THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART THREE

AFTER MORE THAN A DECADE, PROSECUTORS THOUGHT THEY HAD A SMIKING GUN. BUT THE EVIDENCE THEY'VE BUILT THEIR CASE ON IS TAINTED.

Former DPS technician Doug Ferguson claims he took the photos of John Carpenter's rental car in 1978. But he can't recall photographing the tissue speck. And two DPS criminalists who examined the car and door panel maintain they never saw the speck, which lends credence to defense attorney Avilla's allegations.

Ferguson's credibility as a key prosecution witness took a nose dive after he admitted lying about fingerprint analyses he was supposed to have done in the Crane case, but didn't.

Witnesses agreed a ruler held next to the speck in the photo appears different from the ruler in the other DPS photos. That has led some to conclude the tissue photo was taken at a different time than the other photos of Carpenter's rental car.

But the problems with the Carpenter prosecution extend beyond the tissue speck. In a case with more would-be suspects than an old Charlie Chan movie, investigators keyed almost solely on John Carpenter from the start. In so doing, they have ignored or downplayed leads about other possible suspects.

Investigators have given short shrift, for example, to a furniture mover who claims he saw a man--not Carpenter--leave Crane's apartment in the late morning of June 29, 1978.

Lee Fetty and another mover told police in separate 1990 interviews they saw the man drive away in a white Cadillac. Fetty said in a recent interview that the car had California plates.

A 1978 Scottsdale police report had noted a moving van outside Crane's apartment complex, so investigators suspected Fetty wasn't inventing his story out of whole cloth. But prosecutors dismissed his tale, especially after Fetty said the man wasn't Carpenter.

And Carpenter's defense team knew of a man with an excellent motive for murder--something John Carpenter lacked--who had been driving a white Caddy with California plates in 1978. The man, Alan Wells, was the business manager, boyfriend and future husband of actress Victoria Berry, who had discovered Crane's body.

Berry told police she and Crane had sex on two occasions during a time she was living with Wells in Los Angeles. Police never interviewed Wells--a former strip-club owner and actor now living in Reno, Nevada--until this March 6, after defense attorneys kept bringing up his name during Carpenter's hearing.

(Fetty allegedly told an investigator after looking at a photographic lineup that Wells wasn't the man he had seen in 1978.)

But Carpenter's attorneys won't have to discover who murdered Bob Crane. All they must do is make jurors have reasonable doubt that John Carpenter did.

These days, County Attorney Rick Romley seems far less confident of a conviction than after Carpenter's arrest last June.

"This will be a very difficult trial," he tells New Times, "but at least Mr. Carpenter is going to be held accountable. But this case isn't going to get any better."
@rule:
@body:In the days after Crane's death in 1978, the diseased relationship between Scottsdale cops and Maricopa County prosecutors widened the odds of ever bringing the killer to justice.

The relationship had started to fray within days after the murder. It stemmed from typical turf and ego battles, but it became a very public spat.

County Attorney Chuck Hyder wanted a larger, more savvy agency to assist Scottsdale; he later would call Scottsdale's investigation "the worst I have ever seen," a public humiliation the agency never has forgotten.

In August 1978, Hyder sent Scottsdale police chief Walter Nemetz a terse, seven-page letter that demanded dozens of things, some important and some picayune, that Hyder felt necessary for a successful prosecution.

It was becoming clear Chuck Hyder had no intention of prosecuting Carpenter with the available evidence. Scottsdale resented the implication it couldn't get the job done.

"It was discouraging," ex-Scottsdale lieutenant Ron Dean told investigator Jim Raines last year. "I'm sure you heard some of the stories when [Hyder] said, 'Fuck you guys, we don't care what you get, a fingerprint on a murder weapon with a confession is the only thing that will satisfy.' That's a bullshit statement to make."
After Tom Collins defeated Hyder in the 1980 election for county attorney, the Scottsdale cops hoped it meant a fresh start for their moribund case. Five days after assuming office in January 1981, Collins received a long memo from Scottsdale lieutenant Ron Dean.

Dean summarized the case against Carpenter--a "tense" conversation Carpenter and Crane allegedly had shortly before the murder, Carpenter's "strange" telephone calls to Arizona after the murder, and, of course, the blood in the rental car.

Dean tells New Times he didn't mention the tissue-speck photo because he hadn't seen it.

"I probably didn't personally look for anything like that," he says. "I saw three or four photos of Carpenter's car. That's it. If I had seen it, I would have jumped through the roof."
In April 1981, Collins and two others from his office met with members of the Scottsdale police department to discuss the Crane case. After the meeting, Chris Bingham from Scottsdale and Ron Little from the prosecutor's office were asked to revisit every aspect of the case.

The 21 color photographs taken of John Carpenter's rental car--including, police say, the tissue photo--apparently were in Little's case notebooks at the time, though no one can follow the trail with certainty.

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