Court orders release of man convicted of 1996 killing

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a man imprisoned in a 1996 killing, finding that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence.

In a decision signed Friday by Chief Justice George Draper, the court ordered that Lawrence Callanan be freed within 30 days unless prosecutors decide to retry him in the killing of John Schuh, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, who was elected in 2018, backed Callanan, writing that his “conviction rested entirely on circumstantial evidence" and “the testimony of a lone and uncorroborated witness."

That witness, Bell said, actually told the prosecutor who handled the case that she saw two cars leaving the scene of the crime. The prosecutor instructed her not to tell anybody about the second car, and he never disclosed the exculpatory evidence to the defense.

At the time of his conviction, Callanan was the 20-year-old son of two generations of union officials, who were suspected of having organized crime ties. Callanan blamed prosecutors for targeting him because of “events that took place before I was born.”

A special master appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court, Judge Gael Wood, said the verdict was “not worthy of confidence,” although he didn't determine that Callanan met the legal standard for proving his “actual innocence."

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This story was first published on June 2. It was updated on June 4 to make clear that Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper issued the order on behalf of the entire court.

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