Courier Staff Writer
The man accused of killing a teenage girl nearly 40 years ago made his initial appearance before a judge.
Robert Pilcher, 66, of Des Moines, was arrested Tuesday by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office at a Des Moines motel.
In an appearance Wednesday before Judge Samuel Erhardt, Pilcher entered a not guilty plea. Initially, the single charge listed in court records is for murder in the first degree. Investigators in 1974 said the victim, Mary Jayne Jones, 17, of Ottumwa, was sexually assaulted and shot to death.
The meeting between the judge and defendant was done by video court, with the judge in the courtroom and Pilcher in a secure location in the Wapello County Jail during the appearance early Wednesday morning.
The judge kept Pilcher’s bond the same: $1 million, cash only.
The video appearance was not unusual, said Mark Miller, the newly elected Wapello County sheriff. Nearly all initial appearances from the jail are done via video-phone conferencing.
Investigators say Pilcher has declined to speak with them about the 1974 case. Back then, he had been interviewed and released.
However, felons are now required to submit a DNA sample to law enforcement, which goes on record similar to the way fingerprints are kept. Authorities say it was that DNA that led them to the arrest.
According to past Courier articles, in 1975, Pilcher was found guilty of perjury in connection with a 1974 trial which ended in his conviction on charges of sodomy that occurred in a farmhouse west of Ottumwa April 5, 1974, four days before the body of Jones was discovered. In October 1974, he was sentenced to a prison term not to exceed 10 years and was then released on a $10,000 appeal bond the same day.
According to an October 1974 Courier article, “A request that Pilcher be committed as a criminal sexual psychopath, filed May 9 by county attorney Sam Erhardt, was dismissed by District Court Judge Michael Enich on July 21, following a psychological and psychiatric evaluation at Oakdale Medical Facility.”
In another Courier article dated Feb. 8, 1975, regarding the sentencing of Pilcher’s perjury conviction: “According to Donald Sether, court reporter, (Tom) Walter (defense attorney) said during the hearing, ‘I am well aware of the motives of the state, both in filing the charge of sodomy and in the charge of perjury. I think Mr. Ruschmeyer (Max Ruschmeyer, assistant county attorney) has made it evident to anyone concerned — he has certainly made it evident to me — and the court well knows that Mr. Pilcher is under the suspicion of the charge of murder. It’s the intent of this state to have Mr. Pilcher locked up so that witnesses who allegedly couldn’t come forward to testify will come forward to testify if Mr. Pilcher is incarcerated.’” Walter told the Courier later that day the murder he was referring to was that of Jones.
Since then, Pilcher has had multiple arrests, including convictions for felony car theft and probation violation in 1999, a 2000 conviction for operating a motor vehicle without owner consent and a felony burglary case in 2002.
Pilcher has faced multiple other convictions, primarily on theft charges, and served time behind bars several times.
He has been found guilty of aggravated or serious misdemeanors in 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004.
He was also arrested for escape of a felon from a work release program in 2004 and had a recent arrest (September 2012) for suspicion of felony theft.
Pilcher’s next appearance in Wapello County on the murder charge is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 21.