N.C. man gets life in slayings in 1982

DNA evidence found after police reopened Middle River case

August 05, 1999|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Three years ago, as two veteran Baltimore County homicide detectives drove by an abandoned bar on Pulaski Highway, they wondered aloud about the 1982 murder of a night watchman and a construction worker there.

"We thought, whatever happened to that case?" recalled detective Philip Marll who decided to reopen the case with his partner, Detective James Tincher.

In the coming months, the pair tracked down old witnesses and retrieved a red bandanna that would provide crucial DNA evidence.

Yesterday, the 17-year-old Middle River double murder case finally came to a close as Jack D. Clark of North Carolina was given two life sentences for killing Lurty Wood and George Wilker during a robbery at the Alcove bar on Oct. 7, 1982.

One suspect the detectives located was Michael Grimes, who broke down in tears and admitted taking part in the robbery. Grimes identified Clark, his uncle, as the shooter.

In the police department's property room, the detectives found the bandanna -- worn across the gunman's face and dropped outside the bar. It was of little use in 1982, before DNA testing was used to identify criminals.

But after the case was reopened, prosecutors Kim Detrick and Katie O'Malley had it tested for DNA. A tiny bit of saliva found on the bandanna revealed that the genetic material likely belonged to Clark. Tests showed the type of DNA could only be found in one out of 7.7 million people, Detrick said.

After a three-day trial in April, a jury convicted Clark of both murders. Grimes, who testified against Clark, will be sentenced tomorrow in connection with the murders. Two additional suspects have died since the killings.

Yesterday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II sentenced Clark, 54, to the life sentences and to two 20-year terms for robbery and use of a handgun -- all to be served concurrently.

"The tragedy is it took 16 years to solve this," said the judge, who lauded the detectives for being "the honor of their profession" for "never closing the file" on the case.

The Alcove bar murder is one of four unsolved cases from 1982 in Baltimore County that have resulted in murder convictions in recent years.

In 1998, Roger Stump was sentenced to 30 years for the racially motivated slaying of 10-year-old Adam Faulkner in Middle River after witnesses who were reluctant to come forward at the time of the killing agreed to cooperate with police years later.

Also in 1998, William R. Isaacs was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of 22-year-old Mark Schwandtner at Gunpowder Falls after a former friend of Isaacs told the FBI that he had helped discard bloody clothes after Isaacs confessed to him the day after the killing.

And in April of this year, David Crist was sentenced to 30 years for the contract murder of his younger brother in Cockeysville after one of the contract killers confessed to the killing.

Yesterday, Clark maintained his innocence. "I'm not the person who pulled that trigger," he said, as he stood before the judge in a rumpled suit and a fresh haircut.

Wood's relatives sat in the front row and wept as Assistant State's Attorney O'Malley read from a victim statement written by Wood's youngest daughter, Dawn, who was nine when her father was killed. The daughter recalled important moments in her life growing up without a father.

O'Malley also noted that Wood was killed because he was a good Samaritan and went into the bar when the owner called for help during the robbery.

After the sentencing, Wood's widow, Clara Wood, gave Marll a hug outside the courtroom.

"I'm glad it's finally over with," she said. Even though the conviction doesn't bring back her husband, she said, "it's a little bit of help."

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