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Keep Houston Press Free
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Cover Story: John Kinsel's Life Without Parole

This week's feature tells the story of John Kinsel, a man who will spend the rest of his life locked up at Angola Prison for a crime his accuser has since said he didn't commit. Alyssa Medlin testified as a nine-year-old that Kinsel -- her mother's boyfriend -- had raped her for years. The girl's family didn't believe Medlin, a child with a history of lying. One of her friends had compelling evidence that Medlin had made it all up. But this story wasn't told during the shoddy investigation, and Kinsel was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Angola doesn't allow journalists face time with inmates, but we chanced to meet one of Kinsel's best prison friends, Robert Piazza, in New Orleans. Piazza got life and 40 for selling heroin, but was set free when the sentencing laws changed. Piazza spent a decade in prison with Kinsel.

They met in the hobby shop, where both men would spend all their free time making ornate stainless steel jewelry and hand-tooled leather belts. At first, Piazza didn't know why Kinsel was there. "One of the first things you learn in prison: a real convict doesn't ask why you're in," he said. "You meet someone and you like them or don't like them. I'm not going to befriend some child molester." He eventually found out why Kinsel was in, but Piazza said he knew his friend was innocent.

During their decade together -- and after Kinsel spent futile years in the prison law library searching for an effective appeal -- Kinsel learned he had gotten a new trial. "They don't just let anybody go," Piazza said. "You gotta be innocent 10 times over for them to let you go."

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Kinsel's ticket to freedom was handed to him by Medlin. Now an adult, she came forward and said she made up the accusations. A judge ordered a new trial for Kinsel. But it wouldn't be so easy. Medlin was deemed totally untrustworthy by the prosecutors who had believed her every word as a child. Now, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing the case.

Except for a short one-time conversation with Medlin's mother Adrienne Alberts, none of the accuser's immediate family would talk to the Houston Press for this story. In response to phone calls, Alberts wrote via text message: "Do not call me or my children again. I told you already and you are invading our privacy."

Meanwhile, the man Medlin permanently put behind bars is desperate for one last "invasion of privacy" in the form of a new trial; one, he hopes, that will bring out the truth and set him free.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

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