'Unlocking The Truth' Spotlighted Michael Politte's Mother's Murder & The Case Details Are Sad
MTV went from capturing online predators to investigating possible wrongful convictions with documentary series Unlocking the Truth , which was hosted by the exonerated Ryan Ferguson. Over the course of the season, he examined several cases, including the conviction of Michael Politte in the murder of his mother. In recent years, ambiguous murder cases have caught public attention, from Serial to Making a Murderer, and just like those cases, this one is a mix of tragic, grim, and infuriating.
In 1998, Michael Politte was 14 years old and living with his mother, Rita Ann Politte, in a Missourian trailer. According to extensive reporting done by the Daily Journal Online , on the night of Dec. 5, Rita was "was beaten and set on fire" in a deadly attack. Though he maintained he was sleeping in another room with a friend at the time of the attack, awaking only once his mother was already on fire, Michael became a suspect in Rita's murder. "[W]hile he was being held in the Juvenile Detention Center at Farmington," Daily Journal Online reported, "A witness testified Politte said, 'the day I killed mom,' during an emotional outburst."
Despite statements in court from his sisters, and other evidence like "boot tracks" according to DJO, that testimony was enough for Michael to be sentenced to life in prison for the charge of second degree murder when he was 18. This charge means that, according to FineLaw, the jury believed Michael committed "an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable 'heat of passion;' or a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender's obvious lack of concern for human life."
Michael Politte lost his appeal in 2003, which revolved around the confession he claims is false. As his appeal stated, "the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements because he was not informed of his rights under Miranda," which is a legalese way of saying that Politte "confessed" before he was read his rights — meaning he was not arrested for a crime. "Second, Defendant claims the trial court erred in admitting the statements made after he received Miranda warnings because these statements were tainted by his pre-Miranda statements, thus rendering the post-Miranda statements involuntary," the appeal continued.
In the years since, attention has faded, but there is still a Change.org petition asking for Politte's freedom that has been directed at the Missouri governor, citing Unlocking the Truth as one of the reasons that the case deserves another look. It sounds like Ferguson and Unlocking the Truth chose this case because of the way Politte's life was so profoundly changed by that one-sentence statement that he gave while allegedly not understanding his rights. Hopefully by the time it concludes, the series is able to see if there's any justice to be found for Michael Politte if his claims of innocence are true.