A prosecutor has asked a Missouri court to vacate the conviction of Michael Politte, who for two decades has maintained he was wrongly convicted of his mother’s murder.
Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Hedgecorth is seeking to have the conviction set aside based on the fact the only physical evidence that connected Politte to his mother’s murder has been scientifically proven to be false, according to his motion.
“Justice is twenty-three years delayed for Rita Politte and her son Michael, but it is never too late,” Hedgecorth wrote. He asked the court to set a hearing as soon as possible and to throw out the conviction.
Politte’s attorneys at the Midwest Innocence Project, the MacArthur Justice Center and Langdon & Emison called the motion a significant update in Politte’s case.
“We thank the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney for his efforts to overturn Michael Politte’s unjust conviction and applaud him for acting upon his oath as a minister of justice to ‘ensure that justice is done,’” they said in a statement.
After conducting a review of the evidence, Hedgecorth reached the only conclusion supported by the facts: Politte’s conviction is based on evidence that everyone agrees is false, they said.
Politte, 38, was granted parole earlier this year after serving 23 years in prison. He was released last month from the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
His attorneys said they hope the court moves quickly to hear the motion, overturns the conviction and finally provides closure to him and his family.
Politte was convicted in the Dec. 5, 1998, murder of his mother, Rita Politte. He was 14 years old at the time and quickly became the prime suspect after he found her body burning on the floor of their Hopewell mobile home in eastern Missouri, according to his attorneys.
During Politte’s trial, the prosecution relied on expert testimony that claimed a scientific analysis confirmed the presence of gasoline on his shoes. That was the only physical evidence that connected Politte to the killing and laid the foundation for the case against him, according to Hedgecorth’s motion.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab re-evaluated the analysis of his shoes in 2020 and concluded no gas was present.
“The singular physical evidence against Mr. Politte is now universally recognized as false,” Hedgecorth said in his motion.
In addition to the faulty science, investigators ignored or failed to preserve forensic evidence that didn’t implicate Politte, according to the motion. They also failed to investigate alternative suspects.
Hedgecorth’s motion marks the second time a prosecutor has sought to vacate a conviction under a state law passed in 2021 that allows prosecutors to ask a judge to reverse a conviction in an innocence case.
The Star’s reporting on Strickland’s case has been credited with helping change the state statute.