Convict Has Little Chance in Hell of Cheating Hangman

Courtesy Oklahoma Gazette

Jimmie Ray Slaughter says he didn't commit the murder for which he's scheduled to die on March 15.

Oklahoma Gazette | February 23, 2005
On July 2, 1991, the killer surprised Melody Wuertz and hit her in the face, busting her upper lip. Then the killer shot her in the neck.

The shot shattered Wuertz’s neck vertebrae and she crumpled to the floor, quadriplegic for the remaining 10 minutes of her life.

From the flow of blood around the nape of her neck, authorities would say she faced where her 11-month-old daughter, Jessica, lay near a changing cushion in the hallway next to the bathroom.

Wuertz had been getting ready for work at her Edmond residence, police said. She was to drop off Jessica at the day care.

Not that day. The killer made her watch, placing the barrel of the .22 against the infant’s head and pulling the trigger, the bullet popping neatly into the child’s cheek.

Then the killer turned the child onto her stomach and placed the gun against the back of her neck, firing again. The powder discharge from the barrel blackened the skin around the hole. It was over quick.

That finished, the killer turned and grabbed Melody Wuertz and dragged her into her bedroom. Her clothing slid down her limp body from the friction against the floor. The killer then took a knife and went to work. It was slower for 29-year-old Melody.

Authorities say the man who faces execution on the infamous Ides of March, or March 15, is the person who committed this crime. But Jimmie Ray Slaughter, 57, said desperate, inept authorities set him up, instead of finding the real killer. He has a different story, one he is shouting all the way from McAlester’s death row.

“I would like for people to know exactly the same thing I’ve been saying for 13 years, that I did not commit the crime that I have been accused of,” Slaughter said. “No, I did not. Did not. I was not in the state of Oklahoma, period. I knew nothing about it until the police came to interview me about it in Kansas. I knew nothing about it whatsoever.”

There is new evidence backing his claims and old evidence against him that has been proved wrong. But his appeals are all but exhausted. Everyone thinks he’s a Satan-worshipping murderer of women and children without a chance in hell of cheating the hangman.

Do we execute an innocent man or let a murderer walk free? Welcome to the hell of the Jimmie Ray Slaughter case. >>>


Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, one of the two prosecutors who worked on the 1994 trial of Wuertz’s accused killer, said if anyone deserves the death penalty, it is convicted murderer Jimmie Ray Slaughter.

“I will never forget the chilling moment the medical examiner talked about it,” Lane said. “(The examiner) drew a picture of the knife that had been, uh … trying to put a polite way of saying this … that had been inserted into Melody Wuertz’s genitalia. The medical examiner was actually able to draw the outline of the knife that was used and it was a unique shape.”

That knife, reproduced in court documents, is claimed by authorities to be a Tanto “Cold Steel” with a 9-inch blade. The blade is distinct in that it has a samurai-sword-like tip to the blade, reproduced from a deep stab wound in Wuertz’s chest, piercing her heart, according to testimony from a medical examiner. The killer then used such a blade to saw through the tissue of Wuertz’s vagina into her rectum. The person who did it apparently also carved a series of cuts into Wuertz’s abdomen, later claimed by authorities to be Satanic or cult symbols.

The Tanto Cold Steel is a blade well-known to military personnel, marketed in magazines like Soldier of Fortune. Slaughter, who had worked as a psychiatric nurse at an Oklahoma City hospital for veterans, was a combat veteran of Vietnam.

Lane presented evidence to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board showing a cash receipt from a store called the Cutlery Shoppe in Boise, Idaho, dated March 21, 1991, in which a Tanto Cold Steel was shipped via the United Parcel Service to Slaughter’s Guthrie post office box. A call to the shop confirmed Slaughter, indeed, bought that and several other knives, the proprietor said.

But the knife in question never surfaced. Lane said it still is one of the more important pieces of evidence in the case.

“Jim Slaughter had a very unique knife collection and we were able to use it to identify all of his knives and how the one missing knife had the exact same missing shape,” Lane said.

If the choice of knife is not in dispute, it’s one of the few items of evidence with that distinction in the 13-year-old murder case that transfixed Edmond and Oklahoma City in its day. From the discovery of the dead mother and child, to the arrest of Slaughter and his wife, Nicki, to the leaked grand jury testimony — and subsequent suicide — of its star witness, the Jimmie Ray Slaughter case continues to trouble the dreams of anyone who touches it.

While several important pieces of evidence now have been called into serious question regarding the case, prosecutors say the bulk of Oklahoma County’s most expensive and longest trial is sound. The law got its man.

Lane worked with former prosecutor Richard Wintory for five months to obtain the conviction of Slaughter, then gain Slaughter’s death warrant during the penalty phase.

“I’m proud of this case. Jim Slaughter maliciously murdered these two people. He was the only person on the planet that had the motive to carry this out,” Lane said.

That motive first became apparent to authorities after discovering the bodies July 2, 1991. Wuertz had been in a paternity dispute with Slaughter over Jessica. Records show Wuertz filed an action against him with the state Department of Human Services, signed, ironically, March 15, 1991. A summons was served to Slaughter at Fort Riley, Kan., where he served as a major in the Army Reserve, called up for Operation Desert Shield.

In a letter dated a month prior to Wuertz filing the suit, Slaughter had written a testy letter to DHS, in which he attempted to deny he is the father.

“I suggest that an apology is in order from your office,” Slaughter’s handwritten note reads. “I also expect an explanation as to how you came to believe that I am, in fact, responsible for the support of one Ms. Wuertz or her child.”

A representative of DHS wrote back, “An apology is not coming forth from this office. Indeed, the reverse should be in order. Thank you in advance … The explanation you expect is coming in the form of a paternity petition, summons, motion to produce and motion and order to show cause.”

Then Slaughter learned of a notice that a blood test ordered by the court had come back showing he had a better than 99-percent likelihood as being the parent of baby Jessica.

“You must contact this office either by appearing in person or by phone before 4 p.m. 2 July 1991,” the notice read.

Prosecutors say he gave notice, all right, by killing baby Jessica and Melody Wuertz that day. The juxtaposition, the timing of this action, elevated Slaughter to No. 1 suspect almost upon discovery of it by investigators.

“He had a paternity suit slapped on him that made him enraged,” Lane said. “We had testimony about the force of his rage. His own lawyer was afraid of him, he was so enraged at this paternity suit. He made it very clear that, as I said, he even told one of his girlfriends that ‘that baby has to die.’”

Among the many co-workers and friends were a lot of paramours. Slaughter had more than a dozen women with whom he worked who, at one time or another, were his lovers. These included Wuertz and a psychiatrist who had three abortions after becoming pregnant by Slaughter, according to testimony, and another woman who would become a star witness, Cecilia Johnson. Perhaps most damning may well have been Slaughter’s own statements, Lane said, statements that tied him and only him to the crime scene.

During their first moments on the scene, police saw next to the sprawled body of Melody Wuertz a small black comb. The teeth of the comb were crammed with curly black hairs of an African American. Anyone could see that the clumps of hair looked unnatural in the comb, as if someone stuffed the clumps in between the tines.

Then, when police began interviewing acquaintances of Wuertz, they came to Slaughter, who told them Wuertz had black boyfriends.

“The scene is what they called staged,” Lane said. “He leaves Negroid hairs there. And when the cops come to him, who is the only person who said, ‘Well, she had preferences, you know’? He was the only person interviewed who said that, and he tries to send people off on a wild goose chase looking for African Americans.”

Larry Andrews, an investigator for District Attorney Bob Macy during the time, said he interviewed a number of people about Wuertz.

“There was not one other person, anywhere, not family, friends, co-workers, even people who did not particularly like her, hinting at any relationship with anybody of African-American race,” Andrews said.

“It was kind of an interesting deal. He was a bigot. He did not like blacks,” Lane said.


“I thought the world of Melody, but I have to be honest with you: She was not the brightest bulb in the lamp,” Slaughter said. He was explaining that he would not buy Wuertz a gun she asked him for.

He sat for the Oklahoma Gazette interview in the visitor area of McAlester’s underground H-Unit, where reside the denizens of death row. The pale fluorescent light appeared to smart his eyes. He blinked constantly. The yellow walls of the cell gave a sickly pallor to his skin as he spoke on the phone. His choice of words in describing Wuertz displayed an arrogance about his own intellect for which he was known and proud.

“She wasn’t dumb but was just a different-level person,” Slaughter continued. “I said, ‘No, hon. I’m not going to give you a gun.’ She told me that in her neighborhood there was a black guy hopping backyard fences and snooping around. I told that to the grand jury and suddenly I become a racist. I become a person who would steal Negroid hairs and plant them at the crime scene, simply because I told the truth. But that’s why I didn’t give her a gun. I didn’t want Melody running out in the backyard and blasting some black guy even if he was snooping around. Does that make sense?”

Pictures of the 44-year-old Army major from the time of the trial show a balding, pudgy man, one hard to imagine would be so irresistible to so many women. Slaughter said that is what garnered attention on him at first and eventually led to his downfall — his love for many women.

“First of all, I was having an extramarital relationship with Melody and several other women. Well, they didn’t like that. People will make judgments about things like that,” Slaughter said.

“I had to have my warm, fuzzy outlets. I would have been crazy if I hadn’t.”

At the Feb. 15 clemency hearing, he limped in, his obese body trussed in manacles. Prison has not been easy on him.

“My life was stolen. I haven’t been able to see my kids grow up. I lost my career, my savings. I can’t even be buried in a doggone military cemetery after this. They have taken everything away for their own self-aggrandizement,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter’s bitterness is a large pit from which dark, angry comments constantly fly. He blames police, judges, his former attorneys, the jury and the people of Oklahoma for his imprisonment. He blames his former co-worker, Cecilia Johnson. He blames investigator Larry Andrews as a Macy “henchman.” All of them, he claims, were just too stupid to go after the real murderer.

His angry self-pity couldn’t possibly be justified … unless he really is innocent.

The initial investigation at the crime scene was conducted by Edmond Police Detective Dennis Dill. Within days into the investigation, Dill said irregularities surfaced. He alleges evidence that did not point to Slaughter was suppressed, reports were changed and witnesses pressured. A crime scene log was lost then another substituted with changes.

“I searched the house. Inside a closet I found a trick bag,” Dill told the board at Slaughter’s clemency hearing. He explained it was a bag containing sexual items prostitutes often carried. “I knew this was something we needed to investigate. (A senior Edmond Police officer) was with me at the time. He took it away from me. He destroyed it and said, ‘We are not going to turn that in as evidence.’”

Dill said there also were serious questions raised about the time of death. Peas, carrots and noodles were found in the child’s stomach. Since food leaves the stomach after about four hours, their presence in the child’s stomach indicated the time of death was not at noon July 2 but sometime nearer the previous midnight. Police investigators, instead, told the state medical examiner’s office the peas, carrots and noodles were fed to the child that morning. In fact, they had been fed the night before at the baby-sitter’s, Dill said. The time is important. Police allege Slaughter’s whereabouts are unaccounted for (except for his wife’s alibi) during the time of the murders — if they were in the morning.

“The medical examiner said he was going to have to reconsider the time of death,” Dill said. “Then I found that someone from my office recontacted the medical examiner and told him I had found Melody had fed the baby the same items that morning. That’s false.”

Dill said he was removed from the investigation for raising objections to it. Edmond Police officials dismiss him as an ax-grinder because he filed subsequent lawsuits against them.

Among recent evidence called into question are two important pieces that tie Slaughter directly to the murder scene. One is a hair police originally said came from a co-worker of Slaughter’s in Kansas. Police said there was no way the hair could have gotten there any other way than to have been transported by Slaughter when he came there to kill Melody and Jessica.

But the method of identifying the hair and tying it to the co-worker is one of the most discredited methods in the annals of Oklahoma investigations. The hair was examined microscopically and “matched” to the co-worker. This method was used infamously by Oklahoma City lab expert Joyce Gilchrist and is credited with jailing several innocent people for crimes they did not commit. Investigation is ongoing.

In the Slaughter case, a recent DNA test on the hair showed it absolutely did not match the person from whom the police claimed it came.

“The prosecution told the jury at length about the importance of this particular hair,” said Robert Jackson, one of Slaughter’s attorneys. “One of the things that the prosecution stressed was that there was no one else in the world who could have delivered this particular hair at this time.”

Another important piece of evidence tying Slaughter to the crime scene also is under fire. Police said .22-caliber bullets dug from the bodies of Melody and Jessica matched the very lead of some bullets in a gun safe at Slaughter’s home. Slaughter, an avid shooter, said he bought the bullets in Tulsa and used them for occasional target practice at a shooting range on his Guthrie property. But now, that lead-matching science has been rebuked.

“They did what they called ‘comparative lead analysis,’” Jackson explained. “The FBI itself has since come back and testified that this ‘science’ was based on very false assumptions. At this point, we have something this unreliable that was another key piece of evidence the prosecution stressed, telling the jury in closing argument that the bullets that killed these victims came from the same box from Jim’s home in Guthrie. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Finally, the prosecution’s case against Slaughter is under attack from what seems more in the realm of science fiction than law. A new brain-scanning technique called “brain fingerprinting” was applied to Slaughter last year.

Brain fingerprinting uses a sophisticated electroencephalograph to measure whether a person has knowledge of a situation. The neurologist who invented the device and technique, Larry Farwell, said the device is not a “lie detector” as such but can be used to determine whether a person possesses “guilty knowledge.”

“What we can say in brain fingerprinting is that this individual had this information stored in his brain or he didn’t. And that’s as far as the science goes,” Farwell said.

Farwell and other researchers attached the electrodes to Slaughter’s scalp and asked him questions about salient details of the crime scene. They used information that Slaughter claimed not to know, a difficult thing to accomplish since Slaughter had seen five months of evidence presented in trial. Slaughter claimed he did not know where Melody and Jessica had been shot or where Melody’s body had been found.

“For whatever reason, he is saying he didn’t know these features about the crime,” Farwell said. “If it turned out he did know, it would turn out that brain fingerprinting could be used against him.”

The tests done on these features came out negative for Slaughter to possessing the information.

“Can we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he was there and committed that crime and he doesn’t know where the victim was shot, in what room the adult victim was killed in and in what room the body was found? While I am not testifying he is innocent, I am testifying he doesn’t know those things,” Farwell said.

Oklahoma courts rejected all these elements of appeal — the DNA, the bullet analysis and Farwell’s device — on grounds they should have been appealed at time of trial. Slaughter’s attorneys contend none of the three was available so long ago. They intend to appeal federally.

Far and above the most telling of evidence on Slaughter’s side is that he had an alibi. He was with his wife, Nicki, and two daughters all day the date of the murders. He’d gone to a mall and to a couple of restaurants. His wife told the same to police, who then arrested her as an accomplice. She was held in jail for months on murder charges. The charges were dismissed at the preliminary hearing, but Jimmie Ray Slaughter’s weren’t. She later testified her husband was with her and the children in Kansas the day of the murder.

“They thought if they pressured her, threatened her life, took her away from our kids, that she would buckle and say what they wanted her to say,” Slaughter said. “But even in the face of my philandering, which did not make her happy, she still told the truth. She’s one of the more honorable people walking the face of the earth.”

Prosecutors argued she lied to protect him.


Most troubling is Cecilia Johnson’s suicide prior to the trial. The “star witness,” as described by Lane, Johnson was a heavyset, divorced woman who knew both Slaughter (with whom she had an affair and miscarried a pregnancy) and Wuertz. A deeply mentally ill woman, Johnson was beset with personality disorders that required her to be treated with Prozac, Anafranil and Elavil, court documents show.

Once police centered on Johnson, she began telling them many dark secrets she claimed Slaughter had. Among them were that he worshipped Satan, sacrificed animals and that he bragged about killing people. She said he talked of black people in derogatory statements. Most damning, she said he talked of killing Melody and Jessica.

“He wished that Melody would have to suffer through seeing the baby die and … have to go through the hell of that,” Johnson testified to the grand jury.

Slaughter has a different story.

“Oh, I know who murdered them. Cecilia Johnson,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said Johnson took a .22-caliber pistol that had belonged to her father, killed them and then threw the gun into a Dumpster behind a Texaco station near the house. He said she then told him this. Slaughter’s initial police interviews did not implicate Johnson.

“Cecilia was extremely jealous. The whole thing … her behavior was nothing but a result of unbridled jealousy,” Slaughter said. “She didn’t have any children. She was told she couldn’t have any children. She was jealous of Jessica. She was jealous of Melody.”

Johnson committed suicide after the transcript of her testimony before the grand jury was leaked to The Oklahoman. When shown the article at work, she called someone on the phone and yelled at them, according to court records.

“You were supposed to protect me. You were supposed to protect me,” she said. She sunk into her chair and later said, “I’m a goner. He’s going to kill me.”

In a taped conversation at the height of the investigation, however, Johnson offered to Slaughter on several occasions she would kill herself and leave a note confessing to the crime, according to court documents.

“I’ll write it out now, even, if you’ve got some paper,” Johnson said. “In a suicide note.”

“You don’t want to do that shit,” Slaughter said.

“The only thing that is going to keep you out of jail is me confessing to this,” Johnson said.

She died of a drug overdose in February 1992. A note was left but not released by authorities, according to one printed account.

“I’m sure, in my heart, Cecilia Johnson left a suicide note explaining everything,” Slaughter said.

The Pardon and Parole Board didn’t believe the story and unanimously denied clemency Feb. 15, exactly one month prior to Slaughter’s scheduled execution.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 3701 N. Shartel Ave., Oklahoma City, OK 73118
  • Phone: (405) 528-6000