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In his new book, "Almost Midnight: An American Story of Murder and Redemption," Dr. Michael Cuneo chronicles the life of convicted murderer Darrell Meese and the events that led to his death sentence being commuted. Meese, a native of the Ozarks was sentenced to death for killing three people but then-Governor Mel Carnahan commuted that sentence in 1999 when Pope John Paul II made an appeal for Meese's life. KSMU's Missy Shelton recently spoke with Cuneo.
DR. MICHAEL CUNEO IS A PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROLOGY AT NEW YORK CITY'S FORDHAM UNIVERSITY. HE SAYS HE FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN THE CASE WHEN HE GOT A PHONE CALL FROM A NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER WHO ASKED HIM IF HE WAS FOLLOWING THE POPE'S VISIT TO ST. LOUIS. AFTER THIS INTIAL CONVERSATION, CUNEO SAYS HE FORGOT ABOUT THE STORY UNTIL SEVERAL MONTHS LATER WHEN A FRIEND MENTIONED THE CASE. HE TALKS ABOUT INTERVIEWING PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THIS CASE. HE SAYS MANY PEOPLE IN THE OZARKS WERE FRIENDLY AND WILLING TO TALK TO HIM BUT HE ALSO MET PEOPLE WHO WERE LESS OPEN. HE SAYS A FEW PEOPLE THREATENED TO PHYSICALLY HARM HIM IF HE CONTINUED TO PURSUE INTERVIEWS WITH CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS. OF COURSE, ONE OF THE KEY FIGURES IN THIS STORY, THEN-GOVERNOR MEL CARNAHAN WAS KILLED IN A PLANE CRASH IN OCTOBER, 2000. CUNEO SAYS HE DID NOT GET TO INTERVIEW CARNAHAN FOR THE BOOK...HE HAD HOPED TO INTERVIEW HIM AFTER THE SENATE RACE. FOLLOWING THE GOVERNOR'S DEATH, CUNEO INTERVIEWED SEVERAL OF CARNAHAN'S CLOSEST ADVISORS WHO WORKED WITH HIM DURING THE MEESE COMMUTATION. IN THE BOOK, CUNEO TALKS ABOUT THE RELIGIOUS CONVERSION OF DARRELL MEESE. CUNEO SAYS HE WAS VERY SKEPTICAL AT FIRST AND WAS RELUCTANT TO BELIEVE A CONVICTED MURDERER. BUT HE SAYS AFTER MANY CONVERSATIONS, HE'S CONVINCED MEESE HAD AN AUTHENTIC RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE. MEESE TOLD CUNEO, AND MANY OTHERS THAT AFTER HIS CONVERSION, HE BELIEVED HE WOULD NOT BE EXECUTED. CUNEO SAYS HE BELIEVES THERE'S A DEEP MYSTERY IN THIS STORY...AND HE'S NOT SURE IF HE BELIEVES IT WAS THE HAND OF GOD OR SIMPLY COINCIDENCE THAT STOPPED HIS EXECUTION.