When Josh San Souci went to a friend’s house for a sleepover in 1998 as a 15-year-old, he had no idea he would find himself in the middle of a murder investigation. More than 20 years later, Josh, now 39, is giving his first TV interview to “48 Hours” about the night in Hopeville, Missouri, that changed his life forever and his family. Put the friend in jail.
“48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty reports on the case in “The Case Against Michael Pollitt,” airing Saturday, Nov. 26 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
The story begins on December 4, 1998, when Josh San Souci and his schoolmate, then 14-year-old Michael Pollitt, met at a general store in the small town of Hopeville, Missouri, where they lived. Michael invites Josh to a sleepover and the pair go to Michael’s house to play chess and video games. When they got bored around midnight, they say they went down to the railroad tracks near Michael’s house and Michael started a fire, which Michael says the kids in his rural neighborhood often set for fun. used to. It wasn’t long before the boys asked to return to Michael’s house. Soon after, Michael’s mother, 40-year-old Rita Pollitt, returned home from working at a local bar and everyone went to bed. Michael and Josh say that just before 6:30 a.m., they woke up to a smoke-filled house. The couple says they crawled to the front door, while Michael screamed for his mother. He received no response.
“Michael, what are you feeling right now?” Moriarty asked.
“Panic, fear,” Michael replied.
When Michael approached his mother’s room, he says he was met with a gruesome sight: “I saw her lying down. … I saw blood on her legs, and she was on fire from the waist down.” . . . I didn’t know what to do.”
Rita Pollitt was brutally murdered – bludgeoned and set on fire – while the two teenagers said they slept a few rooms away. Both Josh and Michael were repeatedly questioned by authorities in the hours and days following the murder. Both denied any involvement, but two days after the crime, Michael was arrested and charged with his mother’s murder. Investigators said Michael Pollitt showed a lack of emotion in the wake of the crime. They also said that a high-speed sniffer dog alerted to Michael’s shoes on the morning of the murder, and that he failed a sound pressure test. Sound pressure tests are controversial, and the results are often inadmissible in court.
Also, prior to Michael Pollitt’s arrest, Josh Sansucki gave police a videotaped interview that appeared to poke holes in Michael’s account during the evening. Josh had fallen asleep on the floor next to him where Michael was sleeping in his bed. In this videotaped interview, Josh indicated that he was awakened in the middle of the night by a noise, and that Michael was not in the room.
“I don’t remember ever saying that,” Josh Sansouci told “48 Hours” in his first television interview since. “And I feel like if I said that, it was probably on a weak point or something.”
Josh now says that although he was awake for a short time during the night, he never saw Michael disappear from the room. He told “48 Hours” that police questioning was so relentless that he remembers telling his mother at the time, “They keep saying I’m lying. I don’t even know if I’m telling the truth anymore.” I have been or not.”
In a statement before Michael went to trial, Josh explained his statement. Josh said he never got up from where he was sleeping on the floor and that, “It’s not that I didn’t see him in his bed, it’s that I couldn’t see him in his bed.” “
In January 2002, three years after the crime, Michael Pollitt’s trial began. Prosecutors presented evidence that an accelerant was used to set Rita Pollet on fire and the jury was told how an accelerant was found on Michael’s shoes. The jury also heard that Michael had set fire to the railway tracks before the murder.
But perhaps the most damaging evidence against Michael at trial was the prosecution’s claim that Michael had confessed to the crime while in prison. Three witnesses who worked at the juvenile detention center wrote in reports that Michael said, “I haven’t cared since I killed my mother.” But Michael maintained that he said, “I haven’t cared since. They killed my mother,” hinting at who the real killer might be. The jury didn’t listen to Michael, however, because when it was the defense’s turn to present its case, he took the stand. No. The defense argued that there was no direct evidence linking Michael to the crime: no murder weapon had been found and, despite the violence of the attack, Michael had no injuries or clothing. There was blood.
Josh Sansouci did not testify, and the jury never heard or saw his videotaped interview with police.
After a three-day trial, the case went to a jury. Deliberation lasted four hours and the jury then found Michael Pollitt guilty of second-degree murder. He was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
Although the trial was over, Michael Pollitt’s fight to clear his name was not. Five years after his conviction, wrote to Michael Midwest Innocence Project, and they agreed to take his case. The organization worked on it for years and eventually, attorneys Tricia Bushnell, Megan Crane and Mark Emison joined.
Michael Pollitt’s new team of defense lawyers split the case against him.
Megan Crane told “48 Hours” that “Mike was convicted because he was a child, pure and simple”. “They said … he wasn’t emotional enough. … Shock doesn’t look like what people think it should look like.”
Michael’s new lawyers also pointed out what they say are problems with the scientific evidence used to convict Michael, starting with prosecutors’ claim that Rita was set on fire. Accelerator was used. They say there is no evidence that an accelerant was used in the commission of the crime.
The lawyers also say there is no evidence of accelerants on Michael’s shoes. Instead, attorney Mark Emison says the chemical used in the shoe manufacturing process was mistakenly identified as gasoline, and even the Missouri State Crime Lab agrees. In a 2020 letter, the crime lab states, “… it is now known that the solvents found in shoe adhesives are similar to gasoline. … But in the late 1990s, this knowledge was widespread. The scale was not known.”
Michael Pollitt claims he knows who is responsible for his mother’s murder. His lawyers believe police did not properly investigate the crime, and have filed court documents naming alternative suspects.
For years, Michael’s team of lawyers fought unsuccessfully to have his conviction overturned, but then in 2021, an unexpected breakthrough occurred. Missouri has passed a bill that would give young offenders convicted of serious crimes a second chance. As a result, Michael was paroled. In April 2022, he was released from a Missouri state prison. Imprisoned at just 14, he was now 38. But Michael tells Moriarty on this week’s “48 Hours” that his freedom isn’t enough because he still has a felony conviction for his mother’s murder on his record. He is determined and hopeful to clear his name.
Josh Hedgeworth, the current prosecutor for Washington County, Missouri, where the murder took place, filed a motion on May 16, 2022, asking for Michael’s conviction to be overturned. Hedgecorth agrees with Michael’s defense team that the scientific evidence used to convict Michael is difficult.
“To me, it all — always — comes back to science,” says Hedgeworth.
Hedgecorth revealed to “48 Hours” that the Washington County Sheriff’s Department has reopened the investigation into Rita’s murder.
“We want to do the right thing. If somebody else did it, we want to know,” Hedgeworth told Moriarty. “Even if there is new evidence that it was Michael.”
Despite Michael’s hope that his name would eventually be cleared, his case became more complicated. Earlier this month, Hedgecorth lost his bid for re-election. And just this week, the Missouri Supreme Court temporarily blocked Hedgecorth’s attempt to overturn Pollitt’s conviction.
Josh San Souci says he feels bad for Michael and his family. Thoughts of “what if” have haunted Josh all these years. On the night of the sleepover, Michael had asked Josh if he would prefer to sleep on the couch in the living room, or on the floor in Michael’s bedroom.
“Would anything have been different when you look back?” Moriarty asks.
“I wish I slept on the couch,” Josh replies.
If an intruder came in through the front door, they would have to pass by the couch to enter Rita’s room. If that’s what happened, Josh believes the man must have seen him and left. “You think Rita would be alive if you slept on that couch?” Moriarty asks. Josh replies that he does.
Michael told “48 Hours” that he wants Josh to know that he feels Josh did nothing wrong. The couple haven’t seen each other since childhood, but they hope to be reunited one day. “He didn’t,” Josh told Moriarty. “I don’t know who did it, but I know it wasn’t him.”