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TV6 INVESTIGATES: Judge denies motion for new trial in 1980 Muscatine murder

Judge Stuart Werling ruled in favor of the State, denying Beeman’s motion on Friday, Aug. 28.
Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 5:21 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.

Beeman and his attorneys filed a motion in early June, requesting a new trial. On Aug. 3, Judge Stuart Werling presided over a hearing on Beeman’s motion for a new trial via Zoom, which lasted approximately four hours.

TV6 has learned Werling ruled in favor of the State, denying Beeman’s motion for a new trial.

“After having heard the arguments of counsel and considered the evidence presented and the applicable law, the Court DENIES the Defendant’s Motion for New Trial,” wrote Werling in the ruling filed on Aug. 28 in Muscatine County District Court.

Erica Nichols Cook, Director of the Wrongful Conviction Division of the State Public Defender’s Office, and one of Beeman’s attorneys, told TV6 on Monday, “Mr. Beeman is, of course, disappointed in the ruling and we are continuing to evaluate his options moving forward to prove his innocence.”

There is still a pending matter in the court in the 1980 murder case, a Motion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing, filed by Beeman and his attorneys. The requested evidence has not been located, according to court filings, and destruction orders for any evidence have not been produced by investigators. Beeman is also represented by attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project and The Exoneration Project.

Beeman attended the hearing on a motion for a new trial via video conference from the Iowa State Penitentiary, where he is serving his life sentence. The defense presented witnesses, including expert testimony, during the hearing. More details, including arguments provided by the State and Beeman’s counsel can be found, here.

Representing the State during the hearing was Special Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren.

A statement to TV6 on Monday from the Muscatine County Attorney’s Office reads, “The Muscatine County Attorney’s Office is pleased to deliver this ruling to the Winkel family and the citizens of Muscatine County. The County Attorney’s Office and the various law enforcement agencies, including the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Criminal Investigations - State of Iowa, worked diligently to continue to see that justice was done in this case.”

The motion for a new trial was denied in a 10-page filing by Werling.

According to the motion filed by Beeman and his attorneys, they argued four main grounds for a new trial, all of which Werling denied in the ruling.

1. Beeman and his attorneys alleged there is newly discovered scientific evidence in the case.

During the Aug. 3 hearing, the defense presented expert testimony by Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County Medical Examiner in Minnesota, who was previously with the Department of Defense. Baker was contacted by Beeman’s counsel to conduct an evaluation of Michiel Winkel, her time of death, and testimony offered during Beeman’s 1980 trial.

Baker argued his expert opinion contradicted the date of death originally determined by investigators, April 21, 1980. Winkel’s body was discovered on April 26. “There’s nothing about what I see in this photograph that strikes me as someone laying outside un-refrigerated for five days,” Baker said, explaining his expert opinion leads him to believe she was killed after April 21.

“The linchpin of the State’s case was that Michiel was killed on April 21st,” said Nichols Cook during the hearing. Beeman, according to his attorneys, had ’air-tight’ alibis in the days to follow April 21, but not on the date investigators determined Winkel was killed.

On cross-examination during the hearing, Baker was asked if he would have reached the same conclusion on a different time-frame of death in 1980 as he had provided in 2020 during the hearing. Baker told the State he would have.

According to Werling, “Dr. Baker’s opinion, based on superior training and experience, is merely a different conclusion from looking at the exact same scientific evidence that existed at the time of Defendant’s original trial. This opinion is not “new evidence” under the rule.”

2. Beeman and his attorneys alleged the state failed to disclose eleven potential witnesses.

Attorneys for Beeman argued the state knew of a list of eleven potential witnesses who saw, or might have seen the victim after the date of death, which was determined by investigators to be April 21, 1980.

In the denial, Werling said the existence of the list of potential witnesses was disclosed to Beeman prior to trial. “From this Court’s review of the transcript, it is clear defense counsel discussed with Det. Werner that investigators had located witnesses who claimed to have seen the victim after April 21, 1980,” said the court filing.

According to the filing, Werling stated many of the statements from the potential witnesses in the case, “based on the totality of the circumstances, raise a reasonable doubt of Defendant’s guilt because they are all based on shaky testimony that is internally contradictory or can be refuted by other admissible evidence.”

In denying the second ground for a new trial, Werling said Beeman’s defense counsel “could have exercised due diligence to learn more about these witnesses or obtain the list from the detective.”

3. Beeman and his attorneys argued the State failed to disclose an alternate suspect list.

Beeman and his attorneys presented to the State a list of eleven alternate suspects they allege could have committed the crime.

In the original motion for a new trial, attorneys for Beeman argued, “For thirty-nine years, the State failed to turn over detailed information about 11 alternate suspects that the State pursued. This newly discovered evidence further shows that there were credible alternate suspects with possible motives for Michiel’s assault and murder.”

In Werling’s denial to the motion for a new trial, he wrote, “The Defendant presented a list of eleven alternate suspects and asks the Court to speculate that one of these alternate individuals could have committed the crime instead of the Defendant.”

He said the argument fails, claiming the defense had knowledge of the other suspects and through ‘due diligence’ could have learned more about them or obtained the list from the detective on the case.

4. Beeman and his attorneys argued his confession was coerced.

Beeman has argued for years that the confession is false and he signed it to end an unrecorded interrogation that left him scared and confused.

In the filing where Werling denied a motion for a new trial, he referenced the alleged coerced confession, writing, “Defendant has already litigated the issue of a coerced confession many times.”

Werling said the claim of a coerced confession by Beeman has previously been denied by the court, and in-turn, denied it.

Background on the case:

Winkel’s nude body was found on April 26, 1980. Court records say she had been kicked in the head, choked, and stabbed 17 times in the chest. Winkel also had a laceration to her head. Documents say she had been “sexually assaulted at or near the time of her murder.”

Prosecutors argued during trial that Beeman, a then-disc jockey at a night club, and Winkel randomly met in Muscatine on April 21, 1980. Prosecutors alleged he raped and killed her after she rejected his advances.

Beeman’s lawyers said there were 11 suspects prior to him, and that he has maintained his innocence with the exception of a ‘coerced confession.’

According to the sworn statement signed by Beeman in 1980, he picked up Winkel on his motorcycle and the two stopped at Wildcat Den State Park, where they were “ready to make love” when she changed her mind.

The filing that contains the sworn statement states as Winkel was getting up, she kneed him and as a reflex, he kicked her in the head with his steel toe boots.

The document, signed by Beeman states, “I don’t remember if I carried her somewhere or just layed [sic] her back down. I don’t remember if I had sex with her or not. I had my knife with me but I don’t remember stabbing her. The next thing I remember is talking to someone at the plaza, I’m not sure who that was… I know I have a temper problem and I feel thats [sic] why I did this. I did not plan or intend to do this. I did not know Michele before this particular night. Since this has happened I checked my boots to see if there was any blood on them and I didn’t see any blood. I was wearing my blue nylon coat with the white pin stripe X think blue jeans and I can’t remember what shirt I had on. I’m not sure who washed my clothes but they have been washed since this happened. I must of wiped the knife off when it happened because I looked at it the next time I used it and I never saw any blood on it.”

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