Kansas man Olin “Pete” Coones Jr. died on Sunday, just 108 days after he was exonerated in a staged double murder that turned out to be a murder-suicide, say his attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project and the law firm Morgan Pilate. Of his 64 years on Earth, Coones spent more than 12 years in prison.
“The evidence suggests that he ultimately succumbed to health conditions that went undiagnosed and untreated during his time in prison,” attorneys wrote.
It is with great sorrow and outrage that we announce that Kansas exoneree Olin “Pete” Coones passed away today, just 108 days after his exoneration. Please read our statement below and hold the Coones family in your hearts. pic.twitter.com/woX7qD19D0
— Midwest Innocence Project (@The_MIP) February 21, 2021
Coones was convicted of first-degree murder in 2009 for the shooting death of Kathleen Schroll, who was found shot dead at home with her husband Carol Schroll. Kathleen Schroll had been telling others that Coones had been threatening her, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project involving the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School, and Michigan State University College of law. This culminated with a 911 call to her mother before the deaths.
“Pete is here in the house and he said he stole the lawnmower out of the garage,” she said. “He said he is going to kill Carl and he is going to kill me and he said he has got his tracks covered where no one will find out.”
It was all a fabrication, Coones’ defense said. Coones had been contesting with Kathleen over his grandfather’s estate. Schroll–who was accused of taking advantage of Coones’ grandfather while the older man was alive–was losing the legal fight, was about to be outed for embezzling from her workplace, and was buried in debt. The defense suggested she staged the murder-suicide so her heirs could get life insurance money.
The threats were made up. For example, she had been telling people shortly before the deaths that Coones had threatened her at a gas station, but there was no surveillance footage placing Schroll or Coones at the station, according to the defense.
Coones had been serving a sentence of 25 to life when his conviction was vacated. He said in an interview after his release that his wife Deirdre Coones stood by his side while he was in prison even though he had insisted she leave him for her own good.
“I spent 12-and-a-half years trying to talk her into divorcing me, so she could move on with her life because I loved her so much,” he told The Kansas City Star. “I didn’t want her to be sad and lonely. And I finally had to shut up on that because she’d get mad at me every time I’d bring it up.”
In the interview, Coones said his wife was “Something special. You kept me going. You didn’t realize it.”
Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper vacated Coones’ conviction last Nov. 5, saying prosecutors failed to reveal evidence that undermined Schroll’s credibility and didn’t show her motive to die by suicide. Prosecutors also did not give evidence that called into question an unreliable jailhouse informant who claimed Coones confessed to him. Authorities even failed to initially find a fourth bullet buried in a pillow near Carl Schroll.
No gunshot residue, DNA, or other evidence tied the exonerated defendant to the crime, but there was gunshot residue on Kathleen.
“We take a small measure of comfort that Pete died a free man,” said the statement from Coones’s attorneys. “Yet nothing can restore all the State stole from him. Nothing will give him back the decade he should have had to spend with his family and loved ones. Nothing will give Pete’s family the upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays they should have shared with him.”
[Screengrab via Kansas City Star]
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