"Given the irreversibility of the death penalty, the possibility of a wrongful conviction can never be overstated."
- George Gascon
It was the 7th of April 2008. A Monday. In the early hours of the morning, at 2.30am, forty five year old Kathleen Schroll rang her mother Elizabeth Horton from her home in Kansas City, Kansas, United States:
“Pete is here in the house and he said he stole the lawnmower out of the garage. He said he is going to kill Carl and he is going to kill me and he said he has got his tracks covered where no one will find out.”
“What? Repeat that.”
“Did you call the police?”
When police searched the house, they found Kathleen's husband Carl Schroll in the bedroom. He was lying on the bed. He was also dead and had been shot twice in the abdomen. There was a laceration on his head. A pillow that lay beside him had a hole in it with stuffing hanging out.
Police spoke to Elizabeth. She told them about the call and everything that Kathleen had said. They asked her who Pete was. Elizabeth told them that Pete was fifty year old Olin Pete Coones and her daughter Kathleen was involved in a legal dispute with him. Police discovered that Kathleen had been a caretaker and housekeeper for Pete's grandfather. His grandfather, also called Olin Coones, had died and Kathleen applied to Court to get Olin's Insurance Policy money but Pete had applied to Court also and argued that Kathleen was not entitled to it.
Based on that information and a conversation police had with Kathleen's daughter Blair who told police that Kathleen told her Pete had threatened her just two days before her death, they arrested and subsequently charged Pete with the first degree premeditated murder of Carl and Kathleen Schroll.
Pete was tried twice. In the first Trial, he was acquitted of Carl’s murder and convicted of Kathleen’s murder. A Motion for a new Trial was granted in relation to the conviction because the State did not timely disclose computer evidence to the defense.
Pete's second Trial began and he faced a murder charge in relation to Kathleen Schroll only. In terms of evidence, the second Trial was similar to the first Trial. Pete had the same lawyer, the same Prosecutor argued the case and the same Judge heard the matter. It was the Prosecution's case that Pete killed Kathleen due to his ongoing legal dispute with her. It was their case that Pete was angry as he believed that Kathleen stole from his grandfather and exercised undue influence to inherit part of his estate.
Olin Pete Coones
The Prosecution relied mainly on the phone call Kathleen made to Elizabeth, Blair's testimony, and the physical and forensic evidence found at the house where Kathleen and Carl were shot.
The Prosecution called Elizabeth Horton to testify. She told the Court that she was asleep that night when the sound of the phone ringing woke her. It was her daughter Kathleen. She told the Court what Kathleen said. A recording of the 911 call made by Randy was played in Court. Randy told the Operator that Kathleen had just called and said that Pete was at the house “breaking in with a gun in his hand.”
Elizabeth testified that she spoke with her daughter almost every day about problems she had with Pete. She told the Court that every time something new came up, Kathleen would call her to tell her about it. She said that Pete moved close to where Kathleen lived and would drive past a lot.
Kathleen's daughter, Blair Hadley, testified on behalf of the Prosecution. She testified that one day before her mother's death, she was in the car with Kathleen and they drove past a QuikTrip gas station. She told the Court that Kathleen told her that she saw Pete the day before on her way into QuikTrip and he said:
“You are not going to be spending no more of my dad’s money, b*tch.”
The Court heard that Kathleen died from a gunshot wound to the back of her head and Carl died from two gunshot wounds to the abdomen.
They referred to the evidence found in the house where Kathleen and Carl were found dead. There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing was stolen. Kathleen’s DNA was found inside the barrel and on the trigger of the revolver. The bullets located in the bodies were from the same caliber gun, but too deformed to establish they were fired from that revolver. Pete's DNA was not found anywhere inside the house or on Carl or Kathleen.
Furthermore, Pete claimed that he was at home that night and some of his family members testified on his behalf. His wife testified that Pete went to bed and only left the room once to go to the bathroom at 2.30am and went back to bed a few minutes later. He used his computer a few times that night.
Pete's daughter Mariah and her fiancé, Ross Minks, were watching television that night. They both testified they were watching a movie in the living room until 2.30am or 3am. The Court heard that Pete would have to walk past the living room in order to leave the house and his daughter testified that she did not see him leave the house.
It was established that someone logged on to Pete's computer that night using his profile and conducted internet searches from the house at 1.07 am and 4.51 am. Pete said that that was him.
A forensic scientist, Gene Gietzen, was called to testify on behalf of the Defense. Gene testified that the velocity of blood spatter found at the home could not eliminate the possibility that Kathleen took her own life.
The Prosecution urged the Jury to find Pete guilty. They said there was no motive whatsoever for Kathleen to kill Carl and take her own life.
The Jury agreed. Pete was convicted of first degree premeditated murder in connection with the death of Kathleen and was sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years.
The Kansas Supreme Court later affirmed his conviction but vacated his sentence. Subsequent to his sentencing hearing, a decision was made in which the Kansas Supreme Court held that Kansas’ “hard 50” sentencing scheme (i.e. a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years) was unconstitutional under Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013). And as such, Pete was sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years.
But Pete's case was far from over. Through the work of Pete and his lawyers, they argued that Pete's conviction was a miscarriage of justice and the deaths of Carl and Kathleen related to a murder suicide. Pete's new legal team began looking at Pete's case and started from the beginning. They claimed that Kathleen did have a motive to commit the murder suicide and there were details relating to Kathleen's character and actions that the Jury never heard. They discovered that Kathleen first began working for Pete's grandfather Olin as a housekeeper in 2004 when she met Olin's daughter Patsy at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Kansas City. Olin was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Patsy had other medical issues as well. Olin and Patsy, who lived together at the time, signed over their house to Kathleen. Patsy asked her Attorney to draw up a will and Power of Attorney form in late 2004 that designated Kathleen as the beneficiary of her estate.
In 2006, Patsy's health deteriorated and she went to hospital. Her Attorney visited her and asked her why she did not sign the will and Power of Attorney that he had drawn up for her. She told him she did not trust Kathleen. Patsy died a few days later in hospital. In April of that same year, the beneficiary to Olin’s life insurance was changed to Kathleen. The change was made online. There was no computer in Olin’s home.
A few months later, in August 2006, Pete tried to visit Olin but Kathleen would not let him inside the house. He notified the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services to file an elder abuse complaint. Around the same time, other people became concerned about Olin. An employee at his Bank was worried about him and asked to see him. Kathleen went with Olin to the Bank and Kathleen insisted that she wanted to stay with Olin. The Bank employee argued with her and managed to speak to Olin alone. She was immediately concerned about his mental health and believed he was mentally impaired. She froze his bank accounts and reported the matter and her concerns to the police.
Bonnie Keith, a former co-worker of Olin’s, went to his house to visit him. Bonnie told Kathleen that she wanted to take Olin to visit his brother and would bring him back. That was just an excuse Bonnie gave so that she could remove Olin from the house immediately. She was deeply concerned about him as his underwear was badly soiled and he had bedsores. She did not return him to Kathleen and instead took him to live with Pete in Missouri.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services investigated Kathleen on foot of Pete's complaint and determined that she had exploited Olin. But just three months later, Olin died.
Pete was the sole heir to the estate but both Pete and Kathleen filed claims to the $46,000 insurance policy. The insurance company deposited the funds into an account and told them that whoever was entitled to it was a matter for the Courts to decide. Pete discovered that Kathleen had forged a number of checks when Olin was still alive.
On the 1st of April 2008, a mediation was put in place for Pate and Kathleen to try to come to some sort of agreement and Pete offered Kathleen 25 percent of the life insurance so that the matter could be closed. Four days later, Kathleen told her work colleagues that she saw Pate at a gas station and he threatened her. That was the same incident she also told Blair about but the version she gave to her coworkers stated it happened at a different time than the version she told Blair. When police checked CCTV footage from the gas station for that day, there was no sign of Kathleen or Pete at the gas station.
Pete's legal team presented the evidence to Court based on the theory that a murder suicide had taken place and that Kathleen shot Carl and then shot herself but not before staging the scene by calling her mother and framing Pete. They believed that Kathleen had a motive. She had a huge amount of debt and faced arrest for embezzlement.
Pete's lawyers told the Court that the contents of Kathleen’s purse had never been inventoried by police prior to Pete's Trial. Pete's new legal team had an opportunity to look inside the purse after Pete's conviction as the purse was still in evidence. They found copies of 11 checks that had bounced and other evidence showing that she was embezzling. There was evidence of outstanding payday loans which further added to their argument that she was struggling financially. The Jury at Pete's first and second Trial never heard that evidence.
Pete's new legal team found further evidence. The pillow found beside Carl's body was still in evidence. When Pete's new team examined it, they found a bullet. Based on this new evidence, Dr Mitchell changed his view as to what caused Carl's laceration on his head. He concluded that it was not a blunt force injury but a graze wound from the bullet found in the pillow.
Dr Susan Roe, a pathologist, reviewed Kathleen's death. She believed that the cause of Kathleen's death was suicide as if she had been shot from behind, Kathleen would have fallen forward or sideways but she was found lying on her back. She noted that Kathleen’s glasses had blood on the front of the lenses, which likely came from when she shot Carl. The glasses were washed before the blood could be tested.
Olin Pete Coones with his wife Dee and their family
Twelve years after he was convicted of murder, Pete was exonerated and released from prison.
Pete's wrongful conviction was all the more devastating because all the evidence that exonerated him was available at the time of his initial Trial and conviction and would have bene uncovered if all the evidence was explored diligently. Police searched Pete’s home at the time. They found no bloody clothing, guns, or ammunition. Kathleen told her mother on the call that Pete had taken the lawnmower but that was not at his house. Police searched his van and swabbed for gunshot residue. Nothing at all was found that connected Pete to the crime in any way. His fingerprints and his DNA were not found anywhere in Kathleen and Carl’s home. Despite that, he was arrested and charged on foot of a phone call Kathleen placed to her mother and the Jury did not hear about Kathleen's actions and treatment of Olin at the time of Pete's Trial.
Pete died just three and a half months after his release from prison. He had cancer and was just 64 years old.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello