Documentary about longest-serving female inmate in Missouri urges clemency amid COVID-19 spread

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Aisha Sultan planned to roll out her recently completed documentary, “33 and Counting,” but also makes it more urgent that people see it. 

Sultan, a longtime columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says the subject of her second film, Patty Prewitt, cannot wait any longer for her plea for clemency to be granted by the Missouri Governor’s office. 

Prewitt is currently the longest-serving woman in prison in Missouri. She was sentenced in 1985 to 50-years for killing her husband in their home in Holden, Missouri. She is currently 70 with her first chance of parole coming in 2036, so “basically a death sentence,” says Sultan.

Her age and recurring respiratory issues make COVID-19 a serious threat Prewitt faces. Sultan came across the case while writing a series of editorials on clemency cases before the governor.

“The more I read about her case, and the more I talked to people about the prosecution, the investigation, and what she’s done [in prison> since then, the more convinced I became that she deserved clemency,” explains Sultan.

Patty Prewitt says she was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and raped. Her husband was shot to death with a rifle. She grabbed the kids and ran to a nearby neighbor to call police. No rape kit was ever done. No fingerprints were taken at the scene.

There was no search for fibers. Patty’s pajamas where never tested. There was no forensic exam of the crime scene of any kind.

Immediately, the investigators focused on Patty, asking about her life insurance papers. Sultan says at trial, the prosecution’s main ”evidence” against Prewitt was affairs she’d had in the past and the assertion she was “a lusty woman.”

Years later, Patty’s pajamas and other items were discovered in evidence, but a request to test them was denied. That means, the only avenue left to Patty now is clemency.

The other remarkable thing about the case that spoke to Sultan was the way Patty has led her life in prison, currently Vandalia. She’s not only been a model prisoner, but an inspiration and mentor to countless women, all of whom are released as Prewitt stays.

Even former Missouri Department of Corrections Secretary George Lombardi, who appears in the film, thinks Prewitt deserves clemency. He says whether she killed her husband or not isn’t even the issue for him. It’s who she is in prison and what she has done to help the lives of other women that earns his support. 

“Right now, all of us are going through some really scary, anxious times,” says Sultan. “And yet, even in this story, where there’s a lot of injustice and things to be angry about, there’s a thread of hope.”

Aisha Sultan’s “33 And Counting” had been selected at several film festivals already, but COVID-19 has canceled much of the independent film scene. Sultan is releasing the film now for a limited time at no cost in an effort to push Patty Prewitt’s clemency request to the forefront.

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