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2 Inmates May Go Free After 'Happy Face Killer' Confesses

October 28, 1995|From Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. — A prosecutor is seeking to free two people serving murder sentences after another man known as the "happy face killer" led authorities to the victim's purse, which had remained in the river gorge where she died in 1990.

There is considerable evidence that LaVerne Pavlinac and John Sosnovske were wrongly convicted in 1991 of murdering 23-year-old Taunja Bennett, Dist. Atty. Michael Schrunk said Thursday. They have been in prison ever since.

Keith Jesperson, who claims he has killed eight women in the past five years, was taken to the scene of Bennett's slaying and knew details only the killer could have known, even helping find her purse, Schrunk told Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb.

Jesperson was dubbed the "happy face killer" because he draws smiling faces atop neatly printed letters to the media claiming that he killed women in five states--including Wyoming, Florida and California--and saying his conscience was bothering him.

The 40-year-old interstate truck driver is imprisoned in Washington state, awaiting sentencing for kidnaping, raping and strangling a woman in March. He faces up to life in prison on last week's guilty plea.

Prosecutors say they will charge Jesperson with Bennett's death. Investigators are also studying Jesperson's other claims.

The judge did not say when he might rule on freeing Pavlinac, 62, and Sosnovske, 48, who have been convicted of strangling Bennett.

Sosnovske first claimed he was not guilty, then pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty in a case built largely on testimony from Pavlinac.

Pavlinac tipped police off, then recanted, saying she based her story of rape and strangulation on news reports in hopes of ending her abusive relationship with Sosnovske.

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