Sunday, June 13, 2004

Murder case has lingered since 1974

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A Butler County murder case pending for 30 years illustrates how a suspect's tape-recorded statement can affect a case.

Donald Lee Korn, 59, faces a retrial Monday in the July 13, 1974, slaying of his former landlady, Mildred Ruth Doench of Fairfield Township. The 72-year-old retired principal of Hamilton's Hayes Elementary School was found raped and stabbed to death.

Six months after the fatal stabbing, Korn made a tape-recorded admission that led to his 1977 conviction in Doench's death. But two years later, an appeals court overturned that conviction, saying the taped statement showed officers pressed Korn for a confession, ignoring his requests for a lawyer.

For more than two decades, the case lay dormant.

In 2000, the Butler County sheriff's office reopened the case. New evidence, including DNA, culminated in a warrant for Korn's arrest in 2002.

Korn has been behind bars in Indiana since 1976 for raping a woman and slashing her throat. A parole hearing is set for 2005.

In this week's retrial, Korn's old confession could be used to call into question the truthfulness of any new statements he makes, said Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper. "With or without the confession, we're going to go forward," he said

Korn's lawyer, J. Gregory Howard, noted that testimony from Korn's first trial will be read aloud in court from some witnesses who are now dead or could not be located.

"I think both sides have an uphill battle in a case that's 30 years old," he said.

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