The Springfield News-Leader from Springfield, Missouri on September 9, 1990 · Page 10
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The Springfield News-Leader from Springfield, Missouri · Page 10

Springfield, Missouri
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 9, 1990
Page 10
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1 0A Sunday, September 9. 1990 FROM PAGE ONE The News-Leader j AuroraWoman's FROM PAGE 1A right thing." The case resurfaces each summer with the regularity of hot, humid days in the Ozarks Wilson's ' guilty plea on April 30, 1987, Brown-field's surprise confession in June 1988, a two-day hearing in June 1989 to ask for a trial for Wilson. At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the latest legal wrangling will take place before the Missouri Court of Appeals-Southern District, when Wilson's lawyer asks the court to release his client. Public defender Bill Swift of St.. Louis won't comment on the upcoming appeal, saying he doesn't try his cases in the media. But his legal arguments, filed in the Springfield court, are virtually the same ones used by Wilson in last summer's court hearing. Records show Swift will base his appeal on Brownfield's alleged involvement in the slaying and Wilson's IQ of 76 a mental defect Swift says makes Wilson unable to understand the charge against him. It is the 1988 confession of Brown-field a career criminal serving a life sentence in Kansas for charges stemming from the robbery-murder of a Pittsburg, Kan., woman that first cast doubt about Wilson's guilt. Up to that point, Wilson was just another lifer in prison, a footnote in Ozarks criminal history. But Brownfield's claim that he killed Martz set off alarm bells for many people who'd never trusted local law enforcement. Rodgers and Aurora bail bondsman Warren Ormsby were among them. They hailed Brownfield's 1988 confession as proof positive of Wilson's innocence. The pair have no faith in the two polygraph tests that indicated Wilson was telling the truth when he said he was involved in the slaying. Nor do they trust the state investigator and three polvgraph tests that dis- Ormsby credited Brownfield's confession. Brownfield was telling the truth, Ormsby and Rodgers declared, and Wilson would be cleared. Ormsby, meanwhile, acknowledged he was sending money to Brownfield and said he wouldn't do ilX 'I Johnny Lee Wilson, left photo, is escorted by a member of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department. Right photo shows TV re-enactment of the same scene. ReportMissouri attorney general's report says Brownfield's confession to killing of Martz not credible FROM PAGE 1A home at 5:35 p.m. A neighbor said she saw no car at Martz's house at 7:30 p.m., a half-hour before the blaze that killed Martz was reported. Investigators say the fire would have been noticeable within minutes of it being set. Brownfield said Martz was wearing a nightgown. She was wearing a blue sweat shirt and dark-blue or black pants with a white design. Brownfield said Martz was placed on a red contour chair in her den before the house was set ablaze. Friends said Martz never owned such a chair. Her body was found on the floor. Brownfield said Martz was watching television in her bedroom when he broke in. Friends say she always watched TV and slept on a day-bed in her den. Brownfield said he didn't know whether Martz was tied up or gagged. "Mrs. Martz was bound with tape around her wrists, tape arid ropo was around her ankles, and tape was placed across her mouth," Ruffel wrote. "It is very death triggers turmoil anything to help convict the Kansas inmate. The men are old acquaintances, bound together by their professions: Ormsby as a bail bondsman, Brownfield as a crook for whom he wrote a bond in the '70s. Ormsby and Rodgers pushed the Brownfield confession for several months. They hired prominent Springfield lawyer Dee Wampler to win Wilson a trial and eventual freedom. But Wampler lost a two-day hearing held last year in Joplin, when Brownfield refused to testify for Wilson unless first granted immunity from prosecution in the Martz slaying. The judge said Brownfield's written confessions weren't credible. That's when truth and rumor began to blur together, when the case stopped being a search for a killer. Dropping the Brownfield confession, Ormsby and Rodgers focused on what they say is a massive cover-up, stretching from the Aurora Police Department to an investigator with the Missouri attorney general's office. It began, they say, with a coerced confession and continues to this day, fueled by public officials afraid to admit they put the wrong man in jail. The men offer no proof of the conspiracy, but there are plenty of believers. Their belief is boosted by a few holes in the "airtight case" against Wilson: , After Wilson confessed, police called the crime a robbery-sexual assault-murder. But jewelry and underwear seized from Wilson's home have never been positively linked to Martz; the fire made it impossible to determine if Martz had been sexually assaulted. Wilson's name first emerged as a suspect after he allegedly told a friend at the scene that the woman inside was tied up and beaten. Police said only the killer could have known those facts, since the body hadn't yet been found. But investigators aren't sure if that information reached them that night or if it was later, after the condition of Martz's body was made public. Wilson's confession to police came after more than four hours of interrogation. Wilson waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk, but his supporters say he didn't understand and was coerced into confessing. Seneker headed the task force hard to believe Brownfield was in the victim's house for one and one-half to two hours and did not know how the victim was tied." Brownfield said he drove nonstop to Joplin after the slaving and checked into a motel, driving along Interstate 44 from Mount Vernon to Joplin. But the Missouri State Highway Patrol that night investigated a wreck that blocked westbound traffic on 1-44 between Mount Vernon and Joplin for up to four hours. Brownfield said he reached up Martz's fireplace to locate jewels during the robbery. That was impossible; Martz had a wood-burning insert. Brownfield's knowledge of a stun gun being found in Martz's house. Ruffel and every other investigator in the case shy away from the stun-gun question, and for good reason: They can't explain how Brownfield knew about it. Police never made their find public. They don't know if Martz owned a stun gun or if her killer left it at the house. Brownfield says his partner J M'J""-r 'TliniinBBllMBBlllBMBrit I 1H1 f i I" - -J- KM? Pauline Martz's home, where she that investigated the Martz slaying. He acknowledges asking leading questions during his interrogation of Wilson but says that's standard police procedure. "There's a lot of difference between an interrogation and an interview," he says. "An interview is done to learn things you don't know. An interrogation is done to elicit details of something you already know or that you suspicion strongly, toward the end of obtaining admissions." The attorney general's office dismisses talk of a cover-up involving one of its employees: "Absolute nonsense," spokeswoman Mary Jenkins says. Asked about the conspiracy theory, local law officials instead talk about what they view as Ormsby and Rodgers' plot to take over Lawrence County politics. None of those officials will say that for the record, but Rodgers indicates there's some truth to the allegation. "It's a political fight. If we get Johnny Lee Wilson out of jail, we have more power than (the sheriff) does." Some also question if Ormsby and Rodgers are helping Wilson with their eyes on a later prize: movie and book rights. The men deny the charge and say they've already spent $120,000 on their cause more money than could be made selling rights to a relatively low-profile crime. dropped the gun and couldn't find it, and that's why they torched the house. Brownfield says his knowledge of the stun gun proves he was in the house. "This truly has baffled law enforcement personnel," Ruffel wrote. "However, Brownfield drew a picture of his stun gun and it does not resemble the stun gun recovered from the Martz home." Ruffel also makes note of Brownfield's frequent telephone calls to Wilson supporter Warren Ormsby more than 100 since 1988, according to phone records. Brownfield drew a diagram of the Martz house and said that, too, proved he was there. But a Verona man told Ruffel he drew a diagram of the house for Ormsby four months before Brownfield drew his sketch for Ruffel. Wilson's confession and subsequent denials of guilt. Ruffel includes four Wilson confessions in his report. One is the infamous "late-night interrogation" session of April 18, 1986, which Wilson supporters decry as mental police brutality against a retarded r n-TTTm - , i -r i ti was killed on April 13, 1986. The bickering began to slow around the beginning of the new decade, and it seemed possible the Wilson case could fade from recent memory, just another court file wending through the justice system. Then Johnny Lee Wilson went nationwide. After the story appeared on two syndicated shows, Connie Chung came to the Ozarks at the urging of Ormsby and Rodgers. Her report came down firmly on Wilson's side and painted Aurora as a town haunted by the slaying. "Unsolved Mysteries" is next: Its production crews just finished filming a re-enactment of . the crime, with a report due by year's end. That segment also is expected to focus on Wilson's alleged innocence, Brownfield's confession and a town in turmoil, according to sources on the set. "The national television stations portray us as a community waiting with baited breath, unable to work, eat or sleep until this is solved," says Kim McCully, editor of the Aurora Advertiser. "That's really not true. People have, for the most part, gone on with their business." Those who haven't are, almost to a one, Wilson's supporters. Renewed by the fame of having Connie Chung come to town, they vow not to quit until Wilson is home. They've started a petition drive to oust the sheriff, though the petition carries no legal weight, and speak of man. Also included: An April 19, 1986, conversation between Wilson and two Lawrence County sheriffs officials, in which Wilson said he set the fire that killed Martz. An April 22, 1986, police report in which Wilson relates his state of mind the day Martz died. "I asked Wilson why he hadn't told ... his mother or grandmother and he stated that he didn't want them to know that he was capable of doing this to Pauline," according to the report written by Deputy Bill Wegrzyn. "I asked him how he felt about this whole thing and he stated that he was ashamed of what he had done to Pauline." Wilson's guilty plea before a judge in April 1987, in which he was asked, "Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty of first-degree murder?" Replied Wilson: "Yes." Wilson, "who declined an interview, has repeatedly said he confessed only once. There is no direct evidence linking Wilson to the crime scene. Still, kicking out the prosecutor and judges, too. They seldom mention Pauline Martz. Truth is, few people do anymore. Since her death, Martz's legacy has been reduced to two things: hats and a Corvette. All the newspaper articles and television stories mention them, and it's easy to see how it happened, a life of 79 years winnowed to tidbits. Pauline Martz was flamboyant, a trait easy to trivialize. Her friends wince when the news comes on and Pauline is remembered for her 1963 powder-blue Corvette and her hats. But their numbers are small. Martz was well-known but few people knew her well, knew of her devotion to Christian Science, her 50 years of service to the PEO Sisterhood, her joy at seeing Jerusalem. And her private side, hidden beneath the eccentric flourishes. "She would be very, very shocked by all this," Donna Hillhouse says of her friend. "She always saw good in everything a good, kind, loving person," Hillhouse says. "She was not out to impress the world. She was out to live the world." News-Leader reporter J. Lee Howard contributed information for this story. ' authorities remain confident they caught Pauline Martz's killer when they arrested Johnny Lee Wilson. He knew how Martz was dressed, assaulted and bound all without prodding from investigators, according to a transcript. "There is a principle in interrogation," Lawrence County sheriffs Lt. Doug Seneker says. "A person will not admit to something they haven't done, short of torture or extreme duress. No matter how long you're grilled, no matter how much you're yelled at, you're not going to admit to something you haven't done." And while no one can place Wilson at the crime scene, one witness saw someone leave Martz's house as flames began licking at the structure. The Aurora woman saw a man furiously pedaling a bicycle. He was in his early 20s, alx)ut 5-feet, 9-inch-es tall, with a slim build and dishwater blond, curly hair parted in the middle. He had a pointed bottom lip and sleepy looking eyes. The description closely matches that of Johnny Lee Wilson. April 13, 1986: Pauline Martz is ' found dead in her burning Aurora home. Five days later, Johnny'!' Lee Wilson an Aurora man ... with an IQ of 76 confesses to killing Martz after robbing her and trying to sexually assault her. April 30, 1987: Wilson pleads' guilty to first-degree murder and,' is sentenced to life in prison with-.;' out parole. February-July 1988: Kansas prison inmate Chris Brownfield makes a series of confessions to the Martz slaying. Lawrence' County authorities ask the Missouri attorney general's office to investigate the confessions, saying they want an impartial agency, involved in the case. Wilson re-; , cants his confession and denies killing Martz. June 27-28, 1989: Wilson asks a judge to set aside his guilty plea and grant him a trial. Circuit. Judge David Darnold rejects Wilson's motion in July, saying Brownfield's confessions weren't credible. Darnold also notes that while Wilson's mental retardation, is a mental defect, it didn't hinder him from being able to under-, stand the charge against him. ,, Sept 12, 1990: Wilson's attorney will ask' the Missouri Court of. , Appeals-Southern District to set,,! aside Wilson's guilty plea. Public , defender Bill Swift wants the court to either free Wilson or or- der a trial, based on Brownfield's' " confession and Wilson's mental-! defect. Wilson saga draws TV's interest By Ron Davis The News-Leader LINN Hands cuffed, a dazed, distant look in his eyes, Johnny Lee Wilson is led past a knot of scurrying reporters into the courthouse. "Cut!" Kris Palmer pulls her blonde hair away from her harried face. "Reporters, you're going a little too fast. Don't get in front "of Johnny." She raises her voice notch: "OK, everyone, let's do it again." And again. And again. Eleven times the procession treks to the courthouse doors past th film cameras, the boom microphones, the lights, the gawking bystanders until Palmer is satisfied. The reporters break for lunch. The sheriff unlocks Wilson's handcuffs. Wilson fires up a Marlboro Light. "I've done a little theater for the past seven or eight years," he says. "I never thought I'd be doing this ... they saw my face in a book my agent published, and the rest just hap'-pened." The Johnny Lee Wilson saga has gone Hollywood. More precisely, it's gone Bur-bank, Calif., via Linn, Mo. ' "Wilson" is an actor: Gary Mitchell, a 24-year-old Kansas City resf-dent. The reporters are actors, too. So is the sheriff accompanying Wilson into the courthouse. The hoopla outside the Osage County Courthouse in Linn, population 1,211, is courtesy of "Unsolved Mysteries," the NBC news and en tertainment hybrid that features, well, unsolved mysteries. The courthouse scene is one of some two dozen being filmed for a re-enactment to air by year's end. " Missouri Film Commission locations secretary Carol Riegel sug gested Linn to the production company. Riegel lives in Linn, about 20 miles east of Jefferson City, and thought the economic boost of several dozen visitors would help hef community. Plus Palmer, producer of the Wilson segment, kwed the courthouse! But why is "Unsolved Mysteries" interested in a case that police say is solved? , "This case says a lot about the judicial system and human nature," Palmer says. "It says a great deal about the law enforcement system and about being handicapped. And it says a tremendous amount about the system that most times it's really working, but there are times when it doesn't." "Unsolved Mysteries" isn't the first national network show to feature the case. CBS aired a 16-minute segment on "Face to Face with Connie Chung." , , ' Palmer won't divulge the cost of recreating the Wilson tale, but it looks expensive. Dozens of workers, from extras to technicians to makeup staff, scamper through the three-story courthouse. Catered cooks dish out chicken for lunch. The show also burned down an abandoned house m rural Linn to recreate the slaying of Pauline Martz. "Sure is something," muses Osage County Sheriff Marvin Owens, surveying the courthouse scene from across the street. "Eighteen years as sheriff, I've had three homicides, Now they're re-creating one."

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