Lamonte McIntyre defies expectations. After he spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, some might assume McIntyre would be angry or bitter.
However, he countered this perception Wednesday night when he swaggered up to a podium in the UMKC School of Law, thanked God and smiled at his wide, tearful audience.
“It’s not that serious, y’all,” McIntyre laughed. “We’re here, I’m free.”
This warmth in the midst of tragedy is what inspired a deep connection between McIntyre and UMKC’s law students and faculty. This relationship grew so strong that when the court exonerated McIntyre on Oct. 13, he planned a party with the students and professors, hosting it at the school.
Yet, despite the event’s focus on hugs, food and overall community, it brought up serious issues in criminal justice.
Police wrongfully arrested McIntyre on April 25, 1994, in Kansas City, Kan. for the double murder of Doniel Quinn and Donald Ewing. This charge relied on little evidence, namely hinging on a witness who stated the killer resembled someone named Lamonte who she knew.
UMKC professors and attorneys Cheryl Pilate, Lindsay Runnels and Tricia Bushnell led the case back to court on Oct. 12 after eight years of research. As they fought for McIntyre’s exoneration, they also reached out for help from students.
“We had 94 subpoenas issued in this case, and students served a great number of those,” Runnels explained in an impassioned speech. “Those are not fun work, those are not sexy work, they are hard work. The students did these menial tasks with just as much commitment as the tasks that get the glory.”
Michael Vaught, a third-year law student who helped interview jurors, recalled when Runnels first requested student assistance with the case.
“We had our own cases we were working on, but this was an emergency. We pushed things to the side,” Vaught said.
According to Pilate, this motivation to “push things to the side” and fight for Lamonte’s freedom stemmed from love. Throughout their research and the case itself, UMKC faculty and students spent hours with Lamonte and his family.
“It was the love of Lamonte’s family, the love we all shared with them, the love we had for Lamonte, that sustained us,” Pilate stated.
In fact, Pilate believes this love carried the team to the final verdict. On Oct. 13, only two days into a trail expected to last a week, the court exonerated McIntyre.
Vaught said he will always remember being in the courtroom at that moment. He originally sat in the back of the room because he planned on leaving early for class and didn’t want to disturb others. Then, he changed his mind and moved to the front.
“I had a sense that something big was happening,” Vaught reflected. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m not going to class today.’”
Though Vaught called witnessing the decision “exhilarating,” law professor Tricia Bushnell stressed that many wrongfully convicted people continue to wait for such a verdict.
“I think about what it means today that Lamonte is standing here… but I think there is a lot more to be done,” Bushnell said. “It took this entire room to get Lamonte McIntyre out. What is it going to take to get justice for a community? I hope when we get out of here tonight, we’re dedicated to that.”