On what could have been the final day of trial involving a 20-year-old murder, Fayette County Circuit Judge John Hatcher declared a mistrial, citing “witness misconduct” as the reason.
“This is the worst experience I’ve had in the 16 years I’ve had this wonderful job,” Hatcher told the jury Monday morning, the third day of testimony in the state’s case against Robert Eugene Carroll, 62. “ ... I cannot express to you in sufficient or appropriate words how much I regret this outcome.”
Carroll was indicted for the murder of his estranged wife, Cathy Carroll, who died the night prior to the couple’s final divorce hearing in April 1986.
Last week, the state presented a case with more than 30 witnesses, many of whom testified Eugene Carroll repeatedly threatened, stalked and harassed his wife during the two years leading up to their divorce. Though witnesses did not place the defendant at the murder scene, some said they saw him talking with Eddie Queen, 59, who has been accused of raping the victim’s 15-year-old daughter and killing Cathy Carroll while working as Eugene Carroll’s hired murderer.
Queen was arrested in October on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. He was scheduled to testify Monday as a witness for the defense.
Defense attorney Ed Rebrook said in his opening statement that although Carroll was a jealous and bad husband, he had nothing to do with his wife’s murder. He also said Queen was innocent of the crimes.
But family members of the victim will have to wait until some time during the next term of court, which begins Jan. 7, to see what a new jury has to say about Carroll’s fate.
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“ ... I have necessarily granted a motion and I have declared a mistrial for misconduct in the witness room, which would have made any bad result for this defendant, in my judgment, a reversible error in front of the state Supreme Court of Appeals,” Hatcher said. “ ... It is with heavy heart that I have done it.”
Rebrook asked the judge to grant the motion during a Monday morning hearing outside the jury’s presence. He said he made the motion because he was telephoned over the weekend by state’s witnesses who said they heard other state’s witnesses discussing the case with each other as they waited in the witness room for their turns to testify.
“I won’t tell who, but there was a witness who did talk, and several apparently talked, in the witness room,” Rebrook said.
Sequestered witnesses, like the ones in this case, are ordered by the court to refrain from discussing their testimonies and the case with anyone other than attorneys in the case until the judge tells them otherwise or the trial ends.
Some of the conversation, Rebrook added, revolved around media coverage of the trial.
“ ... They came to conclusions that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Rebrook said.
State’s witnesses in this case were sequestered together in the 130-year-old building’s only witness room. They were not intermingled with defense witnesses. And although a sheriff’s deputy stood just outside the witness room door, the witnesses were in the room without supervision until called upon to testify — a practice typical of most circuit court trials. But that’s going to change, at least in Fayette County.
“Henceforth, in my courtroom, a deputy will be in the room with them,” Hatcher said.
The judge also said he will take measures to ensure no such misconduct happens again. He ordered attorneys to make sure witnesses are without any means of communication during Carroll’s next trial — no electronic devices, no text messages, he said.
Rebrook said he believed the judge gave that order as a preventative measure. He said he did not know of any text messaging regarding the Carroll trial occurring in the witness room.
Rebrook also said he intends to file a motion seeking home confinement bond for his client.
“The man’s been in jail one and a half years,” Rebrook said, adding that Carroll suffers from terminal cancer, and the state, as long as Carroll sits in jail, is paying his medical bills.
“If he is released, he can go back on private insurance,” Rebrook said.
That’s not something Pamela Drennen Cummings, Cathy Carroll’s daughter, wants to see happen. But as disappointed as she was about the declaration of a mistrial, Cummings was optimistic for the next trial.
“The truth is the truth, and the truth always comes out. Whether it’s this time or next month, the truth will come out. ... I have no doubt,” she said.
“It’s been held up 20 years. We can wait one more month.”
Assistant Prosecutor Brian Parsons declined to elaborate on the situation.
And Hatcher, though apparently frustrated, said he does not intend to cite any witnesses with contempt of court.
“I believe my energies could be better spent doing other work,” he said.
State’s witnesses speak
Twenty-one witnesses took the stand last Wednesday, helping the state paint a picture of a jealous husband who took his obsession too far when he paid someone to strangle the woman who was about to divorce him.
Even the defense — in its opening statement — agreed Eugene Carroll wasn’t a good husband to Cathy Carroll. But, Rebrook said, he didn’t murder anyone.
“He was jealous, and he did harass her. But ... you don’t go to jail for the rest of your life because you were a bad husband,” Rebrook said.
Parsons told jurors Carroll was so obsessed with being in complete control of his wife that in the two years they struggled through a divorce he violated restraining orders, stalked her, threatened her and hired Eddie Queen to kill her on April 22, 1986, the evening before the couple’s final divorce hearing.
Parsons told jurors that when Cathy Carroll’s 15-year-old daughter arrived home from school she was ambushed, duct-taped and “forcibly raped” at gunpoint by Queen. Then he waited for her mother to arrive home from work, ambushed her, assaulted her, strangled her with a knotted extension cord and left her naked, on a bed, with her face covered in talcum powder.
“Eddie Queen was there because he was an actor enlisted by Gene Carroll to execute Cathy Carroll,” Parsons said. “He (Eugene Carroll) is just as guilty as if he had been in that house with Eddie Queen.”
“What happened to Cathy Carroll and what happened to her daughter ... were horrible,” Rebrook said. “But what’s happened to Gene Carroll and to Eddie Queen is also horrible.”
Rebrook said both men have been wrongly accused, and he told jurors his client has spent the last 23 months in jail and suffers from cancer and cataracts.
“The state of West Virginia doesn’t have an ounce more evidence today than it had in 1986,” Rebrook said.
Yet the state managed to produce 21 witnesses on this first full day of trial. Most of them testified about threats they heard Eugene Carroll make regarding his wife or about his over-the-edge jealous behavior.
“One time he told me to tell her, and this was the day before the divorce, that if he couldn’t have her, no one else could,” Sandy McCommack, a friend of both Carrolls, testified.
Cathy Carroll’s employer, former Montgomery Mayor James F. Higgins Jr., told jurors Cathy had told him she was concerned for her safety and that Eugene Carroll had to be banned from city hall because of the disturbances he caused there when he came to visit his estranged wife.
Connie Higgins, the former mayor’s wife who had once worked with Cathy, also testified to Carroll’s erratic behavior. She said Eugene Carroll came to her house asking questions about Cathy, and when she told him she didn’t know anything, he got upset.
“So he just says to me, ‘Well, I’ll just see her dead and in hell before she divorces me,’” Higgins said.
Another co-worker, a male Carroll accused of having an affair with Cathy, testified about being tailgated and approached by Eugene Carroll one day alongside a road.
“I was concerned he was gonna hurt me,” Dell O’Daniels said.
Tammy Argento, who used to carpool to work with Cathy, said she stopped riding with her because she believed Eugene Carroll would do something to the vehicle to hurt them.
Cathy’s sister, Connie Alexander, said Eugene Carroll would follow them everywhere. If they traveled to Parkersburg to shop, they would see him there. The same thing happened when they took the kids to Camden Park near Huntington.
“He would be there,” Alexander said. “Everywhere we went.”
She also said she heard Carroll say “he would see her dead before they were divorced,” and that he once counted out money in front of his wife and told her he had $5,000, enough to have her killed.
Former Montgomery Mayor Chuck Smith, Higgins’ predecessor, said Eugene Carroll once asked him if he had an affair with Cathy, to which Smith answered no.
“He suspected his wife was seeing other men,” Smith said.
But it would have been very difficult for Cathy to have an affair, he added, “because he stalked her daily.”
One witness even testified Carroll would place chalk marks on Cathy’s tires when her car was parked at work so he could tell if she had moved her vehicle during the day. Another talked about him squealing his tires outside a county commission candidate’s office, where Cathy was working late to help with campaign mailers.
Her divorce attorney, Louis Tabit, said Cathy lived in fear and that Eugene Carroll’s behavior made him fear for his own safety.
“I was worried about Gene ... getting upset and coming after me with a pistol,” he said.
Other witnesses, including neighbors and police, talked about Thunder, the vicious family dog who would allow only a select few onto the property.
Charles Keenan, a known felon, said Carroll offered him money to “get rid of his wife.” He offered him $5,000. Keenan declined.
DeMarcus H. Smith, who also has a criminal record, testified Carroll asked him to kill his wife and that when he declined to do so, he asked him if he knew anyone who would.
Montgomery police officer Carey Vickers said he saw Carroll talking to Queen just the night before the murder.
And police officers on the stand described a gruesome crime scene that brought tears to some family members sitting in the courtroom.
Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Lopez testified he had responded to the Carroll house in Montgomery Heights not only the night of the murder, but also on a domestic violence call on the Thursday prior to that Tuesday.
After describing the scene and his investigation process, he talked about the fact that DNA evidence did not exist at the time and that when it later became available, the department sent evidence to a lab to be examined. None of it concluded anything, but police had already determined someone inside the home touched items while wearing a latex glove — he believes it was Queen.
“I feel 100 percent sure that Eugene Carroll was not in that house the night of the murder,” Lopez said.
All of that behavior and those threats were “red flags,” said Gloria Martin, a certified domestic violence advocate from Lewisburg who has reviewed divorce and police records in the case.
Martin testified Eugene Carroll used a wide range of tactics typical of domestic violence offenders, including intimidation, outbursts of violence, monitoring his wife’s activities, isolating her and using children as pawns in their divorce.
She said Carroll, like other offenders, viewed his wife as property.
Martin also pointed out warning signs leading up to Cathy Carroll’s murder: threats to kill her, access to her, the means to do it and ignoring the law on repeated occasions.
But Rebrook questioned Martin’s testimony, asking her if anything regarding characteristics of domestic violence was scientifically provable.
“How can you measure or determine with any kind of scientific accuracy that these things occurred?” he asked.
Martin said such characteristics are accepted in courts, academia and the Legislature.
Then Rebrook asked her if all such cases resulted in murder. He implied that many divorces drive people to jealous behavior and making threats but that few actually follow through on those threats.
“Isn’t it rare that they result in murder?” he asked.
“In October, in West Virginia, we had 12 domestic violence murders or murder-suicides. I’d like it to be a whole lot rarer than that,” she said.
The victim’s daughter is expected to take the stand this morning.
Victim’s daughter testifies
On Thursday, the trial was put on hold because of the illnesses of both Eugene Carroll and Rebrook, both of whom suffered from intestinal viruses.
However, on Friday, all parties were back on hand and the victim’s daughter took the stand.
When 15-year-old Pam Drennen got off the school bus and walked into her house on a Tuesday afternoon more than 20 years ago, she didn’t expect anyone else to be there — certainly not a masked man standing in front of her bedroom closet.
“He had a gun, and he walked out pointing it at me,” she told the jury Friday as the state’s final witness in the trial of Eugene Carroll.
At first, she thought it must be a joke, maybe her older cousin trying to scare her. But the man with pantyhose over his face and a towel covered by a baseball cap on his head assured her it was no joke. Then he hit her with his pistol and she fell onto the bed.
As she lay there with her face buried in a pillow, the man paced behind her.
“Then I heard tape ripping,” she said.
He handed her pieces of duct tape and told her to put them over her eyes. He also handed her a sock and instructed her to put it in her mouth and cover her lips with duct tape. Once he approved of her work, he wrapped more of the tape around her head and over her hair.
“He said, ‘We’re gonna have a little fun,’” she told the jury.
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From the witness stand, Pam Drennen Cummings spoke strongly despite tears that seemed to resurface no matter how hard she fought them and an afternoon power outage that left Circuit Judge John Hatcher’s courtroom without electricity. As high winds outside the building sent tree branches banging against courthouse windows, Cathy Carroll’s daughter from a previous marriage recounted how she was sexually assaulted.
With her pants still off, he duct taped her feet and her hands behind her back and led her across the room to her own bed. The man asked her if she had any money. He told her he needed some for his family. She told him she had some in her pants pocket, but he never retrieved it. He also asked her when her mom and dad would be home — a point later challenged under cross-examination by Rebrook, who asked why, if the man was Queen, as the state has claimed, would he need to ask such a question?
Cummings said the man told her to face away from him, and that, through a tiny opening at the base of her duct-taped eyes, she could see his reflection on the TV screen. “General Hospital” was going off, and she knew her mother would be home soon. The man had taken off his mask, but Cummings said she suspected he put it back on before her mother got home.
“He said I should be quiet when my mom got home, or he would kill me,” she said.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m., Cathy Carroll did get home.
“I heard her come through the door, and she hollered, ‘you-hoo, Sissy, I’m home,’” Cummings said, wiping away tears.
Cummings heard her mom walk into her room. She heard the man move, and she heard her mother say, “Gene, don’t. Stop this. Don’t.”
“I took a chance and raised up, and I said, ‘It’s not Gene,’” Cummings said. “I could hear him hitting her.”
Cummings told jurors she heard her mother offer the man money, even volunteering to take him with her to her office to get it, as he led Cathy Carroll across the hall into her own bedroom.
“He closed the door, and I could hear tape ripping,” she said.
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She heard the man tell her mother to take off her skirt. She heard other things, and — after what seemed like a long time —the noises stopped. The man returned to her room, and she asked him when he would leave. He told her he would go when it got dark.
It was nearly 8 p.m. when she heard the door slam, and she felt like the man had gone. She had sweated enough to loosen the duct tape, and she yelled to her mother. “Is he gone?”
No one answered.
“I got myself loose, and I ran into her room,” Cummings said, choking back tears. “She was laying there with no clothes on, and she had powder all over her face and her body.”
Forensic pathologist and former state medical examiner Dr. Irvin Sopher would later testify that Cathy Carroll died from ligature strangulation by an electrical extension cord. The manner of death was homicide, he said.
Cummings ran into a bathroom, the only door in the house with a lock on it, cut away the window screen, crawled out of it with her sweater pulled low enough to cover the tops of her legs and ran to a neighbor’s house who called police.
“The whole time I was running, I was thinking, ‘He killed my mom. He killed my mom.’”
The man, she said, was Eddie Queen, and she knew it all along. She knew him. She was friends with his daughter.
Yet, Rebrook pointed out under cross-examination, no police report, no prior statement mentions that Cummings ever identified the man as Queen. Rebrook also noted that money was missing from her mother’s purse and her rings were missing, evidence of a robbery and not a murder for-hire.
Queen was arrested in October and charged with murder and sexual assault.
Cummings said she did mention Queen’s name to police at some point — though she couldn’t say when or to whom — but if she wasn’t forthcoming with that information for years, it was because she was frightened.
“I was scared. He was very scary. He told me that if I told anyone what he looked like, he would come back and kill me,” she said.
“I’m still afraid. He was the boogeyman in my closet. He was my private boogeyman. It was awful.”
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No one in court Friday talked about how long it took Cummings to connect the events of that night with those that foreshadowed it less that a week earlier.
The Thursday before that Tuesday, police responded to the Carroll house because Eugene Carroll — who was under a restraining order as the result of multiple acts of domestic violence toward his wife — had been there. Cathy Carroll had been working late, helping her divorce attorney with his campaign for county commission.
“She wasn’t allowed anywhere she wasn’t supposed to be,” Cummings said.
In the past, Cummings had overheard her stepfather threaten her mother, tell her things like how he knew how to make a car bomb. In fact, Cathy Carroll would make her daughter wait on the steps when she started her car, just in case it really was going to blow up, Cummings testified.
He followed them everywhere, despite the court’s order to stay away, she said.
That Thursday evening, Eugene Carroll barged in the house and demanded to know where Cathy Carroll was. Cummings told him her mother was at a meeting, but he told her she was at the candidate’s office. Then he began ranting and raving.
“He said I wasn’t going to have a mom anymore,” Cummings testified, “that I was going to have to find a new place to live.”
He also told her, “I want you to know you’re going to be hurt, ... but it won’t be bad. It’s not your fault your mom’s a liar.”
He told her he would be away from town when it happened, and he said, “It’ll be my word against yours.”
Then, as he had done numerous times before, he yanked the phone from the wall.
Cathy Carroll got a police escort home.
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Cummings may have been the state’s strongest witness, but hers wasn’t the only damaging testimony given Friday.
Brent Walker, a Bradley resident who lived at Deep Water in 1986 and owned the old Elkins Market near Montgomery Heights where the Carrolls lived, said he saw Eugene Carroll’s truck parked beside the market at 11 a.m. the day of the murder. When he drove past the area again between 2 and 2:30 p.m., he saw not only Carroll’s truck, but Carroll himself, along with Queen and Queen’s car. It was an older New Yorker with a top painted silver to match the body. Walker said he was familiar with the car because he’d ridden in it and had done work for Queen.
It wasn’t the first time he had seen the two together, Walker said. He’d also seen them talking together at the bar Queen owned in Montgomery, “days or weeks” before the murder.
Again, along W.Va. 61, about 3:30 or 4 p.m., Walker saw Queen’s car parked beside the highway.
The testimony seemed to come as a shock to Rebrook, who pointed out and raised legal arguments due to the lack of such detail in any police report or information provided to him by the state.
Seven others who testified Friday reported seeing Carroll’s vehicle. Some saw it parked at the market and traveling near Montgomery early in day and again, along W.Va. 61, later in the afternoon. Penny Tolley, who lived next door, said she saw Eugene Carroll driving on W.Va. 61 that day and that she also noticed a car matching the description of Queen’s New Yorker parked beside W.Va. 61.
The state has always said Eugene Carroll was not at the house at the time of the murder, but believes he may have done something to help Queen get past the vicious family dog that guarded the house.
In fact, Maxine Joyce Miller, an afternoon newspaper carrier at the time, said she did not see the dog — who always barked at her —when she delivered the paper between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Cummings said the dog was there when she got home from school shortly after 3 p.m.
At least three witnesses have testified about the dog attacking them without provocation.
Another witness, Claude Bess of West Virginia Alloys, said Eugene Carroll received a $4,664 direct payout from the company’s savings plan in 1985. (Testimony on Tuesday indicated Eugene Carroll had told his wife he had $5,000, enough money to have her killed.) Under cross-examination, Bess said he had no way of knowing where that money went.
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But the defense doesn’t believe any of that evidence — or any of Tuesday’s testimony regarding a history of threats and domestic violence — meets the state’s burden of proof.
Rebrook moved for acquittal at the close of state’s evidence. He said the state had not successfully connected Carroll to his wife’s murder.
Hatcher denied the motion, but not without comment outside the jury’s presence.
“It appears that the state has weaved, ever so loosely, a cloth of circumstantial evidence in this case, and up until the testimony of the last witness, would not have survived,” Hatcher said.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Reporter Matthew Hill also contributed to trial coverage.)
On what could have been the final day of trial involving a 20-year-old murder, Fayette County Circuit Judge John Hatcher declared a mistrial, citing “witness misconduct” as the reason.
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