TAUNTON — A former prosecution witness whose testimony at Carl Drew’s 1981 murder trial doomed the convicted “cult killer” to life in prison began telling a very different story Thursday of the events surrounding the mysterious slaying of Fall River prostitute Karen Marsden.
Carol Fletcher, now a defense witness, told Superior Court Judge John Connor that she actually witnessed Robin Marie Murphy begin to murder Marsden on the roof of the former Harbor Terrace apartments in Fall River.
Her testimony Thursday sharply contrasted what she had told the jury in 1981, which led to Drew’s murder conviction.
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In 1981, Fletcher testified that she, Murphy, Drew and a man named Carl Davis had taken Marsden to a densely wooded section of Westport near Family Beach to murder her.
Her trial testimony included sworn statements that she was present during Marsden’s slaying and decapitation.
But first in a sworn affidavit filed with Drew’s motion for a new trial last year, and again Thursday, Fletcher claimed she was threatened into testifying falsely by prosecutors and Murphy.
She also described what she says was the actual murder scene. She told the court Murphy and Marsden were arguing in front of the Harbor Terrace apartments, where the clique of friends routinely hung out.
She then went on to say that the argument escalated and the pair of young prostitutes went up on the roof of the apartment complex.
“They were fighting and Robin started pulling Karen’s hair out of her head,” Fletcher testified. “I saw Robin put the knife toward Karen and I ran off. I was scared.”
Fletcher, continuing her emotional testimony, then said that on the day after the Feb. 8, 1980 murder, she overheard Murphy tell Davis “she still had Karen’s hair under her fingernails.”
“We never went to the Westport woods,” Fletcher testified. “That never happened.”
Fletcher said her original trial testimony was shaped by Murphy, and later by former Assistant District Attorney David Waxler.
Waxler, who prosecuted the Drew murder case, has been accused by at least three former trial witnesses of coercing and threatening them into lying on the witness stand.
“Robin came to my home and said that people would be asking me questions. She said to tell them that Carl Drew and Carl Davis killed Karen,” Fletcher testified. “Robin was evil and possessive.”
Then, after she allegedly had her life threatened by Murphy, Fletcher fled to Washington.
But eventually she was located by Massachusetts State Police investigators, who, along with Waxler, visited and interviewed Fletcher on three different occasions prior to Drew’s initial trial.
“Waxler told me that if I didn’t cooperate and testify against Drew, I’d basically be put in prison,” Fletcher testified. “They wanted me to lie about Carl Drew being present in Westport.”
Fletcher’s testimony, though, was cut short due to time constraints. She will be back on the witness stand today to complete her direct testimony and be cross-examined by Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne.
Thursday’s evidentiary hearing to determine whether Drew will be granted a new trial began with the completion of Maureen “Sunny” Sparda’s testimony.
Sparda on Wednesday made explosive and detailed accusations of prosecutorial misconduct and coercion against Waxler.
Sparda did not back down from her sworn accusations Thursday during Gagne’s cross-examination.
Although she did break down sobbing on two occasions, she steadfastly maintained that Waxler threatened to charge her with murder if she testified on Drew’s behalf.
Sparda, during the initial trial, pled the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify because of the alleged threats made by Waxler. She was to be a defense witness testifying in Drew’s favor.
During cross-examination, Gagne informed the court that Sparda had been convicted and jailed on various heroin-related crimes at least eight times between 1985 and 2000.
Sparda admitted to each conviction, but said she has been drug free for the past four years.
In fact, Sparda noted that she has received a commendation from Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson for counseling abused children and also frequently speaks with children in school about making “the wrong decisions.”
Sparda is also currently attending college to become a minister, she told the court.
Many of Gagne’s questions Thursday centered around a meeting Sparda attended in 1980 between former District Attorney Ronald Pina, his staff and Murphy.
According to Sparda’s testimony, she was present at the meeting only because Murphy said she would confess on the condition that Sparda was present.
Murphy, according to transcripts of the meeting, told the prosecutors and police investigators that she and Drew murdered Marsden by punching her, slitting her throat and then decapitating her before performing rituals with her blood and cadaver.
But after the apparent confession was complete, Sparda said Pina came back into the room to speak with her alone.
“(Pina) asked me which one of my girlfriends I wanted to keep … Robin or Carol,” Sparda testified. “I said to him this is all fixed. You’re all crooked. Why would you ask me that when Robin just confessed? Let the judge decide.”
Sparda went on to tell the court Pina told her he was “just trying to do her a favor” by asking her to choose between her two friends.
Gagne also questioned Sparda on her affidavit, filed with Drew’s motion for a new trial last September.
In an apparent attempt to point out the difference between her own language and the language used in the affidavit signed by Sparda, Gagne noted that Sparda called pimps “sellers and brokers” in her affidavit.
When asked what she usually called people who profit off the sale of others for sex, Sparda said, “pimps” or “madams.”
Gagne has pointed to other inconsistencies in language in the affidavits of Fletcher and former Fall River Detective Paul Carey.
Gagne and the district attorney’s chief of appeals, Kevin Connelly, also called attorney Alvin Youman to the witness stand Thursday morning. Youman’s testimony was utilized to attempt to disprove Sparda’s claims about being threatened by Waxler just prior to her taking the stand in 1981.
Sparda, during her testimony Wednesday, said she was brought into a back room of the courthouse and was threatened by Waxler.
“Waxler said I will take Drew’s place and become a murder defendant,” Sparda testified Wednesday. “I told Waxler that I was going to tell the truth, but his face got really red and he started screaming at me, saying, ‘You’re not going to say anything to help him.’”
Sparda also told the court Wednesday that Waxler threatened to grant Davis a plea bargain for the Marsden murder and that Davis would do anything he wanted, including saying that Sparda was present at the murder.
But Youman, who Connelly called “Waxler’s right-hand man” at the Drew murder trial, said he was not aware of any incident between Waxler and Sparda during the trial.
“I was with (Waxler) 24-7, on a daily basis,” Youman testified.
When asked if any of Sparda’s claims ever came to his attention, Youman said they did not.
Today’s session will include the cross-examination of Fletcher and the reappearance of Murphy.
Murphy, on Wednesday, refused to answer any questions posed to her by Drew’s attorney. Instead, she pled the Fifth Amendment.
But a brief hearing to determine whether Murphy has the privilege to plead the Fifth Amendment will be held this morning.
If Judge Connor rules that Murphy already waived her rights to the privilege, she will likely be forced to testify and could be imprisoned on a contempt of court charge if she refuses to comply with such an order.
Murphy was paroled from prison earlier this year after telling the board she lied about the gory Marsden murder and was not present at the slaying at all.
Murphy, unlike Drew, was offered a second-degree murder plea bargain for the Marsden murder, allowing her the opportunity for parole.
Drew was convicted of first degree murder, which carries a mandatory life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.