100-box search fails to find missing evidence in Lincoln murder case

Lincoln Journal Star, journalstar.com
By PETER SALTER / JournalStar.com
Link to Article

Lancaster County, NE

2011-01-21_G-A_100-box search fails to find missing evidence_Darrel Parker carries a bucket of sunflower seeds to a bird feeder in his Moline, Ill., backyard. Parker retired as parks director of Moline, Ill., but still works part time as a courier for a law firm. (KEVIN E. SCHMIDT/Quad-City Times)

A pair of court employees spent Thursday sifting through boxes and boxes of old court files but found none of the evidence missing from a 55-year-old murder case.

And another employee's memory that the evidence was given to the Nebraska State Historical Society a quarter-century ago also failed to yield the DNA samples that could clear a man's name.

"I'm sort of at a stop-still ... because I've looked at all I can look at," said Lancaster County District Court Clerk Sue Kirkland.

On Jan. 14, a judge gave the clerk's office 15 days to produce evidence and old court documents in the 1955 murder case against Darrel Parker, who is seeking $500,000 from the state under its wrongful conviction and imprisonment law.

Kirkland sent two deputies to the office's off-site storage on Thursday with instructions to look at every file.

They opened box after box -- about 100 in all -- even though none was labeled as the Parker case. Some of the documents dated to the 1950s, although most were generated in the past 30 years.

"We still went through them, just because I couldn't be certain they weren't there and the court had asked me to carefully check," Kirkland said.

But the Historical Society tip may have answered at least one question: whether the physical evidence ever had been stored at the clerk's office.

Until then, Kirkland had believed the office had housed only documents related to the case, not exhibits that had been entered into evidence.

An office employee's memory from 1988 changed that.

"It was her recollection that the Parker evidence boxes and the documents had been in the clerk of district court's office at the time," Kirkland said. "She was talking hard evidence. That would not be the policy we would follow currently."

The employee also recalled the boxes going to the Historical Society for display.

They're not there now. The Historical Society maintains some files related to the case, but not the evidence Parker and his lawyer are seeking.

"It certainly is not up here," said Gayla Koerting, curator of government records. "We don't take in physical evidence."

Parker, Lincoln's first city forester, was accused of raping and killing his 22-year-old wife, Nancy, in December 1955. He confessed to the crime -- he said he was coerced -- but soon recanted and since has maintained his innocence.

After serving 13 years, he was paroled in 1970 and pardoned in 1991. He is 79 now, living in Moline, Ill., and trying to formally clear his name.

He and his lawyer are seeking the evidence from his case, including semen samples taken from his wife's body and their bed. They hope DNA testing could eliminate Darrel Parker and, possibly, confirm Wesley Peery as the killer.

Peery was on death row for the 1975 killing of a Havelock woman when he told a pair of Lincoln lawyers he had killed more than a dozen people -- including Nancy Parker.

Many of his claims never were substantiated, but he had been a suspect early in the Parker case and he gave a convincing and detailed account of the crime.

Peery died of a heart attack in 1988.

Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or .

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