Omaha World Herald

Freed man wants state to pay
By Paul Hammel
WORLD-HERALD BUREAU
November 28, 2010
 
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — A new book is rekindling efforts to win a complete exoneration for a man convicted of killing his wife 55 years ago at their isolated residence in Lincoln's Antelope Park.

Darrel Parker, now 79, has steadfastly maintained that he was coerced — through threats and exhaustive interrogation — into confessing to a crime he didn't commit.

The real murderer, Parker and many others say, was a Nebraska death-row inmate, Wesley Peery.

Peery privately confessed to his lawyers before he died in 1988 that he'd waited until Parker left for work, then brutally raped and murdered Parker's young wife, Nancy.

Parker eventually had his conviction overturned in federal court, which ruled his confession was involuntary, then years later won a pardon from the state in 1991.

But now he and a national expert on false confession say he should get more: an official recognition of his innocence from the State of Nebraska, as well as financial compensation for 13 years in prison.
Barbarous Souls

“This false confession is among the worst I have studied,” said Steven Drizin, a Northwestern University law professor and head of its Center on Wrongful Convictions. “The authorities destroyed the life of a good, decent, hardworking, religious man, using psychological coercion to break down a man already in a state of prolonged grief. They had the real killer, a sexual sadist, in their sights but let him get away.”


Drizin called for a reopening of the case in an afterword written in the book “Barbarous Souls.”


Former Lincoln resident David L. Strauss authored the book. His father-in-law, the late Tom McManus, served as one of Parker's defense attorneys.

“This guy got the shaft but no one seemed to give a damn,” said Strauss, a retired architect who lives in Arvada, Colo.

Parker, now a semi-retired city parks director in Moline, Ill., said in an interview last week that the disappearance of DNA evidence precludes his ability to prove Peery committed the murder.
Still, Parker said, he's hoping that the attorney general or a state legislator might help him. A pardon is only an official forgiveness for a crime, not a declaration of innocence.

“I'm probably reaching for the stars,” he said. “Maybe some member of the Legislature could run a bill for compensation and say that the preponderance of the evidence shows that Parker is innocent and a terrible misjustice had been done.”

Memories of the Parker murder case, committed on the snowy morning of Dec. 14, 1955, and the aspect of false confession were revived recently.

Two years ago, six people convicted of a 1985 murder in Beatrice, Neb., were cleared. New DNA tests cleared the six and linked the murder to someone else. False confessions, obtained through threats and fueled by suggestive questioning, had led to the convictions.

Two of the Beatrice Six have reached financial compensation agreements under a state law passed in 2009.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said that his office is all about “getting it right.” His office reopened the investigation into the Beatrice case.

But Bruning said he has no official request from Parker, and that without some physical evidence to clear him, it will be difficult.

“Ultimately, we want to get the right result, but we need concrete evidence to help us get there,” Bruning said.

DNA evidence that could clear Parker — a sperm sample collected from his wife's body — has either been lost or destroyed. Parker said it bordered on the criminal that there was such “sloppy” protection of the evidence.

Both he and the book said that the DNA sample had been in the possession of Lincoln attorney Stan Cohen and his partner, Toney Redman, in 1989. Both Parker and Strauss, the author, said they had seen a vial marked as semen evidence.

Cohen has passed away but Redman said last week that he doesn't remember having that evidence.

Officials with the Lancaster County Clerk of the District Court and Lincoln Police Department both said they have no evidence from the case. Such evidence, in murder cases, is supposed to be maintained forever.

Peery, a career criminal who had worked at Parker's home, had been an early suspect. A car like one Peery owned was spotted near the home on the morning of the murder.

Strauss said he believes Parker is innocent because Peery revealed things in his confession that only the murderer would know — that twine from a Christmas package was used to choke Parker's wife to death.

But police said Peery passed a lie detector test.

With no other suspects or leads, Parker then became the target, and Lincoln police called in an expert, John Reid of Chicago, to interrogate him.

Reid's firm originated a confrontational and accusatory interrogation strategy called the Reid Technique, which critics say elicits false confessions.

Parker was a Henderson, Iowa, farm kid hired as Lincoln's first city forester. A psychologist who examined him after the murder said he was profoundly depressed and in a state of shock, leaving him vulnerable.

“I didn't want to live. I was finished. My beautiful wife was brutally murdered,” Parker said. “If someone had said ‘Parker, go jump off a cliff, I would have done it.'”

Reid, according to the book, told Parker he looked “like a criminal” when his interrogation began, and immediately hooked him up to a lie detector machine and began alleging that his young wife of 18 months had been promiscuous and that he “couldn't beat his machine.”

Reid, according to Parker's court testimony, kept screaming “look at me, look at me, look at me.”

“He just kept repeating that I hit my wife,” Parker said during the trial. “When I told him I did not kill her he said, ‘You're trying to convince yourself of that.'”

After more than seven hours of interrogation, Parker signed a confession that he had beaten and strangled his wife after she had resisted his sexual advances. The confession said she had been bound and gagged to make it look like an intruder had committed the act.

Strauss, the author, said that three of the 12 jurors at the Parker trial initially voted that he was not guilty, but were badgered by the jury's foreman — whose sister had been murdered by her husband — into going along with the conviction.

His defense attorneys, during the trial, were rebuffed in attempts to introduce evidence that pointed to Peery as the killer.

Parker said he has mixed feelings about the book. He's been married to his second wife, Ele, for 39 years, and works part time for a law firm, delivering papers and running the mail room.
He said he'd mostly put the “ugliness” of December 1955 behind him.

Still, he said, his parents lost their farm trying to finance his appeals and prove his innocence, and the sloppy handling of evidence angers him.

“I think that should be worth a couple of bucks,” Parker said. “At least that's a start.”

Contact the writer:
402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com


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