Persons of Interest

These are people mentioned in public; through media or other sources, that are seen as Persons of Interest in the sources.

Define Person of Interest:

Merriam Webster
:  a person who is believed to be possibly involved in a crime but has not been charged or arrested

Urban Dictionary
Someone who isn't a suspect in a crime, but just in consideration.

"Person of interest" is a term used by U.S. law enforcement when identifying someone involved in a criminal investigation who has not been arrested or formally accused of a crime.

Unlike "suspect" and "material witness," "person of interest" has no legal definition, but generally refers to someone law enforcement authorities would like to speak with or investigate further in connection with a crime. It may be used, rather than calling the person a suspect, when they don't want their prime suspect to know they're watching him closely. Critics complain that the term has become a method for law enforcement officers to draw attention to individuals without formally accusing them.
There is concern among critics that innocent people will be tainted by being labelled a person of interest.

 Robert Craig Cox
(information below)

 Gerald Carnahan
 (information below)
Steven Eugene Garrison
 (information below)

Dustin Recla, Michael Clay and Joseph Riedel (information below)

Persons of Interest - Information
Dustin Recla
Dustin "Dusty" Recla is a former boyfriend of Suzanne Streeter.
Dustin Recla was charged with felony institutional vandalism. Recla is accused of breaking into a mausoleum at Springfield’s Maple Park Cemetery on Feb. 21 1992 and stealing a skull and some bones.

Michael Clay
Michael Clay was charged with felony institutional vandalism. Clay is accused of breaking into a mausoleum at Springfield’s Maple Park Cemetery on Feb. 21 1992 and stealing a skull and some bones.

Joseph Riedel
Joseph Riedel was charged with felony institutional vandalism. Riedel is accused of breaking into a mausoleum at Springfield’s Maple Park Cemetery on Feb. 21 1992 and stealing a skull and some bones.

Police have said Dustin Recla sold 26 grams of gold teeth fillings from the skull
at a Springfield pawn shop for $30.

Suzanne Streeter gave a statement to officers investigating the vandalism on March 5, 1992.

Steven Eugene Garrison

As quotes from a News-Leader article (5 years) highlights below:

Garrison told police a friend had confessed to killing the three women during a drunken party. He told police information unknown to the public that led investigators to serve three search warrants at two sites in western Webster County; that they would find the women’s bodies and clues about their abduction and deaths. He also said a moss green van believed used to take the women would be found about 12 miles away, south of Fordland.

The property searched was the same site where in 1990 LE searched for two of three missing Springfieldians. Property owner Francis Lee Robb Sr. pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in a case authorities said at the time they believed involve a drug deal gone awry.
Garrison was believed enough that a gag order concerning the three search warrants was issued by a judge.“…certain aspects of the information we received fit with other (private) aspects of the case,” Springfield Police Capt. Todd Whitson said. Whitson said the gag order was rare, but he could not say why it was issued,“other than to say there is such an order, and it governs the operation and everything related to the operation out here.” Added Webster County Sheriff C.E. Wells:“We can’t tell you anything about it until the order’s lifted.”

Info from News-Leader, Aug. 29 & 31, 1993.
Garrison is serving 40 years in prison for raping, sodomizing and terrorizing a female Springfield college student in the summer of 1993.

After tracking him and several associates almost exclusively for more than a year, police have since backed off Garrison. But not all the way off. They last approached him last summer. Six months ago, investigators looked to Colorado for information on Garrison, who is in a Missouri prison.

"They've never let up on me," Garrison says.

Gerald Carnahan
Article by Sara Forhetz, KY3 News
CLAYTON, Mo. -- After initially being evenly split for and against a murder conviction, a St. Louis County jury convicted Gerald Carnahan of first-degree murder and forcible rape on Thursday afternoon for the death of Jackie Johns 25 years ago in Greene County. Barring a successful appeal, the 52-year-old man likely will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of the rest of his life in prison without chance of parole. After a separate sentencing hearing, the jury then recommended a life (30-year) sentence on the rape conviction; that crime carries a range of five years to life in prison. The jury recommended the two sentences be served consecutively. Circuit Judge Michael Jamison will hold a sentencing hearing, possibly in late October, at which he will hear attorneys' motions and recommendations, and then formally issue a sentence, assuming he thinks the trial outcome is fair.

The jury said shortly after 2:30 p.m. that it reached a verdict. The verdict was read about 3:10 p.m. Carnahan's family gasped at the verdict. Johns' family, including her three sisters, exhaled in relief.

Later, Carnahan's wife started crying uncontrollably. Carnahan and his wife have two daughters, ages 6 and 8. His family has told reporters that his wife, who is from Asia, had no idea when she married him that he was a suspect for the crimes in 1985.

After the verdict was read, bailiffs put handcuffs on Carnahan. His defense attorney asked that he be allowed to talk to his family one last time. The judge didn't answer him and the bailiffs led him out of the courtroom. He spoke briefly with his father and attorney during the break before the trial resumed for the sentencing hearing.

Investigators long believed that Carnahan raped and beat Johns, 20, of Nixa in June 1985 and dumped her body in Lake Springfield. They started looking at him as a suspect within a week of the murder but didn't have sufficient evidence to charge him until three years ago. He was charged in 2007 after criminalists said DNA evidence in semen found on Johns' body matched Carnahan's DNA.

DNA analysis wasn't available in the 1980s. The Springfield Police Department got a grant in 2003 that let it afford to look at cold cases such as this one. The SPD tested the DNA from samples taken from Jackie Johns' body and car but wasn't able to match it to a known person.

In 2006, the Missouri State Highway Patrol got a similar grant for cold case analysis, and again tested the evidence and got a DNA match to Carnahan after getting a search warrant to take a swab of his saliva. At the trial, a Highway Patrol criminalist testified he didn't know Springfield police sent the same semen evidence to a lab three years earlier.

Defense attorneys questioned a lack of a report about the testing done in 2003. It's possible that missing report was a fortuitous break for investigators and prosecutors. The Highway Patrol criminalist might not have retested the evidence if he'd known about the previous test.

Defense attorneys challenged the validity of the DNA evidence, based on how crime scene samples were stored and handled for 25 years. Defense attorney Dee Wampler said the DNA evidence appears to be the key factor in the conviction, even though defense attorneys raised questions about that evidence extensively during the trial. He said in an interview that it's evident that jurors put great faith in the science of evidence analysis.

Wampler said he believes he has 50 or more grounds for appeals, and plans to use them.

The trial was held in St. Louis County because of extensive publicity about the case in Springfield. The jury deliberated for eight hours on Wednesday and five-and-a-half hours on Thursday. It heard testimony and attorneys' arguments over seven days. The jury had choices of not guilty, guilty of first-degree murder, and guilty of second-degree murder, as well as not guilty of rape, guilty of forcible rape, and guilty of rape, a lesser charge than forcible rape.

In the sentencing portion of the trial, Janis Johns Walker, 59, Jackie Johns' oldest sister talked about the impact of the murder on her and her family. Her mother died in 1988 with cancer but Walker says that's not what killed her.

"My mom grieved herself to death. She'd sit and cry and cry, and it took a toll on her," Walker said. "Holidays were never the same. Jackie was gone and that destroyed us. It weighed on all of us all these years."

"I prayed all day long," Walker told a reporter after the verdict. "I was afraid he'd get out of it. Now he won't kill anyone else, and I know Jackie and mom are looking down today, smiling. We finally got him."

Walker said she waited 25 years, three months and 6 days for this day.

"We've always though Carnahan was the guilty party," said said. "Jackie was my youngest sister; she was like my baby."

Jackie Johns' father, Les, received the news by a telephone call from his three daughters as reporters waited with him at his home in Nixa. His reaction was emotional, but muted. Happy, with tears in his eyes, he felt vindicated at the news that he said he knew all along: that Carnahan was responsible for his daughter's death. He lives in the same home where Jackie Johns lived when she was murdered.

Les Johns rejects the idea that the verdict will change is life.

"There's no such thing as closure," he said.

Les Johns, 83, is in poor health and wasn't able to attend the trial. He followed news reports about the trial and got updates from his daughters. Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore decided not to seek a death penalty in order to get the case to trial faster because Les Johns feared he wouldn't live long enough if the trial was delayed any more. Johns said, even if an appeal is successful, it won't change his opinion of Carnahan's guilt.

Carnahan's family declined to talk to reporters about the conviction.

The case caps Moore's career as a prosecutor. He was a young assistant prosecuting attorney when Jackie Johns was murdered. He chose this year not to run for re-election to a fourth term as prosecuting attorney, and lost a Republican Party primary race for U.S. representative from the 7th District. His term ends on Dec. 31.

"We were looking at someone facing life in prison," said jury forewoman Deborah McLaughlin. "We did not take that lightly. It was just really tough."

McLaughlin says the rape conviction came fairly quickly.

"DNA doesn't lie. DNA was there; nobody can manipulate DNA. DNA is DNA. That was what was in my mind. I felt like, if his DNA was there for the rape, that he went on to commit the murder. It was a very, very brutal rape, in my opinion. I just was prety positive he went on to commit the murder," she said.

She said not every juror felt the same way. McLaughlin says the first vote on murder was split, 6-6.

'I didn't feel like we had a motive. Nobody saw her go with him. We didn't have any evidence on how it was initiated," McLaughlin said. "There were no fingerprints. We didn't have the evidence to say he was in the car with the fingerprints."

She says jurors hashed it out, going through every possible scenario. The decision was made: guilty. And it wasn't until the very end when they were let in on Carnahan's other convictions that she thinks all the jurors finally felt at peace.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, Moore told the jury about Carnahan's criminal record, something that he was prohibited from doing during the guilty-or-not-guilty portion of the trial. He listed these convictions:

-- Jan. 13, 1994, second-degree burglary of a business, two-year prison sentence;

-- Jan. 13, 1994, stealing from that business, four-year prison sentence;

-- Jan. 13, 1994, arson at that business, three-year prison sentence;

-- Jan. 10, 1994, attempted kidnapping of a girl in Springfield in 1993;

-- June 1, 1994, assault of a law enforcement officer, 11 months in county jail;

-- June 1, 1994, unlawful use of a weapon, one-year prison sentence; and

-- other prison sentences for attempted kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

"I was confident I had made the right decision. I was comfortable with it. When I heard the charges, especially when he got to the kidnapping charge, my cake was decorated," said McLaughlin.

Moore said he doesn't feel like Wampler's appeal will go anywhere. He said he is just relieved that this case finally has a resolution, especially at the end of his time as prosecutor.


KY3 News reporters Marie Saavedra and Chad Plein contributed to this report.

In 1993, Carnahan was charged in Greene County with attempting to abduct 18-year-old Heather Starkey.

Robert Craig Cox

In 1995, Cox was arrested for holding a gun on a 12-year-old girl in Decatur, Texas. He is presently serving a life sentence for that robbery and a consecutive 15-year federal sentence.

Their main suspect is a Texas inmate, 42-year-old Robert Craig Cox. He was convicted of killing a 19-year-old Florida woman who was somehow intercepted while driving home from work at Disney World one night in 1978. Cox - who lived in Springfield the summer of 1992 - walked away from death row in 1989 after the Florida Supreme Court said the jury didn't have enough evidence to convict him.

Through the years, Cox has toyed with Springfield police - saying he knows the women are dead and that they're buried near the city. Having discovered that Cox lied about his alibi on the morning of June 7, 1992, officials are skeptical about his claims.
Cox declined to be interviewed by the News-Leader, but in recent letters to the newspaper, he acknowledges police consider him a suspect and that 10 years ago he worked as a utility locator in south-central Springfield.

Robert Craig Cox was convicted in 1988, of first degree murder, in the 1978 beating death of Sharon Zellers, 19, an employee of Walt Disney World.  The case was weak, and Cox was not charged until eight years after the murder. Cox and his family were staying at a motel in Orlando where the victim’s body was found. He had a cut on his tongue, and hair and blood samples found near the victim were compatible with his. Cox testified he bit through his tongue during a fight.

The Florida Supreme Court reversed Cox’s conviction, ruling that, at best, the evidence created “only a suspicion” of guilt. The court ordered his acquittal and release from death row in1990

 He was immediately taken into custody to complete a prison sentence in California for an unrelated 1985 kidnapping. Then he returned to his boyhood home of Springfield, Mo., where he came under suspicion — but was never charged — in the 1992 disappearance of a mother and two teenage girls. Texas police also questioned him about an abduction in Plano. In 1995, Cox was arrested for holding a gun on a 12-year-old girl during a robbery in Decatur, Texas. He is serving a life sentence for that robbery and is not eligible for parole until 2025.

PATRICK MAY Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SUN 02/04/1990 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section A, Page 9, 2 STAR Edition Share Print Share ORLANDO, Fla. -

For 15 hours, the jurors wrestled with pieces of a puzzle:

A boot print. Three hairs. A map showing convergent paths of the defendant and the victim the night she was last seen alive. Blood in his motel room. Blood in her car. And the bizarre, convoluted alibi he had given police.

In the end, at least in the minds of the 12 jurors, the puzzle of circumstantial evidence fell seamlessly together. It revealed the face of Robert Cox.

Last month, as Cox sat on death row, awaiting execution for the beating death of Walt Disney World worker Sharon Zellers, the Florida Supreme Court decided the puzzle had not been solved after all. The jurors were mistaken, the seven justices ruled on Cox's automatic appeal. Not enough evidence. Reverse the conviction.

Set Cox free.

"Are we all crazy?" asked juror Nancy D'Aurora in a letter to the justices. "The judge, the experts, the jury, the prosecution team? I don't think so. I feel your frivolous finding is all wrong, and I am outraged at your handling of this case.

"Robert Cox is a killer. Robert Cox killed Sharon Zellers. Robert Cox will kill again because you have provided him the opportunity.' If the court rejects the prosecutors' motion for a rehearing, which is likely, and Cox is released, he must return to California, where he had been serving a nine-year sentence for kidnapping and assault. There, the former U.S. Army lieutenant terrorized two young women, once with a knife, once with a gun. With credit for time served, the Springfield, Mo., native could be released sometime next year.

"If he walks, there'll probably be more victims," said juror Buford "Buddy" Funk, 54. "And the blood will be on the hands of those seven justices.' The ruling is highly unusual. Sid White, clerk of the Supreme Court for the past 25 years, said he can't recall the last time the justices reversed a death case and ordered an acquittal.

But the seven-paragraph opinion written by Chief Justice Raymond Ehrlich did more than simply get Cox off death row. It completely blindsided the jurors, souring forever the way some of them view the justice system they had sworn to uphold.

"I don't ever want to serve on a criminal jury again," said legal secretary Carol Duckworth, 44. "I'll never put myself through that sort of ordeal just to have someone come along and say that I was wrong, that I hadn't made the right decision.

"Why not just take these cases directly to the Supreme Court?"she said. "Why bother with us?' Funk agreed. "I will never again serve on a capital case. Period. And they can put me in jail if they want to. If he didn't do it, and they can prove it, well, then, they can electrocute me.' If they let their ruling stand, the justices also shut tight a door in the face of the Zellers family. "Our daughter was murdered in an attempted rape," said Charles Zellers, 65. "Now we've been raped by the justice system.

"If Mr. Cox loses this one, he can keep going back to the courts over and over again," the father said. "But for us, it's the end of the rope. And that's just not fair.' That rope winds back to the evening of Dec. 30, 1978. Sharon Zellers was 19, a shy young woman fresh out of high school in Orlando, thrilled with her first full-time job as clerk at the Frontierland Trading Post. She left work that night at 10, presumably headed for home. "She was a very quiet and cautious person,"recalled her brother Steve, 36. "When she didn't make it home, we started to panic.' Her dad had taught her the route to and from Disney World, taking her along a stretch of West Colonial Drive. She never strayed, her brother said. Four days after she vanished, Sharon Zellers' car was found in an orange grove, eight miles from her route home.

Two days after that, her body was found nearby, stuffed into a manhole at a sewage-pumping station. Investigators would later discover Cox had been vacationing with his parents, staying at a Days Inn 340 feet from that manhole. The coroner ruled she had been beaten on the head 14 times with a blunt object.

The night Zellers vanished, Cox, then 19 and stationed at Hunter Army Base in Savannah, Ga., stumbled into his motel room, bleeding profusely, about to pass out. He was missing a quarter-inch of his tongue. He later told police he had accidentally bitten it off when "a big black man" hit him during a fight outside a skating rink. That would be next to an all-night Albertson's, a grocery store where Zellers frequently bought cigarettes on her way home.

Investigators soon came across the report on Cox's tongue trouble. Orange County Sheriff's detective Al Hansen took a statement. "From that point on," he said, "we felt very strongly that Cox was our man. We checked out his story from that night, and it just didn't hold up.'

Cox said that after the fight, he drove around in his car, got lost, then returned to the rink where a stranger gave him a lift back to the motel. Yet, no blood was ever found in Cox's car; the good Samaritan could never be found; and deputies working at the rink said no such fight had occurred.

Police speculated that Cox had abducted Zellers, forced her to drive to the sandy grove, then lost his tongue as he tried to assault her. They said Cox, a well-built Army Ranger who had just completed basic training, probably flew into a rage and beat the girl to death. No murder weapon was ever found.

Brad Cox, an electrician in Springfield, Mo., stands by his adopted brother's story. "The family just wanted somebody hung for that murder, but there was never evidence to convict my brother," he said. "I believe he bit his own tongue that night. He got into a fight. He took an uppercut in the chin.' Most of the evidence used to convict Cox was cultivated soon after the murder. Still, the case gathered dust for eight years. In the meantime, Cox had an exemplary career in the Army, taking part in the 1983 invasion of Grenada and eventually reaching the rank of second lieutenant.

But in 1985, while stationed near Monterey, Calif., Cox got into trouble with police again.

In the first of two cases, Cox stalked a woman and then grabbed her when she left her car. He held a knife to her throat. The woman struggled and, in the process, badly cut her hands. Bleeding all over his car, she persuaded Cox to take her to a hospital. When police showed up, he fled. Police later found handcuffs and an arsenal of weapons in Cox's home.

In the second case, Cox abducted Gidget Wickham at gunpoint from the Monterey Airport parking lot. From the trunk of his car he grabbed a duffel bag filled with automatic weapons and survival gear, then instructed her to drive him to the mountains.

She escaped after she got Cox to stop by a friend's house. Police arrested Cox after he had held the friend hostage at gunpoint, threatening to kill the man and then himself.

Wickham remains haunted by her attacker.

"There was no question in her mind he was going to kill her had they driven into the mountains," says her mother, Marge Lawyer. "He had the gun stuck in her side while she drove.' Lawyer says her daughter now locks her doors with deadbolts and sleeps in the family room with the lights and TV on every night. She is getting counseling, Lawyer said, "but she will be in total fear when she learns he's getting out of prison again.' Cox pleaded guilty to kidnapping and assault charges. A presentence investigator concluded "Robert Cox is a dangerous man"and found little to explain his "bizarre behavior other than to say that once he sets his mind to do something, he does it.' He was in prison in Tracy, Calif., when Hansen, the Orange County detective, found out about the convictions. Before long, prosecutors Jeff Ashton and Fred Lauten had obtained an indictment and brought Cox back to Florida to stand trial for the murder of Sharon Zellers. During the four-day trial, the jurors studied key evidence that included:

Type O blood, the same as Cox's, was found in Zellers' car in the grove. Though an inconclusive sample, indications of type A, like Zellers', were found in Cox's motel room.

Three hairs found in the victim's car were "indistinguishable"from Cox's chest hair, a Chicago scientist testified.

A shoe print found in the car was consistent with the type of military boot the defendant wore the night the girl vanished.

But for the jurors, it was not any single piece but rather a tapestry of all the evidence woven together that convinced them of Cox's guilt.

"Sure," said Funk, "there's always the chance that the orange grove fairy did it. But there was not one shred of evidence anywhere that said he didn't do it. I know that's not the way to convict someone; but if it looks like grape jelly, smells like grape jelly and tastes like grape jelly, well then, it's probably grape jelly.

"Thousands of people are in jail on circumstantial evidence,"said Funk, who designs rockets for Martin Marietta Corp. "So where do you draw the line on whether the circumstantial evidence you have is enough?' The Supreme Court had no trouble drawing the line. From its opinion: "Although state witnesses cast doubt on Cox's alibi, the state's evidence could have created only a suspicion, rather than proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cox, and only Cox, murdered the victim.'

COX, Robert Craig (W/M)
DC# 113377
DOB: 10/06/59

Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange County, Case # CR88-364

Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Richard F. Conrad

Trial Attorneys: Patricia Cashman & Kelly Sims, Assistant Public Defenders

Attorney, Direct Appeal: Larry B. Henderson, Assistant Public Defender

Date of Offense: 12/30/78

Date of Sentence 10/06/88

Circumstances of the Offense:

On 12/30/78, 19-year-old Sharon Zellers disappeared after leaving work at Walt Disney World. On 1/3/79, her abandoned car was discovered in an orange grove in Orange County. The following day, her body was discovered fully submerged in a sewage lift station located in close proximity to the orange grove. Ms. Zellers’ body was heavily decomposed, and she was identified by her dental records. A medical examiner testified that she died from blunt force trauma to the head and reported that she had received 14 separate head wounds. Despite Ms. Zellers’ injuries, the examiner reported that she probably lived 20-30 minutes subsequent to the attack.

The law enforcement investigation led detectives to question Robert C. Cox. Cox and his parents, who lived in California, were vacationing in Orlando. They were staying at a Days Inn, which was located 340 feet from the sewage lift station where Ms. Zellers’ body was discovered. Cox’s mother had called the hotel security on 12/30/78, because her son had returned to the motel and was bloody around the face and mouth. A portion of his tongue had been severed off, and he was unable to talk and had to communicate by writing. Cox then passed out and was transported to the emergency room by an ambulance. Emergency surgery was performed on Cox to repair his damaged tongue.

Cox made a statement to officers on 1/19/78, two weeks after the incident, and claimed that he was injured during a fight at the local skating rink, Skate World. He stated that there was a fight involving of eight people, four blacks and four whites, outside of the skating rink. Cox claimed that after he was hit in the face, he bit his own tongue. He claimed that he then got into his own car and left the scene. He claimed that he could not find the hotel, so he went back to Skate World, where a Good Samaritan picked him up and dropped him off at the hotel.

Detectives found three loose hairs in the victim’s car that were consistent with Cox’s chest hair, and type-O blood, which is the same type as Cox’s but not the victim’s.
A military-type boot print was discovered inside Ms. Zellers’ car. Cox was in the U.S. Army at the time of his arrest and was wearing that type of boot when treated at the hospital. A match, however, was never made linking the two prints together.

The State claimed that, although the evidence was circumstantial, it pointed to Cox as the perpetrator. The State argued that Cox’s claim that he was in a fight at Skate World was not credible and could not be corroborated by any of the security personnel who were working that evening. There were no eyewitnesses who could support Cox’s alibi. On appeal, the State argued that Cox’s statement that, after being injured, he left the rink in his own car in search of his hotel was not true. Medical evidence was presented that an artery in Cox’s tongue had been severed, and he was bleeding profusely from the mouth. There was a trail of blood at the Days Inn leading from the second floor to the third floor. There was, however, no blood discovered in Cox’s vehicle. Type-O blood, Cox’s blood type, was discovered in Ms. Zellers’ car. The State acknowledged that 45 percent of the population has type-O blood; therefore, the discovery of this type of blood in the victim’s car did not automatically prove that Cox was the murderer. It did, however, prove that Ms. Zellers’ murderer was injured and lost blood in her car prior to her death.

A surgical assistant testified at trial that the injury to Cox’s tongue was more consistent with someone other than himself biting off his tongue because of the shape of the wound and the ragged tear. The defense brought up the fact that the missing portion of Cox’s tongue was not discovered in the victim’s mouth or near the victim. The State countered that the victim’s body was severely decomposed as a result of being submerged in human waste; therefore, the tongue may not have been able to be discovered.

Additional Information:

Cox was indicted in Florida nine years after the commission of the offense. At the time of the indictment, Cox was serving a nine-year sentence in California for Kidnapping and two separate counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon. Circumstances of the offenses are as follows;

In August of 1985, a young girl named Kathleen Boice arrived at her house in Crestview California. As she exited her vehicle, Cox, who was following her, jumped from his car, grabbed the victim, threw her to the ground, placed a seven-inch knife to her throat and told her, “Go with me, don’t scream or I’ll kill you.” During this scuffle, the knife cut the victim’s hand.
In December of 1985, a young woman, Gidget Wickam, was stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Ord, California. Ms. Wickam went to the airport to retrieve luggage and, as she was leaving the airport, Cox, who asked her for a ride to the base, confronted her. She complied and, en route, Cox drew a firearm on Ms. Wickham and told her they were not driving to the base but driving to the mountains.

Trial Summary:
12/15/87 Florida detainer lodged against defendant while incarcerated in California.

01/22/88 Arrest warrant issued.

02/25/88 Defendant indicted:

Count I: Murder in the First Degree

09/30/88 Upon advisory recommendation, the jury recommended death by a 7-5


10/06/88 Defendant sentenced as follows

Count I: Murder in the First Degree

Appeal Summary:
Florida Supreme Court, Direct Appeal
FSC# 73,150
555 So. 2d 352

10/06/88 Appeal filed

03/10/89 Initial brief filed.

06/08/99 State’s answer brief filed

07/11/89 Defendant’s reply brief filed.

12/21/89 FSC reversed conviction, vacated the sentence and directed that defendant

be acquitted.

02/12/90 Rehearing denied.

02/23/90 Mandate issued.

Case Information:

On 03/10/89, the defendant filed his Direct Appeal initial brief, which included the following claims of trial court error: the evidence was legally insufficient to support a conviction; improper excusal of two prospective jurors; the State failed to try Cox for the offense within 180 days and did not indict until nine years after the murder thereby violating the defendant’s due process and preventing him from conducting a proper investigation; and, that Cox’s due process was violated regarding other evidentiary matters.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously agreed that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict and commented that, although the State’s evidence would have created a reasonable suspicion, the case was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court stated the evidence did not prove that Cox, and only Cox, murdered the victim. The Court then vacated Cox’s death sentence, reversed his conviction and remanded to the trial court to enter an order of acquittal for the crime.
Law Enforcement/ Prosecution Statements:

Former Assistant State Attorney and current Circuit Court Judge Frederick J. Lauten wrote:

Jeff Ashton and I prosecuted Robert Cox together. The case was ten years old when I was sent to California by Robert Egan to speak to Cox to see if he would plead to first-degree murder if we waived the death penalty. He would not.
Blood stains found on a floor mat were sent to a new DNA lab to determine if DNA was present. A preliminary report indicated that DNA could be obtained so we took a sample of blood from Robert Cox. The lab reported that the sample from the floor mat lacked even molecular weight for the lab to report a match and maintain the standards established for accuracy and reliability. The lab confirmed that the blood type on the mats matched Cox's blood type, which was evidence we already had. Jeff and I reviewed the case thoroughly and felt that we had enough circumstantial evidence to establish that Cox committed the murder and indicted him.
Nineteen-year-old Sharon Zellers went to work at Walt Disney World on December 30, 1978. She had a habit of informing her parents by telephone of everywhere she went. She was unusually diligent about calling her parents. At the end of her work shift, she called her parents to tell them she was going to meet some friends for breakfast. She promised to call when she left the restaurant; however, she never called. Her father left home and began driving around town to look for her.
At the same time, Robert Cox appeared at a hotel where his parents were staying, the Day's Inn on Sandlake Road. He was bleeding profusely from the mouth and a deputy sheriff was called to take a report. Eventually, Cox was taken to surgery for the injury to his tongue. That night, through his father, he gave a statement to the police, and he also gave another statement directly to the police. He told them that he had been at an ice-skating rink on Highway 50 near Kirkman, and as he was leaving, had been sucker punched by a group of white and black young men and had bitten his tongue off. Rather than return to the ice skating rink to seek help from the police officer he had walked past seconds ago, he reported that he got in his car and drove around looking for a hospital, and unable to find one, returned to the parking lot of the Albertson's grocery store, right next to the skating rink. At that time, some good Samaritan picked him up, bleeding like mad, and drove him the Sand Lake Day's Inn and simply dropped him in the parking lot and left him there to find his parents room! The same night, his father accompanied a deputy back to the car at Albertson's so his dad could drive it back to the hotel. The deputy who took the report went with Cox's father and looked inside the car for evidence and discovered that not one single drop of blood was present, even though Cox himself was bleeding like crazy when he found him at the hotel.
Five days after her disappearance, Sharon Zellers’ body was found in a sewage lift station. That station was no more than 300 yards from the Day's Inn. Her body was unrecognizable because it had been in water and feces, which was pumped down a pipe to a raw sewage station, located further east on Sand Lake Road. Her car was found 20 yards away with blood in it, a boot print, and hair samples, all of which matched Robert Cox. The back seat of the car was missing and to this day has never been found.
As the case proceeded to trial, during discovery, a surgical nurse was identified who assisted in the surgery to the injury to Cox's tongue. She had never been interviewed before, but when finally interviewed by Jeff and me she testified that on the night of the surgery she and the surgeon were told how Cox had injured his tongue (sucker punched at the ice- skating rink) but that the shape of the injury to the tongue was inconsistent with that type of injury and consistent with his having his tongue bitten off by someone else. For example, while it was in their mouth!
At trial, we presented the testimony of the detective who found the car in Albertson's without any blood in it despite the statement from Cox that he had driven around injured in the car; the testimony from the surgeon, that profuse amounts of blood would have been lost by Cox until he received surgery; the testimony of the nurse I just referred to; testimony of blood experts that the blood in Sharon Zellers’ car matched Cox's blood type; testimony from a hair expert that the hair found in the car was consistent with the characteristics of his hair; testimony from a witness that the boot print found in the car was consistent with the kind of sole worn by Army Ranger's at that time (Cox was an army ranger).

The jury deliberated at length and found Cox guilty of murder in the first degree. At the sentencing hearing, we flew in two women from California who Cox had kidnapped at either knifepoint or gunpoint. They testified to the terror of their kidnapping by Cox. The jury recommended death 7 to 5 and Judge Conrad imposed the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court held that the evidence in Cox's case was circumstantial and did not preclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence and entered a judgment of acquittal. Cox was returned to California to serve out the remainder of his sentence for the kidnappings. Eventually he was paroled and a few years later committed a series of armed robberies in Texas where he was sentenced to life in prison.

Jeff Ashton, Assistant State Attorney wrote that he agreed with Judge Lauten’s recitation of the case and added that Cox is presently serving a 35-year State and a consecutive 15-year Federal sentence out of Texas.

Detective Dan Nazarchuk (retired) of the Orlando County Sheriff’s Office was one of the investigators on the Cox case. He stated that he believes very strongly that Robert Cox committed this murder. He claimed there were never any other suspects and stated that he feels the jury reached the correct verdict.

Defense Attorney Statements:

A request for comment and a copy of this report was sent to defense attorney, Patricia Cashman. Ms. Cashman provided the following statement regarding Cox’s case:

“This case is one of two unanimous reversals in death penalty cases by the Florida Supreme Court. A wrongful conviction occurred and the appellate court released Mr. Cox after he spent 18 months on death row.”

Defendant’s Current Status:

In 1995, Cox was arrested for holding a gun on a 12-year-old girl in Decatur, Texas. He is presently serving a life sentence for that robbery and a consecutive 15-year federal sentence.

Link to Robert Craig Cox's acquittal in Florida State..
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