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Missouri Man Freed After 18 Years In Prison For Murder He Says He Didn't Commit

Keith Carnes was freed from prison this week after a court overturned his conviction for a murder he says he didn't commit. He celebrated his first day of freedom in nearly 20 years with pizza and champagne.

By Constance Johnson
Gavel Crime Story

A Missouri man was released from prison on Monday after 18 years behind bars for a murder he always denied committing.

Keith Carnes walked out of the South Central Correctional Facility in Licking, Missouri after prosecutors announced on Friday that he would not face another trial for the 2003 shooting of an alleged rival drug dealer, Larry White.

Carnes, now 52, was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of armed criminal action and first-degree murder in 2006.

“I didn’t shoot him, and I didn’t kill him,” Carnes told reporters on Monday.

A week ago, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his murder conviction because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to the defense as required under the law — including a report from a confidential informant that might have proved that he was not guilty — according to CBS News.

“Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent: however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes,” Jackson County prosecutors said in a statement.

"Because Carnes is speaking to news media, we would ask that he speak with law enforcement about what he knows," they added. "Witnesses stated that a second culprit was present at Mr. White’s murder. We’d like to know that person’s identity.”

Jackson County prosecutors also said they met with Larry White’s family on Friday.

His sister, Juanita White, thanked them for seeking justice on the family’s behalf, and said she still believes that Carnes was one of the men responsible for her brother’s death, prosecutors said in their statement. 

Carnes was greeted by family, friends and attorneys after his release, and they celebrated with champagne and pizza, according to the Kansas City Star.

"I just wanted to kiss my son. I wanted to touch him. It's been so long since I've been able to just hug," Eve Moffatt, Carnes' mother, said according to KMBC.

"I'm not mad. I'm not bitter,” Carnes said according to CBS News. "I'm ready to rebuild my life and make my future better than my past.”

Carnes’ attorneys have worked eight years for his freedom.

Kent Gipson said that was “way too long to get someone out.” He also said that Missouri’s laws are the worst in the nation when it comes to exoneration, according to the Kansas City Star.

“I just hope I live long enough to do this again sometime,” Gipson told the newspaper. “Hopefully not in another eight years.”

The Miracle of Innocence also worked on Carnes’s behalf.

“We do this work because we know there’s other innocent people in prison,” Darryl Burton, co-founder of the group told the Star. “The journey coming home was one part of the journey, but this is the second part. It’s gonna be tough.”

Burton spent 24 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. The group will now aid Carnes as he adjusts to freedom.

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