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Mike Wilkerson

Other Exonerations with False Confessions and Inadequate Legal Defense
On July 1, 1997, a man knocked on the door of a home in rural Jasper County, Missouri, saying he was lost. A 17-year-old girl gave him verbal directions, but he claimed he was confused and asked her to draw a map. She shut the door, drew him a map, and brought it back outside. After she handed it to him, he drew a pistol and forced her back inside.

Her parents were not home, but her six-year-old sister was. The man pushed the younger girl into a room and bound her hands with surgical tape. He then bound the hands of her 17-year-old sister and forced her into a different room. He performed oral sex on her, and then masturbated into a condom after the girl said she had a medical condition and would die if she were raped.

The attacker left after taking the telephones in the home. The older girl freed herself and ran to a neighbor’s home. Police arrived and recovered the condom, surgical tape, and a cigarette butt at the scene.

Three weeks later, the 17-year-old girl was shown a photographic lineup. She identified 39-year-old Mike Wilkerson as her assailant. Wilkerson, the owner of a nearly 600-acre ranch a few miles away from the girl’s home, denied he was involved. A car racing enthusiast, Wilkerson said he was making a telephone call about a racecar at the time of the attack. He then went out to bale hay and was out of touch for several hours.

Family members believed that police put Wilkerson’s photograph in the lineup because he fit a general description of the attacker. His photograph was on file because of an incident two days before—on July 21, 1997—when he got into a dispute at a convenience store and was alleged to have displayed a pocketknife in a threatening manner.

Wilkerson was arrested on July 23, 1997. At the time, he was suffering from mental health issues—he had battled depression for years and had occasional episodes of strange behavior. On one occasion, he tried to baptize his wife and daughter in the bathtub. While he was being held in the Jasper County Jail, a police detective came to him and began telling Wilkerson what he was alleged to have done. The detective later said that Wilkerson had confessed, although the detective created no record—written or electronic—of the confession. Wilkerson later asserted that he never confessed, but only was responding to some of the detective’s statements by asking, “I did that?”

In September 1997, Wilkerson was charged with one count of forcible sodomy, one count of armed criminal action, two counts of felonious restraint, and one count of burglary.

After the news of the assault circulated, a woman who lived in nearby Dade County, Missouri, reported that man had come to her door asking for directions and asked if she could draw a map. The man had then left. When police showed the woman the photographic lineup, she selected Wilkerson’s photo.

At Wilkerson’s arraignment, the judge granted his attorney’s request for a mental competency examination.

In January 1998, a report on the competency examination said that Wilkerson denied committing the crime. The report also said he was not mentally competent to understand the charges against him or assist his attorney in his legal defense. Wilkerson was committed to the Missouri Department of Mental Health for treatment. In October 1998, mental health authorities reported that Wilkerson was still not competent to stand trial.

In June 1999, mental health officials reported that although Wilkerson still suffered from a mental disease, he was remission to a sufficient degree that he was competent to stand trial. The mental health department recommended that the prosecution go forward. The report noted that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether Wilkerson was suffering from mental disease that prevented him from understanding the nature of the offense, and recommended that a hearing be conducted on whether Wilkerson was mentally incompetent at the time of the attack.

In February 2000, Jasper County Circuit Court judge William Crawford held a hearing and ruled that Wilkerson was mentally fit to proceed with a trial that was scheduled for May 25, 2000. On May 9, 2000, Wilkerson entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Judge Crawford found Wilkerson not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him committed to the Department of Mental Health until such time when he could show he was no longer mentally ill and was not a danger to the community.

Wilkerson sought release from confinement in 2005, 2008, and 2010, arguing that he was no longer mentally ill. He was rebuffed, however, after the prosecution and mental health officials opposed his release, noting that he refused to admit guilt.

During these battles over his release, Wilkerson’s attorney, William Fleischaker, was granted access to the physical evidence in the case. Fleischaker obtained private DNA testing of a cigarette butt that the victim said the attacker left. In 2011, DNA tests identified a male profile from the cigarette butt and excluded Wilkerson.

In September 2016, Fleischaker filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking Wilkerson’s release. In December 2016, Judge Randall Jackson granted the petition and vacated the judgment of not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge ruled that in 2000, when Wilkerson entered his plea, there was no official report finding that Wilkerson was unable—due to mental illness at the time of the crime—to “appreciate the nature, quality or wrongfulness of his conduct or of being capable of conforming his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

Wilkerson was released on bond in January 2017 pending a trial on the original charges. Prompted by the DNA exclusion on the cigarette butt, the prosecution then sent all of the evidence in the case for testing, including swabs from the condom recovered at the scene. The Missouri state police crime laboratory reported that a male DNA profile was isolated and it was not Wilkerson’s DNA. The profile from the swab was the same as the profile from the cigarette butt.

On June 23, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In November 2017, Wilkerson filed a lawsuit in Jasper County Circuit Court seeking damages from his defense attorney for failing to seek DNA testing at the time of Wilkerson's arrest.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/5/2017
Last Updated: 11/27/2017
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:Committed to mental hospital
Age at the date of reported crime:39
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*