Investigating and solving homicides carries a certain tough glamour in television police procedure programs.
A real murder case — and the real impact of the violent crime on a family — was presented without embellishment Wednesday during a panel discussion for Indiana State University criminology and criminal justice students.
The professionals who handled the investigation and prosecution of four defendants in the October 2016 beating death of Wabash Valley radio D.J. Matt Luecking reviewed the case from beginning to end.
“You never know what little bit of information might make a big difference down the road,” Vigo Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts said of the evidence-collection process that tied the suspects to the crime scene.
He referred to a small blood smear found on the shoe of 26-year-old John Edward Collins, who was one of those convicted of the Oct. 24, 2016 bludgeoning death of Luecking. The shoe was found in the back of Luecking’s car, which was stolen by Collins and his girlfriend Kathleen Featherstone following the slaying.
Luck and good, fast work
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Detective Sgt. Troy Davis said half-jokingly of the tip that led to the quick apprehension of Collins and co-defendant Benjamin Selig of Rockville.
The homicide was discovered after co-workers called police when Luecking failed to show up at his bank job. Davis was the officer who found Luecking dead from an obvious homicide.
Within 24 hours, police had three suspects in custody and were searching for a fourth who had left the state.
In the hours after the murder, Collins had traveled to Clinton with Selig, who was not involved in the homicide. The two tried to use Luecking’s bank card to buy items so Collins could leave the area.
A store security recorded the license plate of the car the men were driving, giving police a tip on where to look for the people who had tried to use Luecking’s bank card. Police found the men at Selig’s house loading items into the back of Luecking’s stolen car.
Within 24 hours, Davis and other detectives were interviewing the two at the police station. That led detectives to Kathleen Featherstone, and then to her uncle and the mastermind of the crime: 48-year-old Donald Featherstone.
Police learned Donald Featherstone had been stalking Luecking for more than a year because Luecking was dating Donald Featherstone’s ex-girlfriend. They also learned that Donald Featherstone was responsible for vandalism and other harassing incidents reported by Luecking.
“From an academic standpoint, this is certainly one of the more interesting cases we have worked on,” Roberts said of the investigation. “From a human perspective it’s definitely one of the most tragic cases.”
Roberts thoroughly covered the case in the presentation, including establishing probable cause, the initial hearing after charges were filed, more court proceedings, working with the victim’s family, the decision on whether to take the case to trial or offer plea agreements, convictions and sentences.
Eric Luecking, younger brother of Matt, said his family went through a lot of emotions as the case progressed through the court system, and they were finally glad when the sentencing for all of the defendants was complete.
He said he felt helpless while waiting at the homicide scene, so he sat in his car and he prayed for his brother, for his family and for the people who had committed the horrible crime.
He has considered writing a book, Luecking said, to help other victim families know what questions to ask and what they can expect in the weeks and months that follow such a crime.
Criminology professor Travis Behem said the panel discussion showed the ISU students how they can apply their coursework if they become police officers, investigators, attorneys or enter other associated fields.
Teacher Christian Gallagher agreed.
“To me, it’s important the students get to hear from the professionals,” said Gallagher, who both holds a doctorate and has been a city police officer since 1995 and is currently assigned to domestic violence investigations.
“It’s neat they are taking it from the moment the body was discovered all the way through the plea agreements and then we get the victim’s family perspective,” Gallagher said of the panel discussion. “It’s not often you can put together something that comprehensive for students.”
Student Derek Griffin of New Albany already gets some practical experience by interning at the Vigo County Security Center.
But he said the panel discussion is important for students to hear first-hand experiences.
“It’s important to see what it’s like out there in the field,” Griffin said. “What are some things we will have to go through. What will we have to play toward if you want to be a cop, an investigator or a prosecutor. You can also learn that this field might not be for you.”
Eric Luecking said he is still proud of his brother and the life he lived.
Matt Luecking, 44, was a graduate of Indiana State and worked at Terre Haute Savings Bank. He was the sole owner and operator of Showtime Music for 26 years. He held several positions at various Wabash Valley radio stations for two decades, with those positions ranging from on-air personality to program director.
On the night of his death, police learned that Collins climbed onto a balcony and slipped through an unlocked patio door into Luecking’s apartment in the Village Quarter apartment complex while Luecking slept. Collins then let Donald Featherstone and Kathleen Featherstone into the apartment.
Sgt. Davis said Donald Featherstone encouraged Collins to beat Luecking, who was found in his bed. It was apparent Luecking had been sleeping when he was attacked, and never knew what happened, Davis said.
When the case was finally resolved with plea agreements, Vigo Superior Court Judge Michael Lewis called Luecking’s death “one of the most brutal murders I have ever had in this court.”
Collins admitted to beating Luecking in the head with the eight-pound base of a microphone stand and also pleaded guilty to taking Luecking’s car after the attack. Collins was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Donald Featherstone pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to 50 years.
Kathleen Featherstone, the niece of Donald Featherstone, pleaded guilty to robbery, burglary and criminal trespass. She was sentenced to 30 years. A murder charge against her was dismissed.
Benjamin Selig pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal and was sentenced to four years, suspended to probation. In January 2019, he admitted violating the terms of his probation, and he was ordered to serve the balance of his sentence. He assisted the other defendants but was not present at the time of the killing.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.