Team of lawyers work to prove innocence of 14-year-old convicted in mother’s murder
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV/Gray News) – Michael Politte was 14 years old when his mother died.
Rita Politte was beaten, then set on fire in December of 1998. Politte and a friend were sleeping in the next room and say they woke up to smoke.
Despite swearing his innocence, Politte was convicted of killing his mother.
“This kid never had a chance,” Politte’s attorney Megan Crane told KCTV.
He’s now 38 years old and will be released from prison at the end of April due to new sentencing guidelines for juveniles.
“I remember the hair on the back of my neck rising up – I didn’t know what to do,” said Politte. “What’s a 14-year-old kid supposed to do in that moment?”
After he woke up to smoke, he tried to put the fire out himself with a garden hose, but the hose wouldn’t stretch that far.
Politte remembers kneeling down to see what he could see and saw his mother’s legs covered in blood.
“She was on fire from her waist up,” he recalled.
Police expected Politte to be more emotional at the crime scene, maybe even shed tears. But he didn’t. He was quiet – and angry.
“I mean, I can still hear it – I can hear the fire crackling,” said Politte. “There are times I wake up in the morning that I can smell (it). It’s with me forever.”
Politte was defiant throughout the investigation. A police dog alerted investigators to his shoes – three times. Testing revealed gasoline on them.
When the case went to trial, Politte had a public defender. He believed in the system and that the truth would come out.
But with no explanation for gasoline on the shoes, a jury convicted Politte and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.
He’s lived more than half of his life behind bars.
“I can’t describe the feeling of helplessness,” said Politte. “There’s no reason to exist anymore.”
In the years since Politte’s conviction, many people question whether the court got it right.
His case attracted the attention of the Midwest Innocence Project, the MacArthur Justice Institute and a Kansas City law firm, Langdon & Emison, in part, because of his age.
“According to law enforcement, he just wasn’t acting right. He wasn’t emotional. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t upset. But psychologists tell us that’s what trauma often looks like, especially in a kid,” Crane explained.
Politte’s attorneys point the court to another possible motive for the murder.
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.”
Investigators found a boot print behind the burning trailer, but Ed Politte was quickly dismissed as a suspect in the case. He had an alibi. He was at work at the time of the murder.
Politte’s current lawyers sent investigators back to Hopewell to conduct new interviews.
That investigation turned up witnesses who place one of Ed’s cousins near the scene of the crime the morning of the fire. Circumstantial evidence suggests he had a financial windfall shortly after the murder. They argue the evidence implicates the cousins in a murder-for-hire scheme.
Ed released the following statement in response to the accusation:
I’m grateful and happy Mike is being released. Now about me, I did a dozen or so interviews with the law. I did a lie detector test, a blood test, a DNA test and fingerprints. I cooperated 100% with the law. I don’t know what else I could have done. My place of work was checked out. My coworkers were interviewed, I have a couple dozen witnesses that placed me 85 miles from my ex…. That’s all I have to say. Your (sic) a reporter I’m sure you can verify what I’ve said. I will discuss this no further. Thank you for atleast(sic) getting my side.
New evidence supports Michael’s innocence claim
More than 20 years after the murder, evidence is now on Politte’s side.
A new test revealed there is no gasoline on the shoes that helped convict him. The newer test can tell the difference between accelerants. The earlier test was positive for the adhesive in the shoes – information that was revealed six years ago.
The majority of jurors who are still alive and even a former member of the sheriff’s office are now advocating for Michael Politte’s release.
“It shouldn’t be this hard. We’re the greatest country in the world, but yet here I am, after six years of discovering that I was wrongfully convicted with false science, my jury was lied to, and I’m still sitting in a prison cell,” Politte said. “I don’t want to be angry – I just want to live.”
Release is not “The End”
As it turns out, Politte will be released from prison at the end of April. Not because a judge ruled in his favor, but because the parole board granted his release due to new sentencing guidelines for juveniles.
Politte plans to visit his mother’s grave soon after his release.
“She can probably finally rest,” he said. “I don’t think she’s been resting since she passed away knowing what happened in the aftermath.”
Politte said he will fight to clear his name. He hopes the local prosecutor will reopen the case and look at new evidence.
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