Sunday, October 23, 2011


by Earl Staggs

My wife and I don’t care for many of the new TV shows. Vampires? No thanks. Animated characters? Forget it. Lewd, crude, bathroom humor comedy? Yuck. More gorgeous cops with bikini-worthy and chiseled ab bodies? Yawn.

Instead, we watch and enjoy a lot of true crime documentary shows. We have plenty to choose from. There’s Dateline, 48 Hours Mystery, Cold Case Files, Snapped and more. There’s a great satisfaction in seeing real cops track down real criminals in the real world. My favorites are when a cold case squad pulls out a case that may be decades old and solves it.

We saw a good one this weekend. In 1985, a young mother was raped and brutally stabbed to death in her home. To make it worse, two of her three young daughters were also slaughtered. The killer left a toddler alive, probably because she was too young to identify him. The cops were at a loss. They found no evidence to identify the killer.

Fortunately, a passerby got a look at the killer leaving the house and provided a sketch artist with a good likeness. Neighbors reported seeing a strange car in the neighborhood that night. They found a suspect who closely resembled the sketch and drove a similar car. The man, a young Army sergeant, had been to the house two days before to adopt the family dog. The man was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Two years later, his lawyers were successful in getting a second trial. This time, he was found not guilty due to lack of physical evidence. He went back to the Army and enjoyed a spotless and distinguished career thereafter. The case went cold, filed away in a box on a shelf.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Cold case detectives pulled out the box and found a vaginal swab from the murdered woman. DNA testing was not available or reliable enough in 1985, but when they had it checked this time, they identified the killer.

Guess who. Yes, it was the Army sergeant who had been convicted in a first trial, then cleared in a second trial twenty years earlier.

But could he be tried again for the murder? What about that double jeopardy thing? You’re right. He could not be tried again in criminal court for the same murder. I don’t agree with that law, but I’m not here to rant again about how “The Law” sometimes interferes with justice being served.

Because that’s not the end of the story.

Here’s the interesting part. The man had retired from the Army by then, but the Army stepped in and reinstated him. That made him subject to court-martial. He was tried and convicted of the triple homicide by a military court and sentenced to death.

It took twenty-five years for this man to be made to pay for what he did. In spite of that, you have to feel good about a story like this. I do.

If only I could only come up with a plot this good for my next novel.


Jean Henry Mead said...

That's quite a story, Earl, and a good plot if someone wanted to base a novel or true crime book on it. I agree with you about most of the shows on TV. They're the reason I'm getting a lot more writing done. :)

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Morgan Mandel said...

That is a great story, with a great plot twist. Truth is stranger than fiction, that's for sure!

Morgan Mandel

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Having seen this done in fiction many times, it is cool it really did happen in real life.

Anonymous said...

Love your assessment of a lot of modern t.v. shows!!! What an interesting case! Thanks!

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for all the comments about one of the most interesting cases I've ever seen. As for many of the new TV shows, I'm glad there are old movie channels.

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Anonymous said...

That's a great spooky story, and I think it brings up an interesting point. Maybe we read mysteries and thrillers because they allow us to safely confront realities that we wish were not realities. People do damage to other people all the time. Violence is part of our culture, like it or not, and that's probably why a huge percentage of TV dramas are mysteries or other police shows.

William Doonan

Coco Ihle said...

This was a fascinating post, Earl. It's nice to know that justice prevails sometimes, at least. Sharp military lawyers!