Josh Kezer: The Crime He Didn't Commit
By Rob Hull
The 700 Club
CBN.com -November 1992: 19-year-old Michelle Lawless was found in her car in Benton, Missouri, brutally beaten and shot to death. Josh Kezer, an eighteen year old gang member with a troubled past was arrested. The sheriff and prosecutor quickly built a case against him and brought him to trial.
The only problem; Josh Kezer was innocent. “I knew that the sheriff was going to do everything in his power to make sure I went to prison. I knew I was innocent but I knew he didn’t care. The evidence spoke in my favor. There was DNA found underneath the victim’s fingernails. The FBI actually tested the DNA and excluded me. There was no finger print, no palm print, no weapon, no paper trail, no motive, and no connection to the victim.”
It only took three and a half hours of deliberation for the jury to arrive at their verdict: guilty. Josh was sentenced to 60 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. “It’s still hard to think about. Everything went numb. In the distance I heard yelling and screaming, and I realized at that moment I was hearing was myself yelling, ‘I didn’t do this, I didn’t do this.’”
Before the trial ever began Josh received a Bible and had started reading it. He says he renewed his childhood faith. “Just kept reading, kept reading through the scriptures and what was happening is I was finding myself knowing I’ve always believed this stuff. I was leaning on Jesus immediately because I didn’t have an option. He became my best friend. He became the person I talked to about everything because I had nobody else to talk to at times.”
That faith became his only source of hope as he entered the Missouri state penitentiary, once labeled The Bloodiest 47 Acres in America. “I lived with serial killers and rapists, child molesters, thieves, liars and cheats. I lived around a nightmare. I lived where every corner you walked around there could be bloodshed.”
Josh says it was God who kept him alive and gave him hope. “I literally had men gambling as to how long it was going to take me to be killed or raped. And the hand of God was on me through the entire experience. It was an awful experience but I became something different. I became a Christian. When you have Christ in that place you can see the sunshine, you notice the life around you. That’s the beauty of getting to know the Lord is, living in that nightmare, but living in purpose where there is no purpose, living in peace where there is no peace, feeling free where everything around you is confined.”
Inmates and chaplains alike witnessed Josh’s faith and the persecution that came with it.
Former Inmate and friend Joe Heintzelman says, “It was a constant barrage for Josh to stand so strong with his faith that God was going to deliver him from these things.”
James Jackson, a prison minister recalls, “He focuses in on the Word and he focuses in on his God he still had that hope when it seemed like no one else believed in him.”
After two failed appeals and little hope for release, there were moments when Josh struggled to keep going. On two occasions he prayed that God would end his life.
Josh says, “I did not want to wake up another day in prison. I was tired and I had enough. And he would tell me quietly, ‘I’ve gotten you this far. What makes you think I can’t get you to where I want you?’ And He started whispering in my heart and mind, ‘Five years from now none of this is going to mean anything.’”
Around that time, Jane Williams from Love Inc. a prison ministry, heard Josh’s story and helped get his case reopened. “I wanted to be declared actually innocent in judicial terminology.” Josh recalls, “And God gave me a peace about that. God was about to show off. He was about to do something that hadn’t ever been done before and I knew that I believed that.”
After 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit Josh had a new trial. This time by ‘clear and convincing evidence’ he was declared innocent. An outcome only Josh had seen coming.
“I had seen God deliver me from situation after situation after situation. People had tried to attack me, beat me, rape me, kill me and I had seen God deliver me time after time after time after time. How could I expect anything different when the time came? I’m very thankful for what the judge did, I’m very thankful for my attorneys and people in my life, but above all I’m thankful because God gave them to me and it was He who set me free in my spirit, in my heart, in my mind and in my body.”
Today, Josh is a free man. He surrounds himself with people who love and support him in his faith. He encourages others to put their hope in Jesus during their times of trouble.
“Just turn to Jesus. In your moment of desperation turn to Jesus. I want people to know that the Lord is the Lord of hope. He’s not intimidated by anyone’s problems. He’s not shocked by your struggles and sins. He can handle you and He can handle anything you’re going through. And He still does miracles. And on occasion, He reaches into prison and sets a man free after 16 years. That’s the Jesus I want people to know.”
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