KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The overturned conviction of a man who spent eight years in a Missouri prison for the death of a newspaper sports editor has given hope to supporters of a woman who has spent the last 27 years behind bars for the death of her husband.
Patty Prewitt was a 34-year-old mother of five in 1984 when her husband, Bill, was shot and killed as he slept in their home in the rural east-central Missouri town of Holden. Prewitt said a stranger broke into the house, but authorities focused on her as the primary suspect.
Prewitt, now 64, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 and is serving a life sentence, with no chance of parole until 2036.
She continues to maintain her innocence, and supporters have launched an online petition asking Gov. Jay Nixon to grant clemency.
They point to a Missouri appeals court ruling last month overturning the murder conviction of Ryan Ferguson as proof that the state's judicial system is flawed.
Ferguson was convicted in 2005 of killing Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot in 2001. He was serving a 40-year sentence for murder and robbery when the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in November that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Ferguson's attorneys, and that he had not gotten a fair trial.
Robert Beaird, a retired Jackson County circuit court judge who represented Prewitt at her trial, said there are many similarities in the way her case was prosecuted, including that investigators withheld crucial evidence that would have led to acquittal.
Also during her trial, prosecutors were allowed to present evidence of infidelity that would not be allowed in court today, he said.
"She's done nearly 30 years on a case she could have pled to and got six or seven on," Beaird said. "If you look at the average time people do on murder sentences, she's done more than that."
Beaird said prosecutors had offered Prewitt a deal in which she would plead guilty and be sentenced to 20 years. Back then, she would have had to serve about seven years before being eligible for parole, he said.
Judy VanBenthusen, Prewitt's oldest daughter, said her mother occasionally has second-guessed her decision to put her fate in the hands of jurors, rather than accept the plea bargain.
"But she couldn't see saying she was guilty of killing our dad to us kids, her parents and his family," VanBenthusen said.
Among Prewitt's backers are her grandchildren, none of whom have known her outside of prison. Five of the younger ones created a music video called "Granny's Song," which they posted to YouTube.
"We're down on our knees and begging of you," they sing to the governor near the end.
The emotion of that plea and timing of a new online petition asking Nixon for a Christmas miracle are intended to tug at the heartstrings of the public and decision-makers alike, said Brian Reichart, a Washington lawyer who got involved in Prewitt's case as a student at Georgetown.
"We've always done stuff around the holidays," he said. "The holidays are often when governors act on these matters. It's the season of mercy, and people think about things a little bit more."
Beaird said the odds of Prewitt getting clemency this time should be 100 percent, given the questionable circumstances of her murder conviction. Nixon spokesman Scott Holste declined to comment.
Prosecutors failed to tell defense attorneys that two days after Prewitt's husband was killed, a neighbor told investigators she had seen a man parked at the end of a dirt road in heavy rain on the night of the murder, Beaird said.
During her trial, prosecutors were allowed to present evidence that Prewitt had cheated on her husband. Some of those ex-lovers testified at trial that she had talked about killing him.
Both of those issues should be enough to cast a reasonable doubt about the verdict, Beaird said.
"Back then it was more of a prosecutorial-oriented system," he said. "Now I think more attention is paid to the rights of defendants and which evidence should and should not be allowed."