Special to the Tribune-Star
In a few days, Tuesday to be exact, our family will look once more into the eyes of evil and hope that our long journey for justice will be ended.
Events happen throughout our lives that we remember with a clarity undimmed by the passage of time. The day was Oct. 26, 1981. I was home for my dinner break when my mother-in-law called to deliver the awful news that my wife’s sister, Martha Payne, was dead, murdered in her Greencastle home.
When I saw President Bush’s face as Andy Card told him about the 9/11 attacks, I realized I had a similar look as I listened to the details from my mother-in-law while trying to present a calm persona to my wife, who was four-months pregnant with our first child. There is a sound, a terrible cry, one might hear from a mortally injured animal somewhere in the darkness. In the case of my wife, it was a mournful sound that welled up from her soul, where the wound will never heal.
Martha, a former Terre Haute resident and graduate of South Vigo High School, had breakfast with a friend that morning. After lunch she signed up to be a substitute teacher in the public schools. She then worked out with another friend before heading home for the last time.
Her husband, Jim, came home after work and discovered the gruesome scene. As described by the Indiana Supreme Court, and quoted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Martha “had been raped, anally sodomized, stabbed in the right rear shoulder, and struck on the head with a table lamp … ligature marks on her neck indicated she had been strangled, and burn marks on her ankles showed the perpetrator had attempted to electrocute her as well. The cause of death was determined to be the knife wound in her upper back, which penetrated her lung and severed her pulmonary artery.”
Police early the next morning arrested William Minnick, an 18-year-old with a criminal record for minor offenses, whom Martha and Jim hired to do handyman work at their house. He used his taped confession as the basis to appeal his death sentence for the murder, rape and robbery.
In September 1985, the second jury also found him guilty of those crimes, but recommended life without parole, largely because jurors did not know about his confession. The judge knew about it and other details of the crime. She said Martha’s mutilation and defilement, “even after death,” were the kinds of circumstances the Indiana Legislature envisioned when passing the state’s capital punishment laws.
Following that second conviction and second death sentence, Minnick unleashed a flood of appeals, letters, threats, and international pleas for help in fighting what he perceives to be a corrupt judiciary system, a belief supported by many well-meaning individuals and groups who seem to think all convicted murders are innocent, even those who confessed to their crimes.
Since then, federal courts said a judge cannot impose death when a jury recommends life. Minnick’s habeas corpus appeal to the federal courts resulted in a ruling that Indiana resentence him to life without parole. That ruling came exactly 11 years and a day before this week’s hearing. But, once again, Minnick managed to delay justice when the courts deemed him incompetent. That changed a few months ago.
In recent years, Minnick has become somewhat of a media darling, even turning up as a featured inmate in an MSNBC documentary about a program that provides cats to prisoners so they can feel good about themselves. You cannot begin to imagine our shock when we came across the video and saw him laughing about the day of his arrest. What kind of mind justifies profiling a confessed killer, using his laughter and glee to promote a feel-good program without the first thought of how his victims feel?
And that’s what we are: victims. Assuming Minnick ever gets to court, he could, unbelievably, get sentenced only on the murder conviction, thereby making him eligible for immediate parole for time served. His victims, however, receive no court-ordered reduction of their life sentence.
I will not go fully into the financial, psychological, and emotional costs to the people of Indiana and to our family. Taxpayers pay for Minnick’s incarceration, his attorneys, and his court-appointed guardian. We pay for our travel and lodging to attend his trials and his sentencing hearings so judges and juries can see Martha through our eyes. In doing so, we relive those terrible memories with the same intense horror we experienced nearly three decades ago, in what can only be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
I believe Martha struggled with Minnick. I believe she fought and kicked, screamed and pleaded. I know from Minnick’s own words that she prayed to God for help. She did all she could in a few short, but agonizing and terrifying minutes to save her life.
For nearly 30 years, Minnick has abused the legal system in a similar, albeit ironic, way by screaming, pleading, and praying to the courts and to anyone not willing to know the truth of his heinous crime against Martha and, by extension, each of us: her family, her friends, her community, and everyone who values the lives of innocent victims of crime.
Our nightmares will not end if he spends the rest of his life in prison, but at least we will not have to look into the eyes of this evil ever again.
John David Powell is a native of Paris, Ill., and attended Indiana State University. He writes columns from the ShadeyHill Ranch in Texas. He also hosts “Gone to Texas” on Blog Talk Radio. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.