TV6 Investigates: Man serving life sentence in 1980 Muscatine murder requests new trial

Hearing on the motion is scheduled Aug. 3
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 8:01 PM CDT
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MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWQC) - William Beeman, serving life in prison in the 1980 stabbing death of Michiel Winkel at Wildcat Den State Park, wants a new trial.

His attorneys wrote in a 43-page motion filed earlier this month in Muscatine County District Court 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.”

Erica Nichols Cook, one of Beeman's attorneys and the Director of the Wrongful Conviction Division of the State Public Defender’s Office told TV6, “we also found his confession and the way in which it was obtained was very problematic and not reliable.”

She said the testimony shows one officer typing the confession as an Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agent was asking questions.

Nichols Clark said, “we don’t know what the questions were versus what the answers were or what influences might have been because there’s no recording.”

Attachments to the new motion, some of which are now redacted, show polygraphs were used in the questioning of some original suspects in the case.

Nichols Cook said, “polygraphs are always really difficult because they’re not admissible at trial, but yet investigators rely on them and they relied on them here to rule out these suspects.”

She said there was “so much exculpatory evidence that was not run over by his trial team.”

"The fact that we have one guy whose alibi is the Agent in Charge's brother or, you know, his character reference. None of that is disclosed -- that potential for bias," Nichols Cook said.

“It’s just really concerning that this was an investigation that led to life in prison for Mr. Beeman,” she explained.

The motion will be heard Aug. 3, court records show.

“It’s not right that my client has been in prison for 40 years and his family kept better records than the Muscatine County Attorney or the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office,” Nichols Cook said.

The filing comes months after the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) said it did not have items in the case.

“The only comment that my office can make at this point is that we will consider the motion, along with the other motions filed previously and respond in due course as is either required by law and/or permitted/ordered by the Court,” Muscatine County Attorney Jim Barry said in an email to TV6 on June 12.

The case

Winkel’s nude body was found at Wildcat Den State Park on April 26, 1980, near a campground just off a walking trail.

A deputy medical examiner at Beeman’s trial testified the 22-year-old had been dead for at least 24 hours because of the state of her body. He testified Winkel had a head wound, lacerations around her neck, and stab wounds to the left chest.

Prosecutors’ theory at trial, according to Beeman’s motion for a new trial, is that Winkel was killed shortly after she was seen by a witness leaving a spa with an unknown male on April 21, 1980.

Prosecutors did not dispute that Beeman had “airtight” alibis on April 22, 1980, making it impossible for him to commit the crime after that, according to the motion.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Beeman picked up Winkel on his motorcycle after she left the spa, drover her out to Wildcat Den State Park, and assaulted and stabbed her to death.

At trial, Beeman presented three alibi witnesses for April 21, 1980, and also called a witness who said she saw Winkel alive the next day.

Beeman, now 63, has argued for years that his confession to the crime was false and he signed it to end an unrecorded interrogation that left him scared and confused.

The motion

Beeman is represented by Nichols Cook and attorneys from the Exoneration Project and the Midwest Innocence Project.

In June 2019, the attorneys filed a motion for DNA testing. Prosecutors resisted, saying the motion should be denied because they could not find the evidence Beeman requested to test.

In August, Judge Stuart Werling ordered the Muscatine County Attorney’s Office to obtain any law enforcement investigative records relevant to Winkel’s death and the conviction of Beeman. The judge further ordered prosecutors to work with the Department of Public Safety and DCI to allow the inspection of the files.

Prosecutors provided documents totaling 833 pages from the DCI investigative file in December.

Beeman’s attorneys wrote in the motion they informed the judge the file was incomplete and missing photos of the crime scene and evidence, chain of custody documents, and field investigation notes at a minimum.

Prosecutors told the judge there was another box of DCI material that it would produce, and Beeman’s attorneys filed a motion to compel discovery on Feb. 5, according to the motion for a new trial.

The documents disclosed in December, Beeman’s attorneys wrote in the motion, contained exculpatory evidence and information that had not been produced or provided before his trial.

According to the motion, attorneys discovered for the first time in December that six different witnesses said they saw Winkel after April 21, 1980.

The attorneys further argued in the motion that prosecutors failed to turn over “detailed information” about 11 alternate suspects, including a man Winkel considered a boyfriend and her father, they pursued.

The attorneys also argued prosecutors failed to disclose that Winkel had a rocky family history, prior psychiatric hospitalizations, was a known runaway, had reportedly experienced violence by her father, and had become infatuated with a “boyfriend” previously that ended in court intervention.

According to the motion, the undisclosed evidence turned over the defense also contained new information that campers at Wild Cat Den State Park, including Boy Scout leaders and Boy Scouts, told investigators they heard a woman’s scream around 1:00 am on April 26, 1980, which was only hours before Winkel’s body was found.

The attorneys also argue that new scientific evidence further undermines the theory that Winkel died on April 21, 1980.

“Analysis of the body’s decompensation, including entomology observations, support a much smaller window of time between death and discovery, which the State maintains is five days,” the attorneys wrote in the motion.

The attorneys argued in the motion that Beeman’s disputed confession is “the only evidence that ever really connected Mr. Beeman to the crime—there are no eyewitnesses or reliable forensic evidence that have ever connected him to this crime.”

“The undisclosed, only recently-discovered, powerful exculpatory evidence reinforcing Mr. Beeman’s innocence, including powerful evidence that Ms. Winkel was alive at the time the State alleges Mr. Beeman killed her and that the State suppressed credible alternate suspects with potential motives, requires this Court to vacate Mr. Beeman’s conviction and order a new trial in the interest of justice,” attorneys for Beeman argued.

Beeman’s attorneys wrote, “the investigative reports disclosed almost 40 years after Mr. Beeman’s conviction included evidence about alternate suspects and evidence—reinforced by science—that Ms. Winkel was alive long-after the State maintains Mr. Beeman killed her. All of this was evidence favorable to Mr. Beeman, material to the issue of guilt, and suppressed by the State.”

Prosecutors respond

On June 17, Barry filed a resistance to a hearing on the motion for a new trial, court records show.

In his motion, Barry wrote that neither his office nor the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which represents the DCI, did not agree on the Aug. 3 hearing date and “must be given an opportunity to respond to and/or resist the motion.”

Barry also is asking Werling to hear and make final rulings on Beeman’s motion for DNA testing and the motion to compel. Once those motions are resolved and evidence exchanged, Barry wrote he is requesting time to prepare and file a resistance to the motion for a new trial before a final hearing is held.

He also is asking that the attorney general’s office be allowed to participate in-person "herein as may be required or necessary to protect their interests.”

Barry also is asking for copies of all records in Beeman’s possession relating to the case and for purposes of responding to several motions he had filed.

“The defendant has gained access to records that are not in the possession of the State of Iowa and included some of them in their several filings,” he wrote in the motion.