30 years takes toll on justice for all

Friday, August 19, 2011

Greencastle was a lot smaller town 30 years ago.

Not just in population, length and breadth, but in feel and innocence.

You have to remember, Walmart wasn't even a figment of our imaginations. Schultz's Family Store was our version of a shopping center.

"Big Blue" IBM ruled the industrial landscape, pairing with P.R. Mallory Capacitor Co. out east to employ a good portion of the local workforce.

And to service that button-down IBM suit-and-tie crowd, Mac's and Cannon's men's stores dominated the south side of the square.

Traffic moved fairly easily in town -- unless it was 3:30 and IBM was letting out. There were but four stoplights then -- Washington and Jackson, Washington and Indiana, Washington and Bloomington and the new one at the "Y" intersection of Washington, Wood and Indianapolis Road.

Greencastle was a tidy, homey little place in 1981. Heck, there was even still a round barn on the Round Barn Road.

But change was coming. Not just the change that comes with new industry or new retail options or new stoplights.

But change that hits home with the harshest of realities: Murder.

On Oct. 26, 1981, the most brutal of crimes re-emerged in the Greencastle lexicon for the first time in 50 years. What was scariest was that a beautiful young woman was brutally raped and savagely slain, not in some dark alley, but right in the bedroom of her renovation-in-progress home in the heart of Greencastle (9 S. Locust St.).

Just this week a longtime local resident confided that she didn't leave the safety of her own home for two weeks after 24-year-old Martha Payne was killed. The illogic in that plan is that the very safety of our own homes had suddenly been shattered.

The twice-convicted murderer, William A. Minnick, would be arrested within 24 hours of the incident, but that did little to calm the fears of residents who weren't used to murder and Greencastle being mentioned in the same news story, let alone the same sentence.

For 30 years now we have followed the ups and downs of the Minnick case. And Tuesday, a resentencing hearing in Bedford will bring back all the anxiety of those days and the trial and retrial that followed.

Time is supposed to heal all wounds. Only here it appears to be reopening them.

The Payne house, a two-story green frame dwelling in 1981, has been a group home operated by Putnam County Comprehensive Services for several years now. Gray siding hides its character and its past.

Jim Payne is now 54 years old, remarried and father of two grown children. He bravely returned to Greencastle a few years after the murder, and now runs the alternate fuels section at Buzzi Unicem USA's Greencastle plant (formerly Lone Star, of course).

A number of people who were central to the case have passed on or have moved out of town. Thirty years has cost us the likes of Det. Jack Hanlon, Sheriff Jim Baugh and Judge David McIntyre. Prosecutor Del Brewer is in private practice now. Chief Deputy Jim Hendrich lives and works in the St. Louis area. Judge Linda Chezem has become a professor at Purdue. And Judge Ernest T. Yelton took a chance and left the bench to run the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Bill Minnick, just 18 when he was arrested, charged and confessed to the murder of Martha Payne in October 1981, will celebrate his 48th birthday on Sunday in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City, where he has marked time for the last 30.

In the years since the murder, Greencastle has seen a handful of other murders, virtually all the consequence of bad blood between two of more people. And yes, the area was again touched by at least one, possibly two (for want of a cause of death) slayings in the past 10 days.

However, none of those cases comes close to being as disturbing or disconcerting as the death of Martha Payne.

Thirty years has taught us crime and punishment doesn't play out like some "Law & Order" episode. It doesn't get neatly wrapped up in 60 minutes or less. One epic odyssey of a criminal case within our midst is living proof of that. It has endured longer than the entire run of TV's most prolific crime drama.

Yes, justice truly does move slowly. Far, far too slowly for the memory of the victims and the sanity of their loved ones.

In Greencastle, it seems like an eternity since 1981. Yet right now it seems like only yesterday.