Retarded Man Coerced Into Confessing Freed

From Associated Press

A retarded man who was sent to prison 8 1/2 years ago for murder won a pardon Friday after the governor concluded that police “manipulated a weak mind” into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.

“I didn’t do what they said. I’m just glad it’s over,” Johnny Lee Wilson, 30, said after passing through the towering iron gates of Jefferson City Correctional Center. Wiping away tears, the former school janitor said: “I feel wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

Wilson had admitted beating an elderly woman to death and setting her house on fire. He pleaded no contest in 1987 to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.


On Thursday, however, Gov. Mel Carnahan concluded after a yearlong review that investigators fed Wilson details about the 1986 slaying of Pauline Martz, 79.

The governor agreed with Wilson’s supporters that he confessed to please police. Investigators “manipulated a weak mind,” Carnahan said. Wilson’s IQ is estimated to be in the 60s or 70s.

Martz was bound and gagged, beaten and left to die in her burning Ozarks home in Aurora, in what appeared to be a robbery. Authorities questioned Wilson after a witness said he made incriminating comments at the murder scene, which drew a crowd in the town of 6,400.

But the witness who reported the statements later recanted, and murderer Chris Brownfield, serving a life sentence in Kansas, told Carnahan by letter that he killed Martz.

However, Brownfield’s account doesn’t match many details in the case, and he has been unwilling to come to Missouri to repeat his claims without getting immunity.