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Judge Dismisses Charge In 35-Year-Old Murder

October 15, 1987

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) _ A judge Wednesday dismissed a murder charge brought 35 years after the fact, saying the deaths of key witnesses and destruction of evidence would deny the defendant a fair trial.

″I expected it,″ lawyer Max Jenkins said after Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Devore issued a six-page opinion dismissing the charge against Clovis Lee Duncan, 59.

″This was an ideal case for this kind of motion,″ Jenkins said from his office in Radford. ″I’ve never seen one like it.″

″What am I to say?″ asked Commonwealth’s Attorney J. Patrick Graybeal. ″That’s the court’s ruling.″

Duncan was indicted April 1 on a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of Billie Jean Turpin, 19, whose body was found outside Radford in April 1952.

Jenkins said late Wednesday afternoon that he had not yet reached Duncan with the news. Duncan had predicted in a recent interview that the case would be resolved in his favor.

″It ought to,″ Duncan said. ″I haven’t done anything. In my heart, I know I’m innocent. When you know something, you know it.″

Authorities reopened the case last year after receiving a phone call from a woman who said she had information on it.

Graybeal declined to discuss his evidence in detail, but Jenkins said the prosecutor apparently would have called a woman who would testify she heard Duncan say in 1952 he had killed Mrs. Turpin, as well as three people who would have said they saw Duncan and Mrs. Turpin in a cafe the night before her body was found.

Police arrested Mrs. Turpin’s estranged husband, a co-worker of Duncan’s, shortly after the killing, but he was able to prove he had been at work when the death occurred.

Jenkins said that the case could never be solved, because key witnesses had died including a woman Duncan said he was with at the time of the shooting.

In his ruling, Devore agreed, and also pointed out that the deaths of three investigating police officers and the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, as well as the destruction of the victim’s clothing, made the case against Duncan unfair because it violated his right to due process.

The judge also said law enforcement officials had given no good reason for the delay in bringing the case to court.

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