New DNA Evidence Frees Man 20 Years After Criminal Charges
Previous pleas in Missouri’s court system of “guilty by reason of insanity” may get some fresh scrutiny.
“We had to get the previous plea of not guilty by mental disease or defect set aside. We were able to do that. That was actually the precedential part of the case.” says Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker.
…A case involving Mike Wilkerson, who spent 20 years in mental hospitals, part of that time in Fulton, Missouri. The Avilla, Missouri man was picked out of a photo lineup by a 17-year-old girl who said Wilkerson pointed a gun at her at her home and sexually assaulted her.
“Mr. Wilkerson was charged in July of 1997 with forcible sodomy, felonious restraint, burglary, and armed criminal action,” says Jasper County Prosecutor Theresa Kenney.
Wilkerson followed his attorney’s advice of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
“Based on the evidence they had at the time, I could certainly see why Mr. Wilkerson was prosecuted in 1997,” says Kenney.
Two pieces of evidence were taken from the 1997 crime scene: A cigarette butt and a condom. Only the condom was tested for DNA, and results were inconclusive.
But in 2011, 14 years after the crime, Wlkerson’s attorney, Bill Fleischaker, had that cigarette butt analyzed. Results showed DNA did not come from Wilkerson.
Five years passed.
Last year, Wilkerson entered a new plea of not guilty.
“We had to reach a procedural point in the law where we actually could come back and challenge that again,” says Fleischaker.
A judge ruled in Wilkerson’s favor, throwing out the insanity plea because a psychiatrist never concluded he was “insane.” Earlier this year, a new Jasper County prosecutor looked over the case and resubmitted the cigarette butt and condom for DNA analysis. None of Wilkerson’s DNA was on the evidence.
“As a prosecutor, my job is to make sure we do not prosecute a case unless we have substantial admissible evidence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” says Kenney. “In light of the DNA evidence, we felt we didn’t have that at this time.”
After 20 years, Wilkerson is a free man.
Fleischaker says, “It kind of takes a while for the reality of something like this to set in. At least for me it did. It’s still setting in!”
DNA taken from the evidence has, so far, not pointed to any criminal whose DNA is recorded in state and national databases.
Fleischaker doesn’t know why only the condom was initially tested for DNA. He hasn’t heard whether his client plans to file a lawsuit against the state.