Rural Town Fascinated By Sensational Trial
HASTINGS, Mich. (AP) _ A real-life saga of sex, murder and money has enthralled this rural southwest Michigan community in a way no television mini-series could match.
″Things like this don’t happen in our little county,″ said Marian Colvin, 67, a cashier at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime in Hastings, population about 6,500.
A lovers’ scheme, a slain husband, a six-figure insurance policy and a hired hit man were the attention-grabbing ingredients in the trial of Norman Woodmansee, convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy Friday in the Jan. 25 shotgun slaying of Ricky Goddard.
The six-day trial in Barry County Circuit Court, with its revelations of drug use, murder plotting and adultery, packed the courtroom with the curious and drew a flood of reporters to the otherwise quiet town 40 miles of Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek.
″People are rehashing the case, trading information, arguing over who’s guilty and who’s innocent,″ said Mary Warner, a reporter with the weekly newspaper, The Hastings Banner.
Even jury deliberations were eventful. After a six-day trial, jurors began deliberating June 16 but were forced to take a five-day break after one member broke her leg in a fall down the courthouse steps amid a crush of cameraman and reporters.
And the old, red-brick courthouse may be jammed again in coming weeks when a judge considers reinstating charges against a couple allegedly linked to the slaying.
Woodmansee, 47, was accused of killing Goddard, 32, of Dowling as part of a $3,000 contract with Goddard’s wife and her boyfriend. Authorities charged the slaying was part of a scheme to collect on a $100,000 insurance policy.
The now ex-lovers, Sharon Goddard, 33, and Richard Eckstein, 29, who both worked with Woodmansee at the Kellogg Co. plant in Battle Creek, were named in the conspiracy count against Woodmansee.
Murder charges against them were thrown out by Judge Gary Holman at their preliminary examinations for lack of evidence. The prosecutor has appealed to circuit court, and a hearing is pending.
Woodmansee, meanwhile, faces a mandatory life prison term when he is sentenced July 11.
He also faces trial in the unrelated June 1984 gunshot slaying of carnival worker Frederick Kimberly, 43, whose body was found in a creek in Assyria Township.
During the Goddard trial, Woodmansee’s lawyer contended there was no physical evidence to link the burly factory worker to the slaying, and Woodmansee said he either was drunk or on cocaine when he told people before his arrest that he was a hitman.
County officials say jury expenses alone will wipe out two-thirds of the money set aside this year for jury trials.
″They’ve been taking the taxpayers’ money,″ said Hastings resident Dallas Nance, 62.
″Somebody should do a story about how much the news media has spent on this,″ said Nancy Boersma, Barry County deputy clerk.
The case overlapped another big case, that of 79-year-old Clifton Sawdy of nearby Woodland. Sawdy was charged with second-degree murder after the fatal shooting of his 25-year-old grandson, Donald Williams Jr.
Area communities rallied around Sawdy, and more than $5,000 was raised for his legal defense. Last week, prosecutors dropped the murder charge and instead charged Sawdy with a misdemeanor firearms offense.
But even the Sawdy case lacked the elements that have piqued people’s interest in the Woodmansee case, said Warner.
″The sensationalism of the trial, its cast of characters, its mystery, and its various elements of sex, drugs and money appeal to people,″ she said.
Hastings resident Ace Randall, 58, said the case captured attention because so many townsfolk know its main players.
″Barry County is a small outfit,″ he said. ″You can’t do nothing around here and bang 3/8 It’s all over town.″