A thicket of dubious alliances, jealousies, missing evidence and inconsistent testimony lead to a dubious conviction for murder–and reasonable doubt.
The shadowy Appalachian Mountains surrounding the small town of Parsons set the somber tone for this account of a bloody, shotgun double-murder of a father and his rebellious teenage son on Aug. 23, 1982. Stoddart painstakingly re-examines the evidence and transcripts related to the murder 26 years ago of her stepmother Edith Roberts’s teenaged son Timmy and husband Glenn in rural West Virginia. Townsfolk live in double-wide trailers and carve out their hardscrabble existence with blue-collar jobs, forming tenuous alliances that mimic community. The author makes a valiant attempt to present a plausible alternative to robbery and murder and poses the question of guilt or innocence. Stoddart’s inexorable journey uncovers a web of official incompetence, lies and deceit. She has concluded that convicted murderer Russell â€œRusty” Clark Phillips didn’t do it. Building the case that the wrong man is serving a life sentence, she pores over inexhaustible volumes of trial transcripts, annotated lists of evidence, medical reports and police records. A dizzying kaleidoscope of alternative scenarios and rhetorical questions–neatly backed up with hand-picked academic opinions–are posed to guide the reader to the same conclusion. Rusty was young Timmy’s friend; an impoverished drifter with a checkered past and few resources or legal avenues to explore in defense of the charges brought against him. Stoddart elucidates an alternative suggestion of patricide followed by Timmy’s suicide that is unfortunately–despite the slate of information and opinions presented–less convincing than the more probable robbery and double-murder. The facts surrounding this case were expertly and exhaustively researched; however, they are so numerous and unadulterated that they leave the story line a challenge to follow.
Overwhelming number of facts and a hop-scotching narrative mar what could be a compelling case for wrongful conviction and a flawed justice system.