Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

The Trial II

It was the physical evidence that ultimately nailed him. Public Health employee Curtis Fluker had matched the type A blood found in the Leiks' basement to the same type blood taken from the victim, although he had failed to do more sophisticated tests for subtyping. Walter Holtz, a chemist, testified that the hairs found in the dead girl's panties were identical to those found on the floor of the Leiks' basement. The defense claimed that precise identification of hair is impossible, and in any event, she could have picked up such hairs elsewhere. There were experts for both sides on "neutron activation analysis" and the chemical properties of hair, but it's unlikely the jury followed much of that testimony. One expert, who was roundly challenged, claimed to have formulated that only four to eight people in the state of Michigan would be apt to have hair similar to that in their test samples. He had just come up with his formulation in the previous two weeks and it had not been scientifically verified.

John Norman Collins, shackled, escorted to court by officer
John Norman Collins, shackled,
escorted to court by officer

None of the defense's alibi witnesses was able to offer a definitive time frame for Collins's whereabouts on the afternoon of July 23. However, their own fiber expert insisted that hair analysis on such minute samples could not be done with any degree of certainty. And in fact, if the hair in the victim's panties was from the basement floor, why was there no other debris mixed in, as there was in the sample collected by the lab from the floor itself? To top it off, this expert had collected hair shaved from the thighs of his female assistants and found that they matched the hair from the panties in many ways as well.

The prosecution's rebuttal proved that there was indeed debris from the basement on the panties, and that the defense's witness had used a different processing method, which yielded an inaccurate reading.

What Delhey really wanted, however, was to get Collins on the stand and reveal what was beneath his choirboy face: a girl he'd tried to seduce at the Leiks' house the weekend before the Beineman murder, his amoral philosophies and sexual hang-ups, his nearly-nude photo in Tomorrow's Man magazine, and his history of thievery.

The defense team was uncertain about letting Collins testify, although Fink wanted to risk it. He felt the jury would wonder why Collins was not willing to proclaim his innocence, and that could go against him. Collins was willing to do it, but proved that he could not stand up to Fink's prosecutorial role-playing. His burst of anger alarmed the attorneys. They decided to ask the judge to allow Collins to confer with his mother in private, and she would decide whether he could take the stand in his own defense.

They were together in the judge's chambers for nearly half an hour and when the door opened, Loretta Collins came out, her face puffy from weeping. She groped her way to the corridor, wearing a stunned expression that told the lawyers that she had learned something that she had not expected. Collins followed her out, his eyes red. When the judge asked if the defense had any more witnesses, Louisell said no.

Both sides rested.

In closing arguments, they both appealed to common sense, each using the concept to contradict the other side. Later over drinks, Louisell admitted that he believed the jury would return a verdict against his client.

On August 19, 1970, after deliberating for three days, the jury brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. At the sentencing hearing, Collins denied ever knowing Karen Sue Beineman and claimed that he was innocent of her murder. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment at Southern Michigan State Prison, a minimum of 20 years. He went through three appeals and even changed his name to Chapman to get a transfer to Canada, where he would have been eligible for parole in 1985. He also tried to escape by tunneling out of the prison. As of 1999, he is still incarcerated in northern Michigan.

The State of California declined to extradite him for trial for the murder of Roxie Phillips, feeling by 1972 that the case did not warrant priority attention, although they had delivered a Grand Jury indictment against him at the time of investigation.

The murders of the other six girls remain officially unsolved.

 

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