TV6 Investigates: DCI says items sought for DNA testing in 1980 murder conviction not found

Published: Mar. 5, 2020 at 2:57 PM CST
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Months after attorneys for William Beeman filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence, the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Division of Criminal Investigation said the requested evidence does not exist.

The testing, according to his attorneys, could prove his innocence.

Beeman, 62, is serving a life sentence for the 1980 stabbing death of 22-year-old Michiel Winkel. Her body was found at Wildcat Den State Park near Muscatine.

His attorneys argued in a motion filed in June that he has consistently maintained his innocence and that his confession was coerced by investigators.

They also petitioned to test a sexual assault kit, which included sperm and blood recovered from Winkel, along with clothing items found at the scene, against Beeman’s DNA.

Officials with the DCI said in a July filing that personnel from each agency conducted diligent search for the items, to no avail.

“There is nothing that can be done about the inability of the agencies to locate the evidence,” they said in the filing.

They also said the inability to locate evidence means there has been no “chain of custody” over the items, and that the fact items cannot be located does not mean it was tampered with.

District Court Judge Stuart Werling subsequently ordered the Muscatine County Attorney’s Office to allow Beeman’s attorneys and/or investigator to review all files in its possession related to the investigation, as well as evidence collected, and to arrange a similar inspection of state records.

Beeman’s attorneys filed a motion in February following the searches and asked the court to compel prosecutors to produce an investigation box of materials.

Attorneys said that back in December prosecutors provided the DCI investigative file, totaling 833 pages, but said the file was incomplete. Photos were missing of the crime scene and evidence, chain of custody documents and field investigation notes, they said.

After the file was provided, prosecutors informed Beeman’s attorneys there was an additional box of materials associated with Winkel’s murder that was stored in Stockton, according to the filing.

In the February motion, Beeman’s attorneys said, “neither the Muscatine County Sheriff nor DCI has produced any chain of custody documents regarding the missing evidence that contains information on what happened to the evidence after October 1, 1980.”

Filed by the Iowa Attorney General's Office on behalf of the DCI, a response to that motion was submitted on March 3.

In their response, the DCI said, “not at all that surprisingly, the evidence sought to be tested in this decades-old case is not available despite the substantial efforts of all involved to locate the requested materials.”

Pertaining to the box mentioned by Beeman’s attorneys, prosecutors said, “without doubt, the box does not contain the items the petitioner seeks to submit for DNA testing.” Prosecutors are now proposing the box be submitted to the court for review, if necessary.

The DCI said in the March 3 filing that “materials sought” and other evidentiary exhibits were returned by the DCI to Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office on or around Oct. 1, 1980.

Richard Rahn, Special Agent in Charge of the DCI, said under oath that he personally searched the evidence room and there are no materials there, according to the documents.

DCI said it regularly audits its evidence rooms and accounts for every item in the evidence rooms. According to the filing, “the items sought by the petitioner are not in any DCI evidence room anywhere in the state of Iowa.”

Tricia Bushnell, Director of the Midwest Innocence Project and one of Beeman’s attorneys told TV6 they plan to file a response to the State’s filing from March 3.

A hearing is set on March 17 for a judge to hear Beeman’s motion to compel prosecutors to produce the investigation box of materials.

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 states as she 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.”

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.

According to the Innocence Project,

have been exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989. Iowa is among 13 states where DNA has never successfully been used to exonerate an inmate.