Does Lady Justice often peek from her blindfold? - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Does Lady Justice often peek from her blindfold?

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow

A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including a grammar-based college textbook, titled The Confident Writer. Contact her at

Not knowing it would be her last day of life, the woman with long dark hair dressed to go out for the evening. I heard our neighbor's door slam as she left the house. She wore a white blouse and a pencil skirt of dark blue. High-heels and Navy blue pantyhose underscored her outfit.

I was a teenager when, for the final time, I watched her step carefully as she descended our hill. I had never met her and didn't even know her name. To this day, though, I recall the news that her body had been found in the Kanawha River. She was dead before she was thrown into the water. Of course, her husband was questioned. He said his wife ran around with the wrong crowd because she frequented bars and beer joints. No one ever questioned my grandparents or my mother. I heard them talking around the kitchen table on the morning the news of our neighbor's demise was announced. My mother and grandmother agreed they had heard the couple fighting the night she was murdered. They said they heard the woman scream, a loud crash, and then all was quiet. That was many years ago. There was no evidence to connect the husband to the murder. The real killer, whoever that might have been, was never caught, and the husband has been dead for many years.

The second murder happened years later. Standing in front of his father's home in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, the young man smelled smoke, looked up the hill and saw a neighbor's house burning. He ran up to the house, knocked and then tried to force the door open. When he couldn't succeed, he kicked in the door. Inside, he heard the cries of a child. He knew time was running out. Risking his life, he bent low, edging his way down a narrow smoke-filled hall. After entering the bedroom where the toddler was crying, he grabbed a blanket and the tiny girl. Finding his way out by using the wall as a guide, he held tight to the terrified child. Once outside, he immediately called the police and then the fire department. Sirens alerted others, and soon people gathered around him. His clothes were permeated with the stench of smoke, so he burned them. The following day, news of his saving the 3-year-old was reported, and he read headlines of his heroism. TV announcers called him a hero. He said he did only what anyone would have done.

After the fire was extinguished, the charred body of the girl's mother was discovered. She was on her knees with a dog collar around her neck. She had been raped and beaten to death with the same baseball bat she had kept for her own protection. The murderer had apparently set the house afire to destroy evidence. I talked with the mother of the murdered woman, and she told me about the baseball bat.

The hero became a suspect and was later arrested for the murder and rape of the young woman. During the trial, the “hero” said during the time the murder had occurred he was sitting all alone on a bridge spanning a small creek. He said he often went to that place just to think, and he had broken up with his girlfriend. He wanted the solitude. That was not the alibi a murder suspect needed. Besides, someone had seen him buying a dog collar. On July 27, 1989, the jury proclaimed him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of the young mother.

He began serving his lifetime sentence. According to the National Registry of Exoneration, Fred Zain, formerly of the West Virginia State Police crime lab, had given false reports with respect to blood found at the scene. Also, police had withheld evidence. They had found a blood-covered flashlight at the crime scene, but it was not used to clear the young man. Also, the 3-year-old daughter had seen the murderer and claimed it was not the man who had been arrested.

Years later, DNA testing indicated blood on the flashlight did not come from either the victim or the man who had served time for a crime he did not commit. I had talked with the prosecuting attorney, and he told me the problem with the defense attorney was he believed his client. The defense attorney was a professor where I taught, and with our 20-20 hindsight, the defense attorney was right; the prosecuting attorney was dead wrong. Winning cases must be what it's all about in a system where Lady Justice sometimes peeks from beneath the blindfold and manipulates evidence.

It was not until July 1999, that all charges against James Emund Richardson Jr. were formally dismissed. He received $1 million dollars from West Virginia and $1 million from Kanawha County. He died of a heart attack in 2011. I think he died a hero, for he saved a little girl's life and in so doing, he unfairly lost a decade of his own life.

Can writing the stories behind the headlines in creative nonfiction save newspapers? What do you astute readers of The State Journal think? Do you think straight news is boring? Do you think newspapers should become true-story papers?

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