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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) _ For more than three decades, Connie Carroll's death was considered a suicide to everyone except a few relatives who harbored suspicions he died at the hands of another _ his oldest brother.

Those suspicions eventually prompted detectives to take another look at a case that has led to the exhumation of the corpse and pitted a daughter against her father.

On Wednesday, members of the dead man's family took the witness stand against Harold Carroll, who is charged with his younger brother's murder. Relatives told jurors he had hinted for years that he was responsible for the 1962 death of Connie Carroll.

``It was a family secret,'' said Ronald Hoover, half brother to the accused.

Defense attorney Vince Lopez argued in opening statements that it was more like a family legend, gossip about an unpopular sibling and the bluster of a 66-year-old man tired of questions about his actions 38 years ago.

The body of Connie Carroll was found Nov. 4, 1962, in a car parked in his Rock Island garage with the engine running. His death was ruled a suicide but was reopened in 1998 when Harold Carroll's daughter told police her father confessed to killing his younger brother.

Sherry Alcorn, born two years after her uncle's death, testified she grew up hearing family gossip including allegations he killed his brother. At every opportunity, she said, she asked him about Connie Carroll's death.

Alcorn said she finally got an answer in 1998.

``I needed to know in my own heart and mind if he'd done what he done,'' she said. ``He looked right at me with cold eyes and said, 'Yes, I did. Now drop it.'''

Lopez told jurors the admission was merely the rantings of a mentally ill man who wanted the questions to end. He said Alcorn's statements, and those of other family members, are tainted by the fact that Harold Carroll was a family outcast.

After his arrest, Harold Carroll was diagnosed as suffering from dementia. He was ruled fit to stand trial for first-degree murder only after months of treatment at a state mental health facility.

At trial, Hoover told jurors that sometimes during arguments _ often fueled by alcohol _ Harold Carroll would tell him he'd ``kill me like he killed my brother.'' Another brother and a sister told similar stories.

Retired Rock Island Police Detective Michael Noon testified he also heard Harold Carroll confess. The elder brother said he dealt his brother a blow to the back of the head then left him to die in the carbon monoxide fumes accumulating in the garage, Noon said.

But Noon said Carroll's story shifted each time he told it, at different times claiming he hit his brother with a billy club, a stick, even a karate chop delivered with his hand.

Connie Carroll's body was exhumed and a new autopsy performed when the case was reopened. Noon told jurors no evidence was found to indicate the man suffered a blow to the back of the head or neck.

None of the prosecution's witnesses offered a motive or could account for Connie Carroll's actions in the several hours between the last time he was seen alive and when his body was found.

Donna Hedrick, 57, who was engaged to Connie, told jurors they spent the night before his death planning their wedding. Also, Hedrick said, she shared with him that night her fear that she was pregnant _ which turned out to be false.

Hedrick said her fiance didn't drink before leaving her about midnight, although alcohol was found in his blood after his body was discovered the next morning in this community about 170 miles west of Chicago.

Hoover, who was 12 years old in 1962, said he was outside smoking a cigarette the morning Connie Carroll died. He said he saw Harold Carroll, a family friend and a third person he didn't recognize return in Connie Carroll's car.

Hoover said he told both his mother and police what he saw the next day but they didn't believe him enough for investigators to even note his statement in their reports.

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On the Net:

Rock Island County: http://www.co.rock-island.il.us