Attorney, family await state’s final decision in wrongful conviction lawsuit

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Kansas Attorney General is planning to meet with the State Finance Council to review a compensation agreement reached in the wrongful conviction of a Kansas man that was sentenced to life in prison.

Pete Coones was wrongfully convicted of a double-murder in Wyandotte County in 2009. Then he was released from jail in November 2020, after new findings surfaced.

Coones passed away at the age of 64, earlier this year in February. He was granted a Certificate of Innocence, and records of his conviction and arrest were ordered expunged.

Kansas City Attorney Branden Bell, the executor of Coones’ estate, said it’s a heartbreaking story that has impacted the family to this day.

“For a guy to be released and then have three months with his family before he dies, it’s just a tragedy,” Bell said.

This week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt agreed to pay his estate $826,301.81. The resolution will need to be approved by the State’s Finance Council, comprised of Governor Laura Kelly and a group of lawmakers. The governor’s office told Kansas Capitol Bureau that a date had not yet been set for the council’s meeting.

Bell and Coones’ family await the state’s final decision. In a joint statement Friday, Coones’ wife and children told Kansas Capitol Bureau where they stand on the matter.

“While no amount of money can replace the years that Pete lost, we’re grateful that the State of Kansas has finally acknowledged what we knew all along – Pete was always innocent.”

Pete Coones’ Family

Bell added that Coones missed graduation celebrations for his youngest son, and being able to attend his daughter’s wedding. He agreed that money cannot make up for those precious moments, and also said that the criminal justice system is not perfect.

“The only way you could call it a justice system is if that system admits its mistake and does whatever it can to try and make it better,” Bell said.

Coones was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the murder of his late father’s caregiver, Kathleen Schroll. However, a missing bullet, that according to Bell, was found “lodged in a pillow” in an evidence locker, suggested it was a murder suicide. That ultimately led to Coones being a free man.

The defense argued that Schroll killed herself and her husband after crumbling from the pressure of investigations into how she handled money for Coones’ late father. Bell said it was the love and support of his family that helped get Coones through his darkest days.

“When he was in prison, he would tell his wife, just divorce me, just find someone that makes you happy, but she never gave up on him, and neither did his family. They always believed he was innocent.”

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