Justice catches up with Goodyear Killer
Last week, we recounted the multiple crimes of the Goodyear Killer, 23-year-old Charles Ray Spears of Greensburg and the multitude of times he escaped Justice. After a defense attorney used police collaboration to build a case for coercion, the New Orleans District Attorney dropped all charges in the murder of Ernest Smith. In Slidell, Judge Wallace Edwards sentenced David E. Lewis to die following the robbery of the Champagne Jewelry Store, the near-death of store clerk Betty Hodge Graves, and the execution of Sergeant Earl Alfred, the first black officer to serve with the Slidell police department.
Three days before Alfred’s murder, a holdup man shot two Hammond store clerks in the head during the robbery of the Goodyear Tire and Appliance Service Center. Initially, police suspected prison escapee Charles Ray Spears in all three crimes, but he only stood trial for one.
Shortly after 5:30: PM August 8, 1975, store managers began to close the Hammond Goodyear on South Cate Street. With the doors still unlocked, they balanced the day’s books, as a black man walked in asking about cassette players. Producing a snub-nosed .22 caliber handgun, the intruder handcuffed the men together, and—as his captives begged for their lives—he shot both in the back of the head.
Store manager John Reid, 47, died in the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans, but 26-year-old Assistant Manager Roy Walters, Jr. lived to serve as the state’s star witness identifying Charles Ray Spears as the Goodyear Killer.
Walters testified Spears entered the store, purchased a radio from Reid, and then asked about a tape recorder. Walters said, as Reid reached for one, Spears pulled the gun, handcuffed the two and searched the safe and cashboxes before shooting both men in the back of the head. When he regained consciousness, he dragged himself and Reid to telephone and called the Hammond Police Department.
Dennis Taylor, 20, testified he was in a jail cell with Spears and Spears confessed the story to him.
Prosecutors Joseph Simpson and William Quin said Taylor knew none of the particulars of the crime at the time police placed him with Spears.
Spears, testifying in his own defense, said he was serving time for a burglary conviction and assigned to the Jackson Barracks. He said that he and his cousin escaped on July 29, 1975, and fled to Chicago where he got employment. Spears testified that he was working in Illinois on August 8, the day of the Goodyear invasion.
In March of 1976, a grand jury indicted Spears on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and two counts of armed robbery. The following July, those charges became null when the United States Supreme Court threw out Louisiana’s death penalty law. This forced the grand jury to reconvene. This time, indicting Spears on second-degree murder instead.
One month later, an Amite jury deliberated less than 35 minutes before finding Spears guilty of all four charges. In 1977 and 1982, Spears appealed the convictions and lost.
Twenty-first Judicial District Court Judge Gordon E. “Buddy” Causey sentenced Spears to life for the murder of Reid and 20 years for the attempted murder of Walters. Causey also gave him two 99-year sentences for the armed robbery of each victim, with all penalties running concurrently.
While serving time in the Tangipahoa Parish Prison, Spears sued the sheriff’s office for mistreatment and won. After Judge Causey moved him to Angola State Penitentiary, he filed the same motions there.
In 1986, a federal court magistrate granted Spears a new trial citing concerns about the original testimony. District Attorney Duncan Kemp had six months to retry Spears or set him free.
The ruling was based on questionable trial testimony by Dennis Taylor. The magistrate found two major problems with the conviction, Kemp said. One was that Taylor likely gave false testimony against Spears in exchange for early release. The other was that the prosecution was allowed to call on the defendant to testify about an alleged confession that was not allowed to be used as evidence. The federal judge said that providing information related to the murder of Ernest Smith prejudiced the original trial and the jury.
“I’m really concerned about this,” Kemp told reporters. “But if there’s any way possible, we will retry him.”
Kemp said a judge ruled the testimony of Angola inmate Dennis Taylor admissible. “Taylor was illegally released after [after the Spears trial] and subsequently held up a Mini-Mart in Independence and then killed an elderly ticket taker at the Joy Drive-In theater in Hammond,” Kemp said.
Shortly after the news from the federal court in New Orleans, Judge Causey suffered a massive heart attack and ultimately retired from the bench.
However in September of 1986, justice did prevail. A new jury deliberated under 40 minutes, and Judge Brent Dufreche upheld the original sentencing. Roy Walters was again the star witness. If he had died from the 1975 gunshot to the head, Charles Ray Spears would be a free man today, but Assistant District Attorney Charles Genco said Walters’ testimony was not the only reason Spears would remain behind bars.
Genco presented the case and spoke to reporters afterward. “I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to the police officers who investigated,” he said. “This was the second time around, and we saw cooperation from all departments involved. We would not have succeeded without them.”