Crime Mo. Woman Seeks Clemency After 1985 Conviction for Killing Husband — Did Sexism Put Her Behind Bars? The podcast Wrongful Conviction with Maggie Freleng reconsiders the flawed investigation into the 1984 killing of Patty Prewitt's husband Bill By Jeff Truesdell Published on May 8, 2022 09:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Patricia "Patty" Prewitt. Photo: Patty Prewitt/Facebook Insisting that she didn't kill her husband in 1984, Patty Prewitt refused a prosecutor's offer to plead guilty and receive a seven-year sentence followed by parole. But at trial the following year, the former PTA room mother in rural Johnson County, Mo., was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 50 years. Now 72, Prewitt has served 36 years of that sentence. Her first opportunity to go before a parole board won't happen until 2036, when she will be 86. Prewitt's husband, Bill, was fatally shot in the couple's Holden home on the night of Feb. 18, 1984. Prewitt has always maintained the attack was carried out by an intruder who raped her and shot Bill. Since her conviction, a chorus has grown calling for her release and supporting her claims of innocence. Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases. Prewitt's trust that the legal system would exonerate her "was tragically misplaced," her daughter, Jane Prewitt Watkins, wrote in a 2018 column published in The Kansas City Star. The following year, the former director of the Missouri Department of Corrections endorsed her release. "In my four decades in corrections in Missouri, I have never made a single recommendation for clemency, until now," George Lombardi wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Gov. Mike Parson should release Patty Prewitt today." The Midwest Innocence Project also picked up Prewitt's case, seeking testing on newly discovered evidence for DNA that could support Prewitt's defense. The state denied the request. A new podcast argues that Prewitt is a victim of the legal system — and what many argue was the built-in sexism that was on display during Prewitt's trial. "When we discuss wrongfully convicted women behind bars, it's important that we remember the horrible toll this takes on families," says investigative journalist Maggie Freleng, host of Wrongful Conviction with Maggie Freleng, which dropped Monday on the social justice platform Lava for Good. "This is part of the reason Patty Prewitt's case is so heartbreaking." "She's 72 years old and the longest-serving woman in prison in Missouri," says Freleng. "During all that time, she's been separated from her five children. Her 13 grandchildren have never known their grandmother outside of prison." (According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit organization seeking to reduce mass incarceration, 58 percent of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails.) Patty Prewitt and her husband, Bill. Patty Preweitt/Facebook A Shattering Rape, a Strained Marriage Prewitt and her husband married in 1968, but after she says three men raped her in 1984 — an incident that Prewitt says she and Bill agreed not to report to police, because she feared the stigma — the marriage became strained, the online magazine Guernica reported in 2020. Together they later bought and ran a lumberyard in Holden, but they spent time living apart, and both had affairs. "I felt alone, lonely," Prewitt said in testimony at her trial. "I needed someone to be nice to me. I needed someone to hold me." The couple discussed but opted against divorce. "In those days, you split up or stayed together," Prewitt told Guernica. "We got over it. Some say you can't, but you can. If you love each other and really want to then you can. I'm not saying every day was roses, some days were hard, but for the most part we were doing good." On Feb. 17, 1984, Prewitt and her husband went out together with another couple, returning home to their sleeping children about 2 a.m. the next morning. After Prewitt washed dishes in the sink, she went upstairs to find Bill already asleep. Around 3 a.m., a neighbor a mile away awoke to Prewitt pounding on his door, "hysterical, crying" with her four children in tow, saying that an intruder had dragged her from bed and attacked her, and that Bill was hurt. Questioned in the immediate aftermath by police, "Nobody asked me about being raped and I didn't tell them," Prewitt told Guernica. "I wasn't the victim, it was Bill. I wasn't thinking of me." She claimed she was attacked with a knife but her injuries were not severe enough to merit medical treatment, according to The Kansas City Star, which reported that men who'd had affairs with Prewitt testified she'd offered them money to murder Bill. The gun that killed him was found in a nearby pond, where prosecutors alleged that boot prints matched Prewitt's. A Trial Tinged by Sexism? According to the podcast, the investigation overlooked leads to make Prewitt the sole focus. At trial, prosecutors worked to convince jurors of her guilt with phrases such as, "[Why would someone else do this just to] enjoy Patty's oft-enjoyed sexual pleasures?" And: "The defendant was motivated by sheer greed and sexual lust and had been for years." And: "She disregarded her marital vows and the noticeable obligations of motherhood." And: "She pursued one sleazy affair after another, one, two at a time." Says Freleng: "It's a tragedy caused by a botched investigation with no evidence and a trial that was shockingly full of sexism and misogyny. No women should face that kind of treatment from our criminal legal system." Patty Prewitt. Patty Preweitt/Facebook In his call for Prewitt to be granted clemency, Lombardi, the former state corrections director who died last month, wrote: "I am not in a position to know whether Patty actually committed the crime, although there does seem to be a plethora of irregularities in the investigation that led to her arrest and the ensuing prosecution." (The prosecutor in the case also is dead.) Lombardi added: "Despite her life sentence, Patty has accomplished more, given more and touched the lives of more individuals than many of us outside prison will ever achieve. Patty has earned multiple academic degrees; she is a published, award-winning writer. One play she wrote was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For 20 years, she served the state as a computer programmer and trained dozens of women in that field. She was one of the founding members of Prison Performing Arts at her prison in 2000 and has had leading roles in a several Shakespearean plays. Patty has volunteered for thousands of hours through the Restorative Justice Program, where she has engaged in service projects to help elderly veterans and abused children." Last year, in the Columbia Missourian, Jane H. Aiken, dean of the Wake Forest School of Law, who has advocated for Prewitt, also argued for Prewitt's release. "We know today that salacious allegations about a woman's sex life to paint her as someone who should be punished can have an unduly prejudicial effect on a jury's decision to convict," she wrote. "We know today that unrecorded interrogations can enable unscrupulous police officers to give false or misleading testimony about a defendant's statements at a crucial moment. To prevent wrongful convictions resulting from such testimony, recordings of interrogations are now required in Missouri." "These are just a few of the troubling errors that led to Patty Prewitt's conviction," Aiken wrote. The episode of Wrongful Conviction with Maggie Freleng about Prewitt's case is available for download now.