Sin of a Preacher Man

New evidence in unsolved Phoenix murder leads to a Tacoma man of God

Johnny Lee also had a rough time making ends meet after he stopped ministering full-time; he started Riley and Riley, a handyman/construction business with his sons. But he was still racking up debts. A group of church members got together with his old friend Virgil Holifield, under the supervision of a local bishop, Eugene Montgomery, to talk with Riley about the money he owed them.

And Riley and Wanda were separated again. There had been another report of domestic violence in 1992--Wanda Riley claimed Johnny hit her, and requested an order of protection. She later dropped the request, and Johnny says that the incident was nothing serious, really. (Police records show that, aside from the domestic-violence complaints, Riley's only violations of the law were traffic tickets since the Jack-in-the-Box robbery in 1973.)

But when Reynolds visited Wanda in November, Riley was living down the street in his shop. He still ate meals with the family and saw his kids every day.

Reynolds asked Wanda if she remembered anything about a motel holdup in Phoenix back in the bad old days. Wanda told him it sounded like something Johnny Lee once testified about before the congregation. There was a robbery, it went bad, shooting started, and by the grace of God, Johnny lived to preach about it. Wanda even brought one of her daughters in to talk to Reynolds who also remembered her father telling the story.

For Reynolds, the clincher was that Riley even referred to the scarred man--by name--as the person he was with that night. Reynolds told Wanda he was investigating a homicide and he'd like to talk to Riley.

He asked her to call Johnny Lee. She did, and told her husband that the police wanted to talk to him. She didn't mention the homicide.

Reynolds got on the phone and asked Riley if they could talk about a robbery that had taken place back in 1974.

At first, Riley denied he knew anything about any robberies.
"Let me refresh your memory," Reynolds said. "This is the incident you preached to your congregation. Your parishioners have heard this over and over again. You ministered to them about this. This is what I want to talk to you about."

Riley paused, then told Reynolds he'd talk to him.
The two detectives went down the street to Riley's shop. Reynolds turned on the tape recorder, and read Riley his rights. Then they talked about the robbery. Riley still hadn't been told anything about a homicide.

Riley won't talk about the robbery now since he's being charged with murder. But according to Reynolds, Riley told him a story of the botched holdup that was almost identical to the scarred man's tale.

But it wasn't an impulsive decision, Reynolds says. Riley, he says, told him it was a planned stickup.

Riley wanted to know if he was going to be arrested.
Washington requires out-of-state police officers to get an arrest warrant before they can take someone into custody. And Reynolds didn't have a warrant yet.

So he told Riley he wasn't going to arrest him right then, but he couldn't say what the future held. They promised to talk again the next morning.

After the detectives left, Riley found out from his sons just what they were looking for. Wanda had told the boys that the police were investigating a homicide.

Riley decided it was time to find a lawyer.
The next morning, about an hour after he was supposed to meet with the detectives again, Riley was sitting in the offices of Tacoma attorney Thomas Dinwiddie, trying to figure out what he could do. Dinwiddie told him to turn himself in.

When he arrived at the station, Riley told Reynolds, "Detective, if I had known 23 years ago that that guy died, I would have turned myself in back then."

Thomas Dinwiddie is one of those hold-the-bar-spellbound-with-blarney kind of guys; he's got a story for everything, writes novels in his spare time. But he's a brawler, as well. In one case, he contested the prosecutor's jurisdiction. When it came time for trial, he moved for dismissal. His client was being charged with a violation of state law, and it was a city court.

The prosecutor complained that Dinwiddie had never told anyone it was the wrong venue until trial, and then it was too late. Dinwiddie said, Hey, this isn't law school, I'm not a professor.

Case dismissed. He's not there to make things easier.
Dinwiddie's advice to Riley to turn himself in is the only way in which he's cooperated with Arizona's desire to have Riley back within its borders. He's held up Riley's extradition, usually a routine matter. He's filed a writ of habeas corpus to have Riley released on the grounds that since the statute of limitations for robbery has expired, Riley can't be charged with that crime.

Dinwiddie admits it's a long shot, but he's not the kind of guy to make things easy. Despite Dinwiddie's best efforts, Riley likely will be coming back to Phoenix to face his past life.

But Dinwiddie probably won't be making the trip with him; Riley can't afford an out-of-state lawyer.

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