In a small Missouri town in 1992, the body of 19-year-old Mischelle Lawless was found in her car, stalled on the side of a road. 18-year-old Josh Kezer was arrested and charged for her murder—even though he was in a different state at the time, as proven by witnesses—and spent the next 16 years of his life in prison.
How was Josh imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit? Author Stephen R. Snodgrass expertly unveils the web of manipulation and corruption that led to Josh’s conviction, everything that could go wrong in the American criminal justice system did, from snitch witnesses who were coached by law enforcement to lie, to withheld exculpatory evidence, and an unscrupulous prosecutor knowingly using false testimony that had been recanted.
Kezer was convicted and served 16 years in violent Missouri prisons until a part-time deputy who was at the murder scene was elected Sheriff of Scott County and quietly reopened the investigation and has continued his quest to find the real killer.
Snodgrass draws on interviews with Josh himself, the research of Sheriff Rick Walter, the first responder to the scene who later went on to exonerate Josh in a re-trial, and his own legal analysis, to reveal the truth behind the case, the conviction, and the exoneration.
This book is a timely, compassionate work of true crime that calls for better and more equitable justice for all.
Stephen R. Snodgrass has a JD from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD in psychology from Johns Hopkins.
Josh was his first innocence case, but he has since represented two more men wrongfully convicted of murder who have been freed, David Robinson, and Donald Nash. Along with the other two lawyers in the case, Snodgrass received the 2021 Missouri Lawyer of the Year Award for work on the Nash case.
Joshua C. Kezer spent 16 years in prison as an innocent man. In 2009, he became the first man in the history of the state of Missouri to be given an Amrine actual innocence ruling. Since his exoneration and release, he's successfully assisted in the exonerations of other innocent men. Seeing parallels between wrongful incarceration and sex-trafficking as modern forms of slavery, Josh has also become involved in the fight to end sex-trafficking. His story has been featured on 48 hours Mystery, On the Case with Paula Zahn, The 700 Club, and on popular podcasts including The Lawless Files with Bob Miller and Crime Junky with Ashley Flowers. He currently resides in Columbia, Missouri with his adopted pitbull, King Titan. He can be found on Twitter as @joshkezer, Instagram as @josh_kezer, and Facebook as Josh Kezer.
Part I. The Murder
Chapter 1. The First Twenty-Four Hours
Chapter 2. The Initial Investigation
Chapter 3. Digging Deeper
Chapter 4. Getting Desperate to Charge Someone
Chapter 5. The Trail Runs Cold
Part II. The Arrest and Prosecution of Joshua Kezer
Chapter 6. Josh Kezer
Chapter 7. With Friends Like These
Chapter 8. The Defense
Chapter 9. The Trial
Part III. Behind the Walls
Chapter 10. Post-Trial Proceedings
Chapter 11. The Appeal
Chapter 12. Into the Lion's Den
Chapter 13. The Case Against Josh Begins to Fall Apart
Chapter 14. The Beginnings of Josh’s Exoneration
Part IV. Never Too Late
Chapter 15. The Habeas Corpus Investigation
Chapter 16. Habeas Corpus Preliminary Proceedings
Chapter 17. Depositions for the Habeas Hearing
Chapter 18. The Habeas Corpus Hearing
Chapter 19. Freedom
Part V. The Aftermath
Chapter 20. Josh Kezer
Chapter 21. Rick Walter
Chapter 22. The Lawless Family
The 1992 case of a gang member, Joshua Kezer, wrongly convicted of murdering a young woman in southeast Missouri, is examined in this work. The author Snodgrass, a civil litigation attorney, was brought in to aid Kezer’s defense after a woman involved with a prison ministry reached out to friends. The book illustrates how pressure to find the killer of a young woman, understaffed rural police, and political ambition all led to the conviction of an innocent man. Snodgrass indicates that the defendant was framed by jailhouse informants seeking leniency for themselves, and the prosecutor knowingly used their false testimony. Furthermore, despite no connection to the victim, no physical evidence, and no proof that he was even in the state at the time, he was found guilty and imprisoned for 16 years. That’s when a part-time deputy who had investigated the murder scene was elected sheriff. He reopened the case and is still searching for the murderer. A state court judge freed Kezer. The book notes what he and the lawyers are doing now. True crime readers will likely appreciate this detailed examination of a flawed case.
In 1992 Missouri, 18-year-old Kezer was arrested for the murder of teenager Angela Mischelle Lawless. Despite Kezer and Lawless being unacquainted and multiple witnesses attesting to him being several hundred miles away during the homicide, Kezer was convicted of Lawless’ murder. He remained in jail until his conviction was overturned in 2009. The Murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless elevates the true-crime genre by including Kezer as an author alongside lawyer Snodgrass, a member of the legal team that overturned Kezer’s conviction. Kezer’s recounting of a turbulent upbringing and the devastation of a murder conviction add a deeply shattering tenor to Snodgrass’ expert legal perspective. Snodgrass shows how inaccurate eyewitness testimony, irresponsible prosecution and law enforcement, and neglectful legal representation led to an innocent man’s conviction and a murder remaining unsolved. The authors then share how the honesty and steadfastness of Kezer’s supporters and legal team, along with Kezer’s own dedication, allowed him to reclaim his innocence. Readers of legal true crime, along with those interested in criminal-justice reform, will appreciate Kezer’s deeply moving account and Snodgrass’ thorough legal exploration.
Josh Kezer's story is yet another tragic account of our failed criminal justice system and further proof that anyone can be wrongfully convicted. Josh was the victim of fabricated testimony by individuals, but more importantly he was the victim of a system that allows such testimony to be used by the government to convict the innocent. There is much to learn from Josh's story and much to do to stop it from happening again.
The Murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless is a detailed account of the people, events, and murder trial that captivated a small town in Southeastern Missouri. As a volunteer in corrections in the Chapel at the Missouri State Penitentiary and later Jefferson City Correctional Center, I became familiar with Joshua Kezer’s case. Joshua was and remains a complex but compassionate person, always seeking the “why” of any situation. He continues his fight for justice. Our friendship has continued and deepened since Joshua’s exoneration. His faith remains his greatest asset. Details not previously known are revealed and will leave the reader with a better understanding of the judicial system: the good, bad, and ugly. Heartbreaking and intriguing, it’s a must-read and riveting account for crime story enthusiasts and the general reader alike.
I have lived nearly my entire life in the shadow of this case and its injustice. Josh has been living inside the injustice of this case nearly his entire life. We are indebted to his passionate pursuit of truth and closure. It is right for him to seek his own justice, but it is honorable for him to also seek justice for our family.
Undoing a wrongful conviction is like un-baking a cake, there is no recipe. Snodgrass and Kezer show the meticulous analysis and inventive persistence required to reverse this catastrophic error. The honest depiction of prison life offered by Kezer balances the legal insights provided by his lawyer. The contrast of struggles from inside and outside the prison walls provide more education about proving innocence than any textbook could.
As someone who has known about this case for more than 15 years and spent the last five years deeply investigating it, I highly recommend this book by Stephen Snodgrass and Josh Kezer. Snodgrass and Kezer give behind-the-scenes insight into the grossly mishandled investigation of Mischelle Lawless's murder — insight, and information that is not otherwise available to the public, including my podcast. I commend Snodgrass for his work in not just helping free an innocent man, but also for taking on the responsibility of telling this story. And of course, I commend Josh for being brave enough to involve himself in sharing excruciating details that are perpetually hurtful to talk about. Here's hoping that the book will not just be an "interesting read" about a serious miscarriage of justice and an "unsolved" murder, but that it will also play a role in pushing Mischelle Lawless's murder (and the flagrantly dishonest original investigation) into public consciousness.
This book is phenomenal! It was written by a lawyer of Josh's who fought to have him released and by Josh himself. The book gives details and information about the events preceding the murder, people who had key roles in the investigation, errors that were made that led to his wrongful conviction, and so much more. It pulls back the misconceptions and sometimes backwoods justice to show how badly the case and investigations were mishandled- both intentionally and unintentionally. The authors held nothing back and do not hesitate to name names or tell their story with transparency and clarity. There are even a few photos included that bring a human touch to the book. I normally do not read nonfiction crime books, but I was drawn to this one because of how close to home it was and because I wanted to read the details that only someone like Josh Kezer could reveal. It did not disappoint! This is definitely a raw and honest reveal of the entire case.
6/9/2023, Kirkwood Public Library podcast: Joshua Kezer is interviewed about the compelling story behind the book.