Maricopa County prosecutor Myrna Parker has been living with the Bob Crane murder case for more than three years now. She has spent untold hours conducting interviews around the nation, poring over the thick files, appearing in court.
But Parker won't be around to see the Crane case through to its conclusion--the trial of Southern California electronics-industry executive John Carpenter. That's because the veteran prosecutor has quit the County Attorney's Office--and the Crane case. She's taken a job as the public defender in northern Arizona's Navajo County, where her husband has been transferred.
An intense and always well-prepared barrister, Parker worked tirelessly in her attempt to put Crane's alleged killer on trial. In June 1992, she flew to Los Angeles to face a horde of media after Carpenter's bombshell arrest in the 1978 Scottsdale murder of the Hogan's Heroes star. Earlier this year, Parker represented the State of Arizona at a contentious preliminary hearing before Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin. At the hearing's end, the judge bound Carpenter over for trial on the first-degree-murder charge. (The 65-year-old Torrance, California, resident is free on bail.)
But the prelim was far from the slam-dunk those prosecution-slanted hearings usually are. Martin indicated his decision had been difficult, because of what he called "sloppy work" by police and other law enforcement shortcomings.
"This case boils down to the blood and the tissue-speck photo," Martin concluded last March 11. Martin was referring to streaks and droplets of blood Scottsdale police found in Carpenter's rental car shortly after the murder. The blood matched Crane's type, a type found in only about one in seven people.
Police in 1978 suspected Carpenter had taken his bloodied murder weapon with him after fleeing Crane's apartment in the wee hours of June 29, 1978. Investigators never found the weapon, but speculated it was a camera tripod, and that Carpenter had bumped it against the inside passenger door, leaving the blood evidence.
Carpenter, visiting Crane in Scottsdale in June 1978, would have had an opportunity to kill his longtime buddy. But the lack of a viable motive and a paucity of physical evidence--other than the blood in the car--kept prosecutors from going after him until 1992.
The blood's presence wasn't enough, however, for the two Maricopa County attorneys preceding Rick Romley to authorize a murder warrant. But "new" evidence--the "tissue-speck photo"--seemed to convince Romley and prosecutor Parker that John Carpenter was their man.
Prosecution witnesses at Carpenter's preliminary hearing testified that a color photo taken of the inside passenger door of Carpenter's rental car shows a previously unnoticed, tiny piece of human tissue, ostensibly from Bob Crane's bludgeoned head. If a jury believes it, that information certainly would hurt Carpenter's chances at trial.
But police reports and courtroom testimony indicated that no one at the DPS crime lab in 1978 recalled having seen, processed or documented the crucial, yellowish-red speck. And the tissue itself wasn't around anymore, just the photograph.
Parker's surprise departure means that K.C. Scull, chief of Romley's Major Felony Bureau, will prosecute Carpenter. Parker wasn't available for comment, but Romley's top assistant, Paul Ahler, has nothing but glowing things to say about her.
"Myrna has taken on some of our most difficult cases," Ahler says, "and we're really going to miss her. But the case will be in very capable hands with K.C."
Scull is a seasoned prosecutor whose office wall features booking photographs of murderers he has sent to death row. But most of those familiar with the Carpenter case, including several of Scull's peers, agree he must overcome some big obstacles if he is to pin Carpenter's mug on his wall of shame.
That's especially true in light of recent developments involving a prosecution witness, former state Department of Public Safety criminalist Bruce Bergstrom, who, after reading an earlier New Times story, is rethinking the testimony he gave at the preliminary hearing. (The newspaper reported on the Crane case in a three-part series last spring.)
Bergstrom's job in 1978 was to observe and process any blood and tissue evidence in Carpenter's rental car. But he reiterated under oath at the preliminary hearing what he had previously told investigators: He had studied the car panel with a microscope and a magnifying glass, but hadn't seen any speck of tissue.
Carpenter's lawyer, Steve Avilla, asked Bergstrom, ". . . You didn't see any tissue or fatty tissue or any brain matter, isn't that true?"
"I don't recall it, and I don't have anything in my notes," Bergstrom replied.
"And if you had done it, you would have put it into your notes, wouldn't you?"
Such testimony certainly would damage the prosecution's case at trial, where the "reasonable doubt" burden is far greater on the state than at the preliminary hearing, where the burden is "probable cause."
But now there is doubt about whether Bergstrom will repeat that testimony during the trial. An internal report filed July 8 by Jim Raines, an investigator for the County Attorney's Office, indicates Bergstrom now recalls "observing the tissue from the Cordoba door panel in a test tube at the Department of Public Safety in 1978 . . . he made no mention of his observation as he did not realize the importance of the existence of the tissue."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Bergstrom also told Raines he would have taken notes and filed reports at DPS about everything he did. But any such notes and reports have yet to turn up, Raines said.
Contacted at his home in Poway, California, Bergstrom says he didn't realize the importance of his testimony until a friend from Phoenix sent him a New Times story on the case.
Bergstrom says that after reading the story, "I remembered the significance of some things. When I went to the prelim, I thought they had a confession or something, and that it was just routine testimony on my part. The story pointed out that the authorities were placing a lot of emphasis on the tissue."
Continues Bergstrom: "I got down to thinking real hard about it, and I came to the conclusion that I had a little bit more information. I realized that my testimony is more important than I thought it was. I know it sounds bad--that, oh, all of a sudden, I remember things--but it's the truth.