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Prosecutor: The killer showed compassion

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

Prosecutors say Gary Leiterman, not a serial killer, murdered a college student in 1969.

(COURT TV) -- The killer of a law school coed 36 years ago demonstrated a sense of "compassion" for his victim that distinguishes him from a serial killer who targeted young women during the same time period, an investigator testified at the murder trial of a retired nurse.

Former state police assistant commander Earl James, who led the task force examining the spate of seven murders in the college towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor in the late 1960s, said the quick, relatively painless way Jane Mixer was killed and the meticulous arrangement of her body in a cemetery showed tenderness absent from the other killings.

"A coat had been used to cover her body, almost as if she were alive to keep her warm," James told jurors hearing evidence against Gary Leiterman, a 62-year-old linked by DNA testing last year to the 1969 killing.

"It almost looked like the perpetrator of that murder had compassion for the victim," he said.

Leiterman's defense claims the DNA match is the result of lab contamination and has suggested the real killer is John Norman Collins, who is serving a life sentence for one of the murders.

The killings stopped after his arrest in 1969, and James and others in law enforcement believe he is responsible for most of the murders.

James noted that while other victims were tortured with sexual assault, beatings and stabbings, Mixer's only injuries were two point-blank bullet wounds to the head.

When her body was found, her dress was pulled up to reveal her genitals, but she was otherwise fully dressed. The others were found naked or partially clothed and in more remote areas, including garbage dumps, a ravine and an abandoned farm.

"They were just dumped, whereas it appeared that Mixer had been placed in the cemetery with care," he said.

The 23-year-old vanished on March 20, 1969, after accepting a ride with a stranger to her parents' house in western Michigan for spring break. She was planning to tell them she had become engaged to a graduate student.

Signs of a serial murder?

On cross-examination, however, James conceded that there were some similarities between Mixer's death and some of the others.

A woman killed three months after Mixer was also shot with a .22-caliber gun. She was seen in the company of Collins on the night of her death.

He also agreed that others had garrotes around their neck, such as the stocking wrapped around Mixer's neck. A medical examiner said the silk stocking was placed on the law student's neck after she died from the gunshots and did not contribute to her death.

James also acknowledged that police in 1969 did not follow proper procedure when storing evidence related to the case. The items related to the murders were kept together in a bomb shelter at the police station, which could have led to contamination.

James, who spent 24 years with the state police, said he had continued studying the case since his retirement in 1979. He listed the dates and circumstances of each murder without looking at his notes.

As he described the youngest victim, a 13-year-old from Ypsilanti named Dawn Basom, James stared at the ceiling and his voice shook.

"That little girl was running home on April 15 [1969] along the rail tracks and disappeared," he said. "She was taken to a farmhouse. She was raped and strangled with a copper wire and then placed alongside a road ... she was stabbed in the left chest probably to make sure she was dead after she was murdered."

James was one of four retired police investigators to testify.

Lab questions

Jurors also heard from two forensic technicians from the state police crime lab.

The issue of contamination at the lab is key in the case. DNA from Mixer's pantyhose and the silk stocking matched Leiterman, but technicians matched a blood drop from her hand to a convicted murderer who was just 4 years old at the time of the murder.

Evidence from that man's murder case was being tested in the lab at the same time and the defense contends the finding is proof of contamination.

Sarah Thiabault, a lab technician, said she tested the man's clothing, but never handled evidence from the Mixer case. She said she worked on a sterile surface and only used her own personal tools. More technicians are expected to testify later.

Testimony resumes Friday morning. The trial is being shown live on Court TV Extra.

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