Kansas City, Mo. Former death-row inmate Joseph Amrine filed a wrongful conviction suit Thursday against prosecutors and law enforcement employees, accusing them of framing him for the murder of a fellow prison inmate.
Amrine, 48, of Kansas City, is seeking compensation that is "just and fair" for the 17 years he spent on death row before he was freed last year. When Amrine was sentenced to death in 1986, he had between 18 months and seven years left to serve on a 15-year sentence for robbery, burglary and forgery.
"Amrine spent some of the best years of his life, from age 20 through 47, in prison," the suit filed in federal court said. "He missed out on the growth from toddler to manhood of his son, Dwayne, and the birth of four grandchildren. The world turned and the years slipped away while Amrine was forced to live with the fear of being put to death for a crime he did not commit."
The suit names as defendants employees or former employees of the Cole County prosecutor's office, the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City and the Cole County Sheriff's Department.
Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman John Fougere said he couldn't comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the state attorney general's office declined to comment specifically on Amrine's suit because the office had not yet been served. Messages left Thursday at the prosecutor and sheriff's offices were not immediately returned.
"We are going to have a hard road to travel," Amrine said Thursday. "I know that. If we go and we lose, it's really no big deal. We won the war, getting me out. Anything else will be like gravy."
Amrine was set free in July 2003 after the Cole County prosecutor said there was not enough evidence to retry him for the stabbing death of a fellow inmate, Gary Barber. Three months earlier, the Missouri Supreme Court had overturned Amrine's conviction and death sentence, finding his case "presents the rare circumstance in which no credible evidence remains from the first trial to support the conviction."
Key testimony against Amrine came from three former inmates who later recanted.
The suit alleges the men "were promised significant benefits if they testified against Amrine; were threatened with either legal action or being placed in a dangerous situation if they did not testify against Amrine; and were coached as to the substance of their testimony."
One of Amrine's attorneys, Arthur Benson, said jail staff went after Amrine because he was not part of a group of inmates that cooperated with prison staff.