The Midwestern Innocence Project: Joe Amrine

The Midwestern Innocence Project: Joe Amrine lives and works in Kansas City. When you meet him, you first notice the smile which lights up his 48-year-old face. His life is now productive and filled with purpose. 

But it wasn¿t always that way.

On July 28th, 2003 Joseph Amrine was released from the Cole County (MO.) Detention Center after serving more than 16 years for a crime he didn¿t commit. Amrine, who was serving a 15-year sentence for burglary and robbery, was accused of murdering fellow inmate Gary Barber in 1985 based on the testimony of three other inmates. In 1986, an all-white jury (Amrine is black) voted to convict him of murder after very little deliberation. Years later, each of the three inmates admitted their testimony was false, made because of either threats or offers of leniency by authorities in their own cases.

Inmate informants were only part of Amrine¿s problem, however.

According to both jurors and inmates who were called as witnesses in the trial, Amrine¿s publicly appointed defense attorney failed to interview key witnesses and used confusing and crude charts in defending his client. In fact, one juror went so far to say the attorney¿s obvious lack of preparation completely destroyed the credibility of Joe Amrine¿s defense.

Amrine also faced major obstacles from overzealous prosecutors.

The state relied solely on the testimony of Amrine¿s fellow inmates in making their case during the 1986 trial. Yet later, when the three inmates recanted their initial testimony fingering Amrine for the murder, the state argued that the recantations were not credible. John Noble, the only prison guard present when Barber was stabbed, stood by his testimony that he saw the victim chasing Terry Russell, the inmate who was the first to accuse Amrine in the murder. No physical evidence backed up the inmates¿ stories.
The overall tragedy of this case only begins to highlight problems within our judicial system. The use of jailhouse informants, overburdened public defenders and the general assumption of guilt by investigators all played a role in Amrine¿s case. Despite all of the harrowing odds against them, Amrine and his lawyer, Sean O¿Brien, relentlessly professed his innocence until Amrine was exonerated of the crime. A great victory, to be sure ¿ but both Amrine and O¿Brien will tell you there are many other inmates currently serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit.

( The Midwestern Innocence Project )

The Midwestern Innocence Project: Joe Amrine lives and works in Kansas City. When you meet him, you first notice the smile which lights up his 48-year-old face. His life is now productive and filled with purpose. But it wasn¿t always that way. On July 28th, 2003 Joseph Amrine was released from the Cole County (MO.) Detention Center after serving more than 16 years for a crime he didn¿t commit. Amrine, who was serving a 15-year sentence for burglary and robbery, was accused of murdering fellow inmate Gary Barber in 1985 based on the testimony of three other inmates. In 1986, an all-white jury (Amrine is black) voted to convict him of murder after very little deliberation. Years later, each of the three inmates admitted their testimony was false, made because of either threats or offers of leniency by authorities in their own cases. Inmate informants were only part of Amrine¿s problem, however. According to both jurors and inmates who were called as witnesses in the trial, Amrine¿s publicly appointed defense attorney failed to interview key witnesses and used confusing and crude charts in defending his client. In fact, one juror went so far to say the attorney¿s obvious lack of preparation completely destroyed the credibility of Joe Amrine¿s defense. Amrine also faced major obstacles from overzealous prosecutors. The state relied solely on the testimony of Amrine¿s fellow inmates in making their case during the 1986 trial. Yet later, when the three inmates recanted their initial testimony fingering Amrine for the murder, the state argued that the recantations were not credible. John Noble, the only prison guard present when Barber was stabbed, stood by his testimony that he saw the victim chasing Terry Russell, the inmate who was the first to accuse Amrine in the murder. No physical evidence backed up the inmates¿ stories. The overall tragedy of this case only begins to highlight problems within our judicial system. The use of jailhouse informants, overburdened public defenders and the general assumption of guilt by investigators all played a role in Amrine¿s case. Despite all of the harrowing odds against them, Amrine and his lawyer, Sean O¿Brien, relentlessly professed his innocence until Amrine was exonerated of the crime. A great victory, to be sure ¿ but both Amrine and O¿Brien will tell you there are many other inmates currently serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit.

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