Saturday, January 25, 2003

1974 murder suspect pursued


Butler prosecutors compile evidence

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Korn

[photo]
Mrs. Doench


HAMILTON - Butler County authorities say they are ready to try again to exact justice for Mildred Ruth Doench - 29 years after her shocking murder.

In 1974, the 72-year-old retired elementary school principal was raped, stabbed with a knife, and struck with a mattock, a hatchet-like tool that the elderly woman's killer left embedded in her forehead.

A warrant was issued a month ago for Donald L. Korn, 58, an Indiana rapist whose conviction in Mrs. Doench's slaying was overturned more than 20 years ago. Mr. Korn soon could be brought from the Pendleton Correctional Facility to Butler County to once again face the 1976 aggravated murder charge for which he had once been sentenced to death. Mr. Korn is trying to get that old indictment dismissed.

"This is the kind of violent crime that can't be left unresolved," said Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper. "The horror of the crime resonates by the lack of its final conclusion."

Mr. Piper commended Butler County Sheriff's Detective Frank Smith for his persistence in investigating this "cold" case.

Detective Smith has amassed more than 10,000 pages of investigatory notes and documents since reopening the case 3 years ago. He said multiple agencies - including the state crime lab and Ohio Attorney General's Office - have helped develop enough information to bring Mr. Korn back to Butler County to "stand trial for the terrible atrocities he committed against the victim."

He wouldn't say whether the evidence included DNA.

Mr. Korn's lawyer, H. Gregory Howard, didn't return phone calls Friday, and authorities declined further comment. But 200 pages of court documents, news clippings and Indiana prison records tell much of the story:

Mr. Korn was arrested in January 1975 for the robbery, rape and knife attack of a 55-year-old woman in Clark County, Ind. The woman's throat was slit, but she survived. While being questioned there, Mr. Korn, then 30, also allegedly admitted to killing Mrs. Doench, a 72-year-old retired Hayes Elementary School prinicipal, in her Fairfield Township home on July 13, 1974. Mr. Korn was a former tenant of Mrs. Doench's.

Court records say a witness testified that, during the Indiana interrogations, Mr. Korn "blurted out" these words about Mrs. Doench: "I stabbed her with a knife and hit her with a mattock. Is that good enough for you?"

In May 1976, he was convicted for rape and robbery in Indiana and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

In June that year, he was indicted in Mrs. Doench's slaying.

In 1977, a three-judge panel convicted him of killing Mrs. Doench.

"Korn stood smiling as the verdict was read," an Enquirer article dated June 2, 1977, says.

He was later sentenced to death, then his execution date was set for Nov. 16, 1977.

But the U.S. Supreme Court declared Ohio's death penalty unconstitutional in 1978 - and the next year, an appeals court found Mr. Korn's confession was improperly obtained.

The judges said police should have stopped questioning the suspect after he asked for a lawyer. The judges said they had no choice but to throw out Mr. Korn's confession and the conviction, even though "we have no particular appetite for the result these mandates of law require of us."

Without the confession, then-prosecutor John F. Holcomb said he was left without a case. When the appeals court threw out Mr. Korn's confession, "our case was destroyed with the stroke of a pen, and thus, one of the most brutal, sadistic and depraved murderers it has been my misfortune to prosecute during nearly 30 years in this business will not receive justice from the state of Ohio," Mr. Holcomb wrote to Indiana authorities.

Mr. Korn has been turned down three times for parole in Indiana, a spokeswoman said; his next parole hearing is set for December 2005.

He doesn't want the Butler County case still hanging over his head then.

In August, he filed a motion arguing that the Butler County indictment alleging he killed Mrs. Doench should be declared void because prosecutors didn't act on it quickly enough. Prosecutors say that argument is without merit because Mr. Korn never filed a form to push the case to a conclusion.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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