The Ottumwa Courier

January 15, 2014

Jury seated, trial underway in 1974 killing

By JOSH VARDAMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — The second day of the Robert Eugene Pilcher trial, who is being charged with killing Mary Jayne Jones in 1974, started out very quietly.

Until 1:30 p.m., the prospective jury and counsel had only been in the courtroom for a total of just minutes because Judge Richard Meadows and the counsel retreated to the judge’s chambers for conversations about “legal issues,” which were not explained.

When the 35 prospective jurors finally came back to the courtroom, defense attorney Allen Cook continued with his voir dire from Tuesday. He questioned the jury pool about what stories to believe from someone who brags a lot, if they realize the way some people do things is different than the way others do and he ended with again making sure each of the prospective jurors understand the term, “beyond reasonable doubt.”

After the defense concluded its voir dire, each side took turns striking out prospective jurors until the 12-person jury and three alternates were chosen.

The judge granted a short recess, and then prosecuting attorney Denise Timmins read the trial information and the defendant’s plea of not guilty. Then she started with the prosecution’s opening statement.

Their statement began with describing the crime scene, which was a farmhouse just west of Ottumwa, and what Jones was doing the day she was murdered. She also mentioned that in 1974 Pilcher was one of the main suspects in the case, but at that time there was not enough evidence to convict anyone of the murder.

Timmins said that Pilcher was a frequent visitor to the home that Jones was found in because he was a cousin of the owner, Max Marlin. She also said that evidence has shown there was a connection directly between Pilcher and Jones, because he went to Henry’s Drive-In, where Jones worked, quite often and apparently asked her out on multiple occasions.

That is not enough to accuse someone of a murder, however, so in 1974 Pilcher was merely questioned as a suspect in the case. Timmins went on to say that for the next almost 40 years nothing was really done with the case, until in 2010 the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) was awarded funding to reopen several cold cases. It was then found in 2012 that a piece of DNA was left on the blanket underneath Jones’ body when she was murdered, and the DNA belonged to Pilcher. It was after the DNA samples were found that he was arrested and charged in the case.

“What the state believes the evidence will show you is most of the stains on the blanket belonged to Max Marlin… not a huge surprise to anyone,” Timmins said. “But they found three other stains … that were a match to the defendant.”

Timmins also made mention several times that the jury will have the difficult task of trying to piece together evidence taken from almost a 40-year timespan.

“In this case you are going to be looking at evidence from 1974. You are also going to look at evidence from 2012, and then you will be asked to make the link between the two,” she said. “Look at the big picture and make the determination that he is guilty.”

After Timmins finished with her opening statement, Cook began the defense’s opening statement.

He started much in the same way that Timmins did, reviewing the crime scene and mentioning that it is a very sad and tragic case. However, he focused on the evidence pointing to the fact that, in their opinion, Pilcher could not have committed the crime.

The evidence shows, according to Cook, that the evidence shows Jones was brutally beaten and shot with a high-powered rifle. However, the evidence also shows that no one washed themselves off at the home and there were no clothes missing from the house.

That means Pilcher would have had to leave the home and go somewhere in the car he had borrowed from Marlin to wash off. But, there was nothing found in the vehicle that would indicate a recent murderer had been in it.

“You will hear no evidence that links [Jones] to the car or that it was there on April 9, 1974,” Cook said. “You will hear no evidence that he was seen with bloody clothing, seen going home to shower or changing clothes.”

He then went into the fact that Pilcher was very willing to participate in the investigation following the murder. Pilcher gave hair, fingerprint and blood samples, and was very willing to be questioned by officials. Also, Cook explained how there was other DNA from the blanket that didn’t belong to Pilcher, and his DNA could have been planted there at any time.

Cook concluded by saying although the case is very horrific and tragic, the evidence does not merit convicting Pilcher and that Jones was a victim of trusting in someone who she shouldn’t have.

“I think, generally, the defense theory is that she got involved with someone who she didn’t know was dangerous… and she paid the ultimate price, undeserving as it is. That’s what we believe,” Cook said.

After Cook finished with his opening statement, the first witness in the case was called. Steve Day, of Columbia, Mo., was a Wapello County sheriff in 1974, and was one of the first sheriff’s deputies that was called to the scene of the crime. He then was in charge of finding Lynn Guyette, Jones’ roommate at the farmhouse, to inform her of Jones’ death.

Day was only questioned by the prosecution, as the defense declined to cross-examine. He was given pictures of the farmhouse and Jones’ body at the crime scene, which were then given to the jury as the first piece of evidence in the trial.

Once Day’s testimony was completed, Judge Meadows decide to recess until Thursday morning. The trial will continue at 9 a.m. at the Wapello County Courthouse.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman’s Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh