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Fast to Free Inmate Continues

September 20, 1995
By: ELIZABETH MCKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY _ Some 15 pounds lighter and suffering short-term memory loss from lack of food, televanglist Larry Rice has entered the second week of his fast designed to get Gov. Mel Carnahan's attention.

Rice's hunger strike is intended to pressure Carnahan into granting a pardon to Johnny Lee Wilson, a mentally retarded man incarcerated for the 1986 murder of an Aurora, Mo. woman.

For more than a year, the governor's office has been reviewing the case.

Wilson's case has gotten national attention. The CBS, NBC, and ABC television networks all have done reports on Wilson.

In addition, both the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and the Missouri branch of Ross Perot's United We Stand have issued statements urging the governor act on Wilson's clemency request.

Rice and others seeking Wilson's release cite evidence uncovered since Wilson's conviction that points to his evidence:

* Chris Brownfield, a man serving time in Hutchison, Kan. for a different murder, signed a letter and an affidavit in which he confessed to the murder for which Wilson is serving time. Brownfield "knows details of the crime that only the perpetrator can know," the Missouri Association for Social Welfare stated in a resolution.

* The prosecution's key witness, Gary Wall, who also is mentally retarded, said that he was coerced into testifying against Wilson. He has retracted his testimony.

Rice charges law enforcement officials in Lawrence County coerced Wilson into confessing to the murder. After several sessions of police interrogation, Wilson entered a plea of no-contest _ a plea in which Wilson accepted conviction, but did not admit to guilt.

During these sessions, Rice said, police mentioned the death penalty 16 times. Rice said that Wilson was told to confess to avoid the death penalty. Wilson had no understanding of life in prison with no parole, Rice said.

Sheriff David Tatum of Lawrence County, was unavailable for comment.

"It's a complicated case," said Joe Bednar, Carnahan's chief legal counsel. "We can't make a decision quickly."

Rice, who said he has lost about 15 pounds so far, said this cause is one worth dying for. "I'd rather die at 46 with a cause, than at 86 without one," he said.