A Kansas man who spent 12 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder has died of cancer just 108 days after he was exonerated and released.
Olin ‘Pete’ Coones Jr., 64, died in Kansas City, Kansas on Sunday.
His attorneys from the Innocence Project Midwest said Coones succumbed to a health condition that went ‘undiagnosed and untreated’ while he was in prison.
His death was a result of cancer, local TV outlet KCTV5 reports.
Coones had only been released from prison just over three months ago when his conviction for the 2008 shooting deaths of Kansas City couple, Kathleen and Carl Schroll, was thrown out.
‘While he was only 64 years old, he re-entered the free world in a body that was broken,’ his attorneys said in a statement announcing his death.
Olin ‘Pete’ Coones Jr., 64, died in Kansas City, Kansas on Sunday. He is pictured above following his release from prison in November last year
His attorneys said Coones succumbed to a health condition that went ‘undiagnosed and untreated’ while he was in prison. His death was a result of cancer, local TV outlet KCTV5 reports. Coones is pictured on the left in a 2020 mugshot and on the right in a 2015 mugshot
‘Though Pete was no longer imprisoned, his death – like his unjust conviction – is the result of continued State neglect and mistreatment; the evidence suggests that he ultimately succumbed to health conditions that went undiagnosed and untreated during his time in prison.
‘We take a small measure of comfort that Pete died a free man. Yet nothing can restore all the State stole from him. Nothing will give him back the decade he should have had to spend with his family and loved ones.’
He is survived by his wife Dee, their six children and the grandchildren he met for the first time following his release.
His attorneys lamented that he was only reunited with his family for 3.5 months prior to his death.
‘Pete loved his family, though he had only 108 days reunited with them: Dee, his wife of over 40 years, and their children, Jeremiah, Ben, Quinn, Mariah, Melody and Ross,’ the statement said.
‘During this too-short return to his family, Pete met his grandchildren for the first time, having been deprived of their joy and laughter for over a decade.
‘Like so many grandfathers, he was smitten with them and wanted nothing more than to be their reliable source of extra treats and flexible rules.’
Following his release last November, Coones told the Kansas City Star said he had been praying for this day for years.
‘These sad tears are done,’ Coones told his wife and children who had gathered in the courtroom.
He told his family that looking back in a few years, this will have been ‘just a speed bump in the road’ that was a ‘long time coming.’
He is survived by his wife Dee, their six children and the grandchildren he met for the first time following his release. He is pictured above with his wife and some of his children following his release
He is survived by his wife Dee, their six children and the grandchildren he met for the first time following his release. His attorneys lamented that he was only reunited with his family for 3.5 months prior to his death. He is pictured after his release
Coones had always maintained his innocence in the 2008 slayings of Kathleen and Carl Schroll.
He was sentenced to life after being convicted of first-degree murder in Kathleen’s death. Coones was acquitted of killing Kathleen’s husband, Carl Schroll.
His conviction was exonerated in November last year after his attorneys argued that he had been framed and that investigators and prosecutors hid and manufactured evidence to wrongfully convict him.
His defense argued that Kathleen, who was his late father’s caregiver, framed Coones for murder when she killed herself and her husband.
No physical evidence ever tied Coones to the shooting.
The prosecution’s case was based on a call Kathleen made to her mother before she died claiming that Coones was in her house, as well as testimony from a jailhouse informant and a legal dispute between Coones and Kathleen over his father’s money.
Dr. Erik Mitchell, who performed the autopsies at the time, testified at last year’s hearing that he now believed Kathleen’s death was more likely a suicide, not a homicide as he had initially ruled.
He said police did not tell him the gun used in the shooting belonged to Kathleen. The gun was beside her body when police arrived and she had gun residue on her hands.
Coones’ attorney said that the state had refused to test swabs taken 12 years ago. He said that when his integrity unit eventually had them tested, they showed that Kathleen had gunpowder residue on her hands.
His conviction was exonerated in November last year after his attorneys argued that he had been framed and that investigators and prosecutors hid and manufactured evidence to wrongfully convict him. Coones is pictured with his legal team following his release
His defense attorneys say the plot to frame Coones came to fruition after she was caught mishandling his father’s money.
The attorney said Kathleen had been hired part-time by Coones’ sister to help care for their father who had dementia. In the months after Coones’ sister died, checks for more than $28,000 were written from the father’s account to Kathleen.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families sent Schroll a letter in 2006 alerting her it found she financially exploited Olin Coones Sr. That case was referred to the district attorney’s office for charges, but the prosecution was declined. Prosecutors did not provide a reason.
After Coones’ father also died, he learned that Kathleen had been listed as a beneficiary of his father’s life insurance – something that had been done online without power of attorney.
Coones challenged the change in beneficiary and the insurance company asked a federal court to determine who the proper beneficiary was.
The issue was unresolved when Kathleen called her mother to report that Coones was in her home. When police arrived, they found that Kathleen and her husband had been shot with a revolver that she often carried in her purse.
His defense attorneys argued last year that prosecutors did not disclose to them the financial evidence it had of embezzlement and the felony writing of more than 100 fraudulent checks.
They also didn’t disclose information such as the changing of beneficiaries on life insurance policies.
Prosecutors, at the time, also did not reveal that the jailhouse informant who testified had multiple conversations with the district attorney’s office and that other prosecutors had warned them not to use this informant because of his lack of trustworthiness.
After considering all the evidence, the judge threw out Coones’ murder conviction.
He ruled that there was indeed manifest injustice and that the prosecutors had suborned perjury by allowing the testimony of the informant.
‘Pete served over 12 years for a crime he did not commit after investigators and prosecutors hid and manufactured evidence to wrongfully convict him of murder,’ Coones’ attorneys said.
‘The evidence that proved his innocence was available from the moment the police arrested him – collected and stored on a property-room shelf – only to be ignored by those determined to win at any cost.
‘His life was stolen because his innocence did not matter.’