SD Attorney General Larry Long embarrassed by false confession
It should've been caught sooner, he says
By Josh Verges
Published: February 23, 2008
A decades-old double-murder case built around the audio recordings of a prison snitch unraveled shortly before trial as investigators learned the recorded voice was not that of the defendant.
Rape, kidnapping and murder charges against 53-year-old David Lykken will be dropped Monday, Attorney General Larry Long said, one month before the Union County trial was to begin.
The 1971 disappearances of 17-year-old Vermillion girls Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller were among the first to be investigated in 2004 by the state's cold case unit.
The girls' bodies were never found, and extensive searches at the Lykken farm turned up little of interest. Yet Lykken was indicted by a grand jury last July, largely on the strength of a seasoned snitch who said he recorded Lykken's confessions at the state penitentiary.
Long acknowledged Friday that the informant, Aloysius Black Crow, created the tapes in cooperation with another inmate pretending to be Lykken.
"It's disappointing. Investigators get lied to regularly and get pretty good at spotting it," Long said. "Obviously, they missed this one. That's embarrassing for us and embarrassing for them, and it's got to be tough on all the others involved."
The prosecutor did not rule out the possibility that charges would be refiled.
"I think you could conclude that we had evidence which, if the evidence was believed by a jury, would point to David Lykken as a serious suspect," Long said.
Lykken's lawyers told a different story Friday morning, saying no valid evidence exists that implicates their client.
"This was a hoax, and it was a hoax from the beginning," Mike Butler said during a news conference at his Sioux Falls office.
Some of the state's evidence came to light last month at a motions hearing. Lykken's sister, Nancy Bell, testified then that a state psychologist helped her recover repressed memories of seeing Jackson and Miller dead on the Lykken farm.
Butler said Bell's supposed memories are actually dreams. Her statements, he said, are representative of an investigation that built its case around an easy target: a serial rapist who will be in prison until at least 2033.
"They decided it was Lykken before they had any evidence and started working their way backward," Butler said of the cold case investigators. "Everything they saw was a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Perjury charge possible
Long said investigators told him earlier this week that Black Crow might be lying. When it was confirmed, he notified family members and lawyers.
Those lawyers included public defender Phil Peterson, who unsuccessfully defended James Strahl in another Union County murder trial last year. In that case, Black Crow told jurors about confessions he said Strahl made while they were housed together at the Union County Jail.
Peterson said Friday that he will move for a new trial in light of the Black Crow revelations.
Black Crow himself might be back in the defendant's chair.
Long said "we will certainly be looking at" perjury charges against Black Crow for lying to the Lykken grand jury and during the hearing last month.
Long said the rules of prosecution prevent him from giving details on any admissions Black Crow might have made, including whether he took a polygraph.
As for Black Crow's co-conspirator, the Lykken imposter, Long said it's an "interesting question" whether he could face criminal charges. "He has denied to us that he participated," Long said.
Long and Butler have not identified that inmate, but he probably is William Eutz, 68.
Butler said the co-conspirator is a man who murdered a cab driver in Florida and who later was moved to the South Dakota prison.
Prison records show Eutz is serving a life sentence in Sioux Falls for a first-degree murder conviction in Florida. He was received at the penitentiary in November 1996.
Butler said it was late September last year when he received the audio recordings. It was immediately clear, he said, that the voice did not belong to Lykken.
Lawyer: Girls ran away
The recorded voice was higher in pitch, slower in cadence and was raspy, suggestive of a longtime smoker. Butler said Lykken speaks more quickly and sounds nothing like the recording.
He said investigators needed only to have played the tapes for someone familiar with Lykken's voice, such as a prison guard, to discover it was an imposter.
"It's frustrating when you realize the answer was right in front of them, and they didn't see it," Butler said.
Long, who has not been involved in the prosecution, said he didn't know whether investigators tried to verify the voice.
Long said he didn't know whether anyone within the Division of Criminal Investigation would be reprimanded for allowing the case to get so close to trial before learning the evidence is no good.
What was supposed to have been the cold case unit's second success remains, for now, unsolved. But Lykken's lawyers are unconvinced anyone killed the girls.
Butler said that according to files from the original investigation, Jackson was photographed at a Sioux Falls concert six months after she and Miller disappeared. Jackson's parents were among those who positively identified the girl, he said.
"It was determined they must have run away," Butler said.
Reach Josh Verges at 331-2335.
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