Friday, August 8, 1997
Verdict is cold satisfaction
Carrie's location still a mystery

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Debbie Culberson, center, holds hands with her daughter Christina as the verdict is read. At right is Carrie's father, Roger Culberson.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
WILMINGTON, Ohio - The guilty verdict confirmed what Debbie Culberson knew in her mother's heart: that the man she wanted out of her daughter Carrie's life had ended it.

"I knew it all along. It couldn't have been anything else but guilty," Mrs. Culberson said Thursday on the steps of the Clinton County Courthouse.

It was the kind of bright summer day the athletic, outdoor-loving Carrie Culberson would have reveled in - and nearly a year since she disappeared Aug. 29 after a volleyball game.

Slowly rubbing her palms together, a tiny angel pin shining on her black jacket, Mrs. Culberson said she hoped "girls like Carrie can learn something from this" and get out of abusive relationships. A Clinton County jury said Thursday that Vincent Doan, 25, kidnapped and killed Ms. Culberson after a tumultuous two-year relationship. Testimony revealed that a month before Ms. Culberson was slain, Mr. Doan beat her with a portable heater, sending her to the hospital. Surgical staples were used to close a head wound.

Mr. Doan maintains his innocence, and his father, Lawrence Baker, played down the problems between his son and Ms. Culberson. "Maybe he did slap her around one time or another, but he didn't kill her," Mr. Baker said after the verdict.

"He's an innocent man, he's a good boy."

Mr. Baker said he believes Ms. Culberson is alive, a belief that was the crux of the defense's case because her body has not been found. "They sighted her . . . I don't know how many times," Mr. Baker said. He was referring to reports from people who said they had seen either women who looked like Ms. Culberson or red cars similar to her missing 1989 Honda CRX.

An angry and crying Katrina Doan, 29, said her brother's fight is not over.

"We have round two, and we will win," she said, referring to an appeal.

John Rion, one of Mr. Doan's lawyers, said his client was "numb" after the verdict.

"He's in disbelief. He feels the system failed him," said Mr. Rion, who along with his son, Jon Paul, defended Mr. Doan.

"He's terribly disappointed. This was a case with no plea bargaining and no negotiating. It was an all-or-nothing case. That makes his loss more dramatic," Mr. Rion said.

Mr. Doan was on suicide watch Thursday night in the Warren County Jail, a source there said.

An appeal likely won't come until after the jurors have returned a sentence. No date has been set for deliberation to begin.

Mr. Rion said he was touched and impressed with the way the families have treated each other.

"She (Mrs. Culberson) said she was praying for Vince," Mr. Rion said.

County Prosecutor William Peelle said later Thursday that the verdict reflected his staff's hard work.

"This has been the most stressful and challenging case I've ever handled," he said.

During the trial, witnesses said Mr. Doan killed Ms. Culberson early in the morning of Aug. 29 and that his family helped cover up the crime.

Mr. Peelle suggested that Mr. Doan's father concocted an alibi for his son. Mr. Baker had said Mr. Doan was home sleeping at 1:30 a.m. Aug. 29 - roughly the same time prosecutors said he kidnapped and killed Ms. Culberson.

Mr. Peelle suggested Mr. Doan's half brother Tracey Baker helped him clean up the crime scene.

Mr. Baker's wife, Lori Baker, testified that Mr. Doan came to her home about 3 a.m. Aug. 29 covered in blood. An hour later, her husband and Mr. Doan left with seven garbage bags and a gun. When they returned to Mr. Baker's Blanchester home, he cleaned his clothes and boots while Mr. Doan showered.

Tests at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab in Dayton later revealed that Mr. Baker's boots had human blood splattered on them, but the blood had degenerated so greatly that it was unclear whether it matched Ms. Culberson's blood type.

Mr. Baker has repeatedly said his brother never came over that night and that his wife lied.

Mr. Peelle said he doesn't know whether more charges may be brought in this case, but that he will meet with investigators.

For the Culbersons, the verdict brings legal justice for Carrie Culberson's death but doesn't solve the mystery of her whereabouts. "What I want is to find Carrie, but I'm not going to count on him to tell us. . . . I hope he will get a conscience and tell," Mrs. Culberson said.

"It won't be over until we find Carrie," said her 16-year-old sister, Christina.

For Ms. Culberson's friend and former boss Desiree Gruber, the verdict only intensifies the pain.

"Obviously it's more horrifying," said Mrs. Gruber, owner of Wilmington's G&G Hair Studio, where Ms. Culberson was a nail technician.

"It hardly seems like enough," she said of the guilty verdict, which could put Mr. Doan on death row.

The most painful thing Mrs. Culberson will carry with her from this trial is the scenario of how her daughter died.

In closing arguments, Mr. Peelle recalled a cryptic statement Mr. Doan made to witnesses: "You don't know what it's like to hurt someone and hold them until they die."

Mrs. Culberson quietly wept as she heard the remarks on Monday. On Thursday, she commented on Mr. Doan's tears.

"He did cry, but I wonder if any tears he shed have been for Carrie."