Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Dad convicted; two children glad

Major jury out less than hour

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LaLana Bramble embraces her brother, Donald Oakes, after their father, William Alexander Major, 59, was convicted of the 1980 murder their mother, Helen Marlene Major, in Boone County.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
BURLINGTON - The children of Helen Marlene Major expressed relief Monday afternoon after their father was convicted of killing their mother more than two decades ago in Verona.

It took a jury only 57 minutes to find William Alexander Major, 59, guilty of murder for his wife's death. Jurors recommended the maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for eight years.

Major, who showed no emotion as the verdict was read, remained in jail Monday night awaiting Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger's sentencing, expected next month. "Good-bye, Dad, I hope you spend the rest of your life behind bars," said Major's daughter, LaLana Bramble of Mount Sterling, Ky., after the verdict was read. "You deserve it."

Prosecutors said Major killed his wife so he could continue to molest Bramble and her older brother, Donald Oakes, 31, of Washington state.

Both testified last week that their father sexually molested them for years and then threatened them in sadistic ways if they ever told authorities.

His children eventually told their stepmother while the family lived in Rhode Island. Major served 12 years on molestation charges before being released in the 1990s.

"The verdict today gave my mom some justice," Bramble said. "Justice has been long in coming, but she can now rest in peace. I know the verdict will not take the sting out of what happened, but it will help us move on."

Authorities have been able to find only Mrs. Major's bullet-ridden skull.

"I don't know if we will ever uncover the entire remains of my mom," said Bramble, 27. "Only (Major) knows where it is, and I'm not sure he will ever say."

Oakes said he and his sister will now shift their focus on organizing a private memorial for their mother.

"I think the quick verdict speaks for the strength of the evidence," said prosecutor Linda Tally Smith. "This has been an emotional case for me, but I couldn't have asked for a better outcome."

During the six-day trial, jurors heard from more than a dozen prosecution witnesses. Major, 59, of Fairhaven, Mass., did not take the stand in his own defense.

Smith played a taped deposition of Major's father, James Major, 81, of Nova Scotia, who said Major told him several years ago that he shot his wife four times in the torso and twice in the face and then stuffed her body in a sinkhole. Detectives also testified that Major gave a second confession after his arrest and extradition to Kentucky.

Authorities say he shot and decapitated his wife in 1980.

Her skull was recovered in 1981 on a farm on which Major had done some work. It took modern DNA analysis to positively identify the skull because the teeth had been removed.

The jury heard from multiple witnesses that Major had bragged before his wife's disappearance that he could commit the perfect killing. That scenario involved removing the victim's teeth to prevent identification.

Major's defense attorney, Edward Drennen of Florence, argued that a stroke in 1995 made his client delusional. Drennen said Major makes up stories.

"In fact, you have a delusional individual who is admitting to anything they want him to," Drennen said. "Maybe he has the guilt of the world on him. He did molest these individuals, but that does not make him a killer."

Drennen objected to the prosecution's repeated references to Major's child abuse conviction in Rhode Island.

"He abused his kids," Drennen said during his closing arguments. "What does that have to do with this case? It was introduced to inflame you."

Drennen told the jurors that if they did believe his client killed Mrs. Major, they should find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Drennen proposed an alternate theory to Helen Major's death, a scenario in which Major killed his wife under extreme emotional distress. Drennen said the stress was brought on by Helen Major's admission that she was pregnant by another man.

After Drennen's closing arguments, Major leaned to his attorney and complimented him on a job well done.

Major then wheeled around in his wheelchair and smiled at his two children, who were in the gallery.

As the guilty verdict was read a short time later, Oakes leaned to his sister and said, "It's finally over."


E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com

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