The effort, spearheaded by state Reps. Shamed Dogan and Tracy McCreery, seeks to secure the release of Prewitt after 34 years in prison. Prewitt is serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of her husband, a crime which she has adamantly maintained she did not commit. Her clemency petition was submitted in 2010.
During her incarceration, Prewitt has been involved in a number of programs, such as Resident Encounter Christ, Restorative Justice Project, and Prison Performing Arts, where she’s served as a leader. Prewitt has also earned an associate’s degree, a business diploma, and fitness instruction certificates, among other educational achievements. Dogan said many of her fellow inmates look up to her and learn from her.
“I’ve met some of the women who had been incarcerated with her on the outside who have talked about how she helped transform their lives and how she was like a mother figure to them,” Dogan, a Republican, told The Missouri Times. “I’ve heard that phrase over and over from women who have been in the prison, that she was like a mother to them, and she’s been doing that for 30-plus years.”
McCreery, a Democrat who met Prewitt through her work with the Prison Performing Arts group, echoed his sentiment.
“I’ve known her for around 15 years,” she said. ”I could really see what a mentor and leader she was in the women’s prison where she is incarcerated. She’s kind of got that feeling that often happens in groups where there’s someone that’s the natural leader, and is compassionate and keeps the group cohesive and everything, and I saw that with Patty, and I’ve been trying to help get her justice ever since.”
Both representatives have worked towards the goal for years. They co-wrote an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year urging the governor to free Prewitt. Without executive action, she won’t be eligible for parole until 2036.
Prewitt’s case has been controversial for years. The clemency letter noted the case has attracted the attention of the Midwest Innocence Project and a number of journalists who believe the trial to have been hasty and to have ignored important evidence pointing to her innocence.
The spread of COVID-19 is another reason that the letter was moved to the governor’s desk. Prewitt is at high risk for the virus, being 70 years old with a history of respiratory problems. She is the longest-serving inmate at Women’s Eastern Reception and Diagnostic Correctional Center in Vandalia, which was reported to have a staff member who tested positive for the virus last week.
The letter seeking Prewitt’s clemency has the support of 56 state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers. Her case and time in prison were covered in the recent documentary “33 and Counting.”