Kansas City man who says he’s wrongly convicted of murder finds backers in his quest for freedom

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Innocent until proven guilty; a local man who is serving a life sentence for murder claims he didn't do it. Keith Carnes says he has newly discovered evidence to prove his case, but is it too late for him to get a new trial?

"I've got grandkids that I've never held. My kids, my relationship with them isn't as strong as it could've been,” Carnes said.

In October, 2003 -- Kansas City police found 24-year-old Larry White gunned down in a parking lot near 29th and Prospect. Detectives said White was shot after he wandered into rival territory to sell crack cocaine. Prosecutors charged Carnes, a known drug dealer, with first-degree-murder.

"I was in the streets, gambling, doing things that I shouldn't have been doing. But as far as committing murders, that's nothing I'm guilty of,” Carnes said.

But nobody believed Carnes' story until now. The "KC Freedom Project" -- a ministry dedicated to helping people behind bars -- rallies on the courthouse steps hoping to bring attention to Carnes' case.

"I pulled as much as I could from the internet, and as I looked into his case, there were so many inconsistencies that I knew in my spirit that I had to help this individual,” Latahra Smith said.

Smith leads the project, working countless hours to uncover "newly discovered evidence" -- including recanted testimonies by the only two people who testified against Carnes. It’s evidence that Carnes’ attorney, Kent Gipson, is using to fight a new, third trial.

“The case was tried twice. And even before the recantations, the jury hung in the first trial. If they tried to prosecute the case now, they'd get laughed out of court,” Gipson said.

Gipson believes three to five percent of people behind bars are actually innocent -- including his client.

"It's just shocking to me that the prosecution in this case is fighting this tooth and nail, and won't even let us have a hearing, and argues against giving us an opportunity to appear in court,” Gipson said.

The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office declined to talk on-camera about Carnes' case, but a motion filed in December shows the office opposes a new trial, arguing "the court's jurisdiction over this case has expired.”

The motion also suggests Carnes and Smith are married, an allegation both deny.

"Married?! Nah, nah, nah,” Carnes denied.

"I willingly submitted a signed affidavit to address that issue that specifically said I am not nor have I ever been married to Keith Carnes. I'm sure if we were married there would be a paper trail somewhere that would lead to this so-called marriage,” Smith said.

FOX 4 looked, but could find no proof a marriage. For now, Smith says she'll continue her crusade, sharing Carnes' story with anyone who will listen.

Gipson fights for time in front of a judge.

"It always takes longer than it should to get the results. We're not gonna stop fighting in this case, no matter how long it takes,” Gipson said.

Meanwhile, Carnes practices patience.

“They're deciding on my life. It's been a long ride, and now that I'm here, I just ask that justice prevails,” he said.

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