Mo. man wrongly convicted of murder released after 15 yrs

A southeast Missouri man who spent half his life behind bars walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man.

Surrounded by supporters, family, and TV cameras, Joshua Kezer, 34, walked out of prison, still in shock, just after 3 p.m Wednesday - and the first thing he did was hug his mother.

"This is just insane, this is crazy, this is sudden," Kezer said. "Any word that inspires shock, that's what this is."

The world Kezer returns to is a lot different from the one he left 15 years ago, before cell phones and the Internet. Family members welcomed him back with a sign that read: "Welcome back Josh! We [love] you."

"Just to see him in regular clothes standing in the lobby walking out that door, I'm just absolutely elated," said his mother Joan Kezer. "I have my son back."

Kezer was convicted of killing 19-year-old Angela Mischelle Lawless back in 1992. But his case was given a second look thanks to a complete stranger from Columbia - a church volunteer - who met him at a prison worship service.

"I saw him and he stood out," said Jane Williams. "And I asked someone 'Who is that?' And they said, 'That's Josh, he's innocent.' And it always bothered me. I thought if he's innocent, why isn't someone helping him?"

After hearing Kezer's story, Williams decided to help, convinced he was innocent. She told his story to anyone who would listen, and eventually got the ear of the new sheriff who decided to reopen the case.

On Tuesday, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan said Kezer was wrongfully convicted. That led to Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter reopening the cae. After the judge made his ruling that Kezer was wrongfully convicted the prosecutor said he wouldn't seek a new trial.

In a matter of moments Kezer had been vindicated.

"I think there was a misguided zealousness in the prosecution of this case," said Kezer's attorney Charlie Weiss.

The judge tore into former Congressman Kenny Hulshof - who prosecuted the case - saying he "withheld key pieces of evidence." Hulshof issued a statement Wednesday expressing confidence in the integrity of Kezer's trial and called the judge's ruling a "travesty of justice."

Despite just getting out, Kezer said he wants to go back to the prison and visit at some point. While inside, he became friends with Ryan Ferguson, convicted of a Columbia murder. But Kezer believes Ferguson was also wrongly convicted.

Kezer is considering legal action against the state. For now, he has just one thing on his mind coming out of prison: a steak dinner.

At some point he says reality will start to sink in.

"I have no doubt that at some point I'm gonna fall down on my knees and I'm just gonna cry out," Kezer said. "And I'm gonna thank God and I'm gonna weep like a little baby."