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Who Killed Sandy Bird?

The Rev. Tom Bird Has Served 20 Years for Murdering His Wife. Have a Newspaper Story and Hollywood Movie Unfairly Kept Him in Prison?

May 02, 2004|Scott Kraft | Scott Kraft is national editor of the Los Angeles Times. He last wrote for the magazine about author Larry McMurtry.

Guilty or innocent, Bird faced an uphill battle for release once convicted. My article and Robe's movie certainly haven't helped. But it's hard to believe that they keep him in jail. Bird's refusal to cop to the crime, a principled stand if he's truly innocent, has probably been more responsible for keeping him behind bars.

And then there is this: A few years after the movie, in 1990, Bird went on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Marty Anderson. Lorna Anderson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for her testimony against Bird. She said she and Bird had planned the killing together--and that Bird was the masked man who gunned down her husband.

She had first made that claim to me, in 1986, and I had mentioned it in my original story. After an appeal from the prosecutors and Marty Anderson's brother, the Times agreed to allow me to appear in the second murder trial, to testify that my story's account of Lorna Anderson's remarks was accurate. The prosecutor had been worried about her credibility, he told me privately, "inasmuch as Lorna has told so many stories."

His concern was justified. Bird was acquitted and no one else has been charged in Marty Anderson's death.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 06, 2004 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
The article "Who Killed Sandy Bird?" (May 2) about the murder of a preacher's wife in Kansas 21 years ago implied that she died "the night of July 17, 1983." In fact, her body was found the morning of July 17.

Lorna Anderson, now serving a sentence of 15 years to life, has come before the parole board several times, and each time has been turned down. The decisions haven't been close. "We got a lot of information on her," she says, citing "some confidential issues" and declining to elaborate. Looking back, I am reminded of what one of the investigators had told me about Anderson: "A lot of what she says is true. Some is not. And there's a whole lot she's not telling."

As I finish reexamining Bird's case, the board decides to reopen his file early and consider placing him in a work-release program. After public hearings in April, the board plans to see Bird again this month. He will be facing a different body. The board now has just three members, one of whom is new and believes the case is worth considering. Another member who voted to deny Bird parole feels he has served enough time. And Scafe, the third vote, says, "I never wanted to pass him [deny him] in the first place."

"But I want sunshine on it," Scafe says. "I don't want anyone to say we're doing something behind the victim's family's back." If the board puts Bird in a work-release program, she says, "we're saying that unless you screw it up you're going to get parole eventually."

Soon, it seems, Tom Bird, still professing his innocence after 20 years in a Kansas prison, will be free.

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