Defense attorney Lindsay Runnels was honored with the President’s Award for Distinguished Service last week.
The honor was bestowed by the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL) on Friday.
Runnels, who is married to Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, received the award due to her part in two high profile defense cases in Missouri.
Runnels was instrumental in pushing for legislation that would grant prosecutors or city attorneys the ability to file a motion to vacate or set aside a judgment if information arises to suggest an individual was wrongly convicted or is innocent.
The legislation was borne out of her efforts to push for the exoneration of her client Lamar Johnson who she said was wrongly convicted. She enlisted the help of the local prosecutor to appeal the case. The Supreme Court of Missouri had said local prosecutors did not possess the authority to appeal the dismissal of motion for another trial after it had already been concluded.
So Runnels, along with other defense attorneys and activists, campaigned for legislation that would grant prosecutors this authority.
This campaigning culminated into the Motion to Vacate provision of the bipartisan police reform package, SB 53, that was signed into law in 2021.
That law led to the release of Kevin Strickland after more than 40 years behind bars late last year. Without the motion to vacation provision included in that law, Strickland’s advocates would have had to find a different avenue for exoneration.
Runnels said she was “always honored to be recognized by colleagues, especially in defense work.”
Runnels is a defense and civil rights attorney with Morgan Pilate in Kansas City.
“I am incredibly proud of her hard work, and the real award is seeing Strickland out of prison,” Rizzo, who has championed justice reform bills in the past, said.
Kelton is a 2023 graduate of the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies. He is a native of mid-Missouri and likes to write politics at both the state and federal levels. Kelton joined the Missouri Times in April 2022