Timothy Shaun Stemple sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Oklahoma. Because his conviction is based on the obviously perjurious testimony of alleged accomplices and snitches, I oppose his execution.
[For a much condensed version of this post, see my subsequent post I Fervently Oppose the Execution of Timothy Shaun Stemple.]
I provide a summary of the State's case from Stemple v. Workman (2009). I have changed each instance of the word Petitioner with Stemple, meaning specifically Shaun Stemple. Any other person with the last name of Stemple is referenced by both first and last names. I have removed the legal references and the footnotes. I offer only those portions of the decision that relate to the evidence or the quality of the evidence.
In the early morning hours of October 24, 1996, Stemple's wife, Trisha Stemple, was brutally murdered. Her body was left on the side of U.S. Highway 75 in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. Stemple was charged and convicted of the killing of his wife. ...
Stemple concocted a plan to terminate the life of his wife, Trisha Stemple, and to collect her life insurance proceeds. Stemple was having an extra-marital affair with Dani Wood. Dani Wood had a sixteen year old cousin, Terry Hunt. According to Hunt, Stemple offered him $25,000 to $50,000 to help kill Trisha (if they collected the insurance money).
Hunt recruited another person, Nathaniel Helm to assist in the plan. Helm and Hunt went to Wal-Mart where they purchased a baseball bat and plastic wrap. The plastic wrap was wrapped around the bat to keep the bat from getting bloody.
On October 10, 1996, Hunt and Helm went to the designated location on highway 75 and waited for Stemple and his wife to arrive. A while later Stemple drove up and told Helm and Hunt that Trisha was ill and he could not get her to accompany him.
Two weeks later, Stemple arranged for Hunt to drive Stemple's pickup to a particular location on highway 75 and leave the hood up. Stemple and Trisha arrived in their black Nissan Maxima. Stemple began working on the truck and Trisha stood next to the truck. Hunt came up behind Trisha and hit her in the head with the bat. The blow did not render Trisha unconscious, so Stemple took the bat and hit her several more times.
Stemple and Hunt then placed Trisha's head in front of the front tire of the pickup and attempted to run over her head, however, the tire would not roll over Trisha's head so her head was pushed along the pavement. After this, Trisha tried to get up. Stemple grabbed the bat and hit her several more times. The pair then placed Trisha's body under the truck and drove over her chest. After this Trisha rose up on her elbows, so Stemple hit her again several times with the bat.
Stemple then went back to the black Nissan and drilled a hole in the front tire to make it look as if Trisha's car had a flat. One expert testified that the hole in the tire had spiral striations consistent with drilling. Stemple and Hunt left in the pickup, but decided to turn around to make sure Trisha was dead. When they got back to the spot where they left Trisha, they noticed that she had crawled into the grass beside the road. Stemple then sped up and ran over Trisha as she lay in the grass.
Trisha's body was found later that morning, after Stemple called reporting that she was missing. The autopsy evaluation revealed that Trisha had fractures to her arm, ribs, pelvis, vertebrae and skull. The medical examiner concluded that Trisha died from blunt force trauma to the head.
While in the Tulsa County jail awaiting trial, Stemple made numerous notes including confessions, lists of witnesses, etc. Inmates testified that Stemple tried to get them to arrange the death of several witnesses. The inmates also testified that Stemple gave them a copy of his confession. Included in these writings were sample letters for witnesses Terry Hunt and Dani Wood, detailing their involvement and exculpating him from the crime. Hunt and Wood were to be coerced into rewriting and signing the letters by persons hired by the other inmates.
Stemple claimed that he was at home when Trisha left during the middle of the night. Stemple testified that he believed that Wood was responsible for the murder of Trisha. ...
The controversy in Stemple's first ground for relief centers around the testimony of Terry Hunt, Stemple's co-defendant and a key witness linking Stemple to the murder of his wife. Stemple asserts that the prosecutor's failure to disclose prior to trial that Hunt would change his testimony regarding details of the murder violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process. Specifically, Stemple complains that Hunt testified for the first time at trial that he and Stemple ran over the victim's chest. Stemple argues that Hunt never mentioned this fact in previous statements or during his preliminary hearing testimony, and that the prosecution coached Hunt to ensure his trial testimony coincided with the physical evidence and the medical examiner's testimony. Stemple ... argues that Hunt's surprise testimony hampered his attorney's ability to cross-examine the State's witnesses as planned. Stemple also alleges that these trial tactics by the State undermined the fundamental fairness of his trial ...
... Stemple argued in his second proposition that the prosecution violated discovery principles and constitutional rules in several instances. Among the claims was an allegation that the state improperly allowed and encouraged Hunt to change his trial testimony to match the crime scene evidence, including Hunt's "new" testimony about running over the victim's chest. ...
Stemple's trial. At one point during a bench conference, the prosecutor even admitted, "I don't know [if] anything coming out of this guy's mouth is going to be consistent." ...
Despite variations in the details of Hunt's story, however, certain important points remained constant. He consistently reported and testified that: (1) Stemple approached him about helping kill Trisha Stemple in exchange for $25,000 -- $50,000; (2) Stemple directed Hunt to purchase a baseball bat to be wrapped in cellophane and used as the murder weapon; (3) Stemple chose the time and place for the attack on his wife; (4) Hunt drove the red pickup truck to the site on Highway 75 chosen by Stemple, left the hood up as if the vehicle were disabled, then hid on the side of the road until Stemple and his wife arrived; (5) Hunt dealt the initial blows with the baseball bat to the back of the victim's head; (6) Stemple delivered more blows to the victim with the bat; (7) the victim attempted to get up and crawl away even after she had been struck numerous times; (8) Stemple and Hunt tried to run over the victim's head but were unsuccessful; (9) after Stemple and Hunt left the victim for dead, they turned around and came back to find she was not yet dead so they ran over her with the truck; (10) Stemple drilled a hole in the tire of the car which he and the victim had driven to the scene, so that it would appear she had a flat tire; and (10) after the deadly assault on the victim, Hunt dropped Stemple off near his home in Jenks, then returned to his own home on Second Street in Tulsa.
... The State presented substantial evidence of Stemple's guilt and participation in the murder independent of Hunt's testimony. Much of the evidence corroborated various portions of Hunt's version of events.
Nathaniel Helm, friend of Terry Hunt, testified that on October 10, 1996, he and Hunt purchased a baseball bat and Saran Wrap to "help kill someone for like $50,000." He also testified that 3 or 4 days later he accompanied Hunt to a specified location on Highway 75 when Stemple drove up in a black Nissan Maxima, got out of the car and told Hunt in a "loud, angry tone" that "the bitch can't make it." Although at that point, Helm did not know who the intended victim of the murder was, he understood that they could not go through with the plan that night because "she was sick." Helm testified further that a couple of weeks after the "initial try" Hunt told him they were going to try again the evening of October 24, 1996. Helm decided not to accompany Hunt on this second attempt. Finally, Helm testified that Hunt later told him that he and "Shaun" had "hit her with a baseball bat" numerous times, then ran over her with the truck because she was still alive.
The medical examiner, Dr. Robert Hemphill, confirmed that the victim had multiple blunt injuries that were consistent with being hit by a bat.
An insurance agent, Ronald Archer, testified that he sold the Stemples life insurance policies which, among other things, insured the victim for $600,000, and an additional $350,000 in the event of an accidental death. The Stemples applied for the insurance in the Fall of 1995.
Witness Rick Robertson, co-owner of Robertson Tire Company, testified that he examined the flat tire from the victim's car and concluded that it had not been driven on at all while it was flat. Witness, Carol Cox, a criminalist for the Tulsa police department, also examined the flat tire. She testified that the inside of the hole in the tire revealed spiral cuts.
Witness Chris Hockett testified that, while driving in the vicinity of the murder, he saw a white male standing beside a red truck at approximately 2:55 a.m. on the morning of the crime. He observed the red truck parked just behind a dark, subcompact car with a flat tire.
Dani Wood, Terry Hunt's cousin, testified that she and Stemple began a sexual relationship sometime in 1995. She also testified that Stemple had told her he was unhappy with his wife because she "kept leaving him and the kids" and was "an unfit mother." Wood indicated that she had introduced Hunt to Stemple, and knew that they had spent some time together. Wood also testified that Stemple left her apartment around 10 p.m. the evening before the murder and did not sleep at her place that night.
Finally, the State presented evidence of multiple confessions and incriminating statements made by Stemple to his cellmates in the Tulsa County Jail while awaiting trial. Ramon Macon testified that Stemple told him "he wanted some people [Terry Hunt and Dani Wood] taken care of on the outside." Stemple paid Macon $1500 as a down payment to "take care of those witnesses." Stemple gave Macon a signed, handwritten confession, in which Stemple said:
I, Timothy Shaun Stemple, on the night my wife died had possession of the 1978 Ford pickup truck and did luer [sic] her out to the 8500 block of South Highway 75 and did with malice aforethought murder Trisha Stemple by means of running her over with aforementioned 1978 red Ford pickup truck. Terry Hunt and I beat her with a baseball bat and through [sic] her in front of the truck. I ran over her repeatedly. Then Terry took me home and I called 911. Terry Hunt who I was to pay _____ $25,000 dollars for the job was to take the truck out of state but he punked out and kept the vehicle in Tulsa until he was caught.
During his defense testimony, Stemple admitted writing the confession, but explained that he did so while under duress and in fear for his family's safety. Macon testified that he suspected Stemple was a police officer, and asked Stemple to put everything down on paper to convince him otherwise.
Cellmate William Campion testified that Stemple asked him if he knew "anybody that could take care of his girlfriend, Dani Wood, because she was the only one that could really put him in for life." Stemple provided sample letters that he wanted Wood to rewrite and sign prior to her death to exonerate Stemple and pin Trisha Stemple's murder on Hunt and Helm.
Cellmate Herbert James Johnson testified that he developed a rapport with Stemple while housed in jail. He testified that Stemple eventually confided that he had "come up with a way to get rid of his wife" and "come up with a bunch of cash too." The description of the events of the murder, as told to Johnson by Stemple, corresponded to Hunt's version.
The State produced various other writings, including, but not limited to, a detailed map of the crime scene, instructions on how to coax Hunt into writing a letter exonerating Stemple, and a description of Dani Wood's living habits for use by the person who was supposed to "take care of her." Stemple admitted that he wrote the documents, but testified that he did so under duress or for the purpose of trying to figure out what exactly happened the night of the murder. ...
Stemple's jury was presented with both physical evidence and the testimony of numerous witnesses, including Stemple, before concluding that Stemple murdered his wife. ... Although Stemple vigorously contests the veracity of the State's witnesses and urges this Court to accept his own version of the "truth," that is not the function of this Court in a habeas proceeding. "The Anglo-Saxon tradition of criminal justice, embodied in the United States Constitution and in federal statutes, makes jurors the judges of the credibility of testimony offered by witnesses. It is for them, generally, and not for appellate courts, to say that a particular witness spoke the truth or fabricated a cock-and-bull story." ...
In his second proposition of error, Stemple claims that the introduction at trial of his videotaped interview with police violated his rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The videotaped interview ended when Stemple announced unequivocally that he was going to get an attorney. ...
In the brief interview shown on the videotape Stemple made three references to getting an attorney. Near the beginning of the interview, and before he had been read his Miranda rights, Stemple said "I feel as though I should have an attorney." He continued talking and expressed concern about "how it looks" because of the life insurance policy on his wife, his extramarital affair, his ownership of a red truck, and an acknowledgment that he was at the crime scene. ...
After being read his Miranda rights, Stemple made a second reference to getting an attorney by saying, "I better get an attorney." ...
In response to Stemple's inquiry whether he was being arrested, the police officer advised him that he was not. At this point the officer commented that "You know what happened," and Stemple replied, "I do." Stemple then stated, "I'm gonna get an attorney," and the interview ended. Stemple's last statement, "I'm gonna get an attorney," is unequivocal and the interrogating officer ceased questioning as required under Davis. Based upon a review of the videotape, the Court concludes that all of Stemple's comments, questions, and responses were made prior to his unequivocal statement that he was going to get an attorney. ...
During the State's case in chief, the prosecutor introduced the videotape ... through the testimony of Detective Fred Parke. The tape was played for the jury. During cross-examination of Stemple, the prosecutor asked him why he made the following statements during the taped interview:
Q: Do you remember the statement, by you: "I know how bad this looks on me so my fear is that you guys — you guys are, inaudible, I think you're here to prove I did it, not to find out, inaudible, and I know you're saying not, but that is my fear. And, inaudible, question that I answer I'm gonna be choosy about it and of course it's going to make me look worse because we have a large insurance policy and because I'm having an affair, motive, motive, whatever, okay. Ahh, because you guys saw a red truck, or somebody saw a red truck or whatever and I used to have a red truck, I'm the asshole. I'm the bad guy, okay. I was out there that night. People have seen me, so I was there, or close to it. Right? So from Shaun's standpoint, I'm the one, oh, my God, I'm dead. Okay?" Do you remember making that statement?A: I sure do.
... In his third ground for relief, Stemple claims that the admission into evidence of his written confession resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial. He asserts that he was under duress from other inmates in the Tulsa County Jail when the confession was forced from him. Stemple also argues that the "testimony of the three jailhouse snitches is so patently absurd that it was error for the trial court to admit such evidence in the first place." ...
Stemple claims that the written confession entered into evidence ... was "bogus" and was not the product of his voluntary act. ... He argues that the "three jailhouse snitches" who testified about his various incriminating oral statements and written materials were not credible. He then explains, as he testified at trial, that these three witnesses extorted money from him using threats of physical violence "in hopes of gaining money and benefit" in their own pending criminal cases. He further explains, as he did at trial, that witness Macon extorted the written "confession" from Stemple by threatening his family members.
I'll first discuss the evidence I find to be obviously false. I'll then point to the evidence I believe to be most inculpatory.
When I first read the appellate decision, I said "No way!" to myself when I read of the violence that allegedly had to be inflicted on Trisha Stemple before she lost consciousness. Allow me to summarize:
"Hunt came up behind Trisha and hit her in the head with the bat."
"The blow did not render Trisha unconscious."
"Stemple took the bat and hit her several more times."
"Stemple and Hunt then placed Trisha's head in front of the tire of the pickup and attempted to run over her head."
"The tire would not roll over Trisha's head so her head was pushed along the pavement."
"After this, Trisha tied to get up."
"Stemple grabbed the bat and hit her several more times."
"The pair then placed Trisha's body under the truck and drove over her chest."
"Trisha rose up on her elbows."
"Stemple hit her again several times with the bat." (Total number of blows to the head with the bat was allegedly 30 to 40.)
"Stemple and Hunt left in the pickup, but decided to turn around to make sure Trisha was dead."
"They noticed that she had crawled into the grass beside the road."
"Stemple then sped up and ran over Trisha as she lay in the grass."
Even Bruce Willis would have succumbed to less violence than Trisha Stemple allegedly withstood.
Couple the unlikelihood of Trisha's alleged durability with the ever-changing story of the star witness, and the situation becomes absurd. Even the prosecutor commented to the judge that "I don't know [if] anything coming out of this guy's mouth is going to be consistent."
I now present an image from the stellar web site www.freeshaun.com. First the image, then the explanation.
On the left is the autopsy sketch for Richard Yost, who was killed in another, unrelated murder. Yost was in fact hit in the back of the head 30 times. The fatal beating was recorded on video. The damage to Yost's head is what can be expected from such a beating.
On the right is the autopsy sketch for Trisha Stemple. In the Stemple case, the State's star witness (and the only alleged eye-witness) testified that he and Shaun Stemple had struck Trisha Stemple in the back of her head more than 30 times, perhaps as many as 40 times. He perjured himself when he so claimed. It is obvious from his testimony. It is obvious from the sketch.
Quite simply, the State of Oklahoma purchased Hunt's testimony in exchange for his life. Hunt is now apparently on a probation list as Stemple is scheduled to be executed in four days.
See the www.freeshaun.com site for an accident reconstruction of how Trisha Stemple more likely died. See the site also for a discussion of Stemple's absurd confession given to the State's covey of snitches. No one confesses to fellow inmates by putting it in writing and beginning with "I [your name here] ... did with malice aforethought murder [someone]." The freeshaun site provides evidence that Shaun's family and children were indeed being threatened by the State's snitches.
Now for the evidence that causes me to suspect Stemple knew something about the murder of his wife, and that he might have been nearby. I point to his short videotape in which he said he knew what happened to his wife and was nearby.
At this point the officer commented that "You know what happened," and Stemple replied, "I do." ... "I was out there that night. People have seen me, so I was there, or close to it. Right? So from Shaun's standpoint, I'm the one, oh, my God, I'm dead."
I'm confident that Timothy Shaun Stemple did not kill his wife as the State claimed he did. I leave open the possibility that Stemple orchestrated the murder of his wife, while recognizing that he claims Dani Wood orchestrated the murder.
In any case, an execution should not ever be premised on obviously false testimony by a State's star witness.
I oppose the execution of Timothy Shaun Stemple.