Former assistant DA says ‘cult murder’ witnesses’ claims of coercion false

TAUNTON — Convicted “cult murderer” Carl Drew sat stoically as the man he contends unjustly secured his conviction for a brutal 1980 murder denied numerous allegations of prosecutorial misconduct leveled against him by four former trial witnesses.

David Waxler, the former assistant district attorney who handled Drew’s 1981 murder trial, has been accused of threatening trial witnesses into perjuring themselves in order to ensure Drew’s eventual conviction on a first-degree murder charge.

After serving the last 24 years in prison, Drew has motioned for a new trial based largely on the accusations made by the former trial witnesses, who each now say they were lying about Drew’s role in a ritualistic slaying of Karen Marsden.

The four trial witnesses — Maureen “Sunny” Sparda, Robin Marie Murphy, Carol Fletcher and Leah Johnson — have all pointed to either Waxler or former District Attorney Ronald Pina as the prosecutors who allegedly threatened them with criminal charges if they did not lie about Drew during his trial.

But when confronted with the numerous allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and coercion Thursday, Waxler vehemently denied any role in improperly shaping witness testimony.

“First of all, I wouldn’t do it,” Waxler testified. “If anything like that would have happened, I would have gone directly to the judge.

“All the witnesses were told to give truthful testimony,” he said.

Much of Waxler’s testimony centered around Sparda’s claims that Waxler took her into a back room at the courthouse, screamed at her and threatened to have one of Drew’s co-defendants place her at the scene of the murder if she “said one word that helped Drew.”

Sparda was to be called as a defense witness at Drew’s trial. She contended she had substantial information that would have exonerated Drew if given an opportunity to testify.

But Sparda never did testify on Drew’s behalf, and transcripts from the 1981 murder trial lend some credence to her explosive accusations against Waxler and Pina.

When Sparda took the stand on March 12, 1981, she said she would not testify because of alleged threats made against her, trial transcripts show.

“I’m petrified. I’m scared to death. I want to tell the truth,” Sparda said during the original trial. “I want to tell the jury both sides.”

Sparda also mentioned a letter allegedly written by one of Drew’s co-defendants, Carl Davis. She said Waxler told her during the alleged backroom meeting that he had a letter from Davis placing her at the murder scene.

The reference to an alleged threat against Sparda was never elaborated on during the moments after she made her emotional statement. Sparda was excused from the witness stand and remained silent for the better part of two decades.

When questioned about Sparda’s statements at the original trial and her claims that he forced her to remain silent on the witness stand, Waxler said he was not surprised and then attempted to undermine Sparda’s credibility.

“Sunny Sparda was a cult groupie to these people,” Waxler testified. “It doesn’t surprise me that she would want to come into the fold, but to be honest, she wasn’t important.”

Then, during cross-examination by Drew’s attorney, Michael Cutler, a visibly frustrated Waxler was asked why he did not respond to Sparda’s statements during the trial.

“I didn’t care what she was saying,” Waxler testified as he shook his head. “I considered her to be flighty, and these implications insult me.”

Waxler was also grilled about alleged threats he made against Fletcher and recent Murphy statements indicating she had told Waxler her entire testimony was a lie.

Waxler denied both allegations and said he considered Fletcher to be a very credible witness who placed Drew at the scene of the murder.

Both Fletcher and Murphy, during the original trial, told similarly dark tales of a satanic ritual murder occurring in the Westport woods at Drew’s behest.

But both women have recently sworn under oath that their trial testimony was completely fabricated.

Although he denied all accusations of coercion levied against him, Waxler did concede that there were numerous versions of the murder being told by Fletcher and Murphy leading up to the trial.

When asked why he chose to call both women as witnesses during the trial even though their accounts of the murder had changed several times, Waxler said he did it because their stories were consistent enough and he believed them from the start.

“Did you ask Fletcher why her story had changed?” Cutler asked.

“No, because I believed her story was unfolding, not changing. I didn’t feel a need to examine her about changing her stories,” Waxler responded.

Both Waxler and Pina have testified that the Murphy and Fletcher accounts were too similar not to believe. Pina also maintained the two women could not have set their stories up prior to being questioned by prosecutors because they were not in contact.

But Cutler, through the introduction of various police reports, has shown that Murphy and Fletcher were in contact with one another prior to their accounts being transcribed by police some three months after the February 1980 Marsden slaying.

Cutler also noted Waxler, a young prosecutor in 1981, quickly resigned from the District Attorney’s Office after Drew’s trial was completed.

The Drew evidentiary hearings to determine whether he will be granted a new trial will continue this morning in Taunton Superior Court with testimony from Richard Thomas, Marsden’s boyfriend at the time of the killing.

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