WILMINGTON, Ohio - Kidnapping charges filed Friday against Vincent Doan not only renew queries about Carrie Culberson's whereabouts, but also raise new questions about how prosecutors will proceed without her and her red Honda.
The latest twist in the
seven-month investigation - in which Miss Culberson's one-time boyfriend was indicted by a Clinton County grand jury - prompted Mr. Doan's attorney to speculate about the prosecution's motives.
''My sense is that they're bringing the charge ...out of total frustration,'' said John Rion, Mr. Doan's attorney.
''It's hard to believe they have any evidence, because if they had evidence, they would have charged earlier,'' said Mr. Rion.
Ms. Culberson, 23, was last seen late Aug. 28 in front of her Blanchester home. Authorities say a friend dropped her off after a volleyball game. A short time later, a neighbor saw her red Honda CRX moving down the street. Neither has been seen since then.
Speculation swirled around this town of 4,600 - little more than an hour northeast of Cincinnati. Much of the suspicion was focused on Mr. Doan.
Clinton County Prosecutor William Peelle refused to comment on what evidence will be presented. He also declined to discuss the possible hurdles of proving a case without Miss Culberson or her car.
But one local law professor said Clinton County authorities don't need to find Miss Culberson to pursue charges against Mr. Doan.
''It's sort of a basic rule of law that you don't need the body to prove either murder, or for that matter, kidnapping,'' said Christo Lassiter, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. ''If you did, everyone who did those crimes would make sure the body could not be found.''
However, he said the case would be a lot more credible if Miss Culberson could be found.
''That is a major loose end. But, presumably there are ties to him and the girl, maybe some other witnesses that would have seen them together. That does begin to start to seal the case.''
The kidnapping charges are one way to use evidence police have collected against Mr. Doan before it goes stale, Mr. Lassiter said. By getting the case to court, authorities also may be able to gain more evidence to tell them what happened to Miss Culberson, he said.
If convicted as charged, Mr. Doan could face a maximum of 10 years on each of the four charges. Mr. Rion said his client will plead not guilty.
Early Friday evening, authorities were looking for Mr. Doan, 24, of Blanchester. A warrant for his arrest was issued Friday in connection with the indictment.
Mr. Rion said that he had spoken with his client several times Friday and that Mr. Doan will surrender to authorities Monday. He conceded that his client may be arrested before then.
The scene at the Clinton County courthouse Friday morning was emotional, with family and friends gathered awaiting word.
When news spread that the grand jury had indicted Mr. Doan on four counts of kidnapping, the group huddled together.
Debra Culberson, Miss Culberson's mother, tried to escape the media onslaught - finding herself a corner to both weep in and gather herself. Later Friday, she would praise authorities for validating her suspicions.
''She was taken against her will, and I thought that from the very beginning,'' she said during a news conference later Friday.
Authorities refused to release details of the case, insisting that the investigation is continuing. More charges could be filed if Miss Culberson is found, they said.
According to court documents, Mr. Doan kidnapped Ms. Culberson on Aug. 29, but each of the four counts contains slightly different - albeit vague - accounts, revealing what authorities think may have happened.
The first count provides the sharpest and most serious allegation, with authorities alleging Ms. Culberson was kidnapped by Mr. Doan ''with purpose to terrorize, or inflict serious physical harm.'' All of the counts allege Mr. Doan failed to release Miss Culberson ''in a safe place, unharmed.''
Mr. Peelle declined to comment on a motive, but Mrs. Culberson said Mr. Doan and her daughter had been in a yearlong abusive relationship before she disappeared.
Mrs. Culberson thinks Mr. Doan knows where her daughter is. And she still holds out hope that she is alive.
''This is a kidnapping charge, and it doesn't say anything about murder, so why should I believe she's dead?'' she said Friday during a news conference.
For Miss Culberson's friends, Mr. Doan's indictment gives hope ''that maybe someday we can have closure,'' said Jesseca Howard, 21, who worked with her at G&G Hair Studio, Wilmington.
''Part of me, deep inside, can't feel like she's dead,'' Ms. Howard said.
The indictment is ''not as much as I've been hoping for,'' said Desiree Gruber, who owns G&G.
''I'm hoping for the same thing her mother and family are hoping for - we're hoping to find Carrie,'' Ms. Gruber said. ''We just want to find her, and I want him (Mr. Doan) to be accountable. Since the day she disappeared, I myself have firmly believed he has everything to do with it. I witnessed episodes of abuse.''
In the shop where Miss Culberson worked for 18 months as a nail technician, posters still hang describing her disappearance.
''Every day we think about her. We hope, pray and hurt,'' Ms. Gruber said.
Mr. Peelle said the investigation will continue until Ms. Culberson is found or there is some resolution to the case.
Christine Wolff and Sheila McLaughlin contributed to this report.
GONE WITHOUT A TRACE Feb. 9, 1997