$200M suit after 1967 Va. killings
A man wrongfully accused in the 1967 slaying of two women in Staunton is suing the city for $200 million, claiming officials failed to supervise a detective who was later accused of helping protect the real killer.
William Thomas was acquitted in the killing of Constance Hevener in 1968. In 2008 the city threw out a second charge for Carolyn Hevener Perry's death when a dying woman confessed to the slayings and said the city's lead detective knew she shot both women and helped her hide the murder weapon.
Detective David Bocock died two years before Sharon Diane Crawford Smith's confession. An investigation into her claims offered no answers.
Acting as his own attorney, Thomas filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Roanoke earlier this month claiming the police department and other officials "adopted an official policy of slander," intending to hold him accountable for crimes "it knew, or should have known" he didn't commit.
"The truth -- at least some semblance of the truth in this matter -- needs to be made public," Thomas said in an interview.
Victor Santos, who is representing the city, said Thomas faces a number of procedural hurdles, such as whether the statute of limitations has run out to file such a lawsuit or if the city would be protected by sovereign immunity.
"If we get to discussing the merits of the case, I feel pretty confident that the city will be vindicated," Santos said.
Santos also argues that Thomas was never indicted for the second murder, although the city's commonwealth attorney officially dropped the charge after Smith's confession.
The case has practically become folklore in this Shenandoah Valley city of 25,000.
Nineteen-year-old Hevener and her sister-in-law, 20-year-old Perry were shot to death at High's ice cream parlor on April 11, 1967.
Thomas, who had been using a nearby pay phone, told police he saw two men running from the scene. He quickly became a suspect, but prosecutors weren't able to win a conviction. Thomas says he remained under suspicion until Dec. 30, 2008, days after Smith was arrested in a long-term care facility.
Smith died a month later. Before she died she told investigators she shot both women in the head in the back room of the ice cream shop because they mocked her for being a lesbian.
Smith, who had practiced shooting at Bocock's farm, she said she gave the .25 caliber pistol she used in the shootings to the detective, and they buried it.
Bocock died in 2006. An internal investigation and one by Virginia State Police couldn't find any evidence of wrongdoing or the gun, but local police said the rest of her story checked out.
Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Robertson said at one point police were "exploring the outside chance that there might be some kind of a blood relationship connection," but Bocock's decedents did not want to submit to DNA testing.
"The case is closed as far as we're concerned," Robertson said, refusing to comment on the lawsuit.
Smith moved away for decades before returning to Staunton. The case had gone cold until police heard from a woman who said she told Bocock all those years ago that Smith had showed her a gun a week before the shootings and told her she had two bullets -- one for her stepfather, who had sexually abused her, and one for "that Hevener girl."
Joyce Bradshaw told police and the AP that Bocock came back to her days after she first reported the exchange and told her that Smith had taken a polygraph test and passed it, and that the bullets didn't match Smith's gun.
Bradshaw said Bocock also mentioned that Smith was a good shot, something she took as enough of a threat that she was afraid to go back to police after that.
During those 40 years, the charge was hanging over Thomas' head. His family lost its farm, he didn't go to college as planned, had a brief military career, two failed marriages and worked around the country doing title research for energy companies.
"It was a huge thing to carry around every day," he said.
Thomas said the $200 million figure would account for what he lost and the life he could have had.
About a year and a half after the trial, Thomas said he found himself in a little church in Staunton where the preacher was talking about creating your own strength. The preacher quoted a Russian proverb: "The hammer that smashes glass forges steel."
"I've just tried to be steel," he said.
The Associated Press
| December 23, 2010; 7:40 AM ET
Categories: From the Courthouse, Updates, Virginia
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