By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
On the stand, Ricky Mitts, the hippie who lived down the street from the Prewitts, said Patty feared losing custody of the kids if she asked for a divorce. He also said Patty claimed Bill beat her, but he doubted it was true. "Bill was one of the kindest people I ever met," Mitts says in a recent phone interview from his home in Grandview, Missouri.
When police interviewed Mitts after Bill's death, he told them he had visited the Prewitt house three weeks earlier. He also admitted he had shot Bill's semi-automatic rifle in the past. But he denied having an affair with Patty or that she had ever asked him to kill her husband.
A week later, Mitts says, he contacted police to tell them Patty had offered him $10,000 to kill Bill. "I had become a believer in Christ and [felt] convicted" about the need to tell the truth, he says.
But shortly after giving a statement to police, Mitts approached Patty and offered to divorce his wife and marry her. He thought that husbands could not legally be forced to testify against their wives.
"If I've ever wanted to commit murder, it was at that moment," Patty says during a prison interview.
Mitts says he was in love with Patty when he offered to marry her, even though he had just told police she wanted to kill her husband. "She was beautiful," he says. "I would have done anything for her but kill Bill."
Prosecutor Williams told jurors Patty finally grew tired of waiting for someone else to kill her husband and decided to do it herself.
"Her motive is clear," Williams argued. "Lust. Her fire burns hotter than most people's. And greed. With the insurance money, she would be free and independent."
Williams explained to the jury that the Prewitts were behind on Bill's life-insurance payments and that the grace period on both policies expired February 18, the day Bill was killed.
But when payments were missed, the whole-life policy remained in effect because the insurance company drew from the $14,000 in principal the Prewitts had already paid. The other policy would have been reinstated when the Prewitts made their monthly payment of $12. The two policies totaled $93,000. Patty testified that the couple's debts to banks, vendors and family members exceeded $170,000.
"Bill and I were civilized adults," Patty writes in a recent letter to the RFT. "We were not the kind of people who kill people for any reason. Divorce is the option civilized people use. Good Lord!"
Four days after Bill's death, officers used a magnet to recover the rifle from a pond 500 feet from the Prewitts' front door.
When deputies drained the mud and water from the pond, they found two footprints on the edge of the bank and another within one foot of the rifle. The prints matched the bottom of Patty's red rubber boots, which had been sitting outside the front door.
According to the state's theory, Patty ran through the thunderstorm to the pond and threw in the rifle. Williams argued that the gun stuck in the mud, "like a dart sticking straight up out of the water."
Williams said Patty waded into the water and pushed the rifle down. The shiny red boots were caked with an inch of mud when police presented them at a preliminary hearing.
But two of Patty's friends insist that's not the way the boots looked two days after the murder. Mary O'Roark Englert and Jerri Austin testified that they picked up the boots when they were at the Prewitt house to get clothes for Patty and the kids.
"They weren't spick-and-span, but they weren't muddy," Englert remembers in a recent interview at her home in Independence. "There was no way someone was walking around a pond in them."
In fact, Sheriff Norman testified that when he tried to walk through the pond, his boots mired down in the mud. Patty says after her attorneys had her buy a similar pair of boots and walk through the pond, the fleece inside was stained brown and ruined.
"Look at these boots," Bob Beaird, her defense attorney, told the jury. "Not one piece of mud on a shoestring, not one piece of mud in an eyelet, not one drop of muddy water inside of them. She doesn't walk on water."
According to testimony, the boots were eight inches tall. But Sheriff Norman testified the rifle was found on a sandbar in the middle of the pond in water that was eleven inches deep. The water closer to the bank, he said, was "deeper and very, very muddy."
Yet when deputies retrieved Patty's white flowery pajamas from her on the morning of the murder, there was no mud on them. When police cleaned out traps in the sinks and tubs of the Prewitt home, no mud was found there either.
Sarah and her eleven-year-old brother, Matthew, testified that they had been at the pond with their dad when it was frozen two weeks earlier. Sarah said she was wearing her mom's red boots, which she often did. "We were walking out [on the ice] and my foot fell through," Sarah told the jury. The defense theorized that is why the boot print was in the center of the pond.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city