Woman’s murder conviction overturned after 43 years

A judge has overturned the conviction of an American woman who spent 43 years in prison after she accused herself of a 1980 murder while in a psychiatric hospital. The judge and the woman’s lawyers suspected that a former police officer may have been the killer.

Judge Ryan Horsman ruled late Friday that Sandra Hemme, now 64, had been proven innocent and must be released within 30 days unless prosecutors file a new trial for the death of 31-year-old library employee Patricia Jeschke. FoxNews reports.

The judge said that Ms Hemme’s defence at trial had been incompetent and that the prosecution had not presented any evidence to help her defence.

Ms Hemme’s lawyers, who had filed a motion for her immediate release, said this was the longest time a woman had ever been imprisoned for a wrongful conviction.

“We are grateful to the court for recognizing the grave injustice that Ms. Hemme has endured for more than four decades,” her lawyers said in a statement, pledging to continue to fight for the dismissal of the charges and for Ms. Hemme to be reunited with her family.

According to her lawyers, when Ms. Hemme was first questioned about Jeschke’s death, she was handcuffed and so heavily sedated that she “could not hold her head up” or produce “more than monosyllabic answers.”

In a motion to vindicate Ms. Hemme, lawyers said authorities ignored her “completely contradictory” statements and suppressed evidence incriminating then-police officer Michael Holman, who had attempted to use Ms. Jeschke’s credit card.

Mr. Holman died in 2015.

The judge wrote that “apart from Ms. Hemme’s unreliable statements, there is no evidence linking her to the crime.”

“In contrast, this court finds that the evidence directly links Holman to this crime scene,” the judge wrote.

On November 13, 1980, Mrs. Jeschke was absent from work and her worried mother climbed through a window into her apartment and found her naked body in a pool of blood on the floor.

Mrs. Jeschke’s hands were tied behind her back with a telephone cord, a pair of pantyhose was wrapped around her neck and a knife was stuck under her head.

Ms Hemme was not investigated in connection with the murder until she turned up almost two weeks later at the home of a nurse who had once treated her, even though she was carrying a knife and refused to leave.

Police found Ms. Hemme in a closet and took her back to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Since she began hearing voices at the age of twelve, she has been in the hospital several times.

Ms. Hemme had been released from the same hospital the day before Jeschke’s body was discovered and arrived at her parents’ home that same evening after hitchhiking more than 100 miles across the state.

The timing seemed suspicious to law enforcement authorities and Ms. Hemme was subsequently questioned.

Ms. Hemme was being treated with antipsychotic medication, which caused involuntary muscle spasms when she was first questioned. According to her lawyers’ petition, she complained that her eyes were rolling back in her head.

According to investigators, Ms. Hemme appeared “mentally confused” and was unable to fully understand their questions.

“Each time police extracted a statement from Ms. Hemme, it changed dramatically from the last and often included explanations of facts police had only recently discovered,” her lawyers wrote in the petition.

Mrs. Hemme finally stated that she had witnessed a man named Joseph Wabski killing Mrs. Jeschke.

Wabski, whom Hemme met while they were both in the state hospital’s rehab unit, was initially charged with capital crimes. But prosecutors quickly learned that he was in an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Topeka, Kansas, at the time and dropped the charges against him.

When Hemme learned that Wabski was not the murderer, she cried and claimed that she was the murderer.

Mr Holman also came under increasing suspicion from the police.

About a month after the murder, Holman was arrested for falsely reporting the theft of his pickup truck and collecting an insurance payout. The same pickup truck was seen near the crime scene, and Holman’s alibi, in which he claimed to have spent the night with a woman at a nearby motel, could not be confirmed.

Mr. Holman, who was eventually released and has since died, had also attempted to use Ms. Jeschke’s credit card at a camera store in Kansas City, Missouri, on the same day her body was discovered.

Holman claimed he found the credit card in a purse that had been left in a ditch.

During a search of Mr Holman’s home, police found a pair of gold horseshoe-shaped earrings in a closet. Jeschke’s father said he recognized them as a pair he had bought for her.

Police also found jewelry that had been stolen from another woman during a burglary earlier this year.

The four-day investigation into Mr Holman was then abruptly ended, with Ms Hemme’s lawyers saying they had never been told many of the details uncovered.

On Christmas Day 1980, Mrs. Hemme wrote to her parents that she could immediately change her plea to guilty.

“Even though I am innocent, they want to lock someone up so they can say the case is solved,” Ms Hemme wrote.

“Just let it end,” she added. “I’m tired.”

The following spring, Ms. Hemme agreed to plead guilty to the capital crime in exchange for the death penalty no longer being considered.

However, the judge initially rejected her guilty plea because she had not provided sufficient details about the incident.

Her lawyer told her that her chance of avoiding the death penalty depended on the judge accepting her guilty plea. After a pause and some instructions, she gave the judge more details.

The confession was later dismissed on appeal, but she was reconvicted in 1985 after a one-day trial in which the jury was not given details of the interrogations, which her current lawyers said were “grotesquely coercive.”

The system had “failed her at every opportunity,” Larry Harman said in her lawyers’ petition. Harman, now a judge, had previously helped Ms. Hemme to have her original guilty plea dismissed.

This article originally appeared on Fox News and is reproduced with permission.

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