DNA testing fails; York County convicted killer still in prison serving life

William “Johnny” Hullett
William “Johnny” Hullett

DNA testing in the brutal 1981 rape and killing of an elderly York County woman has turned up no new evidence, meaning the man who confessed to the crime but later blamed an uncaught serial killer will likely stay in prison until death.

William “Johnny” Hullett, 68, who confessed to the rape and murder of Bessie Kate Alexander in western York County in 1981 and was convicted in 1982, is serving life without parole.

But last year, a judge ordered DNA testing on the necklace used to strangle Alexander, along with other items, because under a recent state law defendants can ask for DNA testing after advances in science. Yet the testing, recently completed, yielded no male DNA on any of the items tested and no profile could be obtained, according to both Hullett’s lawyers and prosecutors.

It seems likely that Hullett will remain in prison the remainder of his life unless new testing techniques or other evidence comes up, his lawyer Chris Wellborn concedes.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, a detective in 1981 who arrested Hullett and recovered Alexander’s items from Hullett’s house, said, “There is no doubt, and never has been any doubt, that Hullett is the man who committed this crime.”

In 1982, Hullett did not claim innocence, but that he was insane. Then while in prison, another convicted killer, Sterling Spann, claimed Hullett was the serial killer.

Police and prosecutors have said for decades that Hullett’s claims of innocence are a charade. Prosecutors scoffed at the innocence claims of both Spann and Hullett, saying that both were guilty and the claims of an uncaught serial killer preposterous.

“Mr. Hullett has been complaining about having proof of innocence if only the material would be tested,” said Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor. “It has been tested and no evidence of innocence was found.”

Not only did Hullett confess to the police that he killed Alexander, he told his own trial lawyer in the 1980s that he was guilty.

Hullett was entitled to the testing under the state’s post-conviction DNA testing law, Wellborn said. But now with the testing offering nothing new, Hullett is “likely” to remain in prison, the lawyer said.

Still, in prison with nothing but time on his hands, Hullett, who was once the target of Spann’s as an alleged serial killer, claimed that an uncaught serial killer was really behind all three killings. His case was taken up by the Wisconsin Innocence Project from the University of Wisconsin law school, with Wellborn as the local lawyer.

“It was entirely appropriate to test the evidence,” Wellborn said.

In 1981, three elderly western York County women – Alexander, Mary Ring and Melva Niell – were sexually assaulted and killed. Hullett was convicted of killing Alexander. Spann, who never confessed, was convicted of killing Niell, and suspected in the Ring case but never charged.

Spann pointed at Hullett as the serial killer in an effort to get a new trial.

Police and prosecutors have said repeatedly that the Alexander killing 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 in Clover.

Spann spent 17 years on death row, was awarded a new trial, then pleaded guilty while not admitting guilt under what is called an Alford plea. He was later paroled.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065