This series begins with with Before the Devil, Part 1: The Murder of Rev. William H. Radcliffe
Friday February 22, 1991, Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson lead Gerald Wayne Bivins into a dark Boone County Courtroom to testify before Prosecutor Rebecca McClure and Judge O.A. Kincaid. Judge Kincaid ordered the doors shut so they can proceed with the closed probable cause hearing. In a soft and humble voice, Jerry testified that Gary Kevin Robertson and James M. Warren both 19, were “the ones who killed that minister at the rest stop”, the month prior. McClure then presented the .38 Colt Revolver recovered by Sheriff Hudson’s divers from the bottom of Wildcat Creek just off the Peter Mills Bridge, right where Jerry Bivins said Robertson and Warren tossed it.
Judge Kincaid ruled there was probable cause and issued arrest warrants for both men.
Bivins was still being held for the fraudulent check he cashed at Dave’s IGA in Delphi. He was aggravated and felt law enforcement lied to him- as nothing was mentioned about his release for cooperating and testifying. What Jerry didn’t realize, is that some things needed to be cleared up. They need to know his level of involvement in the crime spree that January night. They flipped it on him, convincing him there was a legitimate concern for his safety and he should stay put. Those two men he testified against were dangerous after all, and certainly would have no problem killing him.
Sheriff Ern Hudson informed Indiana State Police detective Sgt. Herb Clear they had the killers of Rev. William Harvey Radcliffe. Something didn’t make sense from the start, so Sgt. Clear advised Hudson to move quick as the sealed indictments against Gary Kevin Robertson and James M. Warren would get torn apart the moment defense attorneys get in the courtroom.
So both men went at the suspects looking to obtain at least one confession.
Even under the ruse that the other had confessed implicating them as the triggerman and later given a choice of immunity or death penalty, their story stood. They knew nothing about Bill Radcliffe’s murder. Their alibis withstood even further scrutiny. It was easy for witnesses to recall the evening of January 16, 1991, because after months of an intense military buildup with Vietnam still fresh in the minds’ of Americans- Operation Desert Storm had launched that evening. Three days after the arrest of Robertson and Warren, investigators were back at square one.
The judge was less than thrilled after releasing Warren and Robertson, reminding both the prosecutor and Sheriff that perjury was serious and to be considered, because he was considering contempt for “whomever didn’t vet Bivins’, a career criminal committing crimes concerning individual integrity” and thought it was a good idea to file murder charges against two innocent men based on his “questionable statements alone” .
Sheriff Hudson though wasn’t convinced that Bivins was some ordinary inmate that threw a Hail Mary just blowing smoke up his ass. Jerry knew things that weren’t disclosed to the public.
“When it comes to clearing a murder, you have to be in it for the long haul”, Sgt. Clear stressed in an interview.
One thing was for certain, Gerald Wayne Bivins knew something. There was little Herb Clear and Ern Hudson didn’t agree on. When it came to Jerry Bivins, however, their perception of him was polar opposites.
Sheriff Hudson, who had spent nearly three decades in law enforcement was sure of one thing, Jerry was a harmless, smooth talking player and bullshitter, but was still a good ole’ boy. He just found himself on the wrong side of the law with a drug and alcohol problem. His take? Jerry was exceptionally close to the real perpetrators. He basically spent his entire adult life in prison, had little reason to trust law enforcement and because he was a convict, he could handle some time in jail. He was going to earn his trust and prevail.
Herb Clear on the other hand knew Bivins was a weasel. He was just trying to survive without having to spend the rest of his life in prison. People like Gerald Bivins, “think they’re smart. Taking in information and exploiting it to his advantage”. To him, Bivins isn’t waiting a month because he’s close to these guys. He wants something for nothing. Jerry thought he could just lead investigators in the right direction and walk. He give’s them a name, they let him go about his business. To Clear, the ruse was simple. Bivins couldn’t under any circumstance be a rat if his plan didn’t work. He wanted guarantees before he gave any information.
“See when someone has good information, it’s testimony that counts. I have good information, you need me to testify. Here’s what I know. Now what can you do for me?…. Liars? They lie….. Until the somebody is desperate and that’s when innocent men end up in prison”, Clear later stated in an interview.
Sheriff Hudson kept him close, but the ruse was up. Bivins was getting preferential treatment and special favors for playing informant. He’d have Sheriff Hudson drive him around in street clothes and tell long yarns mob connections and drug cartels operating in and around the area. Many people were questioning whether or not Sheriff Hudson made a deal with the devil, a man desperate to beat a check fraud rap meets a man desperate to solve a murder.
It would all come to a head on the afternoon of Tuesday March 26. Herb Clear was crystal when he put the heat on Bivins, “check forgery is the last of your worries. Carroll County might have enough for forgery, they might not. We got perjury”, regarding his bogus testimony from the February 22 probable cause hearing against Gary Kevin Robertson and James M. Warren.
All jokes aside, Jerry insisted, he knows where the other gun is that was used during the Radcliffe robbery.
When asked what kind of gun, he said it was a .22. It was at a home in Indianapolis, it’s a couple of associates of one of the robbers, named Ronald Chambers. Sheriff Hudson hatched a quick plan, pose as Jerry’s uncle to get in the house and see what unfolds. Hopefully he gets get some type of admission of guilt or probable cause by seeing something illegal in the house. Gerald Wayne Bivins was no longer credible.
Hit & Run
At 8:15 p.m., both he and Bivins were on their way to a home on the 1700 block of Pleasant Run Parkway in Indianapolis. As part of the investigation, both he and 6 feet 2 inch 180 pound Bivins were in plainclothes. He explained, “we were down there trying to get some new leads developed. I had two guys with me for back up, Detective Sgt. Stan Large and Deputy Dave Myers”. Hudson was wearing a one-way body transmitter, while Large and Myers would be in a car parked a short distance away listening.
After getting out of the car with Bivins, Hudson asked his backup, “if you can hear me, blink your lights”.
Instantly the lights blinked twice.
Little did he know, the transmitter immediately went dead. Following Bivins down an alley and out of view of the deputies, they walked between a garage- calling it one of his embarrassing moment in law enforcement, “I rounded the corner, I was being careful and was worried about an ambush- and I got cold-cocked”, further elaborating, “by what, I don’t know… and he took off. I was stunned for a moment, it buckled my knees pretty good”.
Getting his bearings, Hudson pulled his 9mm and took off after Bivins down an alley, “If I’d wanted to, I could have put 15 shells in his back, but I’m not going to take somebody’s life for a check deception charge”.
Bivins passed a woman with her children unloading groceries in an alley.
“I had an opportunity”, Sheriff further explaining why he didn’t shoot Jerry Bivins, “if I wanted to shoot I could have done it, but I didn’t want to take a chance of hitting any residents. I’m yelling at him and I’m yelling and screaming at our guys. I felt dumb as hell. My guys might as well have been eating chocolate-chip cookies and drinking milk. I ran about three blocks after him before I lost him”.
After Bivins escaped, Boone County Deputies, Indianapolis Police Department and Indiana State Police swarmed the area and went to the Pleasant Run Parkway home. It was pretty clear they didn’t know Bivins. Indiana State Police and Hudson decided to search Patty Bivins’ home nearby. She had told Jerry earlier that day she planned to divorce him and Hudson believes that prompted Bivins to take him to that neighborhood and then escape.
After finding a list of addresses in his cell, Indiana State Police detectives Ron Bruce, Bill Smith and Ed Charters apprehended him Bivins in a crawlspace between two mattresses of a friends in Beech Grove, less than eight miles from where he escaped.
Sheriff Ern Hudson’s patience had wore thin, he was finished, but to Herb Clear Hudson’s six week courtship had finally paid off.
Gerald Wayne Bivins dropped a name, but Boone County prosecutor Rebecca McClure and Judge O.A. Kincaid wouldn’t have it. Nothing Bivins would say could restore his credibility. After an embarrassing debacle of arresting two innocent men out of spite or vendetta, nobody was going to fall for the BS. March 27, McClure filed Perjury charges.
Bivins attempt to play a get out of jail free card backfired. No longer was he getting preferential informant treatment. His name had been leaked in the media, he was known not just as a “snitch”, but someone who’d rat for any type of benefit. He no longer was in Boone County, a small comfortable jail with minimum inmate interaction and meals paid for by the sheriff himself, he was stuck in Tippecanoe, a larger much more sterile environment. His wife Patty who required a lot of attention, could not afford collect calls and he was locked up in a cell many miles away.
In one last act of desperation, Gerald Wayne Bivins tried to get back into the good graces of Ern Hudson, someone he thought he could get over on. Instead, he was met by Herb Clear and other investigators. Bivins was in deep. Sgt. Clear and Sheriff Hudson’s only uncertainty was whether or not he was the trigger man.
Bivins took a serious gamble on trying to get a forgery charge lifted to prevent a parole violation that would have landed him in prison at least another few years. Now, he was going to try one last attempt to play his hand at a plea. Walking into an interview Bivins made it clear. He’d plea guilty to the perjury charge and take a parole violation in exchange for immunity on murder.
Herb Clear wasn’t getting sent off on wild goose chases. Rather, Rebecca McClure was doubling down. Not only was Boone County adding assault on an officer and escape charges, McClure was going to file for habitual criminality. Bivins played his hand and was looking at a life sentence, regardless of a murder charge.
Jerry made it clear when he went in to interview with state police, he wanted immunity but nobody budged.
“We made it clear to Gerald Bivins that we thought he was responsible for Bill Radcliffe’s murder. With or without murder, he was off the street. There was no negotiation unless he delivered in a big way”, Herb Clear would recall, “I was sure he wouldn’t budge. Positive. The next day he called Tippecanoe County Deputy Tracy Brown, he wanted to talk”.
The game was over as far as investigators were concerned. Gerald Wayne Bivins was trying to pimp investigators, but he had lost all credibility.
Stan Large of Boone County told the press after Bivins’ April 4, hearing, “you just don’t know with him. We’re checking out some things. Something could break this week or next year in a case like this”.
A War at Home and Abroad
On Wednesday April 10, 1991, Patricia Bivins, came forward to investigators. Gerald Wayne Bivins was playing everyone and it was eating her alive. She told Sheriff Hudson and Tracy Brown she remembered that night vividly because “it was the night the war started in the Persian Gulf”. Gerald Bivins, Ronald Chambers and another man had been drinking all day and into the night.
Around 9 p.m. the trio came into the house with several pairs of jeans, having a good time and bragging about stealing them from the Lazarus Department Store. Then they left and returned sometime later with duffel bags saying they robbed some men in Lafayette. The three left again, about two hours later only Gerald and the third man returned. She said her husband Gerald, “seemed upset and nervous”.
Investigators believe that it was during the third outing, the three robbed Kevin Hritzkowen at the Holiday Inn Holidome in Lebanon and then murdered Radcliffe at the I-65 northbound Rest Area at mile marker 148.
“Ironically”, Sheriff Ern Hudson revealed, “a police officer had knocked on the Bivins’ door that night, for whatever reason. But nobody answered”.
Patty told investigators that her husband and the other man left the house after the officer came to her house.
“Apparently they panicked at the thought that police might be on to them already and began disposing of evidence”, said Hudson.
Once she gave her statement Wednesday morning, Bivins was transferred from Carroll County to Tippecanoe. When he saw Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson, Lt. Stan Large and Dave Myers, he sensed they were getting ready to charge him with murder. Gerald sent word to Tippecanoe County Sheriff Detective Tracy Brown.
Just as Ern Hudson and Herb Clear suspected, Gerald Bivins told them about the incident at Lazarus Department Store. While long time friend Ronald Chambers, 30 and Scott Landon Weyls, 33 waited in Patty’s black Nissan, he went in stole three pairs of jeans, then was chased out by the Tippecanoe Mall Security and just when he made it back to the car, Chambers got out and threatened the guard with his .22 pistol. Then they robbed two truckers at the Lafayette Dollar Inn motel. Again, Chambers who Bivins’ said was only brave when he had a gun, opened fire between the beds to “scare them”. Then they were bound, gagged and left in the bathroom. After he told them about robbing Kevin Hritzkowen at the Holidome in Lafayette. Bivins broke down and told Brown that despite begging and pleading with Chambers, before he killed Rev. Radcliffe.
Then Gerald Wayne Bivins told Detective Brown, he executed Reverend William Harvey Radcliffe for $18. When Brown asked him why, he said he thought Radcliffe would “recognize him and notify his parole officer” causing his parole to be revoked. Which didn’t make any sense and investigators felt was another ploy by Bivins, to add mitigating factors to diminish his responsibility.
It didn’t make sense, but then Sheriff Ern Hudson and Herb Clear got a detailed recorded confession.
Ronald Chambers was picked up Thursday evening and denied any wrongdoing.
Scott Larsen Weyls was in Fountain County jail waiting to get bailed out for drunk driving when Boone County Sheriff Lt. Stan Large arrived with Tippecanoe County Deputies to transport Scott to Tippecanoe County. Scott Weyls under the belief that Bivins had implicated both he and Chambers for the robberies and subsequent murder of Bill Radcliffe, decided to tell all. Scott Weyls wanted to make sure “he wasn’t accused of killing someone he didn’t”.
Weyls’s name jumped out at law enforcement. Like Bivins, he was a career criminal who had been mostly institutionalized since the age of 10. He had just got out of prison three years early after spending eleven years for second degree murder during the commission of a robbery,
He fingered Chambers and Bivins, claiming he was just the driver. It was an account that not only Herb Clear and Sheriff Hudson felt best matched witness statements, evidence recovered and Jerry’s confession, but Boone County prosecutor Becky McClure felt made the most sense. Kevin Hritzkowen’s statement to police indicated that he heard a third man knocking at his door and was let in. It was obvious he knew the robbers.
Three witness composites closely matched Chambers and Bivins, who ironically were long time friends. Pictures recovered from both the Chambers and Bivins residences showed two couples who frequented bars & clubs together, spent the holidays and a vacation together. Patty Bivins would describe how ordinarily Jerry would be sweet and hardworking, but when he started drinking with Ron, “they tried to outdo one another”.
Karen Radcliffe repeated her support of the death penalty, but now was dealing with life and death battle of her own, alone with her her 12 year-old son. She had been diagnosed with bone cancer, little consolation for a woman who had just lost her life partner months earlier.
Like Bivins, at first Ronald Chambers tried to bargain his way out of jail, but prosecutor Becky McClure was unmoved. It was simple. Cooperate or face life in prison for murder. Bivins was hardly a reliable witness.
One thing she made clear, she was seeking the death penalty against Gerald Wayne Bivins.
In an instant, Bill Radcliffe’s story was over. It became The Gerald Wayne Bivins Show. Unrelenting and unsympathetic, the smooth talking good ole’ boy that just fell on the wrong side of the law- his true color’s began to show, except he’d quickly win over support in his jihad of virtue and justice against the machine.
Appearing at the Carroll County Courthouse in Delphi on Thursday May 9 to plea guilty for forgery for cashing a stolen paycheck at Dave’s IGA on December 16, 1990, Bivins rejected the offer. In exchange for a guilty plea for forgery, Carroll County prosecutor agreed to drop other counts of forgery, theft and the disposal of stolen property.
Bivins refused the deal and then fired his court appointed attorney Lewis Mullin. When interviewed over the phone by the press, a deviant Bivins asserted, “I agreed to plead guilty to get this case resolved quickly, but I’m not going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do. I will plead guilty to something I did do”. He now alleged that he only showed another man how to forge a signature, but had nothing to do with the stolen check or cashing it.
Doing everything she could to tie up loose ends, McClure wanted to move the cases through the courts as quickly and painlessly to Karen Radcliffe as possible. She knew Bivins would put up a fight and securing the death penalty against him was a double edged sword- it guaranteed him a platform over the course of the lengthy appeals process.
As the Smoke Clears, a Night of One Thousand Tales
Starting Tuesday July 23, seven months after Radcliffe’s murder, Rebecca McClure put Scott Landon Weyls on trial for two counts of robbery, two counts of theft and Grand Theft Auto after numerous rejected plea offers. The case hindered completely on his statement to police. Aside from admitting he drank and partied along with Gerald Bivins and Ronald Chambers that night, his attorney Ronald Lehrman felt that the case hindered squarely on his client’s questionable statement to police in which he admitted no robbery or theft.
Scott Weyls trial was the public’s first glimpse at the pure horror in the slaying of Radcliffe. According to Weyls’ statement to police, after robbing Kevin Hritzkowen at the Holiday Inn Holidome in Lebanon, the three stopped at the northbound I-65 Rest Area seven miles north of Lebanon to use the bathroom. As they were leaving, they saw Rev. Radcliffe on the payphone in the lobby and noticed he had a thick wallet. Both Bivins and Chambers waited would follow Bill into the restroom as Weyls went back to the car. Moments later Chambers and Bivins returned, Ron Chambers took the wheel and Gerald Bivins was pissed off that the guy had $18. When they got down the road maybe a mile, Ron Chambers started freaking out that he was missing the chambered .22 bullet in his handgun. Apparently, Chambers would remove the chambered round when getting in and out of the car as a safety precaution. Fearing he dropped it with a fingerprint, Chambers twice cut across the I-65 grass median once to head back south and again to pull a u-turn in order to get the northbound Rest Area. When they arrived, truck driver Jack Fansler had secured the Rest Area, not letting anyone in. So they left, taking Chambers back home as Bivins felt he was a “buzz killer”. The two continued to drink until a police officer knocked on the door to Gerald and Patricia Bivins’ home. After he left, he helped Bivins destroy evidence and get rid of the gun.
Ronald Lehrman’s strategy was to just call Ron Chambers and Gerald Bivins to the stand, hoping they would “do the right thing” and testify to his client’s limited involvement. It backfired. Both Chambers and Bivins refused to testify, and both plead the fifth. Scott Landon Weyls was convicted of all five felonies. A month later Judge O.A. Kincaid saying Weyls showed “an utter disregard for the law” citing criminal history and sentenced him to the maximum of 49 years in prison- 20 years for each count of robbery and three years for each theft count. The charges stemming from each incident would be served concurrently, but each incident was to be served consecutively- effectively sentencing Weyls to 40 years in prison.
Following sentencing, Weyls and his attorney vow to appeal within 30 days.
By Wednesday October 3, 1991, Ronald Chambers, Tippecanoe County prosecutor Jerry Bean and Boone County prosecutor Rebecca McClure came to a three-way plea agreement. She would drop five of the original six charges including murder, in exchange for additional robbery charge that asked for a maximum of 50 years and for his testimony against Bivins. As the 1991 came to a close, Chambers upheld his agreement with Jerry Bean and plead guilty for the Dollar Inn robbery on Monday December 30, 1991. Tippecanoe Superior Court Judge George Held sentenced Chambers to 20 years to run concurrent with with his 50 year sentence in Boone County.
After the New Year, media reports were buzzing about the upcoming Bivins trial.
The only proof Bivins was the triggerman was his every changing statements to police. Applying the death penalty in Indiana required much more than a murder conviction. Although polls indicated that just like nationwide, majority of Indianans supported the death penalty, public confidence in the death penalty had been rattled. The subject of Bivins and the death penalty was an intense debate in Indiana. Gerald Bivins, and his attorney started a public relations blitz, not only attacking the integrity of the investigation, but the character of investigators and Rebecca McClure. They charged that Bivins was singled out, because he was poor and had a learning disability. The push to execute him was purely political posturing, as the real reason was because Sheriff Ern Hudson was embarrassed when Bivins tried to escape to try to work on his marriage.
“The real reason why Mr, Bivins has been singled out for the death penalty, has everything to do with his escape last March in total fear of losing his wife. He’s losing everything and they goad him, and now it’s embarrassing. That’s not justice. It’s a personal vendetta”, Bivins attorney Michael Gross explained why a motion to dismiss the death penalty was filed that afternoon. Also requested was a $500 fund to provide Bivins a suit and to remain unshackled with the jury present.
McClure on the other hand not only wanted public confidence restored, but wanted the death penalty imposed on Gerald Bivins it to set a new precedence.
On the surface, some media reports on the upcoming Bivins trial was sympathetic. Bivins was personable and likable, as evidenced when Sheriff Ern Hudson spent nearly six weeks working with with “Jerry”. Even after he cold-cocked Hudson and took off for a day, even then Sheriff Hudson sympathized with Bivins, stating he and his wife were into it and that was his intent- to get to his wife and work on the marriage.
As January drew to a end and the trial of Gerald Bivins just weeks away, Bivins’s legal team Allen Wharry and Michael Gross tried to pull out all the stops.
First, the defense filed a motion to get Judge O.A. Kincaid off the bench alleging that he considered Weyls and Chambers testimony in their trials to make decisions in upcoming Gerald Bivins trial. While Judge Kincaid would admit fault, he refused to recuse himself claiming “it does not equate prejudice”.
Next, Wharry filed a motion argued against Judge Kincaid’s previous ruling that only sequestered only the twelve perspective jurors in the courtroom, he refused to hear the defense’s arguments about sequestering them as a whole, both during voir dire and the jurors during the selection process citing “sensitive and potentially embarrassing questions exploring prospective juror’s bias or prejudice”
Both Wharry and Gross took it up the Court of Appeals, but Judge Kincaid reversed himself on stepped down to , “save taxpayers money and eliminate the appearance of impropriety”. Special Judge Thomas K. Milligan from the Montgomery Circuit Court was brought on board, giving the defense another shot at getting the death penalty off the table for their client.
In a special hearing on Tuesday February 25, Gerald Wayne Bivins was lead in by Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson. He was smiling and appeared confident- if not arrogant. flashing his new suit originally approved by Judge O.A. Kincaid. Wharry and Gross then took task getting the death penalty special circumstances thrown out. What way have been perceived by some as string of wins by the defense because sobering for team Bivins. While they were able to get Bivins out of a orange jumpsuit and into a suit, they couldn’t get Judge Milligan to agree to taking off his shackles while jurors were present.
Gerald Bivins again, led to his own undoing. While being held at the Marion County jail out of escape concerns, deputies found a window pane was found wrapped in a towel in the fourth floor cell he shared with another inmate. The window itself appeared to have deep scratch marks that weren’t there during a previous inspection. Boone County prosecutor Rebecca McClure quickly pointed out the February 12 incident to Judge Milligan and brought him up to speed about his escape on March 6, 1991, escape after assaulting Sheriff Ern Hudson. In the spirit of fairness, Judge Milligan ordered Bivins to be shackled at all times, however, a blue bunting be present to obstruct juror’s view of the shackles.
Saturday, February 29 1992, a jury of three men and nine women with three alternates were impaneled and sequestered at Boone County Superior Court One. After some back and forth between Boone County prosecutor Rebecca McClure and Gerald Bivins’s defense attorneys Michael Gross & Allen Wharry, the trial was set to begin Monday morning.
Through the eyes of Karen Radcliffe and the public in general, the case against Gerald Bivins appeared to be open and shut. Rebecca McClure knew Bivins was the killer without a doubt, however, jury trials are not as simple. I cannot not find the exact quote by a former prosecutor commenting on similar case where the accused appears all but convicted by the prosecutor, but she essentially said,
“Facts and science don’t speak and sometimes it’s not obvious. Juries just don’t get ‘verdicts’ wrong. If they’re confused, they’re uncertain. Opposing counsel don’t have to exploit uncertainty, you’ve done that yourself”.
While McClure never publicly discussed her exact strategy in the Bivins trial, it was clear she applied the above philosophy in delivering her case against Bivins to the jury- keeping it simple and leaving no room for uncertainty.
Monday, March 2
First to testify was Kevin Hritzkowen who was 25 years-old when he encountered two armed thugs while swimming in the pool of the Holidome in Lebanon a little over a year earlier. He was there on business in a new 1990 Dodge company van. After they got him to his room, they put a pillowcase over his head, forced him to his knees and stole his cash and credit cards. After roughing him up to extract his ATM pin number, they gagged and bound him in the bathroom of the hotel. He listened to the two men argue about killing him. After a few minutes, someone would knock on the door, hoping for help, Kevin listened as it was an acquaintance of the robbers. It would take him nearly three hours to get the bindings undone before he could summon help around 2:30 a.m..
Next up was Greg Feeny, the North Carolina trucker who was accosted by two men who burst into his motel room at the Dollar Inn in Lafayette. Both he and his roommate, also a trucker, agreed to leave the door to room cracked open to get some fresh air. He was awakened to two intruders who rushed in the room, held them at gunpoint and put pillowcases over their heads. When he didn’t move fast enough, he was struck in the head and one of the guns were fired into the floor. Both men were forced into the bathroom of the motel, blindfolded by the pillowcases, gagged and bound.
Prosecutor Rebecca McClure capped the first day of testimony off with the emotional testimony of Karen Radcliffe, who identified Bill’s credit cards, membership cards and other identification recovered in and around a dumpster at Dewey and Son’s IGA in Rossville, Indiana.
Michael Gross, attorney for Gerald Bivins hammered both robbery victims after they were unable to identify Bivins as a gunman or present at the scene. Sadly, Karen wasn’t allowed to be present during the trial, since she was a witness.
Then came the tear-jerking testimony of Jack Fansler, who around midnight of January 17, 1991, suspected a fuel leak in his truck and pulled over to the Rest Area on northbound I-65 at Mile Marker 148. The former Navy Corpsman would recall remembering it being the night of Desert Storm and as he entered the lobby he “heard a loud bang”. Upset about his truck he made a call to dispatch, then headed for the men’s restroom. Just as he opened the door, a man rushed out and- “that’s when the odor hit me”.
“I was a corpsman for a long time. Once you smell blood, you never forget it”, Fransler told the jury of three men and nine women, some in tears.
In the men’s restroom, Fransler discovered Radcliffe’s body in a pool of blood with his upper torso stretched out of the stall. His legs and feet were still inside. Surprisingly, he was still alive so he ran to call police. The dispatcher told him not to let anyone in or out of the Rest Area to lock down the crime scene and that’s when two men tried to enter and took off. Fransler then checked on Radcliffe and told him to “hang in there”, just making sure he was comfortable.
“It’s all you can do”, he told the silent courtroom.
Prosecutor Becky McClure did something that shocked the media that even a legal expert would call a ‘possible mistake’, she never asked Jack if he recognized Gerald Bivins, a question Jack Fransler told to Karen Radcliffe who waited out in the lobby, since she could not be in the courtroom,
McClure would end the day with the testimony of pathologist Dr. Richard Harruff on the Indiana University Medical School who perform the autopsy on William Radcliffe. He testified that gunpowder burned down to his skull indicated that a gun was fired at point blank range at the back of Rev. Radcliffe’s head.
“The bullet entered the skull near the base of his head and exited at the top. It was a fatal wound”, he told the jury.
Tuesday, March 3
McClure brought in top state firearms and ballistic expert Sgt. Dennis Trigg of the Indiana State Police to the witness stand. Trigg first testified that bullet fragments recovered from the Dollar Inn motel in Latfayette matched the .38 Colt revolver recovered by divers in Wildcat Creek. Trigg testified that the .38 Colt revolver had , “sand and small stones were packed in the barrel and cylinder of the revolver”, that required cleaning. Becky McClure would enter the firearm into evidence, Sgt. Trigg would confirm that it was the one. His tests on the Colt included discharging the firearm and using the recovered bullet, he compared individual striations to the .38 fragments recovered from the Dollar Inn robbery. Examined under a comparison microscope, he was able to confirm that both bullets were fired from a .38 made by Colt’s Manufacturing Company. He explained that firearm manufacturers use a right-handed twists in their barrel rifling. Colt is the exception, as they use a left-handed twists in their firearm barrel rifling- just like the .38 Colt recovered in Wildcat Creek and in the courtroom that day.
Sgt. Trigg further testified that individual striations, irregularities and scratch defects produced(wear and tear on a barrel that transfers to the bullet when fired) on each bullet lined up with “multiple consecutive matches”. He then testified that the same .38 bullet recovered from the floor of the Rest Area men’s restroom near Radcliffe’s body produced multiple consecutive striations, irregularities and scratches from the test bullet. He finally had compared both bullets recovered from the separate crime scenes and found the same patterns.
Wednesday, March 4
Rebecca McClure came into court that Wednesday focused to convey to the jury exactly how cruel, reckless and dangerous Gerald Wayne Bivins really was. She paraded 16 witnesses in front of the jury. Her strategy was to stay on a strict course of following only the portions of Bivins’s confession that subsequently lead to evidence recovered by Indiana State Police and Boone County Sheriff’s Office.
Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Brown was the first to testify that morning. He explained to the jury about the first call from investigators from Carroll County Sheriff’s Office informing him that Gerald Bivins, a suspect in a forgery case wanted to talk about a murder at a rest stop the month prior. Brown would recall dozens of hours in dealing with Bivins, contacting Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson and the ever changing stories that followed. Time and time again, Bivins asked for special treatment, privileges and protection while he knowingly implicated two acquaintances who were falsely investigated.
It was important for McClure to substantiate that the initial confession and subsequent recorded confessions to Tippecanoe County Sheriff Deputy Tracy Brown and Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson , were pure fiction in order for Gerald Bivins to play the role of “informant”. What McClure did next was show that Bivins had crucial knowledge that led to the recovery of a .38 Colt revolver.
Sgt. Herb Clear of the Indiana State Police would testify that Gerald Bivins told him where to a license plate they stole and used on Patty’s black Nissan, and where to find the .38 Colt revolver that was used in the Dollar Inn robbery and murder of Rev. Radcliffe. Acting on the information provided in his confession, on February 28, 1991, divers went to Wildcat Creek near the Peter Mills Bridge on February 28, 1991, there in six feet of water was a .38 Colt revolver.
Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson and Lt. Stan Large would confirm their questions and witnessing the answers provided by Gerald Bivins to Sgt. Clear.
Rebecca McClure brought Scott Weyls in from the State Penitentiary, who now was under a full immunity deal regarding any further testimony of his that might incriminate him further. Weyls began his testimony on the evening of January 16, 1991, as he, Ronnie and ‘Jerry’ started drinking early in the afternoon.
Around 8:30 p.m., they had stopped at a Speedway gas station across from the Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette, Indiana. The trio had broke out a window of a car and wanted to see if the alarm trigger a police response. Then they stole a license plate to put on Patty Bivins’s black Nissan. It was then when Bivins would enter the mall to steal three pairs of jeans for a “night of fun”. Shortly afterwards Bivins was being pursued by a mall security guard and it caught Ronnie’s eyes when a frantic yet laughing Jerry Bivins screamed about being chased. Ronnie jumped out waving his .22 pistol at the guard and told him to go back in the mall. The black Nissan drove out into the night that would destroy so many lives.
Weyls continued his testimony as a bystander, staying in the vehicle until they reached the Holiday Inn Holidome off I-65 and IN-39 in Lebanon. The three entered the hotel, roaming around until they saw a man swimming in the pool. Weyls would hang back until they convinced Kevin Hritzkowen to go back to his room either by force or deception.
Rebecca McClure eventually turned to January 16, 1991 close to midnight January 17. En route back to Lafayette after leaving the Holidome, according to Weyls testimony, he, Chambers and Bivins needed to use the restroom and opted to stop at the Rest Area on I-65 seven miles north of Lebanon. Upon exiting, they saw a man using the payphone and Ronnie Chambers noticed he had a fat wallet. He then watched as Chambers and Bivins each took him by an arm into the restroom. After the two men came back into the car excited, but freaking out, Ronnie noticed that the .22 handgun he was carrying was missing the bullet he would put in and take out of the gun. As they pulled out to I-65 north, Ronnie mentioned that he is missing his bullet and was scared the police would find the .22 bullet at the crime scene. It was then Bivins drove through the grass median on I-65 to get on I-65 south. Once they got down far enough, he drove through the median again to get back into the Rest Area. It was then a man had locked the doors so the trio fled again.
Weyls continued on the witness stand, that they dropped off Ronnie Chambers at home and he went back to Jerry’s house. It was then he started to ask questions about William Radcliffe. Scott Weyls told the jurors, “Jerry said he hoped he was dead. He told me ‘I shot him in the back of the head'”.
Weyls said he asked Bivins why he would do something like that? He testified that Bivins in a boasted, “[He] told me he put him on his knees and shot him in the back of his head. You should have seen all the blood. He jerked forwards and the jerked backwards”. Weyls explained Bivins’s demeanor as “calm”, almost nonchalant about the whole ordeal. It was then that someone came to the door that they later learned was the police.
According to Weyls testimony, the next day he went with Bivins to the Peter Mills Bridge over Wildcat Creek and personally tossed the .38 Colt revolver in the creek along with the stolen license plate. Then Weyls and Gerald Bivins’ took Patty Bivins’s Nissan to a car wash and cleaned up the car. They had to throw away the bags of clothes that Ronnie and Jerry stole from a pair of truckers at the Dollar Inn and then burn Jerry’s bloodstained tennis shoes.
After the Weyls testimony, McClure would bring Sgt. Herb Clear back to the stand to focus on his interrogation of Gerald Wayne Bivins. Sgt. Clear confirmed Bivins was indeed the man on the recording giving them intimate details about Bill Radcliffe’s murder. Bivins told Sgt. Clear that he gave Tippecanoe County Deputy Tracy Brown the names of two former acquaintances as the murderers. When they were found to be innocent, Bivins dropped Ronnie Chambers to Sgt. Clear, Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson, his Deputy Lt. Stan Large and Tracy Brown. Later the confession evolved into Ronnie Chambers and Scott Weyls robbing Rev. William Radcliffe. In his second recorded confession with Sgt. Clear, Bivins admitted to killing Reverend Radcliffe, because he “was afraid he might recognize me” when he received treatment at New Directions.
There is no evidence that Bivins ever sought treatment at New Directions or ever met Bill Radcliffe. It is believed he heard about Radcliffe working at treatment center and attempted to sway investigators and the jury into believing that he killed Radcliffe out of fear and desperation, rather than senselessly killing him just “to see what it felt like” as the prosecution contended.
Thursday, March 5
Indiana State Police Detective Sgt. Herb Clear was brought back up to finish his testimony from the day prior regarding his April 10, 1991 interview with Jerry Bivins at the Tippecanoe County jail. Afterwards, Ronald Chambers- longtime friend, partner-in-crime and accomplice of Gerald Wayne Bivins would ultimately be the 33rd and final witness called by prosecutor Rebecca McClure. Just as Chambers began recounting the events of their horrific cocaine-and-alcohol fueled crime spree on the eve of Desert Storm, he sobbed that the minister didn’t deserve to die, “he didn’t resist one bit”.
Paula Jarrett of the Journal and Courier covered Bivins’s trial faithfully. She observed the 32 year-old as “[he]sat stonefaced with his arms crossed” as Chambers tearfully delivered his hour long testimony. She noted how quickly his demeanor had changed. Just before Chamber’s testimony, Bivins broke down and sobbed at the defense table for ten minutes following Herb Clear’s tearful testimony from the witness stand as he told the jury that Bivins “was remorseful” after he swore on the bible and wept after admitting to shooting Reverend William Radcliffe.
In a courtroom packed with spectators, Chambers’ testified about the crime spree that all started at the Tippecanoe Mall that evening and ended with the trio stopping at the northbound I-65 Rest Area at Mile Marker 148 just before midnight. Bill Radcliffe was on the phone with his wife Karen and as they left the restroom they saw his wallet bulging from his back pocket and assumed it was stuffed with money. While Scott Weyls waited in Patty’s black Nissan, Chambers testified that he and Jerry Bivins waited until he ended the call, walked up to him and “We… told him this was a robbery. He took out his wallet and said, ‘No problem, here’s the money.'”.
Both men led Radcliffe into the men’s bathroom in what Chambers’ felt was to get him to lie down on the bathroom floor- perhaps restrain him or trap him in the there and get a head start before authorities were alerted as they had done multiple times that evening. Bivins then handed Chambers Bill’s thick black wallet and with his .38 revolver jammed in his back, led Bill Radcliffe into a stall and told the minister to “get on your knees”. On his knees in a nasty bathroom stall, Gerald Wayne Bivins, shot William Harvey Radcliffe in the back of the head.
“He didn’t deserve to die”, Chambers said with tears streaming down his face.
Rebecca McClure rested her case after having the man who witnessed Bivins shoot Bill Radcliffe in cold blood on the stand just over an hour. One reporter commented that it was a significant gamble as if it were a mistake, however, she had Scott Weyls detail the events before and after the murder. Chambers’ testimony resonated with the jury.
The defense didn’t call a single witness and Bivins didn’t testify.
Both sides gave their closing arguments with McClure pointing out that Bivins himself admitted to murdering Radcliffe on numerous occasions. The defense on the other hand opted to spend their closing arguments getting a head start on the penalty phase, painting Bivins who had spent 13 out of 14 years of his adult life in prison- as another victim. The wasted no time questioning the “real motives” behind Chambers and Weyls’ testimonies and the reliability of Bivins’ confessions, often using the line “depends on which version you choose to believe.
After both sides wrapped up, Special Judge Thomas K. Milligan read the Boone County jury their instructions advising them that their duty had just begun, giving them a short time to deliberate before dismissing them for the evening.
“I’m just glad it’s over. It is important to me that we know he is the man” – Karen Radcliffe
Friday, March 6
The day began with jury being sent back for deliberations. Those involved with the case would later admit that they had expected the jury to reach a verdict quickly, but that wasn’t the case. After the first few hours went by without a verdict, Karen Radcliffe wondered if some jurors weren’t convinced, but Rebecca McClure assured her that these things take time and that they had five separate charges to reach an unanimous verdict on. Perhaps they were struggling with grand theft auto, but it was nothing serious.
Just a few hours into deliberations the jury of nine women and three men sent Judge Milligan a note. They wanted to hear the taped confession Gerald Bivins made to police on February 25, 1991. In that confession, Bivins implicated Scott Weyls as the triggerman. There was then speculation that perhaps the jury felt Weyls “might” have been the shooter, leaving room for reasonable doubt. After eight hours of deliberations the jury still had not reached a verdict. Judge Milligan suspended deliberations for the evening and instructed them they would continue to deliberate through the weekend if needed.
The next day, most expected another full day of deliberations. Forty minutes into deliberations on Saturday, March 7, 1991, the jury had reached a verdict. After calling everyone back into courtroom, Boone County assistant Bailiff Nancy Nay led the jury back in.
Gerald Wayne Bivins stood before Judge Milligan as the jury’s verdict was read out convicting him of all six charges including the January 16, 1991 murder of William Harvey Radcliffe. According to those reporting on the trial, there was one brief “muted hiss” as the verdict was aloud. After a short recess, Judge Milligan advised Bivins and the jury that the death penalty hearing was to begin immediately.
In a surprise twist Gerald Wayne Bivins took the stand moments after his mother begged the jury to spare “her son’s life”. He wept as he admitted to the packed courtroom to the murder of Bill Radcliffe. He looked at Karen Radcliffe and said he “was sorry”. At 3:35 p.m. went back to deliberate the fate of Gerald Wayne Bivins and returned five hours later.
Just after 8:30 p.m. they recommended that Judge Milligan sentence him to death. Most of jurors were in tears and admitted to vomiting during death penalty deliberations to the special judge. He wasted no time thanking them for their service and dismissed them. Judge Milligan scheduled sentencing for April 24, 1991.
Karen Radcliffe ran up to Boone County Prosecutor Rebecca McClure and hugged her. She told the prosecutor and media standing there, “I’m just glad it’s over. It is important to me that we know he is the man”.
Little did Karen Radcliffe know at the time, this case was far from over.
Part 3 coming soon.