FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
CALCASIEU, NO. 1699413 HONORABLE ROBERT LANE WYATT, DISTRICT
F. DeRosier 14th JDC District Attorney Carla S. Sigler Karen
C. McLellan Assistant District Attorneys COUNSEL FOR
APPELLEE: State of Louisiana
M. Ikerd Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: William Felix Vail
composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, D. Kent Savoie, and Van H.
ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE.
October 30, 1962, Mary Horton Vail's body was recovered
from the Calcasieu River. Her husband, William Felix Horton,
had reported to the local authorities in Lake Charles that he
and his wife had been in a boat on the river at night,
checking trot lines, when his wife accidently fell out of the
boat and drowned. The investigating officers were suspicious
of Mr. Vail's account of how he claimed the incident
occurred based on what they viewed as inconsistencies between
what he reported to them and physical findings on the boat.
Mr. Vail was arrested and charged with his wife's murder.
The coroner, however, concluded the manner of death was
accidental drowning. When this matter was presented to a
grand jury the matter was ultimately pretermitted. Having
failed to secure an indictment, the state dropped the charges
pending against the defendant.
the ensuing years the matter continued to be investigated,
off and on, both by law enforcement and private
investigators. Additional evidence was gathered which the
state believed to be both relevant and significant.
27, 2013, a second grand jury indicted the defendant for the
1962 second degree murder of his wife, Mary Horton Vail,
committed in violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1.
commenced on August 8, 2016. On August 12, 2016, the jury
returned a verdict of guilty of Second Degree Murder against
the defendant. On September 21, 2016, the defendant filed a
"Motion and Memorandum Regarding Sentencing." The
defendant was subsequently sentenced, on September 26, 2016,
to life in prison without the benefit of parole, probation,
or suspension of sentence. On September 29, 2016, the
defendant filed a "Motion to Reconsider Sentence"
which was denied without a hearing.
defendant appeals both his conviction and sentence.
1. The State failed to sufficiently prove Felix Vail was
guilty of murdering his wife.
2. A Presumption Wrapped in a Probability: the trial court
erred by allowing the State to offer unproven "other bad
acts" evidence by use of "the doctrine of
3. The trial court erred by failing to properly instruct the
jury as to the burden of proof required before the other
crimes evidence could be considered.
4. Conviction by Deposition: The trial court erred in
declaring key State witnesses unavailable for trial when they
were merely inconvenienced by having to appear at trial, and
allowing their prior depositions to be admitted by video at
5. Conviction by Misrepresentation: The trial court erred in
denying the defense's motion to suppress the evidence of
Gina Frenzel on grounds the motion was untimely-not on the
merits- when the defense established "good cause"
for the late filing.
6. The 54-year delay in prosecuting this case was prejudicial
to Felix Vail. The delay violated his rights to a fair trial.
7. The trial court's sentence of life, because the
previous sentence was unconstitutional, was an ex post facto
increase in punishment and a violation of the Separation of
Powers. Therefore, the only constitutional sentence was to
the maximum for the next lesser included sentence of
accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are
reviewed by this court for errors patent on the face of the
record. After reviewing the record, we find one error patent
concerning the information given to the defendant by the
court regarding the time limitation for filing an application
for post-conviction relief.
court improperly advised the defendant that he has "two
years from today's date and the sentence becoming final
to file for post-conviction relief." Louisiana Code of
Criminal Procedure Article 930.8 provides that the
prescriptive period for filing post-conviction relief is two
years, and it begins to run when the defendant's
conviction and sentence become final under the provisions of
La.Code Crim.P. arts. 914 or 922.
trial court is instructed to correctly inform the defendant
of the provisions of Article 930.8 by sending appropriate
written notice to the defendant within 10 days of the
rendition of this opinion and to file written proof in the
record that the defendant received the notice.
addition, neither the court minutes nor the sentencing
transcript reflect that the court specified the life sentence
imposed is to be served at hard labor. However, the exchange
at sentencing between the court and defense counsel clearly
reflects an understanding by all parties that the sentence is
a hard labor sentence. Accordingly, the trial court is
instructed to correct the court minutes to reflect that the
defendant's sentenced is to be served at hard labor.
OF ERROR NUMBER ONE
defendant argues that the evidence submitted at trial was
insufficient to prove that he murdered his wife, Mary Horton
Vail. He argues the evidence in this case is entirely
circumstantial, the state failed to exclude every reasonable
hypothesis of innocence, and that Mary Horton Vail's
death was accidental.
State v. Williams, 13-497, pp. 3-5 (La.App. 3 Cir.
11/6/13), 124 So.3d 1236, 1239-40, writ denied,
13-2774 (La. 5/16/14), 139 So.3d 1024, this court discussed
the standard of review for sufficiency of evidence, as
In State v. Bryant, 12-233 (La.10/16/12), 101 So.3d
429, the Louisiana supreme court addressed the sufficiency of
the evidence claims, reiterating that the appellate review of
such claims is controlled by the standard enunciated by the
United States Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See
State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676 (La.1984). In applying
the Jackson v. Virginia standard, the appellate
court must determine that, when viewed in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, the evidence is
"sufficient to convince a rational trier of fact that
all of the elements of the crime had been proved beyond a
reasonable doubt." Bryant, 101 So.3d at 432.
See also La.Code Crim.P. art. 821.
State v. Spears, 05-964, p. 3 (La.4/4/06), 929 So.2d
1219, 1222-23, the supreme court stated that:
constitutional law does not require the reviewing court to
determine whether it believes the witnesses or whether it
believes that the evidence establishes guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt. State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305,
1309 (La.1988). Rather, the fact finder is given much
discretion in determinations of credibility and evidence, and
the reviewing court will only impinge on this discretion to
the extent necessary to guarantee the fundamental protection
of due process of law.
"Evidence may be either direct or circumstantial."
State v. Jacobs, 07-887, p. 12 (La.App. 5 Cir.
5/24/11), 67 So.3d 535, 551, writ denied, 11-1753
(La.2/10/12), 80 So.3d 468, cert. denied, ___ U.S.
___, 133 S.Ct. 139, 184 L.Ed.2d 67 (2012). We note that,
whether the conviction is based on direct evidence or solely
on circumstantial evidence, the review is the same under the
Jackson v. Virginia standard. State v.
Williams, 33, 881 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/27/00), 768 So.2d
728 (citing State v. Sutton, 436 So.2d 471
(La.1983)), writ denied, 00-99 (La.10/5/01), 798
So.2d 963. Circumstantial evidence is that where the main
fact can be inferred, using reason and common experience,
from proof of collateral facts and circumstances.
Id. Where the conviction is based on circumstantial
evidence, in order to convict, "assuming every fact to
be proved that the evidence tends to prove, in order to
convict, it must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of
innocence." La.R.S. 15:438.
In State v. Chism, 436 So.2d 464, 469 (La.1983)
(citations omitted), the supreme court discussed the use of
circumstantial evidence, stating:
Circumstantial evidence involves, in addition to the
assertion of witnesses as to what they have observed, a
process of reasoning, or inference by which a conclusion is
drawn. Like all other evidence, it may be strong or weak; it
may be so unconvincing as to be quite worthless, or it may be
irresistible and overwhelming. There is still no man who
would not accept dog tracks in the mud against the sworn
testimony of a hundred eyewitnesses that no dog passed by.
The gist of circumstantial evidence, and the key to it, is
the inference, or process of reasoning by which the
conclusion is reached. This must be based on the evidence
given, together with a sufficient background of human
experience to justify the conclusion.
Consequently, before a trier of fact can decide the ultimate
question of whether a reasonable hypothesis of innocence
exists in a criminal case based crucially on circumstantial
evidence, a number of preliminary findings must be made. In
addition to assessing the circumstantial evidence in light of
the direct evidence, and vice versa, the trier of fact must
decide what reasonable inferences may be drawn from the
circumstantial evidence, the manner in which competing
inferences should be resolved, reconciled or compromised; and
the weight and effect to be given to each permissible
inference. From facts found from direct evidence and inferred
from circumstantial evidence, the trier of fact should
proceed, keeping in mind the relative strength and weakness
of each inference and finding, to decide the ultimate
question of whether this body of preliminary facts excludes
every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.
instant case, the defendant was convicted of second degree
murder. The definition of a second degree murder is the
killing of a human being when the perpetrator specifically
intends to kill the victim or to inflict great bodily harm,
and the victim dies as a result of the injuries inflicted
testimony and evidence presented by the state to the jury was
Terry Welke, the Calcasieu Parish Coroner, was the first to
take the stand. The doctor testified that he has been a
forensic pathologist since 1986 and has qualified as an
expert in forensic pathology approximately two hundred
seventy-five times. He has performed approximately seven
thousand autopsies during his career. Dr. Welke testified
that he had reviewed the 1962 autopsy report which was
prepared by Dr. Avery Cook, who was deceased at the time of
trial. Dr. Cook, although a pathologist, was not a forensic
pathologist. Dr. Welke noted that while the autopsy report
described the external and internal condition of the body,
the report did not list the manner or cause of death. The
death certificate, however, listed the cause of death as
drowning and the manner of death as accidental. The death
certificate was filled out and signed by the coroner at the
time, Dr. Snatic, who was neither a pathologist nor a
forensic pathologist. Dr. Welke also viewed two photographs
taken of the victim immediately after she was pulled out of
the water. Dr. Welke testified that from the information he
received after viewing the photographs, together with his
vast experience with handling drowning cases, he did not
believe that Mary Vail died from drowning. It was his opinion
that she was dead before she went into the water.
Welke noted that the body came out of the water rigid and
face up, with her arms crossed over her abdomen. He explained
that after death, a stiffening of the muscles develops,
generally known as rigor mortis. Over a period of time,
however, the muscles become flaccid. The duration of the
stiffness depends on various factors, including air or water
temperature. The doctor explained that when a person drowns
and starts to decompose, he or she floats up to the surface
face down, arms and legs down, shoulders and back up, in a
"dead man" position He stated that "[t]he
cooling effect of the water slows down the decomposition
which helps maintain her rigidity because it takes longer for
the rigidity to disappear; and that was part of my
consideration when I made my determination three years
ago." The doctor stated that a drowned person may come
to the surface belly first but this would only happen in
advanced decomposition "[w]here they look like they
could fly around the room backwards because they look like a
balloon that's over-distended, you did not see people
coming out of the water stiff and especially in what I call a
coffin position." The doctor noted that the body in the
pictures he saw was not in an advanced state of
decomposition. The doctor illustrated the dead man's
position with photographs of several drowned persons in the
Welke noted that the autopsy report indicated there was some
lividity or discoloration on the victim's face, chest and
stomach. He explained that after death, the blood will pool
towards the down side of the body. Dr. Welke explained that
if the body is rolled into a different position, the blood
will migrate to the down side. The migration of blood will
occur until the blood finally gels. The fact that the
lividity was on the front, or anterior part of the body, was
not inconsistent with the doctor's conclusion that the
victim was dead when she entered the water. To further
support his theory that Mary Vail was dead when she went into
the water, Dr. Welke noted that there were dark stains or
streaks on her white sweatshirt, across her arms, hands, and
chest area. The doctor thought her sweatshirt came out of the
water too clean and the stains were not mud but some kind of
petroleum product which would not have dissolved in the
water. He speculated that after Mary Vail was killed, a tarp
or canvas of some kind was placed over her or that what she
was laid on had a greasy or oily compound on it. He conducted
an experiment where he had his wife dress in a white, long
sleeve shirt, lay down in the position Mary Vail was in when
her body was pulled out of the water, and he pressed a
painted piece of cardboard over her body. The doctor stated
he was impressed by how the paint transfer onto his
wife's body was duplicative of the stains seen on Mrs.
Vail's shirt, arms, and hands. Pictures of this
experiment were compared with the pictures of Mary Vail's
body. The pictures were published to the jury.
Dr. Welke could not state what caused Mary Vail's death,
he stated he was one hundred percent certain the manner of
death was homicide. The doctor suggested that maybe because
there was a scarf wrapped around her neck and over her mouth
when Mary Vail's body was pulled from the water she could
have been strangled or suffocated. Moreover, the autopsy
report indicated there was a fairly significant bruise on the
side of Mary Vail's head which might indicate that she
received some kind of head trauma, which may have
precipitated her death.
deposition of Isaac Abshire was played for the jury. Mr.
Abshire was deceased at the time of trial. The state filed a
motion to perpetuate the testimony of Mr. Abshire for trial
purposes. The motion was heard on June 18, 2013. The
trial court granted the state's motion to perpetuate the
testimony and to allow state's Exhibits 1 and 2,
photographs of Mary Vail after she was pulled out of the
water, and Exhibit 3, a summary of the police investigation,
dated October 28, 1962, to be admitted for trial
purposes. A transcript of the deposition was also
submitted to the jury.
time of the deposition, Mr. Abshire was ninety years old. Mr.
Abshire stated that before marrying Mary Vail, the defendant
had lived with him for some time. Mr. Abshire testified that
at the time, he was aware of problems between the defendant
and the victim. The defendant and Mary Vail had a baby son,
but the defendant was not happy with having a child. The day
before Mary Vail died, she was mad at the defendant. Mr.
Abshire said it had something to do with another woman. On
Sunday, October 28, 1962, Mr. Abshire heard that Mary Vail
had drowned. Along with others, Mr. Abshire took a boat and
helped search for Mary Vail's body along the river at the
north end of Ryan Street. The next day, the body was located
in the water. Mr. Abshire stated that the body was not
slumped over in the water; it was "kinda laying on her
side or kinda on her back like." He said she was face up
and her arms were folded across her abdomen. He stated that
the body was stiff when it was raised into the boat on a
stretcher. He said there was a scarf wrapped tightly around
her neck and across her mouth. Mr. Abshire testified that he
was eventually given the two photographs of Mary Vail after
she was pulled out of the water, a summary of a police
investigation report, the coroner's report, and other
documents. The police investigation summary report, compiled
by detectives with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office,
established the concerns and direction of the police
investigation into Mary Vail's death at the time, as
SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION OF DROWNING OF MARY ELIZABETH
VAIL, WHITE FEMALE, 22 YEARS, 922 CLEVELAND ST., LAKE
There is on file a report of the initial investigation
entitled "Drowning", dated October 28, 1962.
On Monday, October 29, 1962, I contacted the Husband of the
deceased, William Felix Vail, at the scene of the drowning
and requested that he come in to the Sheriff's Office and
give a statement of the circumstances surrounding his
Wife's death. At 11:50 AM Monday October, 29 William F.
Vail gave a written statement and signed it, in the presence
of William Perry and Leroy Authement. This statement was
taken in shorthand originally and immediately afterward
transferred into a typewritten statement by Mrs. Dee Houston.
After Vail signed the statement he accompanied Deputies
Perry, Manuel and Authement to his boat stall at Shell Beach
Pier. The above Deputies viewed the boat and observed
contents as follows; one six gallon outboard motor gas tank,
two cushion type life preservers, a pair of brown leather
gloves, a poncho type raincoat, boat paddle, and a metal
fishing tackle box. The tackle box contained, among other
fishing gear, one coiled trot line. This tackle box and boat
paddle was [sic] confiscated as evidence. While the above
examining the boat the Vail Subject demonstrated the position
that his gas tank was supposedly in when his motor stalled.
It was noted that in the positon demonstrated it was possible
to pump gas from the tank with the manual primer.
Upon further interview after examining the boat it was
learned that Mr. Vail had his Wife insured to $50, 000.00
with the Wasey Company. At approximately 1:30 pm this date
Mr. Breaux with the John L. Wasey, Inc., Insurance Company,
1032 Ryan St., Lake Charles, La., contacted and he advised
that Mr. Vail, on June 1, 1962, was issued a $50, 000.00
accidental life insurance policy on his Wife, Mary Elizabeth
Vail, through Traveler's Insurance Co.
On October 30, 1962 the sheriff's office was notified at
approximately 3:30 PM that the body of Mary Elizabeth Vail
had been recovered (See supplementary report of
"DROWNING OF Mary Vail", dated October 30, 1962).
At approximately 4:00 PM Deputies Mazilly, Manuel and
Authement boarded the Sheriff's Dept. boat, CP27, on the
river road approximately 1/4 mile west of Ryan Street and
viewed the body. It was observed that the body was clothed in
white tennis shoes, blue jeans, and white sweat shirt, and a
dark colored scarf around her neck and chin. Photographs were
made of the body at this time by Deputy Murphy. Dr. Snatic
also accompanied the above to view the body and ordered the
body moved by Hixson Ambulance to Hixon Funeral home where an
autopsy was performed by Dr. Avery L. Cook. On this date the
clothing of Mrs. Vail was received as evidence by Dep.
Authement and on 10-31-62 was turned over to Dep. Ellis.
On October 31, 1962 the following witnesses were interviewed;
(1) Jack M. Wier, Personnel Supervisor, PCI, (2) Ike Abshire,
Jr., (3) Sylvia Hidalgo, and (4) Betty Payton.
On November 1, 1962 the following interviews were conducted;
(1) Jennette McCain, (2) Jean Dailey, (3) Willy Ray Jordan,
(4) Norma Kee, (5) Donald Glenn McCullough.
On November 2, 1962 the following interviews were conducted;
(1) Henry Chevalier, (2) Mrs. Patricia Odom.
On November 3, 1962 interviews were conducted with (1) Mrs.
Joyce C. Thibodeaux, (2) Judith Lynne Boyer, (3) Mr. and Mrs.
Joseph A. Borel, (4) Mr. and Mrs. Don Steicken, (5) Amelia
Franklin, and (6) Maylan Soileau. (see summaries of all of
above interviews attached to this report)
During the invterview [sic] with Norma Kee it was learned
that Mary Vail was wearing an off-white leather jacket,
sorority sweat shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers when she
left her home on Sunday just prior to her death. Norma Kee
was babysitting for the Vails when they left home. We also
learned from this witness that William F. Vail had an $8,
000.00 life insurance policy on his Wife Through Allstate
Insurance Co. (See interview with Mr. Henry Chevallier on
November 2, 1962.)
On November 4, 1962 at approximately 3:15 PM William F. Vail
was arrested at PCI by Deputies Perry and Authement. The
subject was returned to the Sheriff's Office and
interrogated in reference to apparent discrepancies in his
statement and after failing to give reasonable explanations
was booked into the Parish jail at approximately 9:10 PM that
On the follwoing [sic] day, November 5, 1962 the subject was
again interrogated for approximately during which time he was
requested to take a polygraph examination and refused.
The following day, November 6, Mr. Vail's Aunt and Uncle,
Mr. and Mrs. Finney were allowed to visit with Mr. Vail
during which time he told them that he would take a polygraph
examination the following morning. The next Morning November
7, 1962 the Vail subject again refused to take a polygraph
examination after which he was released from jail.
During this period of interrogation the Vail Subject was
questioned concerning the following points:
1. The fact that it was unlikely that his Wife would have
been sitting on the back rest of the boat seat when she was
not wearing a life preserver even though she had a great fear
of water and could not swim.
2. The probability that had he maneuvered the boat as he had
stated his Wife would have fallen differently.
3.The fact that he observed and passed up a lighted tug boat
in the vicinity of the drowning without requesting assistance
even though according to his own admission he did not panic
and remained calm throughout the entire sequence of events
and remembered every thing that happened.
4. The fact that he passed other lighted locations where he
could have requested assistance but did not.
5. The probability that his boat motor would have continued
to run even though his gas tank had turned over as indicated.
6. Why his gas tank was not sitting in the place provided for
it in the boat.
7. The fact that his trot line, which he had just taken up
from the river, was coiled and in his tackle box.
8. The fact that he had just recently purchased a $50, 000.00
accidental life insurance policy on his Wife in addition to
the $8, 000.00 double indemnity policy that he already had on
9. The fact that he had made statements to the effect that he
did not love his Wife, the [sic] she was stupid and at times
he thought she looked vulgar.
10. The fact that on different occasions he had had sexual
relationships with other females and at least one male.
11. The fact that a majority of the witnesses interviewed
felt that he was capable of killing his wife.
12. The fact that by his own admission this was the first
time that he ever taken his wife in the boat on the river at
night to run the trot line.
13. The fact that, even though he was behind with most of his
major financial obligations, he was able to pay the entire
annual premium on the $50, 000.00 life insurance policy on
14. The fact that he stated that his Wife was wearing the
leather jacket when she fell in the water but that the body
did not have a leather jacket on when recovered.
15. The fact that he could not present a reasonable
explanation as to why he refused to take a polygraph
This interrogation was conducted by Deputies Perry, Manual,
Ellis, and Authement.
Abshire did not state why he was given the documents, but he
said he had kept the documents. Mr. Abshire further stated
that he was convinced the defendant killed Mary Vail. The
defendant threatened to sue him if he did not stop telling
people he killed her, but shortly thereafter the defendant
left the state.
Fontenot testified that in 1962 she worked for Ardoin Funeral
Home. Mary Vail's funeral was conducted at Ardoin's.
Ms. Fontenot identified a letter dated June 17, 1964, which
advised the defendant that he still owed Mary Vail's
funeral expenses. The letter noted the agreement was that
once the insurance company paid Mary Vail's life
insurance policy claim, he would settle the bill. Ms.
Fontenot testified that the defendant never paid the bill.
Eventually, Mary Vail's family paid the bill.
Turnage, who lived in Monpelier, Mississippi, testified that
he had known the defendant most of their lives. He stated he
grew up with the defendant in Mississippi, where the
defendant moved back to in 1964. During a time after the
defendant moved back to Mississippi, Mr. Turnage and the
defendant worked at the same place of employment. On an
occasion when the defendant did not have a ride to work, he
rode with Mr. Turnage. During the ride to work, Mr. Turnage
said he stated he asked the defendant about his son. The
defendant responded that Mary Vail had wanted another child
to fix their marriage. Mr. Turnage testified that the
defendant became angry and said '"I didn't want
the youngin' I got, and I didn't want another one,
and fixed that damned bitch. She won't never have another
kid.'" Mr. Turnage stated he did not have much to do
with the defendant after that. He told his parents what the
defendant said but told no one else. He stated he had
promised himself that if the matter of Mary Vail's death
ever came up, he would report the defendant's remarks.
Mr. Turnage said he called the District Attorney's Office
after he read about the current indictment of the defendant
in the newspaper.
Salador worked for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office
in 1962. She testified that at that time, a person's
statement was recorded by a stenographer. She recorded the
defendant's statement to the police regarding his
wife's death. While the original transcribed statement
was lost, she recalled that the defendant claimed that he and
Mary Vail were setting out trot lines at night when she fell
overboard. He stated that they were alone in the boat. The
defendant claimed he tried to save her. Ms. Salador recalled
that the defendant did not seem overly emotional about his
wife's death. Ms. Salador identified a photograph of the
defendant taken about the time of Mary Vail's death. Ms.
Salador remembered that Leroy Authement and William Perry
were two of the detectives that investigated the case and
that they were conscientious and thorough detectives.
Vail's younger brother, Will Horton, testified that
although she could swim in a swimming pool, Mary Vail was
terrified of "dark water." Mr. Horton explained
that dark water in this case was where the bottom of the
river cannot be seen. He stated that the defendant had a boat
and that he and the defendant often went skiing in the lake
together. Mary Vail never went out in the boat with them. The
defendant's and Mary Vail's son, Bill, was only four
months old when his mother died. Mr. Horton testified that he
made it his duty to ensure Bill knew what a wonderful woman
his mother was. Bill Vail died from cancer five to six years
before the trial. Mr. Horton stated that he thought it was on
a Sunday they got the news of Mary Vail's death. Later,
however, he was told it was on a Monday morning that they got
the news of his sister's death.
deputy with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office in the
marine division, Ron Johnson, discussed the river where it
passed by the north end of Ryan Street, using an enlarged
Google Earth map. He showed the location where the defendant
kept his boat on Shell Beach at the time of Mary Vail's
death, testifying that it was approximately four miles by the
river to where Mary Vail's body was located. He stated
that in 1962, there were several all-night businesses located
in that area on the river. One was an ice house that was kept
well-lit. There were several warehouses along the river's
edge, including a Halliburton petrochemical company which ran
an all-night operation. Deputy Johnson also testified that he
has pulled more than a hundred drowned persons out the water
during his career as a marine officer. He stated that even if
the body gets into the mud at the bottom of the river,
generally as the body rises to the surface, the wave action
washes off the mud. He further stated that almost all of the
bodies he had recovered from the water surfaced face down in
the "dead man" position.
state presented the next three witnesses via video
depositions, accompanied with copies of the transcripts. The
first witness was Robert Fremont. Mr. Fremont lived in San
Diego, California, in 1969. He was thirteen or fourteen years
old when he met the defendant through Bruce Biedebach, whose
brother was dating Mr. Fremont's mother. Mr. Fremont said
that he and the defendant took a three-week-long bike trip
through California. During the trip, the defendant told Mr.
Fremont that he killed his wife. Mr. Fremont stated that he
was a little shocked and concerned, and he attempted to
distance himself from the defendant. Mr. Fremont stated that
even though he was freaked out by the defendant's
statement, he did take a second, shorter trip with him to
Mexico. Mr. Fremont testified that on this trip the defendant
again talked about hitting his wife in the head with an oar,
and there was something about a boat:
A. I remember something about a boat, a lake, something with
her head involved and basically something about he disagreed
with something that she was doing. And I don't remember
the exact thing that it was or things, but something that
obviously perturbed him and he didn't agree with, and
because of that he felt like it was okay to take her life.
Fremont stated he had nothing to do with the defendant after
this trip. Mr. Fremont stated he did not tell anyone at the
time what the defendant said about killing his wife because
he did not think anyone would believe him, and he was unsure
at the time whether the statement was true. Mr. Fremont
testified that about nine months prior to trial, Mr.
Biedebach called him and asked if the defendant had ever told
him about killing his wife. Mr. Fremont stated that after he
heard that two other women associated with the defendant had
mysteriously disappeared, he thought it best to come forward
with the information.
Brooks worked for Traveler's Insurance in the 1960s. She
testified that the defendant came into the office within a
few weeks after Mary Vail's death. She stated he spoke
with an insurance adjustor because there was a problem with
the insurance policy he had taken out on his wife. Mary Vail
had not signed for the policy. Ms. Brooks had no further
information; her office only sold the insurance policies and
did not handle claims. However, she stated there was a
settlement. She did remember that a deputy from the Calcasieu
Parish Sheriff's Office came to the office to inquire
about the policy.
Bruce Biedebach testified he met the defendant at Mission
Beach in California. The last time he saw the defendant was
in San Francisco in the seventies. Mr. Biedebach testified
that one day, the defendant said, "out of the blue"
that he killed his wife. When Mr. Biedebach asked what the
defendant meant, he was told that the death was ruled an
accidental drowning. Mr. Biedebach let it go because he
thought that the defendant felt he killed his wife because he
was unable to rescue her. Mr. Biedebach never really
concerned himself with the defendant's statements,
although during their acquaintance, the defendant made the
same statement several times-that he killed his wife. Once
Mr. Biedebach said he asked the defendant if his wife was a
bitch, and the defendant said yes. Mr. Biedebach stated the
defendant also mentioned something about the oar causing more
harm than help. Mr. Biedebach stated that about five years
before the trial, he was contacted by Jerry Mitchell, a
reporter for the Clarion Ledger in Mississippi. Mr. Mitchell
questioned him about the defendant. Then he spoke with Mr.
Fremont and shortly thereafter with the Calcasieu Parish
District Attorney's Office.
Frenzel is a private investigator from Texas. She testified
that she read an article written by Jerry Mitchell regarding
the defendant and the mysterious disappearance of two women
and, sometime in March 2013, offered to help him with his
investigation. Ms. Frenzel stated she was able to come into
contact with the defendant through an investigation into a
fire that had occurred on property the defendant owned a few
years prior. She visited with the defendant about four times
over a period of six weeks. During conversations with the
defendant, Ms. Frenzel stated they spoke about Sharon Hensley
in a roundabout way without naming her, and discussed, in
generalities, Annette Carver. He never mentioned to her that
either woman had "disappeared."
Frenzel testified she had access to the defendant's house
after he was arrested. He had called her from jail and asked
her to get his truck out of impoundment, to fix a hole in the
roof of his house, and go into his house and throw away
perishable food in the refrigerator. She obtained the
defendant's truck and returned it to his residence. She
went into the house and began to search for journals that she
knew he kept. Prior to entering the house, she stated she
contacted an attorney and was advised that unless she took
something from the premises, she was not violating the law.
She said that after a long search she found the journals and
took about two thousand photographs of the pages in the
journals. Ms. Frenzel testified that the earliest journal she
found was from 1984. Ms. Frenzel testified that an entry
dated October 25, 2003, from one of the journals may have
explained why there were no journals prior to 1984. At the
state's request, she read the following:
10/28 of 2003 Tuesday at noon. I've just stopped feeding
the fire of books and papers from the attic that started
about 8:00 a.m. Billy just called and will come this evening
if his helper gets back from the doctor in time. I'm
going to town and told him I'd be back by 2:00 p.m. or
so. I have been finding college and high school notes of mine
and bills, love letters and pictures of lovers from years
past, books I have to keep, and many more that are burning at
the moment. I am working my way through a journal of 89
through 3-90. This is the period where I had left Beth Field
because of her whore-swinging stuff and was spending longer
and longer periods of time here trying to get daddy off of
mother's back. This was a challenging, mind stretching
introspective, reexamination time for me. And I was altered
by it in a positive way to enable me to handle, without
murder, the upcoming debacle with daddy and mother and Kay
and Buchie that is just now taking another step towards
completion with my moving out of this house. Found stuff from
Robin with a couple of guy's names she had marriage
offers from while she was loving me and a note saying how
devoted to me she was, and that she wanted to ball Brian.
Ain't it just the way?
Frenzel also found copies of letters. She noted one specific
letter dated March 1973 from the defendant to his parents,
which explained his girlfriend's absence. Ms. Frenzel
read a portion of the letter to the jury, as follows:
Greetings. I'm not married anymore. And although she has
just been gone two days, my thinking is starting to clear
from the clouds that were in her mind. I thought I could get
her clear, but I've given up the experiment with her
anyway. So now I can begin training full time. I'm also
postponing the boat experiment until after the '76
Olympics, then maybe Bill will be big enough to help with it.
One more thing about my last wife for your own information
and in case her folks inquire. She met a man who has a boat,
and although he invited us both, I convinced them I have more
pressing things to do at the moment. And so, I sent them off
to the ocean and each other with my good wishes and blessing,
and I might add, all to my great relief.
Frenzel testified that a portion of the letter that was
redacted indicated it was Sharon Hensley he was calling his
wife in the above letter.
Frenzel also read a copy of a letter the defendant sent to
his parents to send to Sharon Hensley's mother.
Dear Mrs. Hensley; I'm in west Florida trying to rebuild
a busted motor that blew a piston. And I called one of my
sisters in Louisiana who had gotten a letter from my mother
saying you had called. I share your concern about Sharon, but
then she is of age and she should have the right and freedom
from you to decide for herself how she wants to live her time
on earth. When and if she contacts you, please write me
through my mother, saying where she is, how she is, what
she's doing and if she wants to see me. I'll write
down all the things I can think of that might help you find
her. And since I don't remember your mailing address or
phone, I'll mail this to my mother and she will forward
. . . .
When I saw Sharon last was about a year ago in Key West. We
met this couple from Australia who had a boat they were
traveling and living on, about 35 or 40 foot, I think. I
didn't hear their last names or have the occasion to ask
if the boat was registered to either of them. If the boat had
some name I didn't see it or hear it mentioned. Anyway,
they, John and Vanessa, invited us to marry them and sail
around with them. Sharon wanted to and I didn't. They
seemed like nice, loving people, but I wanted to wait until
we could get our own boat. She seemed to think that I was too
much of a straight country boy to evolve at her speed, so she
decided to leave me. She also said she was going to try to
forget me, her family, and everybody else that she --that she
knew so she should -- could become -- . . . . -- and
everybody else that she knew so she could became a new
person, clean and free from memory associations. Some kind of
Zen/Buddhist thinking Vanessa was experimenting with, I
think. If you plan to try to find her against her will, the
only possibility I can think of is sailing around looking and
talking to other people who are sailing around. I left before
they did so I don't know which way they went. They talked
of island hopping around South America and the West Indies,
and they talked of stopping in Hawaii for a while, maybe a
couple years in the Philippines then India, Egypt, and the
Mediterranean islands and coast. I don't know how much of
which of these, if any, they decided on or in what order. Mr.
and Mrs. Hensley, Brian, Rick, Harry, I enjoyed meeting all
of you and visiting there. It seem like when I'm not
working I travel mostly, so get in touch with my mother if
you think I can be an help to you. Although Sharon and me
were not legally married we felt completely married to each
other. So I feel like a kind of kinship to your family. If
she changes her mind and gets in touch please tell her I love
her and want to see her. In the spirit of love, health and
Frenzel found several documents concerning Annette Carver,
who married the defendant and a few years later disappeared.
Ms. Frenzel identified each document which related the
following information: The defendant and Annette Carver were
married in August 1983. The defendant was forty-one at the
time; Annette was seventeen. Prior to their marriage, Annette
and her mother, Mary Carver, purchased a house jointly in
Tulsa, Oklahoma, in April 1982. In May 1984, Mary Carver
quit-claimed her interest in the property to Annette. In July
1984, Annette conveyed joint ownership in the property to the
defendant, and on August 28, 1984, she deeded her interest in
the property to the defendant in sole ownership. Annette
disappeared shortly thereafter.
Ms. Frenzel's investigation, she acquired a letter, dated
January 19, 1985, that the defendant sent to Annette's
mother. Mary Carver had already reported her daughter missing
at the time the defendant wrote ...