This story is the twenty-third in a series, Unrequited Innocence, that looks at cases where people were sentenced to die and have not been exonerated despite significant evidence of innocence.
After police in University City, Missouri, found Kimberly Cantrell shot to death in August, 2000, suspicion quickly fell on her ex-husband, Kimber Edwards, who had been charged with failing to make child support payments.
According to the court record:
Edwards, a guard at the St. Louis city jail who had remarried, told police of his whereabouts the day of the murder: Edwards said he returned to St. Louis that day from out of town, then took his daughter for medical appointments, then went to make repairs to the rental property he owned.
Police went to the property to check on Edwards’s alibi. There, they spotted a tenant who seemed to match the description of a man whom a neighbor boy said he had seen knocking at Cantrell’s door.
Inside the property, police found a black backpack, an item that the neighbor said the stranger was carrying. The neighbor, a ninth-grade student named Christopher Harrington, identified a photograph of the tenant, Orthell M. Wilson, and police began questioning Wilson.
Wilson offered a series of stories implicating Edwards, his landlord. First Edwards had paid him to knock on Cantrell’s door to “see if she was there.” Then Edwards paid him to “intimidate” Cantrell. And, finally, Edwards paid him to “take her out,” and the next day Wilson led police to the murder weapon, hidden in a vacant building.
Police arrested Edwards, who continued to maintain his innocence. But after police said their investigation would continue and would involve his wife and daughter, Edwards agreed to give a statement if his family would be left alone. He then said he paid a man named “Michael” to take care of the problems Edwards was having from child support payments, and said Wilson had demanded money to help “Michael.”
Edwards and Wilson both were charged with murder, and Wilson pleaded guilty in return for a life sentence. Wilson did not testify at trial; his brother, Hughie Wilson, did, and testified both that Edwards had once asked him about obtaining a “throwaway” gun, and that he had been in his brother’s apartment with his brother and Edwards a few days before the killing, and had seen a gun that looked like the murder weapon on a table.
Edwards, who according to court records suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, took the stand and said he had falsely confessed to protect his wife from being accused by police.
The jury convicted Edwards and he was sentenced in April, 2002, to death.
Thirteen years later, new attorneys filed a petition on Edwards’s behalf that included a recantation from Orthell Wilson. Wilson said that detectives coerced him to implicate Edwards, who had nothing to do with killing Cantrell.
Wilson states in the affidavit that he and Cantrell began a secret romantic relationship soon after Edwards and Cantrell were divorced; that he was a drug addict constantly in need of money; and that he shot Cantrell during a heated argument over his addiction. In his affidavit, Wilson also contends he had first recanted soon after Edwards was convicted, but no one “followed up on this with me.”
The Missouri courts rejected the petition without comment. But in October, 2015, Gov. Jay Nixon — a death penalty proponent whose office, when he was attorney general, had fought to preserve the conviction and death sentence — unexpectedly commuted Edwards’s sentence to life in prison.
He remains locked in prison, though no longer on death row.