Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Slain woman's mother still seeking body




By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

carrie
Carrie Culberson
        Debbie Culberson was back in court Monday, hoping a search for police accountability will lead to the one thing still missing from the murder of her daughter: the body.

        In the latest chapter in a 1996 case, Mrs. Culberson filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the village of Blanchester, alleging its initial handling of the search deprived the family of its right to possession of 22-year-old Carrie Culberson's remains.

        The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, began Monday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

        Carrie Culberson's boyfriend, Vincent Doan, was convicted in Clinton County Common Pleas Court in 1997 and is serving life without parole in state prison in Lucasville. He is expected to be called to the stand on Wednesday. Ms. Culberson's body was never found.

        At the heart of the Culberson family's claim is what happened — and didn't happen — at a pond on Mr. Doan's father's Clermont County junkyard.

        On Sept. 3, 1996 search dogs detected a “strong indication” of the victim there, according to tes timony Monday from search-dog trainer Ben Lunsford, then of the Clermont County Sheriff's Department.

        But the pond wasn't drained until the following day and wasn't secured in the interim.

        “We had the opportunity to have Carrie's body, and we lost that,” Mrs. Culberson said during a recess Monday. “I know Carrie's body and soul are separate. But it was that body that I held in my arms. I need to know what happened.”

        The five-women, three-men jury must consider by a “preponderance of evidence” that the Culberson family's claim is more likely true than false. It is a lower standard than in criminal cases.

        Attorney Lawrence Barbiere, representing Blanchester, declined comment Monday.

        His cross-examination of Mr. Lunsford will continue this morning.

        Mr. Lunsford testified Monday before U.S. Judge S. Arthur Spiegel that he told Blanchester Police Chief Richard Payton to “keep searching, not stopping.” He added that Clermont County officials offered to help secure the scene until a search warrant was obtained.

        Mr. Lunsford said of Chief Payton's response: “All I know is we were thanked for our assistance and that we wouldn't be needed anymore.”

        Former Chief Payton, who is expected to testify this afternoon, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty after prosecutors agreed to drop two felony counts of obstruction of justice. The chief was fined, received a suspended jail sentence and was placed on a one-year probation.

        He left the force and is reportedly living in Florida.

        Mr. Doan's half-brother, Tracey Baker, is serving eight years at Ross Correctional Institute in Chillicothe for helping cover up the crime. Mr. Doan's father, Lawrence Baker, was the only defendant acquitted in court.

        He was charged with obstructing justice and tampering with evidence.

       



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