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The day after the Missouri Court of Appeals ordered the release of rehabilitated Missouri inmate Sandra “Sandy” Hemme, I received an unexpected text message from private investigator Latahra Smith, a former Kansas City resident, wanting to discuss the shoddy work of one of Hemme’s original defense attorneys, Robert “Bob” Duncan, who died in 1997.

I was raised never to speak ill of the dead, so I will refrain from doing so here. But to my knowledge, at least five cases involving Duncan have been overturned by the courts. There may be more.

In three of those cases, the defendants were on death row when they were either acquitted or their death sentences were overturned. In each of those cases, Duncan was found incompetent, according to court records.

When it comes to wrongful convictions, Smith knows her stuff. Her tireless investigative work led to the release of Keith Carnes, a Kansas City man wrongfully convicted of murder in 2003. Although Duncan had no connection to Carnes’ defense, Smith said she researched several of his criminal defense cases.

“Every case that Bob Duncan has ever been involved in must be reviewed by the justice system,” Smith told me.

Based on what I know about Duncan’s past, her claim is valid.

Folks, this is an issue that local prosecutors and the office of Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey need to address.

Speaking of Bailey, his senseless pleas to keep Hemme, 64, behind bars are inhumane. In June, Livingston County District Judge Ryan Horsman ruled Hemme innocent of a 1980 murder conviction in St. Joseph, citing clear and convincing evidence. Yet as of Wednesday, Hemme was still in a Missouri prison.

A few minutes after Smith’s text, Cliff Middleton sent me an email from Kansas City. Middleton’s correspondence also discussed Duncan’s legal work.

“Sandra Hemme is released,” Middleton wrote on Tuesday evening. “Point 5 for Bob Duncan’s incompetence in court.”

Middleton may know more about Duncan’s past than most. For more than three decades, he fought to free his father, Ken Middleton, from prison. The elder Middleton is a former truck driver from Blue Springs. He is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Kathy Middleton, whom he shot to death in 1990.

The Middletons have long insisted that Ken did not kill his wife. In 2005, former Jackson County District Court Judge Edith Messina overturned Ken’s life sentence and ordered a retrial, alleging inadequate legal counsel – Duncan had represented Ken in his original murder trial. Despite that ruling, Ken has remained behind bars since his arrest 34 years ago.

Later this month, Ken will have the opportunity to plead his innocence in court for the first time since Messina overturned his conviction.

I’ve written about the judicial travesty that both Carnes and Ken Middleton faced in the Missouri justice system. In recent years, I’ve gotten to know Smith and Cliff Middleton as they fought to bring their loved ones home.

So I understand why both of them reached out to me this week to talk about Duncan, a former prominent Kansas City attorney who ran afoul of federal law in the late 1980s and was later disbarred for failing to pay federal income taxes, according to court records.

According to court records, Duncan not only represented Hemme in her 1985 murder trial, but also served as defense counsel for former death row inmates Leamon White, Clarence Dexter and Ed “Butch” Ruescher.

Earlier this year, my colleague Melinda Henneberger wrote about Ruescher’s trials and tribulations with Duncan. In 1996, both Ruescher’s first-degree murder conviction and his death sentence were overturned because of Duncan’s incompetent legal counsel.

Hemme’s release was long overdue. She wrongfully served 43 years in prison for the murder of Patricia Jeschke, a St. Joseph woman who court records say Hemme did not kill. But thanks to Duncan, Hemme was granted a post-conviction parole last month.

If her case and the others I mentioned above are not enough to warrant a thorough review of Duncan’s years of ineffective practice, how can any of us have confidence in Missouri’s justice system?