After a wrongful conviction plagued by official misconduct and over 12 years of wrongful incarceration, Olin “Pete” Coones is finally home.
Pete was originally convicted for a 2009 double murder — but we now know it was a murder-suicide for which Pete was framed.
In November, Judge Bill Klapper found that Pete’s trial was unconstitutionally marred by prosecutorial misconduct and overturned the conviction. The Wyandotte County (Kansas) District Attorney’s Office immediately dismissed all charges.
And so on November 5, after a nightmare that lasted longer than a decade, Pete walked out of prison and into the arms of his wife of more than 40 years, Deirdre “Dee” Coones.
Pete’s case is a window into some of the most common factors in wrongful conviction cases: Prosecutorial misconduct and jailhouse informant testimony.
Although Pete had an alibi for the time of the crime —he was at home with his family, his car boxed into his driveway--the State used the testimony of a jailhouse informant to convict him. But the State did not disclose that the informant was unreliable, may have had mental health issues, wanted a deal to testify, or that it had threatened the informant with additional jail time if he did not testify. The prosecution also did not reveal exculpatory evidence revealing the motive for the murder-suicide —including that one of the decedents had forged checks from Pete’s father’s bank account and was facing other criminal charges for embezzlement from her workplace.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, this kind of concealment of exculpatory evidence is a factor in 44% of exonerations in the U.S.
That misconduct led to Pete serving 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, ripping him away from his family and loved ones.
And that misconduct was thankfully uncovered by an investigation by the local Conviction Integrity Unit —proving that when communities dedicate time and resources to CIUs, injustices can be corrected. Innocent people get to come home.
Ready for a moment of happy? Check out these links for video of Pete reunited with his family.
MISCONDUCT TEARS FAMILIES APART
Those who have been wrongfully incarcerated can never get back the years they lost — but by continuing to push for critical CIUs in our communities, we can give innocent people like Pete their futures back.
Contact your local prosecutor and voice your support for critical guardrails against wrongful convictions.