The defense rested it's case early this morning(Thursday, February 7, 2013). They presented their final 3 witnesses and had a hearing concerning a residual statement made by, the now deceased, Robert (Bob) Hopkins. The defense's first witness was Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt. Sheriff Hurlburt, was asked about a hand written diary, supposedly authored by Jean Backus, who resides in Ord NE. Sheriff Hurlburt testified on march 22, 2012, Corey O'Brien and Bill Black from the Nebraska attorney general's office, brought him a diary mailed to John Oldson, at his Randolf MO home, in early March. Oldson's mother, Anne Rasmussen of Omaha, turned the diary over to the Attorney General's office. The mystery diary was mailed from Omaha, originally.
The diary made mention of a Kathy with a “K” and of 3 other missing girls who had been kidnapped by Backus' late husband Wetzel and her brother-in-law Chauncy Backus, who is also deceased. These girls, according to the diary, included then 12 year old Sharon Baldeagle from a South Dakota reservation, then 9 year old Jill Cutshall, and then 28 year old Karen Weeks. According to the diary, these girls were enslaved by the two brothers, shackled and used as sex slaves. The diary stated the bodies of these woman were buried somewhere on the Backus ranch.
Jean Backus did come and speak with Hurlburt and the lawyers about the authenticity of the diary. She denies writing it. Sheriff Hurlburt confirmed, on the stand, he and several other law enforcement officers took atv's out to the Backus Ranch near Chambers and did a thorough search of the property, buildings, and unusual growth spots on the land, which consisted of 2,300 acres. Hurlburt said neither bodies nor any other evidence was recovered by the officers .
After Sheriff Hurlburt left the stand, Defense attorney James Mowbray read aloud to the jury a hearsay statement, by the late Bob Hopkins. In the police report, Hopkins told officers he and Rex White, a temporary employee for Hopkins, ate lunch at the Hungry Horse Saloon in Ericson on June 3, 1989 , when the topic of Catherine Beard came up. On the drive back to Ord, White continued the discussion of Beard's missing. He informed Hopkins, “I know where she is. I can show you where she is. I skinned her alive and she liked it.”
Hopkins reported he thought White was crazy. Subsequently, a witness who testified last week for the prosecution, was called to the stand to corroborate what Hopkins said and did after his conversation with White on the drive back to Ord. Marci Jorgensen, Hopkins then girlfriend, testified she went to Hopkin's home that evening, and found him on the edge of the bed, crying very hard and shaking. Hopkins confided to Marci about what transpired. Hopkins eventually made the report to police. Jorgensen also stated Hopkins worked with the Dasher concrete crew at a site pouring concrete for a restroom. Jorgensen mentions that a bag of lye was missing. The concrete was broken up and no body was found.
Rex White, as you might remember from previous reports, was one of two men who robbed Boyd Hamilton on the night Beard disappeared. Hamilton waved around a lot of cash that night at the Y'all Come Back Saloon and offered $200 to White and Glen Hall to find him a woman for the night. Hall and White (who are now deceased as well) went to the SomePlace Else Tavern in search of Cathy, but could not find her. They went back to Hamilton's hotel in Ord and robbed him at gun point. The two were later caught and convicted of the crime.
It was at this time early in the morning when Judge Noakes dismissed the jury. Noakes asked Oldson without the jury present if he would testify. Oldson clearly stated he would not. Defense attorney Mowbray asked the judge again to dismiss the charges against Oldson, pointing out the state had not proved its case. Judge Noakes again overruled Mowbray's motion for a dismissal.
Closing arguments opened in the early afternoon with state attorney Corey O'Brian and his statements beginning with how Catherine Beard vanished on May 31, 1989 from an alley behind the SomePlace Else Tavern in Ord NE. O'Brien described how Oldson came into the bar around 4:30pm with his father, the late Dick “Comanche” Oldson, Larry Oldson (John's uncle and Comanche's brother), Bob Hoppes and Larry Kittenger. They sat down and ordered a round of drinks, while Catherine Beard sat at the end of the bar. Oldson got up and talked to Beard and flirted with her. She rejected his advances. In fact Beard rejected Oldson many times that night before she disappeared. At one point, after several attempts to coax Beard outside, eventually Beard relents, but leaves all of her personal items: (jacket, umbrella, house key and her beloved cigarettes and lighter. Plus her unfinished drink still sat on the bar near her things.) Oldson in several police reports described how Beard went with him to the ally and John got in on the passenger side still trying to get Beard to play "touchy-feely" with him. Again rejected, Oldson admits to either pulling on her wrist or wrestling with her. Either way, O'Brien points out, Oldson is six feet tall and was at least 200 lbs back then. O'Brien claimed there was no way Beard, a very small woman, was getting away from him.
There have been numerous sightings of Beard since her disappearance that night, but none were ever confirmed. All leads were investigated by law enforcement but most leads turned up no evidence. O'Brien tild the he jury it needs to consider all of the circumstances in the case and the fact that Beard's death was ruled a homicide. Beard died a violent death and was left like a piece of trash in a washout ravine in a pasture and left to bleed to death. All of the culpable statements given by Oldson, in his journal readings and the taped discussions, should be weighed carefully by the jury. O'Brien summed up his statement by saying the theories brought forth by the defense are phenomenal coincidences. All of the testimony provided by the state provided for proof beyond a reasonable doubt John Oldson did in fact take Catherine Beard against her will, forced himself on her, inflicted fatal blows and sharp impact trauma, thus causing her death. O'Brien claimed the jury needs to return with a verdict of guilty.Sarah Newell, council for Oldson began her closing arguments with a quote from one of the three forensic anthropologist's who testified for the prosecution, Roye Lindsay. Quote, “Conclusions don't drive the facts. The facts drive the conclusions” end quote. Newell called the state's case a nice piece of fiction, but there is no physical evidence against her client. Not enough to call for a guilty verdict. She stated we may never know what happened to Catherine that night. There is no blood trail and no new evidence to prove Oldson abducted, sexually assaulted or killed Beard. Memories are faded and after 23 years the state still cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt John did it. Newell offered the fact most of the suspects when this case initially began, are all dead and the only person of real interest in this case who is still alive, is John.
The fact Oldson was not a well liked individual in Ord and the fact most people think of him as weird or creepy, is not a reason to convict him of first degree murder. There is reasonable doubt in the case. There is no evidence Beard was ever sexually assaulted or kidnapped and the jury needs to find John Oldson, not guilty.
O'Brien had time for rebuttal and stated the defense's star witness, Jerome Walkowiak contradicted himself repeatedly and showcased this yesterday for both sides, never giving a clear and concise testimony about what he witnessed the night Catherine disappeared. “It is your job to decide what evidence will hold up. Don't abandon your common sense. When you look at all of the statements pointing towards Oldson's culpability, you need to do the right thing and come back with a verdict of guilty”, O'Brien ended the rebuttal.