LAFAYETTE, Ind (WLFI) - A murder case in Tippecanoe County which has gone unsolved for nearly 30 years may finally be successfully closed.
49-year-old William Cooke was found dead of a stab wounds at the Ramada Inn, a Lafayette motel, in July 1980. An ashtray with a cigarette butt was collected at the scene of the crime, but at the time of the original investigation DNA testing was unavailable.
Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Lieutenant Steve Kohne said the case went cold after only a few days after the murder.
"We looked at this case numerous times," said Kohne. "It was always our understanding the physical evidence was lost at some point."
In actuality, the evidence was returned to the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department. Kohne found it in the evidence room in an unmarked box. The cigarette butt was sent to the state police lab in May 2009. Its DNA matched with 50-year-old Texas inmate Dion Watkins. Watkins is in prison for battery on an elderly person. He was 21 at the time Cooke died.
Watkins was scheduled to be released on parole.
"This fellow could walk out of jail at any point in time. His papers are sitting on a desk in Houston, Texas, waiting for a vote to be paroled," explained Kohne.
The process to extradite Watkins back to Indiana is underway. He now faces formal charges of murder and felony murder.
The affidavit of probable cause states that police interviewed several witnesses who were present at the motel on the night of Cooke's death. The affidavit states that two of these witnesses claimed to have spoken with a white man who told them that he had been in military service in Germany for two years, and was at the motel with an older gentleman who had picked him up while hitchhiking. The record also states that these witnesses said they saw that same man later, but that he appeared pale and was shaking, and admitted to these witnesses that he had killed someone.
Court records state Detective Steve Kohne spoke with Watkins at a prison in Huntsville in July 2009. In the course of this interview, Watkins said he had been in the Army between 1978 and 1981. He said that he had been stationed in Germany. He said he had flown into New York and on one occasion had hitch-hiked to Cincinnati, Ohio. When asked about his DNA being found in the motel room, Watkins terminated the interview.
According to the Texas Department of Corrections, Watkins is currently serving a three-year prison term for Reckless Bodily Injury to an Elderly Person, and has finished serving a nine-year sentence for theft.
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