Crime

May 16, 2014

Judge rules against York County killer’s request for DNA testing

A judge has ruled that the convicted rapist and murderer of an elderly York County woman in 1981 has no legal basis to ask for DNA testing that his lawyers claim might show that a serial killer committed the crime more than three decades ago.

A judge has ruled that the convicted rapist and murderer of an elderly York County woman in 1981 has no legal basis to ask for DNA testing that his lawyers claim might show that a serial killer committed the crime more than three decades ago.

William “Johnny” Hullett’s lawyers have already challenged the decision by Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III. That likely means more hearings in a case that has dragged on for decades and has been tied to one of South Carolina’s most high-profile convicted killers who never admitted his guilt – Sterling Spann.

Hullett’s lawyers filed a motion this week asking Hayes to alter or amend the order dismissing the case. They also could appeal to a higher court.

“Our position remains that testing the DNA is the right thing in this case,” said Chris Wellborn, the Rock Hill lawyer working with Hullett’s lawyers from the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

If any DNA testing were to point to Hullett, his lawyers have said, they would drop all appeals.

Hullett, 67, has been in prison under a life-plus-30-years sentence since his 1982 trial on charges related to the rape and strangling of Bessie Kate Alexander near Smyrna. Hullett confessed to the crime at the time he was arrested but later tried to blame his trial lawyers for his conviction in a civil lawsuit.

Hullett’s trio of court-appointed attorneys tried to use an insanity defense in 1982.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett and deputy solicitor Willy Thompson have argued that Hullett’s claims are actually part of a plot by Spann’s defense team.

Spann’s lawyers tried to pin the three 1981 killings – Alexander in Smyrna, and Mary Ring and Melva Niell in Clover – on Hullett as part of a defense theory that a serial killer had murdered all three women.

Brackett and Thompson have called those claims ridiculous, saying the killings are not connected. Evidence, confessions, jury verdicts and guilty pleas from both Spann and Hullett show they are guilty of separate, brutal rapes and murders, prosecutors say.

Hullett’s appeals should end, prosecutors say.

“Mr. Hullett had ample opportunity to have this material tested before and declined,” Brackett said. “The evidence showed Johnny Hullett was guilty of killing Mrs. Alexander, and the evidence showed Sterling Spann was guilty in the death of Melva Niell.

“There are no connections other than those crafted by the lawyers for the defendants.”

Spann’s lawyers claimed that because he was in jail at the time Alexander was killed, it must have been a serial killer – maybe Hullett – who committed the crimes.

Hullett’s current lawyers have called the three killings “stranger than fiction,” but they still say the evidence points to one killer.

Spann spent 17 years on death row before being given a new trial. Before the new trial began, he pleaded guilty under a law that allows a defendant to plead guilty without admitting to having committed the crime. He was paroled in 2006.

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