Ruling due any day on cult murder retrial

An attorney argues that Carl Drew deserves a retrial because witnesses who testified against Drew in 1981 have since recanted their testimonies and said the prosecutors in the case threatened them.

Both the prosecution and the defense expect Superior Court Judge John Connor to make a decision soon on whether convicted murderer Carl Drew should have a new trial, 24 years after he was found guilty of murdering Karen Marsden, a 17-year-old Fall River prostitute.

Marsden was killed Feb. 8, 1980. Her skull was found, separated from the rest of her remains, in April of the same year. Shortly afterward, Drew was arrested for Marsden’s murder, along with Robin Marie Murphy, Marsden’s roommate and a prostitute.

According to Kevin Connolly, an assistant district attorney with the Bristol County district attorney’s office, the case originally laid out against Drew stated that he was a pimp for Murphy and Marsden.

The prosecution in Drew’s 1981 trial said Drew and Murphy drove Marsden to a secluded area of Westport, slit her throat, decapitated her and performed cult rituals on her body.

“[Murphy] did the throat slitting and [Drew] was the one who tore her head off,” Connolly said.

Drew received a life sentence without parole. Murphy was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in return for her testimony against Drew and another murder suspect. She became one of the prosecution’s star witnesses against Drew and was paroled in 2004.

In September 2003, Drew’s attorney, Michael Cutler, filed an affidavit for a new trial. Cutler argues that Drew deserves a retrial because Murphy and other witnesses who testified against Drew in 1981 have since recanted their testimonies and said the prosecutors in the case, David Waxler and Ronald Pina, threatened them into giving false statements.

This is Drew’s second attempt to get a retrial. His former lawyer, Francis O’Boy, filed a motion for a new trial in 1983, also based on a claim that Murphy lied in 1981. In 1986, the State Supreme Judicial Court upheld his conviction.

Drew’s current motion for a new trial led to an 11-day evidentiary hearing that involved 32 witnesses and culminated in December 2004.

Some of the key witnesses at the hearing included Murphy.

In 1981, she told police and prosecutors that she was present at Marsden’s murder, and that she and Drew sexually violated Marsden’s body and literally used her head as a soccer ball.

But, last year, she told a parole board she made up the grisly story of Marsden’s murder in an effort to put Drew in jail, because she believed he had killed Marsden and other women in Satanic rituals, but couldn’t prove it.

Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said Murphy should not be believed and described her as “a reckless, unscrupulous and offensively untrustworthy witness” in his final briefing.

Another witness, Carol Fletcher, who claimed in 1981 to have witnessed Marsden’s murder in Westport, now says she saw Murphy kill Marsden, without Drew, on the rooftop of a Fall River apartment building. She says Waxler coerced her into testifying.

Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said Fletcher’s judgment and memory have been clouded by decades of drug and alcohol use and that she “is currently under about a dozen prescription medications.”

Fletcher has given different, and sometimes contradictory testimony when it comes to her new version of the murder, he said.

Maureen Sparda, another witness who testified against Drew in 1981, also said she did so after being threatened by Waxler.

During the hearing, Gagne argued that Waxler and Pina are well-respected in the law community and have reputations for integrity.

Cutler argued that Drew received insufficient representation in 1981, and that the district attorney’s office shouldn’t be able to claim that witnesses were reliable in 1981, but aren’t now.

“For purposes of conviction, the prosecution deemed their trial testimony critical and their credibility sufficient,” he wrote in his final briefing. “For purposes of the new trial, however, the prosecution now casts these same witnesses’ recantations as incredible.”

Judge Connor, who presided over the evidentiary hearing in Taunton Superior Court, promised a decision by the end of last year, but thus far has not delivered. Taunton Superior Court workers say part of the delay stems from the fact that Connor was transferred to Dedham Superior Court. They expect him to mail his decision to Taunton, they said.

“No rule compels a decision within a limited period. Given the judge’s diligence throughout the case, I expect his decision any day next week,” Cutler wrote in an e-mail dated last Friday.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Providence Journal, USA
Jan. 13, 2005
Rob Margetta, Journal Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday January 13, 2005.
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