Gary hearing: Prosecution recaps evidence with timeline

Defense expert questions unrecorded 'confession'

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

After nine hours of sometimes contentious courtroom testimony Friday, convicted “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary’s new-trial hearing finally ended at 7 p.m.

Now defense attorneys and prosecutors await a transcript from five days of testimony on which to base their remaining motions and their written arguments. A decision from Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr. likely will be weeks or possibly months away.

Most of Friday’s testimony came from former District Attorney Bill Smith, now a senior Superior Court judge, who prosecuted Gary in 1986. He recapped much of the evidence he presented during the trial.

Crucial to the case was a timeline establishing Gary’s whereabouts over the years as women were attacked both here and in New York, creating a pattern of crimes. Smith ran through this one:

• November 1969: At age 19, Gary moves to New York. Having grown up in Columbus, he in 1966 first had moved to Gainesville, Fla.

• April 14, 1970: Nellie Farmer, 85, is raped and strangled in the Wellington Hotel in Albany, N.Y. She’s left on the floor, her face covered.

• July 14, 1970: Albany police arrest Gary and match his fingerprint to one found on a trunk in the victim’s room. Gary blames an accomplice who is acquitted.

• Jan. 2, 1977: Jean Frost, 55, is raped by an intruder in Syracuse, N.Y., and choked until she’s unconscious. Police said Gary had the victim’s watch in his pocket when arrested days later.

• Aug. 22, 1977: Gary escapes from prison in Syracuse and moves back to Columbus. The following September he starts living at 1027 Fisk Ave.

• Sept. 11, 1977: Gertrude Miller, 64, of 2703 Hood St., is raped and beaten in her home by an intruder she later identifies as Gary. Her home is about two blocks from Fisk Avenue.

• Sept. 16, 1977: Ferne Jackson, 59, of 2505 17th St., is found brutally beaten, raped and strangled. Her sternum is broken. Her body is left covered. Her stolen car is later found on Benner Avenue, blocks from Fisk Avenue.

• Sept. 25, 1977: Jean Dimenstein, 66, of 3027 21st St, is found beaten, raped and strangled, her body left covered in a bed. Her stolen car is found on King Street off Rigdon Road, about four blocks from Fisk Avenue.

• Oct. 4, 1977: Gary moves to 3231 Old Buena Vista Road.

• Oct. 8, 1977: The Eberhart Avenue home of sisters Callye East, 75, and Nellie Sanderson, 78, is burglarized. Sanderson’s son Henry is visiting. The intruder steals his Toyota, which has a .22-caliber Ruger pistol under the seat. The car’s left on Buena Vista Road.

• Oct. 21, 1977: Florence Scheible, 89, of 1941 Dimon St., is raped and strangled. She was nearly blind and used a walker. She’s found with her neck broken. Two witnesses later say they saw Gary near Scheible’s apartment.

• Oct. 25, 1977: Martha Thurmond, 69, of 2614 Marion St., is found raped and strangled. A deadbolt lock is ripped from her door. Police later learn Gary frequented the homes of a cousin and a friend within sight of Thurmond’s home.

• Nov. 11, 1977: Gary moves to 2829 Ninth St. and gets a job working the late shift at Golden’s Foundry.

• Dec. 16, 1977: Gary leaves the foundry job.

• Dec. 20, 1977: The Buena Vista Road home of William Swift is burglarized while the residents are away. Swift later discovers the burglar removed bars from a kitchen window to get in, then set the bars back on the windowsill. He does not tell this to police, who say Gary later tells them how he got in.

• Dec. 28, 1977: Kathleen Woodruff, 74, of 1811 Buena Vista Road, is found raped and strangled with a scarf bearing the logo of the University of Georgia, where her husband was a coach. Her body is on the bed, covered.

• Jan. 1, 1978: The Brookside Drive home of Abraham Illges, who is 85 and whose wife is 75, is burglarized and a Cadillac stolen. The car’s left at a restaurant on Victory Drive. Police say Gary later refers to this home as “the castle.”

• Feb. 11, 1978: The Illges home is burglarized again, but the intruder triggers an alarm and flees. Police said Gary later told them he ran across Forest Avenue and hid in Wildwood Park.

• Feb. 11, 1978: Ruth Schwob, 74, of 1800 Carter Ave., is nearly strangled to death by an intruder she fights off, pressing a panic alarm by her bed. Police find her sitting on the edge of her bed, gasping, a stocking wrapped around her neck. The call to police comes just 30 minutes after the Illges alarm.

• Feb. 12, 1978: Mildred Borom, 78, 1612 Forest Ave., about two blocks from Schwob’s home, is found raped and strangled with a cord cut from window blinds. Her body’s covered with a garment.

• April 20, 1978: Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, is found raped and strangled. A pillow covers her face.

Smith said that in June 1978, Gary began making trips from Columbus to Gainesville, Fla.; Macon, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Greenville, S.C.

While in South Carolina, he committed restaurant robberies, earning the name “The Steakhouse Bandit.” On Feb. 15, 1979, he robbed a Po’ Folks restaurant in Gafney, S.C., and was arrested the next day. He pleaded guilty and went to prison.

On March 15, 1984, he escaped from a prison in Columbia, S.C., and returned to Columbus, where police soon were on to him.

Former Columbus police Sgt. Mike Sellers took the witness stand Friday to testify how that happened.

He said he was trying to find a Ruger .22-caliber pistol used in the March 11, 1984, fatal shooting of Officer Thomas “Spanky” Bowen when Henry Sanderson called April 10 to ask about the Ruger taken from his Toyota in the 1977 Eberhart Avenue burglary.

Sellers sent out a nationwide alert seeking Sanderson’s gun. Authorities in Michigan traced it to Lucille Gary Sanders, who said she’d got it in 1980 from her brother Jim Gary in Phenix City. Jim Gary said he’d bought it for $40 from his nephew, Carlton Gary.

Sellers started looking for Carlton Gary, and soon learned he’d escaped from prison in South Carolina. Copies of Gary’s fingerprints arrived at the Columbus Police Department on April 30, 1984, and Sellers said he took them immediately to a police technician, who matched one to a print found on the frame of a screen removed from the window through which the strangler entered Woodruff’s home.

The hunt for Gary ended May 3, 1984, when police arrested him in Albany, Ga.

Smith, who was district attorney 1978-1989, said investigators working with Gary’s complete hand prints assembled this evidence:

• A palm print inside Jackson’s home.

• A fingerprint on a door frame in Scheible’s home.

• A fingerprint on a rear bathroom window frame at Thurmond’s home.

• A palm print on the windowsill of Woodruff’s home, in addition to the print found on the frame of the screen.

Though Gary told police an accomplice committed the stranglings, he also admitted being at some crime scenes, but not at Jackson’s, Smith said. So, though Smith in 1986 made the case a single perpetrator committed all the attacks, he chose to prosecute only those with prints and an admission Gary was there: Scheible, Thurmond and Woodruff.

Gary was convicted and sentenced to death.

On Friday defense attorney Jack Martin called a Florida psychologist to challenge Gary’s confessions to police. Dr. Gregory DeClue testified that of 250 convicts freed by DNA tests that overturned their convictions, 40 gave false confessions, and in 38 of those the suspect gave details police thought only the perpetrator could know.

Those confessions likely resulted from “contamination,” or detectives conveying those details to the suspects during questioning, DeClue said.

Martin had DeClue compare Gary’s police statements to those of Jerome Livas, who first confessed to the stranglings after his arrest for a woman’s murder Oct. 2, 1977. Police announced Livas was their prime stranglings suspect — until the murders resumed while Livas was jailed.

DeClue testified Livas also knew details only the killer should have known. Livas identified Ferne Jackson’s home and said he broke in through a rear, sliding glass window, although police never found the point of entry.

He told police he entered Dimenstein’s home by taking a carport door off its hinges, just as the strangler had done. He told officers he’d thrown the hinge pins in a flower garden, which was where police found them. He pointed out the room where Dimenstein’s body was found, though it was not the main bedroom.

Though Smith and other prosecution witnesses acknowledged police in 1977 made crucial mistakes with Livas, they noted those were not the same officers who questioned Gary in 1984.

DeClue said he could not say whether Gary’s statements were valid or not, but he noted the best safeguard to a “contaminated” confession is to record officers’ questioning suspects, and detectives did not tape their conversations with Gary.

Those investigators testified Gary did not want to be tape-recorded after his arrest, nor did he want officers taking notes as he guided them around town pointing out crime scenes from around midnight until 3:30 a.m. May 4, 1984. They feared he would not talk to them if they refused his requests, they said.

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