KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge on Thursday convicted a Kansas City man of killing six women whose bodies were found in an area of Kansas City frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.
Jackson County Circuit Judge John R. O’Malley found Terry Blair, 46, guilty of six counts of first-degree murder in the 2004 deaths of Sheliah McKinzie, 38; Anna Ewing, 42; Patricia Wilson Butler, 45; Darci I. Williams, 25; Carmen Hunt, 40; and Claudette Juniel, 31. At least one of the women had been strangled, but the causes of death of most of the women could not be reliably determined because their bodies had decomposed.
Blair agreed to be tried before a judge instead of jury in return for prosecutors agreeing not to pursue the death penalty. He is scheduled for sentencing April 24 where he can only face life in prison.
Upon hearing O’Malley’s verdict, Blair lowered his eyes to the table while family members of his victims hugged and cried in the gallery behind him.
“I knew from the beginning that it would come out this way because the truth will always survive over lies and evil,” said Irene Williams, Darci Williams’ mother.
Blair’s defense attorneys left without speaking to reporters. Phone messages to their offices were not immediately returned.
In issuing his decision, O’Malley acknowledged that the case was full of conflicting expert testimony and “small pieces of circumstantial evidence.”
Blair was charged in McKinzie’s death in September 2004 after semen left on her body led investigators to link him to the crime. Defense attorneys said that proved Blair, who had initially told investigators he didn’t know McKinzie, had had sex with her, but didn’t prove he killed her.
But O’Malley said the placement of semen indicated McKinzie hadn’t moved or attempted to clean herself after having sex.
“Since we know this semen belonged to Mr. Blair we must conclude he was present as Ms. McKinzie expired, her throat crushed by his hands and by his irrational, evil hatred of women.”
Prosecutors also introduced evidence indicating Blair had been the one who made a series of 911 calls, telling police where to find the bodies of the victims.
Defense attorneys introduced expert testimony attempting to show the voice on the cell phone was different from Blair’s. But O’Malley said he didn’t believe it precluded Blair from being the caller as the calls were made near where Blair lived at the time of the killings and the caller likely would have tried to disguise his voice.
O’Malley’s strongest comments weren’t directed at Blair but Kansas City police for allowing television camera crews with A&E Network’s “First 48” true-crime program to tag along while detectives tried to track down leads in the case.
He criticized them from what he considered sometimes shoddy police work that allowed defense counsel to do a good job disputing evidence, mistakes he said were caused by the presence of the cameras.
“In my opinion it is extremely unfortunate that the Kansas City, Mo., police department succumbed to the temptation to have this immense tragedy filmed for the amusement of television viewers who are accustomed to imaginary blood and posed corpses,” O’Malley said to a courtroom that included a large number of police detectives. “I am comfortable advising the police department on behalf of a large segment of the taxpayers that they are not being compensated to satisfy a television producer; they are being paid to safeguard the public.”
After the verdict, Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar said he respected O’Malley’s opinion but that he didn’t believe police “did anything to jeopardize this investigation or minimize the seriousness of the loss of life that surrounded it.”
Kanatzar also said the judge’s comments didn’t dampen his relief in the larger verdict of Blair.
“This will bring some closure hopefully to the family, and I hope it’ll be the first step in recovery for their grief, but it will be a long, hard road,” he said. “We can put this dark page of our history behind us and hopefully move forward.”
Family members of the victims had nothing but praise for police.
“We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t done their job,” said Trish Davis, Patricia Butler’s daughter. “They got us justice.”
A police department spokesman didn’t immediately return a phone call for comment.
Charges against Blair in two other slayings — those of Nellia Harris, 33, and Sandra Reed, 47 — were dismissed in October. Harris, unlike the other victims, was killed in 2003.
Blair also had been charged in three rapes and an assault that involved four victims who survived their attacks. Those charges also were dropped because the facts were determined to be different from the murders of the six women.
At the time of his September 2004 arrest, Blair was on parole after serving 21 years for the 1982 murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Angela Monroe, who was the mother of two of his children.