Updated: Tuesday, 14 Jul 2009, 6:52 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 13 Jul 2009, 6:52 PM EDT
Attorneys for three men in prison for the 1979 rape, kidnap and murder of Janet Chandler argued Tuesday that cold case investigators wrongfully coaxed reluctant witnesses, leading to unjust convictions.
Attorneys for James Nelson, Freddie Parker and Anthony Williams took turns making their arguments in front of a three-member state Court of Appeals panel. The attorney for Arthur "Carl" Paiva filed only a written brief.
Nelson claims there was insufficient evidence proven to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt; Williams claims his due process was violated and he was identified through "impermissibly suggestive" methods. He also claims he was denied a fair trial by being tried jointly with the others; Parker claims his counsel was ineffective, and that the court abused its discretion in denying separate trials; and Paiva claims his Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation were denied.
The appellate judges did not appear receptive to their arguments.
"This is the most horrific crime I've seen," Judge Richard A. Bandstra said.
Chandler's father, James Chandler, said it was difficult to listen again to details of his daughter's death. But, he said, he was there -- with his son, Dennis Chandler, and Janet Chandler's uncle, Tom Williams -- for his daughter.
Even the attorney for Nelson said his secretary had nightmares while preparing for the case. He said it's the worst he's handled.
However, he argued there was a deficiency of evidence in the case -- should not have been enough to convict Nelson.
"My client adamantly denies he was present at the guest house when all of this took place," attorney William H. Archer said.
The four convicted killers were Wackenhut Corporation security officers in Holland at the time to protect a striking chemical plant. They were staying at the then Blue Mill Inn in Holland. That is where Janet Chandler worked.
The men kidnapped her and took her to a guest house, where they raped her repeatedly and tortured her. She died while being strangled with a belt held by Robert Lynch, a fifth suspect.
Chandler's body was found along I-196 near South Haven.
Police first arrested Lynch, of Three Oaks. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.
A sixth suspect, Laurie Swank, who was Chandler's former boss and roommate, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, testified for prosecutors and is serving 10 to 20 years in prison.
Neither Lynch nor Swank were involved in this appeal.
Among the issues argued by the attorneys: That the cold case investigators wrongly showed the video, "Who Killed Janet Chandler," to reluctant witnesses during interrogations to get them to talk.
The producer of that video, former Hope College associate professor David Schock, argued to videotape Tuesday's hearing but was turned down by the appeals court.
Parker's attorney, Mary Owens, said he was not at the party that ended with Chandler's death: "He was not there. He had left Holland within a week prior to this party," she argued.
"These witnesses were definitely coaxed," Owens said of those who testified that her client participated in the murder. She argued their recollections could have been "irreparably tainted' by police tactics.
Judge Bandstra questioned Owens: "How many witnesses saw your client raping Janet Chandler?"
"There were quite a few," she said. That, she said, is not the point.
Assistant Attorney General Mark G. Sands, arguing for the state, said many witnesses identified the defendants as raping Chandler "over and over and over again -- for hours."
This, he said, was a party, "where a woman was raped, repeatedly, for four hours by 10 to 12 people."
The appeals court isn't expected to rule until this fall.
The Chandler family has filed a wrongful death suit against Wackenhut in U.S. District Court. Among the claims -- that the company didn't properly train its employees.
24 Hour News 8's Ken Kolker was in the Court of Appeals in Lansing and provided updates via Cover It Live. Read the updates in the Cover It Live session on the left-hand side of this page.