A friend of actor Bob Crane who shared the TV actor's sexual conquests was acquitted Monday by a jury in Arizona in the 1978 bludgeon murder of the "Hogan's Heroes" star.
After the verdict by the Maricopa County jury was announced, John Henry Carpenter, 66, said: "My life is back together after 16 years." His wife, Diana, sobbed, "It's over. It's over."
Prosecutors had tried to show that Carpenter killed Crane because he feared that the actor would cut off the friendship and Carpenter's access to women.
Jurors, who deliberated for 2 1/2 days after an eight-week trial, said they found evidence wanting in the circumstantial case, which hinged on a photograph of a speck found on the door of Carpenter's rental car. The speck had been lost but prosecutors said it was fatty matter from Crane's skull. The defense challenged that conclusion.
"What was the speck?" asked the jury's foreman, Marine Sgt. Michael Lake. "Nobody knows what it was, not even the doctors.
"There wasn't any proof," Lake said. "You can't prove someone guilty on speculation."
Maricopa County Atty. Richard Romley said the jury, initially split 9 to 3 for acquittal, eventually concluded that "there just wasn't enough evidence" for the prosecution to fulfill its burden.
"I wish we had more than a photograph. I wish we had the tissue, I wish we had the blood from 1978," said Romley, who said he believes his office brought the right man to trial.
"I'm convinced if that crime occurred today, we'd have much better procedures in place--it would have been different."
Crane played the wise guy Col. Robert Hogan in the late 1960s television comedy about a Nazi prisoner of war camp. He was 49, and a regular on the dinner-theater circuit when he was found dead in bed in a Scottsdale apartment.
Prosecutors alleged that Carpenter had crushed Crane's skull with the tripod of a video camera the two used to tape their sexual escapades, but they did not produce the tripod. The jury was shown a black-and-white video of the two having sex with a woman.
Crane's son testified that Crane had complained that Carpenter was becoming a nuisance and a hanger-on--part of the prosecution contention that Carpenter feared Crane would sever a relationship that provided him with numerous sexual opportunities.
Carpenter, the prime suspect from the start, had been with Crane the night before, and blood on his car door matched Crane's type, prosecutors said. But 16 years ago, they believed they did not have enough evidence to file charges. Carpenter was indicted in 1992 after Romley took office and ordered a new look at the county's unsolved murders.
The age of the case and the state of evidence was not the only hurdle, Romley said. Some Phoenix observers had compared the celebrity of Crane's murder case to the O.J. Simpson case.
Jurors "begin to judge cases by what they have seen perhaps on TV. You may have the perfect case on TV, so they expect the standard to be the same," Romley said.
The celebrity factor cuts both ways, Romley believes.
"It hindered us in the sense that here is an individual (Crane), you opened up some of his darkest secrets, not flattering in some ways . . . perhaps jurors began to think, 'What a life.' In the other sense, the celebrity status in some ways did bring us some new witnesses--but then you get the kooks" too.
Big cities will inevitably face the "challenge" of high profile cases, Romley said, and "we as prosecutors just have to learn to work around that."