Michael Politte Paroled After 23 Years in Prison
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Michael Politte, Featured on MTV Show Involving Questionable Convictions, Granted Parole After 23 Years Behind Bars on Charges He Killed His Mother at Age 14

 

Michael Politte

Michael Politte, the Missouri man who has served 23 years in prison after being convicted of murdering his mother when he was just 14, and the subject of an episode of MTV’s Unlocking the Truth, was granted parole on Wednesday. Under the terms of his parole, Politte will be released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center on April 23, 2022.

Politte has maintained his innocence since his mother, Rita Politte, died in 1998, and many experts believe his account. Michael Politte is now represented by the Midwest Innocence Project and the MacArthur Justice Center — two organizations that work to overturn wrongful convictions. In a joint statement, Politte’s lawyers say “this is not the end,” and promise to work with Michael and his family to continue the fight to prove Michael’s innocence from outside prison walls.

Rita Politte died in a fire in 1998 in the family’s mobile home in Hopewell, Missouri. After then-14-year-old Michael Politte claimed to have escaped the fire along with a friend, local officials initiated a fire investigation. The results showed that the fire had been started with gasoline and that Rita Politte had suffered blunt force head trauma in addition to fire-related injuries. When law enforcement learned that Michael once enjoyed playing with a lighter, he was presumed to be a teenage pyromaniac-turned-killer.

According to Politte’s attorneys, “Within hours of his mother’s death, the 14-year-old was interrogated multiple times, by four different law enforcement officers, over the course of the next 48 hours, without sleep, an attorney or the assistance of an impartial adult.”

At age 18, Michael Politte was convicted as an adult of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In post-conviction litigation Politte’s  attorneys asked the Missouri Court of Appeals to reconsider the case. Politte’s lawyers, along with their fire expert, argued in recent proceedings that the only physical evidence used in the case — gasoline found on Politte’s shoes — has been scientifically proven false in recent years. In court documents, Politte’s legal team said that “police wrongly suspected him because they misinterpreted his reaction to the trauma of finding his mother’s burning body as evidence of guilt, deception, and ultimate, [sic] what the State called a remorseless cold heart.” “In a classic case of rush to judgment,” Politte’s habeas corpus petition continues, “once the police had a vulnerable suspect – a kid – in their crosshairs, they refused to consider any evidence that pointed elsewhere.” Furthermore, they maintain, law enforcement failed to even consider far more likely suspects such as the Rita Politte’s ex-husband, who had recently threatened the victim’s life, and his cousin, who was seen exiting the mobile home as the fire burned.

In recent years, several jurors who voted to convict Politte have publicly raised serious concerns over Politte’s conviction.

Linda Dickerson-Bell, one such juror, filed an affidavit saying the verdict had been “a terrible mistake” and told press she believes the jury had been lied to by prosecutors.

Although Politte’s appeals are still pending, he will have the chance to wage his legal battles from a location of his own choosing once he is released in April.

[Image via YouTube screengrab]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos