Less than clear
Slovers dispute testimony by witness, want fingerprint checked
A group of students at the University of Illinois at Springfield is raising questions about evidence and key testimony in one of the state’s most gruesome murder cases — that of 23-year-old Decatur beauty Karyn Hearn Slover.
Slover’s remains were discovered in Lake Shelbyville in September 1996. Slover had been shot in the head and dismembered.
Almost three years later, her ex-husband, Michael Slover Jr., and his parents were charged in her death. Though prosecutors were never able to explain logistically how the family could have committed the horrific crime, a Macon County jury in 2002 convicted Michael Slover Sr.; his wife, Jeanette; and their son, Michael Jr., of first-degree murder. All three have steadfastly maintained their innocence [see Dusty Rhodes, “Karyn’s killers?” Oct 6, 2005].
The Illinois Supreme Court decided in January not to hear an appeal of their conviction.
However, UIS students in the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project researched the case and now allege that a key witness presented false or misleading testimony. A postconviction petition, to be filed this week, suggests that David Swann — Karyn Slover’s boyfriend and a suspect in the early days of the investigation — misled the jury when he described the car Karyn Slover was driving as having clear, rather than tinted, windows.
The tint matters because Slover was last seen alive driving Swann’s black Pontiac Bonneville with license plates CADS7. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing her driving from Decatur toward Champaign by way of back roads through Cerro Gordo.
However, the prosecution’s case depended on a different scenario — that she left work at the Decatur Herald & Review and drove straight to her ex-husband’s home in Mount Zion to pick up her 3-year-old son, Kolten, on her way to the Champaign mall to shop for a dress.
Two witnesses who supported the defense assertion described the CADS7 car they saw as having tinted windows. Swann’s testimony, that his car had clear windows, was used to dispute the two witnesses and thus bolster the prosecution’s case. Prosecutors derided other sightings of the car, comparing their reports to people seeing “Elvis.”
But a student working with the Innocence Project traced the car’s specifications through a local dealership to the factory and found that the windows were in fact tinted. The student also contacted the current owners of the car, who confirmed that the windows are still tinted today.
If the jury had believed the witnesses who described the car with tinted windows, the prosecution’s case would have fallen apart, according to a postconviction petition being filed this week.
“. . . [I]f Karyn was in Cerro Gordo at 5:25 p.m., she did not go to the Slover residence after work to pick up Kolten and that would mean the Slovers are innocent of this crime,” the petition states.
Another Innocence Project student tackled a different bit of evidence: a lone fingerprint left on the guardrail of the bridge over Lake Shelbyville. Located about half a foot from a bloodstain that was shown to match Karyn Slover’s DNA, the fingerprint could reasonably belong to the person who dumped the cut-up corpse into the lake. Tests showed that the fingerprint didn’t belong to any of the Slovers or their associates, yet state police have never said whether the print was processed through the nationwide computerized database that catalogs fingerprints of felons — Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems, or AFIS.
This week, local attorney Peter Wise will enter his appearance on behalf of the Slovers pro bono, to file a petition seeking testing of that fingerprint.
“I was in Decatur on another case during portions of the Slover trial, and I believe that they were wrongly convicted,” Wise says. “I feel pretty strongly about the case. To run these fingerprints through AFIS should be no skin off anybody’s nose. The system is in place to do exactly this.”
Contact Dusty Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org.