For years, no one would help Lamonte McIntyre’s mother. His release ends her trial

Rosie McIntyre in 'dream world' after son is finally freed

"I knew he was innocent," Rosie McIntyre says of son Lamonte, wrongly imprisoned for 23 years.
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"I knew he was innocent," Rosie McIntyre says of son Lamonte, wrongly imprisoned for 23 years.

Rosie McIntyre fought the urge to kill herself. Twice she all but collapsed from nervous breakdowns in her 23-year effort to free her innocent son, charged with a double murder he didn’t commit.

“It tore me apart,” Rosie McIntyre said Saturday. “I knew my son. There was never (any) doubt. ... I knew he was innocent. No one believed it. No one cared. It was like I was all alone with the situation.”

By Saturday morning, the years of horror and struggle that McIntyre, now 63, endured — to convince someone, somewhere to tackle the wrongful imprisonment of a boy who had been been falsely arrested and convicted — seemed to have been all but spirited away by a wave of jubilation.

Her son, Lamonte McIntyre, was arrested at age 17 in April 1994 for the shotgun slayings of two men, Doniel Quinn, 21, and Donald Ewing, 34. On Friday, he was exonerated in Wyandotte County District Court and set free.

District Attorney Mark Dupree Sr. conceded that McIntyre, who at 41 had spent more years in prison than he had in freedom, had been the victim of a “manifest injustice.”

But while the hearing before Judge Edward Bouker ended up being shockingly short — expected to go one week, it ended in less than two days — its brevity belied hellish work and the perseverance it took for Rosie McIntyre to help win her son’s release.

For years she kept a spiral notebook, filled with her own musings and page after page of notes about all the people she’d reached out to for any kind of help.

“I try not to worry and pray more,” reads a passage penned in 1998, a decade before real help would come. “I call the name of the Lord all nite and day. ... Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jesus.”

Her lined notebook is filled with the names and numbers of lawyers, media outlets and organizations: NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Raze the Walls, Prison Activist Resource Center, the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence, “60 Minutes,” The New York Times, MSNBC, Court TV, Maury Povich, Sally Jessy Raphael, Queen Latifah, “Inside Edition.”

One letter begins, “Dear Montel (Williams),

“My name is Rosie McIntyre. ... I wrote you a couple of letters concerning my son. He was wrongfully accused of a crime he didn’t do. I’ve been fighting for my son for 6 years ...”

Early on, she was even more desperate, taking to the streets at night, dressed as a man for safety, equipped with a tape recorder in her pocket. She would roam Hutchings Street, where the murders occurred.

“I would walk Quindaro (Boulevard), asking people questions,” McIntyre said. “My parents didn’t know. My children didn’t know. No one knew but me.”

No one came to her aid.

“I called every innocence project I could think of,” she said.

McIntyre even got taken in by an unethical lawyer who charged her thousands of dollars on the promise that he might free her son. Both the money and his help disappeared.

Even when she and Lamonte finally hit on the Princeton, N.J.-based Centurion Ministries, which had helped exonerate dozens of innocent inmates, the hope it offered was measured.

Their first letter went to Centurion in 1996, two years after the crime. But the policy of the organization then (which has since changed and softened) was that inmates needed to have exhausted all appeals.

The implied message: Contact us later. The non-profit gets appeals from 1,100 to 1,600 inmates each year asking for help. The group takes only a few new cases each year, working about 20 at any time. Lamonte McIntyre’s chances of getting the group to pour its time and resources into his case were slim.

Seven years passed. Appeals were exhausted. Lamonte McIntyre wrote again, in February 2003. The letter, entered last week into evidence, read in part:

“I’m 100% innocent of the crime I’m doing time for. I have been doing my best trying to prove that. I have no money and I don’t know where to go from here. So I’m asking for your help. If you could just look at my case, you would see that I shouldn’t be here.”

Jim McCloskey, founder of Centurion, and whose staff at the non-profit would spend the next 14 years working Lamonte’s case, saw something in the young man’s letter.

“That letter moved us,” McCloskey said Saturday. “ ‘I’m 100 percent an innocent man.’ It just struck us. That is something we see — the persistence of innocence — not all the time, but often. It is a mark we look for.”

But before agreeing to take on McIntyre’s case, the group would spent six years checking out McIntyre and looking into the fundamentals of his life and the details of the crime, such as whether McIntyre had any history of violence.

“We don’t take people with violence in their history whether they are innocent or not,” McCloskey said.

McIntyre was clean. Most impressive of all was what Centurion staff discovered when they checked up on the Quinn family, relatives of the victims of the double homicide. What they discovered startled them.

“We saw where the victims’ family members, eye-witnesses to the crime, are saying, ‘They got the wrong man,’ ” McCloskey said. “We had never seen that in our experience.

“That’s huge. It’s unique. Not just one family member but, universally, the entire Quinn family not only believed, they knew the wrong person was convicted.”

In 2009, McCloskey, in collaboration with Kansas City lawyer Cheryl Pilate, began a field investigation into McIntyre’s case.

Together the two had already helped exonerate Darryl Burton, also wrongly convicted of murder. He was released in 2008 after spending 24 years in prison.

Pilate led the team, aided later by the Midwest Innocence Project, that led to Lamonte McIntyre’s release Friday.

In many ways, his freedom was also his mother’s.

“It was the best moment of my life,” Rosie McIntyre said. “It was like I went from nightmare to a dream world. I mean, I’m still in fantasyland.”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler