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Relief the prevailing feeling in murder case aftermath

Thursday, August 25, 2011

William Minnick
GREENCASTLE -- In an old TV commercial, Speedy Alka-Seltzer would remind us "relief is just a swallow away." Old advice is apparently still good advice.

Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter and others swallowed hard Tuesday, holding their collective breath just as Judge Andrea McCord announced her ruling in the William Minnick resentencing.

And today, relief is the overwhelming feeling they are experiencing as Minnick was sentenced to 160 years in prison for the 1981 murder, rape and robbery of Martha Payne, a 24-year-old Greencastle woman.

"My feeling is definitely one of relief," Bookwalter conceded Wednesday after having 24 hours to digest Tuesday's four-hour hearing in Lawrence Circuit Court at Bedford.

And he detects the same feeling all around, from former Putnam Prosecutor Del Brewer to the man on the street to the law enforcement officials involved in the 30-year-old case.

"Del seems relieved," Bookwalter said of the Greencastle attorney who put Minnick on trial twice and won both times.

"The community seems relieved and the officers all seem relieved."

Pausing to consider the events of Tuesday, Bookwalter's thoughts immediately went to the Payne family.

"I hope in some way this brings at least legal closure for Jim and for Martha's family," he said.

"There will never be closure to the pain and loss, we know that. That will never go away. But there has always been this uneasiness with what's gone on in the legal system."

After all when Judge McCord sentenced the now 48-year-old Minnick to what amounts to an additional 50 years in prison, she became the fourth judge (former Clay County Judge Ernest Yelton, Linda Chezem and David McIntyre before her) to impose sentence on the former Greencastle man.

Bookwalter was impressed with the judge's meticulous five-page order of sentence.

"It was well reasoned and very detailed," he said, indicating it seemed apparent she knew the sentence order would be closely scrutinized if and when an appeal is considered.

A day later, Bookwalter was also able to shed a little more light on how the proceedings nearly never got started.

The case was due to be considered at 1:30 p.m., but 15 minutes went by before any of the court officials even entered the courtroom. And when they did, it was only to call for the probation officers sitting in the back of the room.

Twenty minutes later, Bookwalter emerged from the judge's chambers to tell the Payne family Minnick did not want to come out and "was going crazy in the cell back there."

Minnick reportedly became physically disruptive upon learning that a packet of papers he had mailed from the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City had not been received in time by the court.

Minnick also sent his attorney, Monica Foster, out to ask his pen-pal girlfriend Karen Groff to leave the courtroom lest she hear bad things about him.

"We came within an inch of him not going in there (the courtroom)," Bookwalter said, admitting he had begun to agonize over what he might have to tell the Payne family members who were gathered in the courtroom gallery.

"The defense lawyers did not want him in that courtroom," he said.

And Bookwalter certainly didn't want to tell the Paynes the long-awaited proceedings would have to be postponed.

The defense was still trying to play the mentally ill card at that point.

They seemed unsure of what Minnick might say or do in the courtroom and tried in vain to convince Judge McCord that he was incompetent to participate in his own defense.

"Yet, when he walked in," Bookwalter said, "he was a perfect gentleman."

Regardless, Bookwalter said he altered his strategy, and felt like he was walking on eggshells in presenting his case at the outset.

"I was originally intending to start by calling (retired Indiana State Police Det.) Dick Rice and (former Putnam Deputy) Jim Hendrich first, but I thought that might set him off. So I changed up and started with Martha's mother (Eleanor Royer) and sister (Sharon Powell).

"We really never talked about Minnick. We focused on Martha."

Instead of being disruptive in court, Minnick appeared to be listening intently as Royer, Powell and then Jim Payne detailed how the gruesome murder of their daughter, sister and wife has affected their lives.

"I think he got a little empathetic -- if he can be empathetic -- when he heard the family on the stand," Bookwalter said of Minnick.

"Still," he added, "the weirdest thing to me is when he started talking. When they got him up on the stand, he just kind of took off from there. I still think he was just about to say that he did it."

Minnick indirectly apologized to the Payne family and alluded to past indiscretions that he wished he could change.

At one point in the monologue, one of the members of his defense team seemed to close her laptop in disgust at what her client was saying in open court.

But he never actually pointed the finger at himself, despite noting, that "you can't tell a victim's family you're sorry because the state will use that against you."

Minnick told the judge he plans to appeal her 160-year sentence that will keep him in prison until he's 98 if it stands.

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For Pete's sake - how money appeals or trials can one man have? Enough is enough!

-- Posted by indianamama on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 10:39 AM

I remember vividly this case when I was a senior in high school and the media coverage. I, too, hope this can bring some type of closure to Martha's family.

As for Minnick .. You don't have to own up to killing Martha or apologize to the family. The evidence put you behind bars and will keep you there until you die.

Justice will be served when the courts stop allowing you to waste the taxpayers money another 30+ years and give you the death penalty instead.

-- Posted by Emmes on Tue, Aug 30, 2011, at 11:49 AM

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