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Woman who says she was raped by Missouri prison workers won’t be sent back there

Woman says she was raped by Missouri prison workers. The state wants to send her back

Karen Backues Keil is still suing the guard and the mental health counselor she says raped and sexually assaulted her at Chillicothe Correctional Center. Now the Missouri Attorney General’s Office is trying to send her back there.
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Karen Backues Keil is still suing the guard and the mental health counselor she says raped and sexually assaulted her at Chillicothe Correctional Center. Now the Missouri Attorney General’s Office is trying to send her back there.

Karen Backues Keil got the news she was hoping for: She won’t have to go back to the Missouri prison where she says two workers raped and sexually assaulted her.

After serving six years of a maximum 15-year sentence, Keil was released early from Chillicothe Correctional Center in February 2017 because a Platte County judge reduced three of her six felony embezzlement charges to misdemeanors. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office then sought to have her original sentence reinstated on the grounds that the judge had overstepped his authority. But on Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to consider the attorney general’s petition.

Keil’s Kansas City-based attorney, Kent Gipson, said he thinks that closes the book on her incarceration.

“Karen is obviously happy she will not have to go back to prison,” Gipson said.

Keil, who has moved to Georgia, said in a phone interview Thursday that when Gipson gave her the news she just kept asking him, “Are you sure?”

“I do feel relieved, my family feels relieved, but I do still have that sense in the back of my mind that they’re going to try something else now, they’re going to try a different avenue,” Keil said. “Maybe six months from now I’ll feel a bigger sense of relief.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office declined to comment, said spokesman Chris Nuelle. The petition was filed under Schmitt’s predecessor, Josh Hawley, who is now a U.S. senator. Hawley has previously referred questions about the case to the attorney general’s office.

Gipson has said there were probably legitimate grounds to file the petition based on legal precedent, but sending Keil back to Chillicothe would be unnecessarily cruel given the trauma she says she endured there.

Keil is one of three former Chillicothe inmates who have filed federal lawsuits accusing former guard Edward Bearden of sexually assaulting them in a supply closet, a locker room or other concealed locations at the prison. Keil’s suit says he raped her repeatedly.

Bearden no longer works for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Keil said that when she reported Bearden to John Thomas Dunn, a mental health counselor at the prison, he sexually assaulted her too.

Dunn pleaded guilty in April to improper sexual conduct with a prisoner, a felony. Keil’s attorneys have said those charges were related to another inmate. Dunn, who is from Kansas City, got a four-year prison sentence, but it was suspended and he’s currently on probation. Dunn’s attorney has said he also no longer works at Chillicothe Correctional Center.

Keil said her experience made it difficult to seek therapy again after she got out of prison. But now she sees a counselor once a week.

“I knew that I needed some help (because I was) just struggling with the day-to-day things I needed to do and a lot of trauma,” Keil said.

Her civil suit is still pending, and Keil said that after everything she’s learned about the judicial system from being on the inside, she’s seriously considering going to law school to try to make it better.

“I’m not a menace to society” Keil said. ”I’m trying to be productive in the best way that I can, which is frankly difficult given the traumas that I endured while incarcerated.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.

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