Omaha World-Herald



Man who served 14 years in wife's 1955 slaying seeks full exoneration

August 24, 2012

LINCOLN — A now-80-year-old man should be exonerated in the 1955 murder of his wife because even the Nebraska Attorney General's Office admitted that his confession was false, an attorney for Darrel Parker said Thursday.

Darrel Parker
Darrel Parker
Parker, now of Moline, Ill., spent 14 years in prison for murder in the death of his newlywed wife, Nancy, at their home in Lincoln's Antelope Park. Parker's supporters say the real killer was a man who died on Nebraska's death row years ago.

Parker, who had worked as a park caretaker in Lincoln, was released from prison after a federal court ruled that his confession was “coerced and involuntary.” He later won a state pardon.

But he now wants total exoneration, as well as monetary compensation for the years that he wrongfully spent behind bars.

To be awarded compensation, Parker must prove in court that his confession was false and coerced and that he is innocent.

On Thursday, Parker's attorney told a judge that the state proved his case for him in a court brief submitted last month that said it was “incontrovertible” that his confession was false.

“We don't need a trial,” said the lawyer, Dan Friedman of Lincoln, after the court hearing. “The state has conceded the central issue of the case.”

But Stephanie Caldwell, an assistant attorney general, said the admission was an “inadvertent mistake” that could not be used as evidence. Such written court arguments cannot be used for that purpose, she said, and beyond that, her office has withdrawn the July 23 motion.


Caldwell said the motion's withdrawal was an effort to “cure” the mistake.


But both Friedman and his client said it was unfair to “take it back” now, after the Attorney General's Office, in at least four court documents, said Parker's confession was false.

“If the confession is false, then he is innocent,” Friedman said. “There's been no evidence submitted disproving that.”

After the hearing, the chief of the civil bureau of the Attorney General's Office, James D. Smith, said his office was trying to argue that Parker was reneging on the 1970 agreement he struck to be released from prison.

In that agreement, he agreed not to continue to challenge the willingness of his confession, in exchange for being paroled.

But Friedman said Nebraska's 2009 law on compensation for those wrongfully convicted of crimes provided a “pathway” for those like Parker who are now trying to show that they were sent to prison as a result of a forced confession.

Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson took under advisement Parker's request that she find that there were no factual disputes in the case, and that he should be awarded compensation from the state without a trial.

It may be a month or two before she rules on the summary judgment request from Parker.

The Attorney General's Office had made a competing request for a summary judgment to dismiss the case but withdrew it after Parker decided to use the forced confession admission to prove his own legal argument.

Parker, a hearing aid behind his ear, sat silently during the 45-minute court hearing, as did his 85-year-old wife, Ele. He said it was unfair for the state to refuse to allow him to disavow his confession and then attempt to withdraw its admission that he was innocent.

“What's good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said after the hearing.

Parker has asked for $500,000 from the State of Nebraska under a law passed to compensate those wrongly imprisoned for crimes.

He maintains that he was coerced into falsely confessing to murder through manipulative interrogation techniques used by a Chicago polygraph authority, John Reid, brought in by Lincoln police.

The killer, according to Parker and his supporters, was Wesley Peery, who received a death sentence for a similar rape-murder. After Peery died on death row in 1988, his attorneys released a detailed confession made by Peery, who had been questioned by police about Nancy Parker's slaying and released.

A car matching the description of one owned by Peery had been seen near the Parker home in Lincoln on the day of the slaying. Parker claims that police withheld from his trial attorneys other evidence that implicated Peery.

After his release from prison, Parker remarried and worked as a city forester and parks director in eastern Iowa.

The recent publication of a book on the case, “Barbarous Souls,” revived Parker's interest in winning more than a pardon, which confers only official “forgiveness” for the crime.

Smith, one of the state's attorneys, said the confession made by Peery was “total hearsay” because it wasn't revealed until after his death and could not be investigated. Both Smith and Caldwell, the state's other lawyer, said the matter of Parker's innocence could be proven only at a trial.

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


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