Everson¿s car with $7 and change in his pocket, wearing new sneakers and a sweatshirt bought for him by his attorneys. ¿In Johnny¿s case, there are so many facets related to this injustice that it¿s easy to see why this case received the national attention it did,¿ Everson said at the time. ¿Perhaps the greatest tragedy here is that this is not a unique case ¿ there are other people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit because they are unable ¿ either mentally or financially ¿ to fight for their rights.¿
kspr-the-midwestern-innocence-project-see-the--005

( The Midwestern Innocence Project, Photo provided by The Kansas City Star )

The Midwestern Innocence Project: Johnny Lee Wilson was never a troublemaker in school. He had no history of violence. But according to mental disability professionals in Missouri, Johnny Lee Wilson functions at the lowest one percentile of the U.S. population. Wilson¿s mental retardation was the principal reason he spent nine years in prison for a murder he didn¿t commit. In April 1986, the body of Pauline Martz was found inside her burned home in Aurora, Missouri. She had been beaten, bound and gagged; her home was ransacked. Town resident Gary Wall told authorities that Wilson had told him he knew about the crime. Five days later, local police arrested Wilson and began to interrogate him. Aurora police only focused on Wilson despite credible information from sources pointing to other suspects. Local school officials said Wall was a ¿deceptive liar.¿ An eyewitness saw someone other than Wilson enter the Martz home. Leads were provided by Joplin, Missouri, authorities that a career criminal named Chris Brownfield was known to have tied up and robbed elderly women in the past. After waiving his right to have an attorney present, his interrogation lasted for more than eight hours. Wilson vigorously denied that he had any connection to the crime at first, but with investigators repeatedly asking leading questions and threatening Wilson with harsh reprisals ¿if he didn¿t tell the truth,¿ Wilson began to wither. At first, authorities were able to get Wilson to say that he and two other men were involved in the crime; then, interrogators used leading questions to get Wilson to admit he acted alone. With a documented IQ of 76, Wilson was no match for authorities, who received the confession they sought. When the police tried to get details of the crime from Wilson, he was only able to give information that they knew was inaccurate. Wilson initially entered an Alford Plea ¿ claiming no guilt but acknowledging the state has enough evidence to convict him ¿ at his trial in 1987. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, Wilson continued to maintain his innocence. In 1988, convicted murderer Brownfield told authorities at a Kansas prison that he had murdered Martz. Despite this fact and others, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Wilson¿s sentence, ruling that Wilson knew what he was doing when he entered his plea. According to documents sent to Governor Carnahan¿s office in 1993 by Wilson¿s attorney, David Everson, people with mental retardation like Johnny Wilson ¿see and comprehend the world differently than people with average intelligence. They are often excessively trusting and easily manipulated. They also will try excessively hard to agree with or seek to please others in an effort to be accepted ¿ a trait called `acquiescence.¿¿ Wilson¿s disability made him an easy target for investigators seeking to solve a murder. It was at this point that Wilson¿s attorney and current chairman of the Midwestern Innocence Project, David Everson, turned to the Missouri Governor¿s Office. Documentation highlighting Wilson¿s mental capacity, the leading and descriptive questioning of authorities during Wilson¿s interrogation and the failure of local authorities to pursue other leads in the case were provided to Governor Carnahan¿s Office in 1993. Two years later, on September 29, 1995, Governor Carnahan pardoned Johnny Lee Wilson. ¿You¿re a free man,¿ Everson told Wilson the day the pardon was announced. Wilson left the Jefferson City, MO Correctional Center in Everson¿s car with $7 and change in his pocket, wearing new sneakers and a sweatshirt bought for him by his attorneys. ¿In Johnny¿s case, there are so many facets related to this injustice that it¿s easy to see why this case received the national attention it did,¿ Everson said at the time. ¿Perhaps the greatest tragedy here is that this is not a unique case ¿ there are other people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit because they are unable ¿ either mentally or financially ¿ to fight for their rights.¿

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