[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VA., OHIO, IND., S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 4 18:31:50 CDT 2004
VIRGINIA----new execution date
An execution date of August 18, 2004 has been set for James Hudson, who
pled guilty to the triple murder of his neighbors in Halifax County,
Virginia in July, 2002. He has not pursued any appeals, so this date
should be considered "likely" to proceed.
(source: Rush Wickes, Virginians United Against Crime)
Gruesome murder a vivid memory
The post office still sits in the parking lot of the grain elevator, which
is really all there is to this tiny village of 50 souls swaddled in
farmland just east of Indiana.
Emma Thatcher has lived in the shadows of the elevator for 40 years,
selling Avon products for 32 years by word of mouth and the help of a
modest yard sign.
She doesn't care to talk much anymore about the Aug. 9, 1982, abduction
and subsequent murder of postmistress Betty Jane Mottinger.
Caught vacuuming her living room, Thatcher's look suggests the joke is on
the visitor when asked if she has heard of the postmistress murder.
"It's history around here," Thatcher said.
Stopping long enough for a polite chat, she hands over an Avon bag of
yellowed newspaper articles. But she doesn't want to talk about the case
"It was a long time ago," Thatcher said. "I wish it had never happened."
Newspaper and magazine articles, wanted posters, bulletins from federal
postal investigators, business cards from investigators and reporters,
subpoenas and letters to witnesses -- all tell the story of the manhunt
some called the biggest thing to hit Elgin since Jesse James robbed the
Thatcher sold the postmistress an Avon ring for $7.99, earning herself a
subpoena to testify at Elgin's trial of the century.
Amy Baker is the postmaster today, still running the one-room office where
she discovered her boss was missing at 8:30 a.m. that Monday morning, the
contents of her purse scattered on the counter, the safe and cash drawer
Mottinger's body was found a month later by a family hunting butterflies
in a soybean field near Findlay. She was wrapped in a paint-splattered
theater curtain, bound with rope and duct tape and stabbed 14 times in the
chest, according to trial transcripts.
"I never dreamed it would happen," Baker said. "Still can't believe it
happened. But it did."
Amy Baker was to have worked that morning but Mottinger took the shift so
Baker could attend her father-in-law's funeral. She went to work after
customers found the office abandoned.
The town erected a memorial plaque and flagpole for Mottinger next to the
railroad tracks. "It ain't going to be forgotten as long as we're alive, I
promise you that," Amy's husband, Stanley Baker, said.
"Her name was in the papers as far away as Texas and the state of
Washington, the national newswires humming with the odd story of the
postmistress, as the reporters sentimentally insisted on calling her, who
had been kidnapped and killed, taken from a tiny post office in an even
tinier town for pocket change and stamps at 8 on a Monday morning," Bob
McKay wrote in "Of Fame and Misfortune" for Ohio Magazine in April of
1983. "The post office is not easy to find. Elgin is not easy to find. It
is an absurd target for a holdup."
Van Wert County Sheriff Jerry Brittsan was first on the scene, assisted in
initial investigation by sheriff's deputies from surrounding counties as
the call went out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal
A banker until being elected sheriff a year earlier, Brittsan testified
the investigation was turned over to a task force headed by the postal
Volunteer search parties and a reward fund were established almost
immediately and a description of a suspect in a tan-over-brown Monte Carlo
was given to the media.
By Tuesday morning, U.S. postal inspectors had set up a command post at a
Van Wert hotel, where they would remain for more than a year, their
numbers at times swelling above 30.
Investigators quickly released and revised a description of a suspect --
redish hair, husky build, wire glasses and light colored mustache -- amid
witnesses undergoing hypnosis by a Delphos police sergeant and a state
Mottinger was said to be wearing dark slacks and a light colored blouse
when she was kidnapped in a crime U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Strausbaugh
said was committed in less than 2 minutes.
Strausbaugh said it probably took more than 1 person to commit the crime,
and released the name of a prime suspect: A parole violator with a
previous conviction for robbing a post office.
The 6 weeks between Mottinger's disappearance and the discovery of her
body brought with it a plea from her husband, Clarence, for her safe
On Sept. 18, 1982, a man hunting butterflies with his family passed
something wrapped in a tarp. He later became disquieted and reported it to
police, where he underwent hypnosis and led authorities to Mottinger's
remains the next morning.
Local authorities called the area 50 miles from Elgin on the outskirts of
Findlay, a popular local dumping grounds, teen hangout and lovers' lane.
"This is a quiet little town. Nothing like this has happened in anybody's
memory," former village Mayor Ashley Mutter told the Van Wert Times
Bulletin. "If they just wanted the money -- there was only $40 or $50 in
the post office -- why not take it and go on. That's what just doesn't
make any sense."
In October, the former postal robber and prime suspect was found in Texas,
passed a lie-detector test, and was cleared. Strausbaugh would later tell
reporters that clearing the prime suspect was the most frustrating point
But they also had their 1st contact with John G. Spirko Jr., whose stories
brought the beginning of the end.
On Oct. 31, Spirko first contacted investigators, claiming he had
information to trade in exchange for a ticket into the witness protection
program and freedom for his girlfriend, who was caught trying to smuggle
him hacksaw blades into the county jail.
In an interview with the News Journal, Spirko said his only motivation was
freedom for his girlfriend. Postal investigators moved him to the federal
penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., not for witness protection but to get
him into federal custody.
Authorities learned he had been released from a Kentucky prison 13 days
before Mottinger's disappearance, after serving 12 years for killing a
73-year-old Kentucky woman after burglarizing her house.
Investigators interviewed Spirko again Nov. 29, Dec. 8, Dec. 9, Dec. 10,
Dec. 13, Dec. 15 and Jan. 11, and on numerous other occasions, according
to court documents.
Spirko's stories included people named "Rooster," "Dope Man," "Spooky" and
"Dirty Dan." His claims were investigated, most were disproven, but
according to investigators, along with the wild tales were details not
known to the general public: The color of Mottinger's purse and clothing,
the description of the cloth wrapped around her body and the fact that the
ring Thatcher sold her was missing a stone.
As he told his girlfriend in a letter from jail, "There are some things
that I told him that only the persons who did this (expletive) know."
Eventually he identified friend and former cellmate Delaney Gibson as a
participant in the crime.
"This is the big one," Investigator Strausbaugh told the Times-Bulletin on
March 30, 1983. "There's no doubt in my mind."
The Lima News reported 43 investigators worked the case, including 29
inspectors from as far away as Hawaii. Investigators traveled to Miami,
Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Kansas, Michigan and Indiana; conducted 3,000
interviews, investigated 500 look-a-likes and cleared 88 suspects, at one
time occupying 33 hotel rooms in Van Wert.
In April, investigators abandoned the hotel for the 1st time since
Mottinger's kidnapping. In August the 1-year anniversary passed with a
small ceremony in Elgin.
35 days later, on Sept. 13, 1983, a special session of the Van Wert County
grand jury returned indictments against Spirko, of Swanton, and Gibson, of
Kentucky, for Mottinger's kidnapping and murder.
Gibson remained at large, having escaped from a Kentucky jail, and was
wanted on a Kentucky murder charge. Spirko had been in custody since
approaching investigators in October.
Both men were convicted murderers, and authorities theorized they were on
the run when they stopped and robbed the Elgin post office.
Spirko's trial began in Van Wert County Common Pleas Court on July 30,
Opal Seibert, who lived across the street, testified she was "100 %" sure
she saw a clean-shaven Gibson outside the post office. Mark Lewis, a truck
driver for the elevator, testified he was "70 %" sure Spirko was the man
2 jailhouse informants testified Spirko confessed to them. Postal
inspectors testified Spirko knew undisclosed details about the crime.
He was convicted on August 22, 1984. Spirko maintained his innocence, but
requested the death penalty rather than life in prison.
"Mrs. Betty Jane Mottinger lost her life in a cruel way to die," Spirko
was quoted as saying in the Times-Bulletin on Aug. 25. "I ask for no mercy
and desire no mercy because of my , for all of my life I have caused
people problems and heartache."
The jury recommended death. The judge imposed it.
More than a decade later, Spirko's lawyers were obtained postal
investigative records they contend prove Gibson was not in Elgin the
morning of Mottinger's disappearance.
His lawyers claim:
.. Key eyewitness Opal Seibert could not have seen Gibson there -- that he
was not clean-shaven but had a beard and was 500 miles away 12 hours
before the crime. P> .. Both jailhouse informants have recanted their
.. There is no physical evidence -- no fingerprints, blood, hair fiber or
recovered items from the robbery -- linking Spirko to the crime.
.. Investigators were confronted with losing their prime suspect -- the
man in Texas who previously robbed an area post office -- at virtually the
same time Spirko contacted them with the first of his outlandish tales
about the high-profile crime.
.. Spirko should have been convicted of nothing more than telling yet one
more phony story to investigators.
Then, on May 17, the day one of Spirko's last appeals was denied, Van Wert
County Prosecutor Charles Kennedy dropped the capital murder case against
Gibson was paroled from a Kentucky prison in 2001 after serving about 15
years of a 20-to-life sentence for murder. He remains under supervision in
Kentucky, according to Lisa Lamb, priosn spokeswoman.
Spirko remains on death row.
(source: Mansfield News Journal)
Living with life and death
Juliet Yackel didn't know whether Darnell Williams was a murderer or not,
but she was sure she owed him.
When they met in March of 1993, he was under a death sentence for the
fatal shootings of an elderly Gary couple named John and Henrietta Rease.
She was his appellate lawyer, with the state public defender's office.
He asked about her experience. You're it, she told him. She was fresh out
of Tulane University Law School. "It was," she recalls, "a scary moment
Determined to turn this condemned stranger's fear into confidence, the
then-25-year-old West Lafayette native set to work on a mission that has
gone far beyond her three-year career with the public defender's office
and deeper into her life than she can describe.
She used terms such as "bankruptcy" and "nervous breakdown" in a
conversation last week by cell phone from a beach seat on Lake Michigan
near her Chicago home. Sure, she was laughing, but a lawyer in private
practice who estimates she has given 1,000 free hours to a case that's
produced countless defeats has the right to sing the blues.
"I had always felt we would win," she confided, "but in the last year, I
saw no light at the end of the tunnel anymore."
When the latest of Yackel's many hard-earned discoveries of holes in the
state's case failed to move the state's highest court in May, Williams'
fate fell to the Indiana Parole Board. Urged by 6 members of the Williams
jury and even the prosecutor, as well as the victims' minister, the board
unanimously recommended commutation to life without parole. Gov. Joe
Kernan concurred. A rare victory in this state, if not the exoneration
Skeptical at first, she has come to believe in her client's innocence, and
"Darnell is an incredibly charismatic man. He and I have become very close
over the years. We have a meaningful relationship. I've learned an
enormous amount from him. He's watched the development of my career and
I've watched him grow from an angry, frustrated man to a spiritual person
who is at peace."
Peace comes harder to his lawyer. The system, she insists, burdens
condemned convicts and their attorneys with legal and investigative
demands that are prohibitively costly and wildly inconsistent from court
to court and state to state. For all the frantic unpaid hours she has put
in, some exculpatory evidence had to be dug up by lawyer and investigator
friends she enlisted for free. It's not fair, she says, and victory in the
Williams case consists in showing that.
She and her client were "thrilled" by Friday's decision in the nationally
watched case, she said. But a day earlier, she reflected: "In many ways,
our best hope has already been realized. I know Darnell would agree with
me. There now is a conversation about the death penalty and about
fairness. We haven't had that debate before."
Debate prowess as an undergrad at Purdue University got Yackel interested
in law. In her paying job today, she makes her case against the death
penalty as a traveling consultant in capital trials and appeals. At home,
she's a single mom to 3-year-old Grant. She would love to leave her son a
nation in which "we can be about healing instead of revenge," but she has
learned to live without the luxury of hope.
(source: Dan Carpenter, Op-ed columnist, Indianapolis Star)
Advocates back inmate; police stand by their case
For nearly 30 years, Charles Wakefield Jr. - a model inmate imprisoned on
a double-murder conviction - has insisted he didn't do it.
No court has believed him. But he says he now has proof, a videotaped
recantation from the state's star witness in his trial. That, he says,
proves he did not murder Greenville County Sheriff's Lt. Frank Looper, 34,
and his father, Rufus Looper, 57, in January 1975.
A lawyer from New York and members of a Chicago law firm believe
Wakefield, and they are fighting to set him free.
On the other side: some of the most respected men in South Carolina law
enforcement, including a chief federal judge and a former top State Law
Enforcement Division official.
The case, expected to get a hearing later this year, is the
highest-profile effort in South Carolina to prove an inmate's innocence.
Such cases are complicated and often murky, and Wakefield's is no
The men who investigated and prosecuted Wakefield - and some jurors who
convicted him - say the right man is in prison.
"I've got a conscience," said former Greenville detective Mike Bridges,
who investigated the case. "I've got to live with myself."
Eric Gottlieb, Wakefield's main lawyer, said police, eager to solve the
murder of a fellow officer, ignored parts of the case that didn't fit.
"I'm not saying they randomly picked a kid off the street who was
innocent," said Gottlieb, who is working on the case for free. "They truly
believed Charles Wakefield did it. And because they really believed it,
they bent the rules."
Almost out of prison
Wakefield, an 8th-grade dropout and 1-time mill worker, is now 50.
He was convicted in 1976 and sentenced to die. His sentence later was
commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily
suspended capital punishment nationwide.
His petition for a new trial hinges on the 2001 videotaped statement from
Wyatt Earp Harper, his co-defendant and a key prosecution witness. In it,
Harper, who testified that he stood as lookout while Wakefield robbed the
Loopers, says he didn't know Wakefield.
Harper stood by his recantation in a recent jailhouse interview. "I want
to get it off my conscience," Harper told The State newspaper. "My
testimony was a lie."
Authorities say they had other witnesses besides Harper. And the S.C.
attorney general's office, which is representing the state, says another
inmate's statement casts doubt on Harper's recantation and motives.
If Wakefield gets a new trial and is acquitted, he would be the
longest-serving inmate in recent years to be exonerated, records show.
Experts say few S.C. inmates are ever cleared of their crimes.
Wakefield is serving his life sentence at the Kirkland Correctional
Institution in Columbia. The S.C. Department of Corrections refused The
State's request to interview Wakefield there, citing a policy of denying
media access to inmates.
His record indicates he is a model inmate with no disciplinary infractions
in 28 years behind bars. He was the state's Inmate of the Year in 1988 and
received 15 unsupervised, 72-hour furloughs from 1988 through 1991 - a
privilege later revoked after the law enforcement officials who arrested
him objected, arguing that a man convicted of killing a police officer
didn't deserve furloughs.
The S.C. Parole Board in 1997 and 2001 granted him parole but quickly
rescinded the decisions, also after protests from the investigators on the
Looper case. His parole requests in 1999 and last year were rejected.
Peter O'Boyle, spokesman for the parole board, said he couldn't recall
another case in which a convicted murderer was granted parole twice.
Anyone convicted of murder since Jan. 1, 1996, isn't eligible for parole.
The 2 lead investigators in the case were Bridges, who later became
Greenville's police chief, and former city Lt. Jim Christopher, who
recently retired as head of the State Law Enforcement Division's
The prosecutor was William "Billy" Wilkins, now chief federal judge for
the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
All 3 men maintain Wakefield killed the Loopers. They say there was plenty
Bridges and Christopher discussed details of the case with The State in
several interviews this year.
Wilkins declined to discuss specifics of the case, saying he did not want
to jeopardize the hearing. But he denied the allegations of improper
investigation and defended Christopher's and Bridges' handling of the
"They were in the business of bringing murderers to justice, not framing
the innocent," he said.
Wakefield's biggest ally is Gottlieb, a 36-year-old New York criminal
defense lawyer with no ties to South Carolina.
He heard of Wakefield's case in 1999 after placing an ad in a prisoners'
rights magazine seeking a filmmaker for a wrongful conviction case;
instead, Wakefield responded, asking Gottlieb to represent him at a parole
Since then, Gottlieb has persuaded the Chicago-based law firm of Winston &
Strawn to help cover the costs of the effort. The 150-year-old firm, which
has 900 lawyers in offices in the United States and Europe, mainly defends
large corporations and other businesses in civil cases.
Wakefield and his lawyers point to what they say are several problems with
his case: a lack of physical evidence, and questions about witnesses'
testimony and how the trial was conducted.
Police had no physical evidence linking Wakefield to the killings, records
show. Wakefield said he made numerous stops that day and had witnesses who
could vouch for his whereabouts.
Authorities built their case primarily on the testimony of three
One of them was Mae McIntyre, a Salvation Army worker who said she saw
Wakefield going into the Looper garage, where Rufus Looper ran a car
repair business, moments before the shooting. She broke the case when she
came forward 8 months later and received a $5,000 reward.
Defense lawyers have questioned McIntyre's identification of Wakefield.
McIntyre, who was 5-foot-5, told police the man was "just a little bit
taller than I was." She also noticed he was wearing high-heeled shoes.
Wakefield is 6 feet tall and at the time had a large Afro, his lawyers
Wakefield also said McIntyre was coached by her daughter, Diane McIntyre
Cowart, who contacted police on her behalf. Cowart wanted to help her
husband, Mike Cowart, reduce an earlier burglary sentence, Wakefield said
in court papers.
Efforts to reach Mike Cowart for comment were unsuccessful. Diane Cowart,
who later divorced her husband, died in a 1991 car crash.
Mae McIntyre, now 87, lives in Indiana with another daughter, Jane
Schlanger. Schlanger told The State her mother's memory is "getting real
bad" and she could not discuss the case.
Wakefield's lawyers also raise questions about another key prosecution
witness, Silas Jones. He testified he heard Wakefield and another inmate
scheme to collect the Looper reward money while they were in the
Greenville jail after the killings.
Jones said he overheard Wakefield saying he carried a pearl-handled
.32-caliber pistol. Harper gave similar testimony. The Loopers were shot
with a .32; the weapon was never recovered.
Bridges testified that neither he nor Wilkins gave Jones any deals. But
Wakefield in court papers said the state's "back room dealings" got Jones
out of serving a 2- to 6-year federal prison sentence for possessing a
sawed-off shotgun after he had finished a state sentence in 1975 for
receiving stolen goods. Jones testified his federal sentence ran
concurrently with his state sentence.
Jones and his lawyer split $2,000 in reward money, records show. Efforts
to reach Jones, who later was charged was convicted of manslaughter in the
death of his girlfriend's infant daughter in Michigan, were unsuccessful.
Wyatt Earp Harper
As Wakefield's February 1976 trial neared, investigators "panicked,"
believing that "if the case against Wakefield was going to stick, they
needed testimony from an accomplice," Wakefield said in court papers.
That person was Wyatt Earp Harper.
Harper, charged 11 months after the crime as an accessory after the fact,
testified that he acted as a lookout for Wakefield.
Harper, then 18, received a 10-year prison sentence months before for
armed robbery and was "exceptionally vulnerable" to pressure by police,
Wakefield said in court papers. Christopher was the investigator in the
robbery case; Bridges arrested Harper as a juvenile.
Wakefield charges in court papers that, for his cooperation, Harper was
allowed to plead guilty to his accessory charge and was given a 10-year
sentence that would run concurrently with his robbery conviction. The
accessory conviction doesn't appear on either of Harper's SLED or FBI
criminal records, he points out.
Harper was paroled by 1980 but has spent much of his life since in jail or
prison, records show. His convictions include larceny, burglary, assault
and battery, and distributing crack cocaine; in 2001, he was acquitted of
killing a Greenville man.
He was released from a Greenville County jail in April after serving more
than a year on charges of armed robbery, assault and battery with intent
to kill and assaulting a corrections officer.
In an interview in February at the jail, Harper told The State that
Christopher made it clear to him that "I'd better cooperate" or
investigators would fight his appeal of his robbery conviction. "I took it
as blackmail or a threat," he said.
Harper said investigators had a chart showing which way he allegedly fled
the scene with Wakefield and told him about a .32-caliber pistol used in
the killings. He accused Bridges of "orchestrating the whole thing."
Bridges and Christopher deny the allegations. "The bottom line is, the
case was handled correctly," Christopher said. "There was no conspiracy."
Wilkins, whom Harper also accused of taking part in the alleged
conspiracy, said "no deals were made in this case, nor did I make a
practice of that."
Harper says now he never knew Wakefield and saw him for the first and only
time at the trial.
"I'm telling you that it was all concocted," Harper said in the Oct. 30,
2001, videotape, a transcript of which was provided to The State by
'You can be on TV'
Prosecutors question another part of Harper's videotaped recantation.
Gottlieb on the tape tells Harper he wants to "clear your name and
(Wakefield's) name." He tells Harper, "if you want to be on TV, you can be
on TV. You want to be in the movie, you can be in the movie."
Gottlieb declined to discuss his taped statements with The State.
Two documentaries on Wakefield's case are in the works, he said. One is by
French producer Denis Poncet, who won a 2002 Academy Award for his
documentary "Murder on a Sunday Morning," which examines the case of a
Florida teenager charged with murdering a tourist. Efforts to reach Poncet
in Paris were unsuccessful.
The S.C. attorney general's office says the possible movie or TV deal is
Harper's motivation for changing his story.
The prosecution has a sworn statement from Billy Andre Robinson that says
Harper told him during the summer of 2002, while they were inmates in the
Greenville jail, that his trial testimony was "the truth."
Robinson in his statement said Harper talked about a "possible movie deal"
and said he would receive $40,000 after appearing on "60 Minutes." Harper
said he told Robinson about possible media coverage of the case but never
indicated he was getting any money. Efforts to reach Robinson for comment
'No time to prepare'
>From the time Wakefield was convicted, he has questioned whether his
defense team had enough time to prepare.
Wakefield's first court-appointed lawyer suffered a heart attack two
months before the trial. His new lawyers, Grover "Buddy" Parnell and Larry
Cooke, weren't appointed until Jan. 28, 1976.
The trial was less than a month away. Motions to get it delayed and moved
"I slept in my office on a couch many nights," Cooke said. "We worked on
that case 24 hours a day because we had no time to prepare."
Cooke, who still practices criminal law in Greenville, said neither he nor
Parnell believed Wakefield was guilty.
He said the late Greenville County Sheriff Cash Williams - a prosecution
witness - told him more than once after the trial he didn't believe
authorities "got the right man." Williams died in 2002.
But Christopher said Williams told him "more than once" that he believed
Wakefield was guilty.
Bridges said Williams sat in on the initial interrogation of Wakefield,
and that Wakefield was "ready to confess" until Williams pointed to a
plaster casting of a tennis shoe print that Williams wrongly claimed was
Bridges said Williams wasn't an experienced investigator.
"Cash Williams was a (1-term) sheriff," Bridges said. "He had been in the
trucking business prior to that."
Parnell, now a securities lawyer in Boston, told The State he has some
"philosophical matters" he has "not resolved." He declined to discuss
specifics or say whether he believes Wakefield is guilty. Cooke said
neither he nor Parnell knew until the eve of the trial about Harper's
existence, or that Wakefield had a co-defendant.
Christopher said he first interviewed Harper about 3 months before the
trial. He said investigators did not hide Harper from defense lawyers.
Legal long shot
Christopher Newton, an assistant S.C. attorney general, said Wakefield
should be denied a new trial because recanted testimony generally is no
longer considered reliable as evidence, citing several state Supreme Court
cases dating to 1955.
Wakefield raises other issues in his motion for a new trial. But S.
Creighton Waters, another assistant attorney general, argues those issues
are not new. USC law professor Eldon Wedlock said the standards for
granting a new trial based on new evidence, such as recanted testimony,
are "very high."A hearing on Wakefield's motion for a new trial was set
for February but was postponed after the state Supreme Court ordered, at
the request of the S.C. attorney general's office, that a new judge be
assigned to the case. A hearing is expected later this year, though a date
has not been set.
If Wakefield gets a new trial, there is no guarantee he will win. Most
retrials end with guilty verdicts, lawyers say.
3 jurors in Wakefield's 1976 trial say now they had no doubts about
Wakefield's guilt. Gary Cheek, 53, said he remembers best the testimony of
Jones, who said he overheard Wakefield plotting to collect the reward.
"Wakefield had details (about the murders) that no one else had," Cheek
recalled. "I think they got the right one."
But Wakefield continues to press his claim of innocence. He has a Web site
To be concerned is not enough," he writes. "True justice will never be
achieved until those who have not been injured by an injustice are as
outraged as those who have been."
(source: The State)
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