TV6 Investigates: Judge considers motion for new trial in 1980 Muscatine murder

William Beeman is serving life in prison in the 1980 stabbing death of a Muscatine woman
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 11:41 PM CDT
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MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWQC) - William Beeman, 63, is serving life in prison in the 1980 stabbing death of Michiel Winkel at Wildcat Den State Park.

In early June, Beeman and his attorneys filed a motion, requesting a new trial. On Monday, Muscatine County Judge Stuart Werling presided over a hearing on Beeman’s motion for a new trial.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and supervisory orders from the Iowa Supreme Court, the hearing was held virtually via Zoom. Beeman joined the call via video conference from the Iowa State Penitentiary, where he is serving his sentence.

Beeman’s attorneys wrote in the 43-page motion for a new trial that there is “important, favorable, and material, previously suppressed and new evidence that petitioner could not have discovered sooner that demonstrates Beeman did not get a fair trial.”

In a resistance to the motion, prosecutors have denied that evidence was suppressed in the case.

During Monday’s hearing, which lasted about four hours, one of Beeman’s attorneys and the Director of the Wrongful Conviction Division of the State Public Defender’s Office, Erica Nichols Cook, gave an opening statement in the hearing before providing expert testimony and witnesses.

In part, Nichols Cook said, “We now know the state withheld an extraordinary amount of evidence – evidence that undermines any confidence the court could have in the jury’s verdict.” She argued Winkel was reportedly seen alive by witnesses after April 21, the date of death determined in her case.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren did not give an opening statement verbally, but referenced a resistance filed in response to Beeman’s motion for a new trial, where he wrote, “Forty years after the brutal murder of Michiel Winkel her killer seeks a new trial. He does so by claiming that the prosecution suppressed favorable information.”

“The evidence could have been discovered in the exercise of due diligence,” said Ostergren.

He argued in the resistance that Beeman must be able to prove that he discovered evidence after the verdict that could not have been discovered with due diligence; is material and not cumulative; would have changed the result of his trial; and that there is good cause to litigate these issues now.

Beeman, Ostergren argued in the resistance, cannot prove any of these.

During Monday’s hearing, Beeman’s attorneys provided witnesses to testify, including expert testimony by Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County Medical Examiner in Minnesota, who was previously with the Department of Defense.

Baker has extensive credentials as a forensic pathologist, including his role in exhumations in Kosovo, his role on a team that handled the remains of victims in the attack on the USS Cole in the Middle East, and was part of the core team of forensic scientists that handled the remains of victims in the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Beeman’s counsel contacted Baker to conduct an evaluation of Michiel Winkel, her time of death, and testimony offered during Beeman’s 1980 trial.

During his testimony, Baker argued inconsistencies in the findings and said, “To a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, it is my opinion that the observations made of the body on the day of its discovery (April 26th) and the findings at Autopsy (April 27th) are not consistent with, and do not support a date of death on April 21, 1980.”

After seeing a photo of Winkel taken April 26, 1980, an exhibit offered during Monday’s hearing, Baker said, “There’s nothing about what I see in this photograph that strikes me as someone laying outside un-refrigerated for five days.”

“The linchpin of the State’s case was that Michiel was killed on April 21st,” said Nichols Cook.

Ostergren argued otherwise, “The fact that Mr. Beeman had signed a statement – which I’m just gonna call it a confession – that was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case.”

The defense for Beeman also brought forth on Monday Doug Johnston, who was part of Beeman’s counsel on his 1980 murder trial and appeal. He testified about his role in Beeman’s case.

In the written resistance, previously filed, Ostergren noted that Beeman claimed to have discovered two categories of evidence after the verdict: six witnesses who claimed to have seen Winkel alive after April 21, 1980 and the existence of 11 other potential suspects who were investigated in the case.

“But a review of the trial transcript and discovery depositions shows that Beeman’s defense team knew enough to fully investigate these leads before trial,” Ostergren wrote.

In the resistance, Ostergren said “Beeman must prove that he could not have discovered more information about timeline witnesses or the other suspects in the exercise of due diligence.”

“He will need to show that he could not have found witnesses by conducting a canvass of the Muscatine Mall or of the places he frequented,” wrote Ostergren.

Ostergren cross-examined Johnston during Monday’s hearing, asking him whether Beeman’s counsel in 1980 found witnesses or canvassed frequently visited locations, to which Johnston said they did not.

Johnston said the defense was provided a two-hour window to confirm an alibi for Beeman on the night of April 21, 1980, when investigators say Winkel was killed.

“It just seemed unusual,” said Johnston, “but to us it was a good thing. We didn’t have to account for Mr. Beeman’s whereabouts all the rest of the time. It was pinned down to two hours. If we could show that he didn’t do it in those two hours, we had the perfect defense,” he said.

Ostergen, during cross-examination, asked Johnston, “Your job is much more to poke holes in what the prosecution is doing, rather than affirming things yourself, right?” Johnston responded, “that’s right.”

Judge Stuart Werling said, “We will take the matter under advisement and issue a written decision as soon as possible.”

It is unclear when the court will decide whether Beeman should receive a new trial, or if the motion will be dismissed.

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