Jewelry, clothing and other evidence will be tested for the presence of DNA in the 33-year-old murder case of a Clover man convicted of raping and killing an elderly Smyrna woman his lawyers claim could have been the victim of a serial killer.
Testing should show if convicted murderer William “Johnny” Hullett’s DNA or the DNA of anyone else is found – either pointing the finger right back at Hullett, or opening up a new case of a killer never apprehended.
Hullett, now 67, was an itinerant produce peddler in 1982 when he was convicted of killing Bessie Kate Alexander near Smyrna in western York County. Hullett’s lawyers maintain that an uncaught serial killer who killed three women in 1981 is behind the crimes.
That theory was first floated more than a decade ago, when appeals lawyers for Sterling Spann, the convicted killer of one of the other two women, argued that one person committed all three crimes, but that person could not have been Spann, because he was in jail at the time Alexander was killed.
Spann’s legal team blamed Hullett for the crimes. Before Spann eventually pleaded guilty, slides from the 1981 cases were found at the county morgue. And now another set of lawyers has picked up the ball of the serial killer theory.
Police and prosecutors maintain that Hullett confessed and is guilty.
Prosecutors also have argued that the evidence could be tainted because Spann’s legal team had unsupervised access to it before the York County Clerk of Court’s Office changed its policy to require that evidence must be reviewed in the presence of a court clerk.
Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III ruled earlier this year that Hullett has the legal right to test the evidence for the presence of DNA under the state’s five-year-old “Access to Justice Post-Conviction DNA Testing Act.”
During a court hearing Tuesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to test a necklace used to strangle Alexander, her clothing and evidence collected in connection to the sexual assault.
The testing will be performed by a private laboratory in a matter of weeks, said Byron Lichstein, a University of Wisconsin law professor and co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which is representing Hullett.
Hullett’s lawyers have repeatedly said that if the test results implicate him, they will drop his appeals.
“If the testing shows Mr. Hullett’s DNA, it’s over,” Lichstein said. “If the testing shows other DNA, we will have to see what to do after that.”
In 1981, three elderly western York County women – Alexander, Mary Ring and Melva Niell – were murdered. Police and prosecutors said Alexander’s murder, which Hullett was convicted of, is not connected to the other two killings. They say the circumstances are different and the location was more than a dozen miles from the other two killings.
Police and prosecutors who convicted Spann of killing Niell also suspecting him of killing Ring, but they agreed not to prosecute him for Ring’s killing in exchange for pleading guilty to killing Niell a decade ago. Spann has since been paroled.