The Springfield News-Leader from Springfield, Missouri on September 30, 1995 · Page 6
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The Springfield News-Leader from Springfield, Missouri · Page 6

Springfield, Missouri
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Saturday, September 30, 1995
Page 6
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6A News-Leader Saturday, September 30, 1995 Page edited by Everett Kennell; call 836-1199 after 5 p.m. JoiinuY lee Wilson Lawyer: Interrogation 'hits you in Joe Bednar, who investigated the case for the governor, says leading questions were asked. By Terri Gleich News-Leader JEFFERSON CITY - When Joe Bednar read a transcript of the police interrogation of Johnny Lee Wilson, instincts honed during seven years in the Jackson County prosecutor's office told him something was wrong. Too many leading questions. Too much information given to, rather than elicited from, the suspect. Listening to a tape of the interrogation "hits you in the gut," he said. Now an attorney for Gov. Mel Car-nahan, Bednar, 4 1 . spent the last year investigating Wilson's application for a pardon for the murder of 79-year-old Pauline Martz of Aurora. "I'm not saying wlietlwr Iw's guilty or innocent. I think tlie heal slieriff he didn't want to look at it any fonger." Larry Watson, 44, former Aurora resident "I flunk he got a bum rap in tlw first place." Charlotte Johnson, 47, Mount Vernon. V A Pardon Facts, not supporters' actions, swayed him, governor says Continued from 1A not the actions of Wilson's supporters, including a 17-day hunger strike by the Rev. Larry Rice, a homeless advocate and televangelist. Rice has been critical of Carnahan for taking more than a year to decide Wilson's fate. "I make no apologies for the exhaustive amount of time taken. I must be convinced before I make a decision like this, and I am," Carnahan said. "We frankly expected to find some corroborating evidence." But Bednar said there was no physical evidence linking Wilson to the 79-year-old Martz's murder. The reason Wilson was behind bars was that he confessed, and Carnahan and Bednar contended Friday that the confession was false. Bednar said Wilson's retardation made him susceptible to the suggestions of police, who told him key details of the crime before eliciting his confession. "Every single detail about this case was given to him," Bednar said. "And when he tried to go along and repeat what they told him, he got the facts wrong." Carnahan and Bednar were careful not to criticize the Lawrence County authorities who sent Wilson to prison, characterizing their actions as mistakes, not misconduct "I think there were errors; I don't think there was a conspiracy," the governor said. Robert George, who prosecuted Wilson, said in a statement that he is disappointed with the governor's decision but that the state Constitution allows the pardon. Wilson's case began getting national attention after Kansas prison inmate Chris Brownfield in 1988 confessed to killing Martz. But Bednar said Brownfield's confession had vir Thursday night he recommended that Wilson go free. Carnahan issued' the pardon Friday morning. Bednar said he approached the investigation as though he were back in the prosecutor's office and the case had been brought to him to decide whether to file charges. Although troubled by the confession, Bednar said he tried to prove that Wilson had beaten and bound Martz and then set her house on fire and left her to die. He couldn't do it. He said there was no physical evidence that Wilson had been in Martz's house. Police were led to Wilson by Gary Wall, who said Wilson talked to him Justice is done, jubilant supporters say Wilson gets a rich welcome from those who have known him since his youth. By Laura Bauer Menner News-Leader AURORA The band didn't play and the banners didn't fly when Johnny came home Friday. But the euphoria was evident when Johnny Lee Wilson stepped out of the motor home that brought him from Jefferson City, where he'd spent eight years in prison. Euphoria, when he clutched arms with his mother and glanced over at his 90-year-old grandmother, Nellie Maples, who was sitting nearby wiping tears from underneath her glasses. "We knew this would happen sooner or later, didn't we, Nellie?" said Audrey Bigelow, 61, a Kansas City resident who once owned an Aurora skating rink that Wilson visited as a child. Those who have known the mildly retarded Wilson since childhood said they prayed he would make it home while his grandmother was still alive. Those who know Maples said she's been living to see his release. Wilson now trades his one-room jail cell for a room in the residential care facility where his mother and grandmother live. "I'mjust glad I can spend time with her," he said of his grandmother. Many Aurora residents say they're glad justice was done: Nine years is nine too many to be jailed for a crime another man, Chris Brown-field, has since admitted committing. Brownfield is serving a life sentence in Kansas for another killing. The inmate has told authorities he and another man set Pauline Martz's tually no impact on his findings. Although Carnahan said his office would work with Ozarks law enforcement officials to see that the real killer is brought to justice, he admitted it is up to local officials to decide whether to proceed and how. Despite Brownfield's confession, Bednar said he did not believe there is enough evidence to make another arrest in Martz's murder. "That's the realities you face," Bednar said. "It's nine years later and the crime scene is gone." Carnahan said he informed Martz's niece and nephew about 10:30 a.m. of his decision to pardon Wilson. He said they were appreciative of his phone call and "of course, stirred up." At shortly after 11 a.m., Carnahan signed his name to a 179-word document granting Wilson a full pardon for first-degree murder. Wilson said his last day in prison got off to an unusual start. At 5:32 a.m., a guard awakened him saying: "Wilson, get up and pack your stuff." He said he was kept in a holding cell until his release. Wilson talked to reporters for about a half-hour Friday in the Capital Plaza Hotel, while his mother, grandmother and a handful of supporters looked on. Nellie Maples, Wilson's 90-year-old grandmother, seemed stunned by Wilson's release. Hugging her, he said: Tmreal, OK. I'm real." "I've been praying for it so long," Maples told a reporter. "Ididn'thard-ly see it would happen." But Wilson's mother, Susan, said: "I knew it would happen. I didn't know when." Wilson interrupted his news conference briefly to shake hands with Rice, the minister who had been fasting to call attention to Wilson's case. at the fire scene, knew details about Martz's death and admitted being involved. Wall has since recanted, and Bednar said school officials had told police that Wall was achronic liar. "I've ruled out Gary Wall as being any value at all in the case," Bednar said. "You can't tell when he's telling the truth." He said all the details of the murder, including that Martz was bound with duct tape, what she was wearing and that gasoline had been poured around the house before the fire was set, were supplied to Wilson by police interrogators. In a 100-page transcript of the interrogation, Bednar said there were more than 50 pages of leading questions. For example, when Wilson was 0 mnm, 1 ? ' A Bob Under News-Leader Aurora resident Lucille Childress smiles as a television news anchor announces Johnny Lee Wilson has been released. Childress came forward with testimony supporting Wilson's innocence. Hendrix Sturgell homeon fire in 1986after robbingher and accidentally leaving a stun gun inside. Authorities found the weapon. "He said he definitely did it," said Doris Hendrix, who talked to Brown-field about 10:30 a.m. Friday. "I can talk to him now because he's doing a good thing; he wants Johnny Lee free." Those talking about Wilson's freedom Friday said there's no way a Kansas inmate says he's killer, glad Wilson free The Associated Press JEFFERSON CITY Even as Johnny Lee Wilson was set free from prison Friday for a murder he said he didn't commit, a Kansas convict was repeating assertions that he, and not Wilson, killed an elderly woman. Career criminal Chris Brownfield also said Brownfield from his prison cell that he believed a continuing media focus on the case led to Wilson's pardon by Gov. Mel Carnahan. The mildly retarded Wilson had been imprisoned since 1987 for murdering Pauline Martz, 79, in his hometown of Aurora in 1986. But Carnahan granted a pardon, saying investigators "manipulated a weak mind" to get Wilson's confession. Brownfield said he first admit- "You can eat now," he said. He also publicly thanked Warren Ormsby, an Aurora bail bondsman who had taken up his cause. Wilson said he couldn't remember the interrogation that led to his confession to Martz's murder, nor did he -A asked what Martz was wearing, he said: "I'll say it was white, probably a white or bluish blouse." Interrogator: "OK. How about bluish? I'll go for that" Wilson: "Yeah." Interrogator: "How about bluish-green, maybe?" Wilson: "Yeah." As part of his investigation, Bednar said he interviewed Wilson in prison. "I've cross-examined killers. I've talked to killers. He did not impress me as a killer." He did impress Bednar as someone whose mental retardation would make him tell police what they wanted to hear. But even when he did that, he kept getting things wrong, Bednar said. For example, Wilson agreed under questioning that 1 to 2 gallons of gaso Jen9fi 9 KSP man with a 71 IQ could ransack the home of a woman he called Aunt Pauline. There's no way he was capable of killing. "I knew people who grew up with him and he wouldn't hurt anybody," said Rita Sturgell, 42. Wilson, who had been a manager for the high school football team when he was in school, was known for trying to please people, supporters say. When an argument or controversy erupted, he would run away. His grandmother and mother went nearly everywhere with him. Lucille Childress said she is certain Wilson didn't start the fire that burned up Martz and her two-story home. Childress talked with him and his mother in the Ramey's produce section on her way to get some milk the night Martz was killed in 1986. She saw the two again at the check- tedtotheMartzslayinginl988.He wrote Carnahan a letter in 1993 repeating his confession. Brownfield, however, said he didn't think his letter led to Wilson's release. Carnahan's legal counsel said the Brownfield claims were a separate issue. The 39-year-old Brownfield said he and a companion decided to break into the Martz house after somebody told them she had paid for some work with a large sum of money. He said the person also believed there was a large amount of cash in the Martz house. Martz was known in Aurora for wearing exotic hats and cruising in her powder-blue 1963 Corvette. Asked whether money was found in the house, Brownfield said, "It was one of those crimes where you hear about somebody dying for somewhere between $30 and $60. It was ridiculous. It was a badsituationallthewayaround." Brownfield said he's glad Wilson is free. "It's been such a long battle, it's kind of hard to believe that it is over with," he said. know who killed her. Asked why he confessed to a crime he didn't commit, he said: "I don't have any idea." He said he hadn't been mistreated in prison and had made a lot of friends. the gut' line had been spread around Martz's house before the fire. But during the same exchange, he said the gasoline was in a 1-gallon can that was half full The officers who conducted the in terrogation feel they did a good job, Bednar said, but they were notaware of Wilson's level of retardation. "They went in with a belief that he was guilty and they tried to elicit a confession. Their belief was that if thev didn't, they weren't gomg to get one." Bednar said Lawrence County Sheriff David Tatum cooperated fully with his investigation. Al though Bednar believes law enforcement officials erred, he said they did not commit misconduct. "Because someone makes a mis take doesn't mean they intended to railroad someone." Uwmnce I Springfield Jeff Harper News-Leader out counter, when the fire engine si rens blared. "And Susan said to Johnny, 'Let's take our groceries home and go check out where the fire is,' " Chil dress said. "There's no way he could have started that fire." She said she didn't tell authorities for more than a year that she saw Wilson that night for fear they had already convicted him. "When I hear what those cops did to that boy it makes me sick. They scared the little fella into confess ing." Many who have followed Wilson's case agree. Elizabeth Moore, 21, of Crane said she's thought all along that he got a raw deal. "The poor guy has been sitting there for so many years and not knowing why he's sitting there," Moore said. But Wilson said he doesn't feel bitter; he has no ill will. "No one gave me no problems, no hassles." When asked about spending his 20s in prison, Wilson shook his head. He couldn't get any words out. Warren Ormsby, Wilson's main supporter, didn't have any trouble talking about the injustice he said ended because of Gov. Mel Carnahan. "Every one of these people need to jump up and down and sue the dickens out of them," Ormsby said. "A community isnotbetterthanits leaders, and our leaders are going to pot" In recent weeks, he'd had a job sweeping and mopping, but he said he spent most of his time in his cell, watching television or listening to the radio. At first Wilson said he hadn't thought the governor would pardon him, but he later said he had never given up hope. Wilson professed to hold no bitterness against Lawrence County law enforcement officials or the criminal justice system. "What they did was wrong; they locked me up for the rest of my life. I'm just glad I'm out. Right now, they're just a figment of my imagination. I don't want to have nothing to do with them." He said the main thing on his mind was spending time with his family and friends. Asked if it would be hard to return to Aurora, where officials still contend he's guilty, he said: "It may be hard, but nine years of my life has been hard spent in prison. I'm having the good time of my life, and this is just the beginning." Michael Everson, one of two Kansas City attorneys who filed Wilson's pardon request, said Wilson had no plans to file a lawsuit against the officials who sent him to prison. "The effort is to try to make peace and go home." Everson, who got involved in the case through the efforts of a CBS television news producer, called Carnahan's pardon a courageous act According to the governor's office, Wilson's release marks the first time since 1953 that someone has been pardoned for a crime in Missouri while serving a prison sentence. Carnahan spokesman Chris Sif-ford said the inmate's name was Willie Fingers, but the governor's office did not know the crime. I Aurora Billings cmnan JL- Relative: Don't overlook victim By Mike Penprase News-Leader With Johnny Lee Wilson cleared in the murder of Pau line Martz, Lawrence County authorities should reopen the case, the victim's niece by marriage said Friday. "We would like to see the in vestigation continue," Donna Hillhouse of Aurora said hours after Gov. Mel Carna han pardoned Wilson. "If Johnny didn't do this, then who did?" Hillhouse, whose husband, Charles, is Martz's nephew, said she hasn't sorted out her feelings about Wilson and didn't want to talk about him. But she said she doesn't be lieve Kansas inmate Chris Brownfield killed Martz, even though he confessed. Hillhouse said she realizes leads in a 9-year-old homicide would be sparse. But, "You never know when some little something might turn up. On the other hand, I'm practical, too, I know the situation.' Lawrence County officials offered no word Fri- m day n "If Johnny whether J J J they didn't do would resume the this, then case. sheriff who did?" Dave Tatum was for Kllifeooss vtctim's reHtn comment. In the Mount Vernon court house where Wilson went to court in the early stages of his legal battle, lawyers in the case were silent Scott Sifferman, who prosecuted Wilson, is now the county's associate circuit judge. As a judge, an employee said.he is barred by ethics from commenting on cases, including Wilson's. Robert George, the Aurora attorney who succeeded Sif ferman as prosecutor and inherited the Wilson case, would not answer questions about the pardon, assistant prosecutor Matt Selby said. Instead, George issued a written statement It said although George is disappointed with the decision, the state Constitution allows the pardon. "The governor's staff has worked diligently in the re view of this case, and based upon the extensive investigation completed by the gover nor's staff, the governor is satisfied this is the right thing to do," he wrote. Because the governor grant ed a full pardon, no further action can be taken against him, George wrote. Later Friday, another em ployee said George would not comment on whether the investigation would continue. "There'snostatuteoflirnita- tions on murder, but that's all we can say," the employee said. Hillhouse, whohadkeptqui- et on the Wilson saga until Friday, sent a message to Missouri residents: Don't forget Pauline Martz. "We have not talked to any one and not made a big issue out of this because no one said anything about Pauline," she said. "She was a beautiful lady who had abeautiful outlook on life." Though Hillhouse said she and her husband haven't sorted out their feelings about the pardon, she appreciated how the governor handled his decision. Carnahan telephoned her husband and another relative Friday to tell them of the pardon before announcing it she said. Those caught up in the hoop la of the release, Hillhouse added, should remember "There was a victim there, there very definitely was a vic tim."

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