In the case of Michael Politte, who’s still jailed for his mother Rita’s 1998 murder, The Exoneration Project’s Eva Nagao has put it best: “Anybody looking at this crime wants to ask the question about the dad.”
On tonight’s episode of Unlocking The Truth, Nagao and Ryan Ferguson, who was exonerated for the murder of a Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor after spending 10 years in prison, moved to investigate Politte’s case more deeply. Many insist he’s innocent, with some members of Politte's family still scratching their heads about why police have never formally investigated Michael’s father Ed for Rita’s death.
Rita was found bludgeoned to death and burned in her Mineral Point, Missouri home in the early morning hours. Michael, whose bedroom was on the other side of the house, was put on trial and convicted for her murder, though evidence implicating him has been scant.
Christal Sellers -- Ed's ex-wife -- explained to Nagao and Ferguson that Ed and Rita had slogged through a particularly nasty divorce in the months leading up to Rita’s death. Sellers and Ed had an affair, and the ensuing legal battle grew nasty -- Sellers even said she remembers Ed’s lawyer quitting because Ed threatened to kill Rita four days before she was found dead.
Still, on the morning of Rita’s murder, Ed seemed to have the perfect alibi. He worked the night shift at the local Ford factory and had gotten home sometime before 7 a.m., at which point he answered a call informing him of Rita’s death. As an autopsy confirmed Rita was killed at 6 a.m., and Ed and Sellers’ house was just about 90 miles away from Rita’s, it would have been impossible for Ed to have killed Rita and made it home in time to pick up the phone.
The alibi considered, Sellers isn’t convinced Ed isn’t at least peripherally responsible for Rita’s death. She mentioned Ed hired an attorney to appeal Michael’s case in an attempt to overturn Michael’s conviction but that Ed forgot to file crucial paperwork, a mistake that ultimately killed the process. Michael was convinced this was his father’s way of “setting [him] up,” though she’s not quite sure how.
Michael told Ed 10 years ago that he never wanted to see him again and has banned him from visiting.
“They never investigated [Ed],” Sellers bemoaned. “There was nothing, really. They had their man, they thought. They were certain. Now I don’t think I trust anybody. Who’s telling the truth?”
Ed pled his case to Nagao and Ferguson and admitted that while he’s thankful he answered the 7 a.m. phone call that ultimately spared him from prison, he’s racked with guilt over the idea that it, conversely, ruined Michael’s life. Ed’s sure he’d have been the primary suspect without phone logs.
In a particularly heated moment, Ed, who said he’s devoted his life to Christian teachings since Michael’s conviction, recalled a point during early investigations at which a police officer allegedly told him Michael wasn’t sincerely a suspect; he was simply convicted because nobody else fit the bill for the killer. Then, Ed nearly lost it.
“I won’t repeat what I said, but I did try to provoke [the officer],” he told the MTV investigators. “I wanted him to come at me; I wanted that like nothing else. I called him every name in the book…I’d have had my vengeance [if a second officer wasn’t there].”
Ed refused to talk about his fallout with Rita or Sellers, whom he divorced in 2012. Still, there was no confusion about his clear anger issues, which Eva noted had hardly dissipated over the years.
What do you think -- could Ed have had something to do with Rita's death? And why do you think police haven’t formally investigated him? Share your thoughts on tonight’s episode, and be sure to tune in to the next Unlocking The Truth next Wednesday at 11/10c.