Juror in Michael Politte trial: ‘Michael is innocent’
Michael Politte has spent nearly 23 years in custody for a crime that experts now say he didn’t commit — the 1998 murder of his mother, Rita Politte. Now even three jurors who found Politte guilty have filed affidavits saying they believe he should not have been convicted.
The third, Linda Dickerson-Bell, just got in touch with Politte’s lawyers on Aug. 31. Her affidavit, filed with the Missouri Supreme Court yesterday, is the newest piece of evidence submitted to the court as part of Politte’s petition to overturn his conviction.
“If I had known then what I know now. I would not have convicted. I now believe Michael is innocent,” wrote Linda Dickerson-Bell in her affidavit.
Tears in her eyes, Dickerson-Bell told St. Louis on the Air that she deeply regrets going along with other jurors in finding Politte guilty. She wants the court to appoint a special master to reexamine his conviction.
“That has been my hope all along, and I wish I could have done it sooner,” she said. “There are some things in your life you wish you could go back and redo, and this is one of them. … From the day I walked out of that [sentencing], I was never proud of serving on that jury. I felt like we failed. We failed the justice system.”
Dickerson-Bell recalled how pressure from the other jurors in the case ultimately swayed her decision.
“I will never forget, there was a gentleman sitting two seats to me to the right, almost across the table… and I can remember him slamming his hand down on the desk at me when I said, ‘Nothing is telling me that he did this — my heart doesn't tell me, the evidence doesn't tell me… nothing tells me that he did it,’” she said.
“And the gentleman tells me, ‘Are you stupid? Obviously he did it. Let's get this done and get out of here.’ And from that point forward, it's like everybody just jumped on board and [said], ‘Let's get this done and get out of here,’” Dickerson-Bell recalled. “I never felt good about it.”
After the jury reached its verdict, each juror had to affirm it personally in court before the judge. “I wasn't sure what I would say,” Dickerson-Bell said. “And when I finally said it, because I had already agreed to it, I cried, I wept. I cried. I was upset.”
In Politte’s petition, filed yesterday with the Missouri Supreme Court, attorneys with the MacArthur Justice Center and the Midwest Innocence Project argue that his second-degree murder conviction should be overturned and the 37-year-old released from custody. They point to the fact that the only physical evidence presented at Politte’s trial was false.
“The State either knew or should have known the evidence was false at the time Michael was tried and convicted to life in prison as a teenager,” the attorneys wrote. “The undisputed false evidence, along with a host of additional compelling evidence… proves Michael’s actual innocence.”
Dickerson-Bell said the purported evidence played a key part in her decision to submit a guilty verdict.
“If I had known there was not gasoline on his shoes, I would have voted to acquit,” she said.
She told host Sarah Fenske that at the time of the trial, she kept waiting to hear Politte’s side of the story. Politte’s public defender spent less than half a day on his defense, and though Politte wanted to testify on his own behalf, his lawyer said he hadn’t had the time to prepare him for testimony. The teen did not testify, and jurors were not told he’d wanted to do so.
“There was never anything presented — never,” she said.
She also said she is frustrated by how the prosecution and the state handled the case.
“I feel like we were lied to. I'm mad because I felt like the state knew all along that he wasn't guilty. But I think it was ego and pride, and I think it's still ego and pride — whenever you're still trying to reach out to that prosecutor, he won't even give you the time of day.”
Attorney Megan Crane of the MacArthur Justice, who is representing Politte, said that Dickerson-Bell’s affidavit, along with those submitted by two other jurors, is an important piece of Politte’s petition to the Missouri Supreme Court.
“The state’s prioritization of finality over fairness is premised on protecting the jury’s verdict. Well, that goes out the window when the jurors themselves believe he is innocent and want their verdict reversed,” Crane said. “Each of the tests for our constitutional claims asks if the violation made a difference at trial, if the result would have been different. These jurors make the answer obvious.”
Dickerson-Bell hopes that Politte’s case will be revisited by the state’s highest court — and that Politte will be able to forgive her for casting a guilty vote almost two decades ago.
“I'll never be proud of it,” she said. “I've made mistakes in my life and I'll own up to them. And I hope to goodness that [the prosecutor] can do the same thing.”
Politte’s story was the subject of a St. Louis on the Air audio documentary broadcast on Sept. 29. Weeks before the broadcast, Politte’s attorneys had filed a petition for relief with the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, only to be swiftly denied.
Read Linda Dickerson-Bell's affidavit:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.