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‘We can go back and correct something’: Prosecutor admits physical evidence wrong in Politte conviction

Rita Politte and Michael Politte
Rita Politte and Michael Politte(KCTV5)
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 11:41 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Mo. (KCTV) — The current Washington County Prosecutor says it’s never too late for justice. He’s asking a judge to vacate the conviction of Michael Politte.

“I just don’t think it was a fair trial as it turned out. I don’t blame attorneys or judges. They went with what they had. I think in hindsight we can go back and correct something,” said prosecutor Joshua Hedgecorth.

In 1998, Rita Politte was beaten, then set on fire inside their Washington County trailer. Michael and a friend were sleeping in the next room and said they woke up to smoke. Michael was 14 years old at the time and almost instantly the prime suspect.

Michael Politte and Rita Politte
Michael Politte and Rita Politte(KCTV)

Michael Politte has always sworn he’s innocent. He was recently freed on parole due to new sentencing guidelines. His legal team says he should never have been locked up in the first place.

They point to the only physical evidence connecting him to the crime- his tennis shoes. A jury was told they were covered in gasoline. Newer testing reveals that’s not true. An old test picked up on the adhesive in Michael’s shoes.

“I’ve never recommended anyone for parole, but I did in this case,” said prosecutor Joshua Hedgecorth.

Politte was the focus of numerous KCTV5 investigative reports due to new information revealed by the legal team in his case. Our team was there as Michael Politte walked out of prison and then rode out of the parking lot on a bicycle. Now, he’s 37 and learning to drive a car.

WATCH: Michael Politte released from prison, will continue fight to clear his name

No gas on shoes

The new motion reveals how numerous experts, including the state crime lab, have all come to the same conclusion- there was never gasoline on Michael’s shoes. It further points out there may never have been any gas used in the murder. An investigator made that conclusion based on a visual inspection.

A statement from the Missouri State Highway Patrol on the case of Michael Politte.
A statement from the Missouri State Highway Patrol on the case of Michael Politte.(KCTV5 staff)

Prosecutor Joshua Hedgecorth also points out other leads were not investigated including a footprint behind the trailer.

The new petition says police ignored the history of domestic violence and events surrounding the divorce between Rita Politte and her ex-husband Ed Politte, Michael’s father.

Photo of a boot print
Photo of a boot print(KCTV5)

Politte’s attorneys previously filed petitions pointing out the week of Rita Politte’s murder she was granted alimony, child support and part of her ex-husband’s pension and 401K. They also argue that her ex-husband, Ed Politte responded, “you will never see the day when you’ll get the money.”

They sent their own investigators back to Hopewell, Missouri who claim Rita’s death could have been the result of a murder-for-hire scheme involving a cousin of Ed’s.

Ed Politte denies that.

Michael Politte
Michael Politte(KCTV5)

The petition points out the majority of living jurors want the conviction overturned. One juror is quoted as explaining, “the gasoline was the whole case.”

Michael Politte spent his entire adult life in prison.

Who killed Rita?

The new motion reveals a troubling truth about old cases- they can be difficult to solve despite advancements in forensics. The prosecutor reveals critical evidence in bad shape.

ALSO READ: ‘This kid never had a chance’—Team of lawyers work to prove innocence of 14-year-old convicted in mother’s murder

“Other pertinent evidence which might have been examined or tested with new technology, such as Michael’s clothing or Rita’s rape kit, could never be tested because the items were inappropriately stored, commingled, covered with mold, and in some cases, eaten by rats.”

Michael Politte house
Michael Politte house(KCTV)

Michael spoke about finding the truth in his mother’s death before he was released from prison saying he planned to visit her grave and let her know, “Here, I am, and I’m going to continue to fight for you and I’m going to see it through.”

Michael’s legal team thanks prosecutor

The following is a statement from his attorneys at the Midwest Innocence Project, the MacArthur Justice Center and Langdon & Emison: