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Murder conviction stands in 1962 cold case killing

November 20, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court won’t hear arguments for a man sentenced two years ago to life in prison for killing his first wife in 1962.

Monday’s rejection lets stand the second-degree murder conviction of William Felix Vail, who said Mary Horton Vail fell out of his boat and drowned.

Louisiana’s 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal refused earlier to hear the case.

Defense arguments included objections to testimony about the disappearances of Vail’s girlfriend, Sharon Hensley, in 1973 and his second wife, Annette Craver Vail, in 1984. Vail, who was living in Mississippi, hasn’t been charged in either case.

“To this day, there is no direct proof that either woman is dead, nor that Felix had anything to do with their deaths,” attorney Chad Ikerd wrote in his brief to the high court.

The appeal court said another 3rd Circuit panel ruled before trial that the evidence was within bounds, and Ikerd had not brought up any new arguments.

The Supreme Court refused the case without comment.

“I think it’s solid. I think they found him guilty because he is guilty,” District Attorney John DeRosier said.

Asked whether he will go to federal court, Ikerd wrote in an email, “At this time, we have no comment other than to say we will review all legal options and make a decision in the coming days.”

The Calcasieu Parish coroner, Dr. Terry Welke, reopened the investigation into Mary Vail’s death after The Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson, Mississippi, published a five-part series in 2012 about Vail and the three women. Testimony about the disappearances was allowed under what is called the doctrine of chances, letting jurors decide whether they were random or showed a pattern.

Ikerd wrote in his brief that he had not been able to find any other case in the country allowing prosecutors to bring evidence about another “bad act” which was not either proven by direct evidence or admitted by the defendant.

Vail told the judge at his sentencing that Mary Vail’s death was an accident and Hensley and Annette Vail decided “to disappear themselves from abusive mothers.”

Ikerd also challenged a 3rd Circuit ruling that three statements by Vail, taken together, “are confessions and therefore are direct evidence that he committed” murder.

One man testified that, after Mary Vail’s death, Vail told him he had “fixed” her because he didn’t want another child. Another testified that Vail talked about hitting Mary Vail in the head with an oar. A third testified that Vail told him more than once that he had killed his wife.

“Multiple admissions of the same information cannot be added together to form a confession,” Ikerd wrote.

Murder requires intent to kill, and Vail didn’t admit to that, Ikerd wrote.

DeRosier’s brief called that argument a red herring. “This evidence from his own mouth helped convict him,” the prosecutor wrote.

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