Citing new DNA in decades-old murders, lawyers ask for new trial

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2014 - 11:43 PM

In seeking new trial for Billy Glaze, they say tests link another man to 3 slayings.

A group dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners is casting new doubt on the guilt of a drifter convicted decades ago in a serial killer case that had gripped Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Innocence Project said new DNA testing in the high-profile murders of three American Indian women in the 1980s found no link to the convicted man, Billy Glaze, who is serving three life sentences for the crimes. The tests of 39 items found at the murder scenes, including bodily fluids, clothing and other items, instead implicate another man — a convicted Minnesota rapist, the attorneys contend.

They are seeking a new trial for Glaze in court papers filed Tuesday. They would not identify the newly implicated suspect, though they said they have provided Hennepin County prosecutors with test results.

Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Dave Brown said authorities were still reviewing the voluminous filing from the Innocence Project attorneys, but his office has been communicating with the group.

“There’s nothing that we’ve seen through the years, as we’ve reviewed these claims, that suggests to us that anyone other than Billy Glaze is the one that did these brutal sexual mutilations and murders,” Brown said. “On the other hand, we’ll take a careful look at their claims.”

Glaze, now 70, has spent more than 25 years behind bars in connection with the murders. A jury found him guilty of first- and second-degree murder in the bludgeoning deaths of Kathy Bullman, 19, Angeline Whitebird-Sweet, 26, and Angela Green, 21. All three were found nude or mostly nude with their bodies positioned in ways that suggested a serial killer. The cases prompted intense media attention and public outcry, including allegations that police hadn’t been aggressive in investigating crimes against Indians.

Gladys Genschow, Whitebird-Sweet’s older sister, said she was shocked to learn Tuesday night that Glaze’s conviction is being questioned after all these years. “I thought they had him,” she said.

But if the evidence shows he didn’t murder the three women, Genschow said she is glad they are reopening the case. “They need to find the right person,” she said. But reopening the case will reopen painful memories. “I would lay awake at night, and I could hear my mother crying,” Genschow said, explaining she would have to tell her mother, who is now 79 and has suffered several strokes, about the latest development.

Mavis Kingbird, Whitebird-Sweet’s younger sister, remembers sitting in the murder trial, trying to avoid Glaze’s eyes when he stared at her. “My sister and I look alike,” she said. “If they have the wrong person in prison, that’s not right. … It’s kind of scary that someone else who could have done this is still out there running free.”

Glaze’s 1989 conviction was based largely on testimony from witnesses and jail inmates. Prosecutors also presented a note that Glaze had purportedly written in jail saying, “I killed them. I was mad at them.”

Innocence Project attorneys say the witness testimony was unreliable and the physical evidence — including the note — didn’t prove him guilty. Most importantly, they say, no biological evidence linked him to the crimes.

“There is not a single item that has come up that matches Billy,” said Ed Magarian, a partner at the firm of Dorsey & Whitney who is working on the case.

“Through no fault of its own, the state did not have the DNA evidence available to them at the time that we do today,” Minnesota Innocence Project managing attorney Julie Ann Jonas said.

The group is part of the national Innocence Network, which is dedicated to assisting prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing or other evidence. Since 1989, the network has helped free 1,370 people, 316 of them through DNA testing.

The attorneys said Glaze, who is serving his prison sentence in Delaware, was not available for comment and suffers from mental illness.

A city watching

The bodies of the women were found between July 1986 and April 1987 in three locations frequented by transients in Minneapolis.

The murders produced a frenzy of anger in the city after the third victim was found. Members of the Guardian Angels and the American Indian Movement (AIM) at one point patrolled the streets, distributing leaflets warning the murderer that they were out to find him.

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