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Missouri Government News for Week of Sept. 25

This week's news summary was prepared by Candyce L. Clifft from reports prepared during the week by staff of Missouri Digital News.

Convicted Murderer Freed

Johnnie Lee Wilson, a retarded man serving a life sentence for murder, was pardoned Friday by Governor Mel Carnahan. Wilson was convicted in 1987 for a murder he did not commit.

"In the case of Johnny Lee Wilson, we have locked up an innocent, retarded man who is not guilty of the crime of which he was accused," Carnahan said in a press conference.

Missouri televanglist Larry Rice began a hunger strike on Sept. 12 to prompt Wilson's release from prison. While expressing relief after hearing about the governor's pardon, Rice said he is concerned that there are other innocent people behind bars in Missouri.

Rice said he may not use the hunger strike tactic again, but he will continue to fight against what he perceives as injustices in the state.

Carnahan said his decision was not affected by Rice's protest -- that rather it was based on months of review of the case by the governor's chief legal counsel.

Top Ethics Official Resigns

A top official on the Missouri Ethics Commission has resigned after the review of a confidential reoprt critical of the agency's management.

Anne D. Haantz, director of staff services, resigned after a still-secret report to the commission concerning management of the agency.

Haantz was unavailable for comment about her resignation and the commission's administrative secretary, Marion Sinnet, would not say whether Haantz's departure was connected to the report.

"I think she's tired and didn't feel good and didn't want to do it any more," Sinnett said.

State Auditor Margaret Kelly criticized the commission in June, leading to a special management review by a team from the state Office of Administration. Kelly's audit said the Ethics Commission staff had hidden information from the public.

Health Dept. Pursues AIDS Budget Solutions

Missouri Health Department officials met with community AIDS activists Thursday concerning funding for people with the disease.

Because of the department's $1.6 million debt from overspending, assistance for medical needs, food, housing and cental care for persons with AIDS has been cut off.

"We're trying to facilitate Medicaid assistance and are working with pharmaceutical companies to get medicine," said Connie Brooks, director of the Masternal Child and Family Health Division. "It's a flow-charted process--we're looking at how things work."

Brooks said the department is taking steps to make sure overspending never happens again.

Report Clears VA Officials

A federal report into deaths at the Veterans Administration hospital in Columbia has cleared regional administrators of criminal conduct.

The report was released by the U.S. Assistant Inspector General, Jack Kroll. It concluded that Truman VA Hospital and central regional officials were clear in the investigation of 45 deaths in mid 1992.

A pending FBI investigation will determine whether Richard Williams, known as Nurse H, was connected to the deaths. Forty-five patients out of 55 who died in mid 1992 were in Williams' care when they died.

Kroll's report said the former hospital director and two other management employees still working at the hospital are to blame for not reporting the deaths. Their mistakes were cited as "purely mismanagement and not criminal activities" by Kroll. He said there was no evidence of a cover up.

The Veterans Administration policy for reporting these types of incidents is being revised.

Bad Summer for Mo. Crops

Farmers are reporting major crop losses this fall from the near summer-long drought followed by an unusually early frost.

The frost mainly hit north of I-70. It affected soybeans the most, and corn the least.

Southeastern Missouri's cotton farmers were not exempted from the poor weather this season.

A hot, dry spell in August caused the expected cotton yield to drop, which will lead to higher prices for cotton throughout the U.S.

"This will reflect how much you pay for blue jeans," said Duane Dailey, Information Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension Office in Columbia.

"This is one year I'd like to see go, quickly," said Brian Munzlinger, President of Missouri Corn Growers Association and a farmer in northeastern Missouri. "But we're pretty much optimists _ we look forward to next year."

Agricultural officials say it's still too early to determine the full impact of crop losses in the state.