Teenager's sentences in killing sustained

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld the convictions of a teenager who murdered his grandmother and later attempted to burn down their Jackson home in order to cover up the crime.

Joshua Allen Wolf, 18, is serving two concurrent life sentences plus seven years for the May 6, 2000, shooting death of Carol Jean Lindley and related crimes. He will never be eligible for parole.

A Boone County jury in April 2000 found Wolf guilty of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and second-degree arson. The case was moved from Cape Girardeau County on a venue change.

Wolf appealed the convictions, claiming a confession he made to police was illegally obtained and therefore shouldn't have been allowed as evidence against him at trial.

Wolf also argued that Boone County Circuit Judge Frank Conley erred in not delaying the trial so that a psychiatrist hired by the defense could conduct a more thorough mental evaluation. Wolf had pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District unanimously rejected both points.

Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecuting attorney Scott Lipke, who helped try Wolf, said he never doubted the convictions would withstand appeal.

Wolf's attorney, Stephen C. Wilson of Cape Girardeau, could not be reached for comment.

Moved from Ohio

In the spring of 2000, Wolf, then 16, and Lindley moved to Jackson from Columbus, Ohio, so Lindley could begin her new job as an administrator at St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau. Lindley, 56, and her husband, who was to join them from Ohio a month later, had raised Wolf since he was young.

Sometime on the afternoon of May 6, a Saturday, Wolf stood atop a stairway in their home with a .22-caliber rifle and shot Lindley in the head as she watched television. Over the remainder of the weekend, Wolf used Lindley's ATM card to withdraw $650 and went on a shopping spree, which included buying stereo equipment that he installed in Lindley's car.

That following Monday, Wolf went to R.O. Hawkins Junior High School, where he had enrolled in the ninth grade a week earlier, and turned in his books, telling his teachers he was moving back to Ohio. Later in the day, he set fire to his house.

After firefighters discovered Lindley's badly burned body, Wolf was taken to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department for questioning.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department's Lt. John Brown, then a member of the county's major crime task force, led the interrogation of Wolf. Brown accused Wolf of killing Lindley. Wolf repeatedly denied it, at one point saying, "Did not and that's my final statement." Brown continued the questioning, and Wolf eventually confessed to killing Lindley and having intercourse with her corpse.

On appeal, Wolf claims his reference to making his "final statement" was an invocation of his right to remain silent and that questioning should have ceased at that time.

Open to interpretation

The appeals court, in an opinion written by Judge Edwin H. Smith, said the intent of Wolf's statement was open to interpretation and as such the confession was lawfully obtained.

"While it is arguable that it could have been read as evincing an intent by the appellant to cut off all questioning by Lt. Brown, it could just as easily been understood by a reasonable law enforcement officer, under the existing circumstances, as indicating that the appellant would not change his statement that he did not kill his grandmother," Smith wrote.

As to the claim that Conley should have delayed the trial pending a more comprehensive mental evaluation, the appeals court said Wolf failed to prove that the results of such an examination would have changed the jury's verdict.

Several defense experts testified at trial that Wolf was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder because of mental illness, but differed in their diagnoses. A prosecution expert testified that Wolf was responsible for his crimes and his only mental illness was depression stemming from his incarceration after his arrest.

Wolf is currently incarcerated at the Farmington Correctional Center.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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