Suspect in O'Hair disappearance strikes bargain with prosecutors

Plea to lesser charges expected in Texas case

January 25, 2001|By COX NEWS SERVICE

AUSTIN, Texas - The man suspected in the kidnapping and killing of atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair struck a deal with prosecutors yesterday, possibly setting in motion the final search for the bodies of O'Hair and two of her relatives.

David Roland Waters, the longtime suspect in the O'Hair family disappearance, was expected to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for leading prosecutors to the remains of O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray-O'Hair.

But details of the agreement - including what Waters pleaded to or the kind of prison time he could face - were discussed behind closed doors. The morning hearing was closed to the public, and the plea agreement and transcript of the hearing were ordered sealed.

In court documents closing the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks wrote that openly discussing the agreement could hinder the criminal prosecution and "jeopardize the safety of persons both in and out of custody."

When lawyers emerged from the courtroom after 90 minutes, they announced Waters' trial had been cancelled.

"What happened in the courtroom this morning may hopefully bring some closure to this case," said federal prosecutor Gerald Carruth.

News outlets, including the Austin American-Statesman and the Associated Press, immediately challenged the secret proceedings and requested that all documentation be opened to the public. A hearing on the matter is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday in U.S. District Court.

A plea bargain by Waters could end the mystery of what happened to the O'Hair family.

Prosecutors allege that Waters and several others kidnapped the O'Hairs in 1995, held them hostage in San Antonio and extorted $600,000 from them. The family is alleged to have been killed and buried on a Camp Wood ranch.

Yet despite three searches of that land, the remains have never been found. Without bodies, witnesses or strong physical evidence, investigators have struggled to conclusively prove the O'Hairs were killed.

"I'm pleased that it appears there may be some conclusion to this," said Bill Murray, O'Hair's eldest son. "I think the nation is better for having the Madalyn Murray O'Hair saga close to over."

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