Murder suspect lived with victim

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

P Mark A. Gill lived with Ralph L. Lape Jr. a month before Lape disappeared, according to documents.

By Mike Wells

Southeast Missourian

JACKSON, Mo. -- Court documents have revealed a strong connection between 54-year-old Ralph L. Lape Jr. and one of the men charged in his death.

Mark A. Gill, 31, and Justin M. Brown, 22, both of Cape Girardeau, have been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. Officials had earlier said the victim knew the suspects, but didn't elaborate.

"Further investigation has revealed that Gill was temporarily living with Lape during the month preceding Lape's disappearance," said Lt. David James, who heads the Cape Girardeau County Major Case Squad, in a probable-cause statement he filed Friday with the prosecuting attorney's office.

Lape met Gill through a Cape Girardeau lawyer, Patrick Davis, who James described as "a personal friend, drinking buddy and some-time employer of Gill."

Davis said Tuesday he knew Gill was living with Lape, but denied having any close connection to Gill himself.

"I represented Mr. Gill for retail theft in Illinois and for driving while revoked -- several times," Davis said. "Mr. Gill was not an employee of mine. He would come by my office and detail our cars and do odd jobs, but I categorically deny he was my employee."

Davis also said he had represented Lape for driving while intoxicated and driving with a revoked license, and that Lape had occasionally served process papers for his law firm.

Lape's sister, Diane Miller, has concerns about why her brother came to let Gill live with him.

"It's my belief that my brother really did not know this fellow. ... I guarantee my brother had no idea who was moving into his house," she said.

Miller continued by issuing the following statement:

"I feel that our God is a God of love and a God of justice. I pray that justice comes to all, and I emphasize all, who were involved in the cruel and undeserving death of my brother, Ralph. Our family will be forever grateful to the Major Case Squad for the work they have done and are continuing to do in pursuing further leads."

Finger-pointing suspects

The probable-cause statement also revealed that the two murder suspects are now accusing each other of firing the fatal shot.

Brown took investigators to where Lape's body was buried in a shallow grave in New Madrid County, the statement said. An autopsy revealed the victim had suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

"Brown admitted that he and Gill had plotted to abduct and kill Lape," James said in the statement. "Brown admitted that both he and Gill jumped Lape, subdued him, beat him, bound him with duct tape and drove him to New Madrid, where he was shot in the head after being placed in the grave. ... Brown says that Gill is the one who fired the shot."

After Gill was arrested in Santa Rosa, N.M., he allegedly admitted to planning the kidnapping with Brown and to stealing Lape's wallet and some cash but told officers Brown was the killer, James said.

Brown and Gill were arraigned separately Monday. Preliminary hearings in both cases are set for 10 a.m. Aug. 30.

Both suspects remain in custody, Brown on a $2 million bond, Gill on a $5 million bond.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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