More on the killer Michael St. ClairWidow Seeks Justice In N.M. 20 Years Later
Timothy Keeling, 22, was working as a paramedic in Denver and trying to sell his pickup in 1991 when two men saw the “for sale” sign and asked if they could take it for a test drive.
Keeling ended up dead hours later just outside Clayton, shot in the back and the neck. His truck was found on fire a few days later near Louisville, Ky., and Keeling’s death was quickly linked to a deadly cross-country crime spree by two jail escapees from Oklahoma who went on to shoot a police officer and kill another man in Kentucky.
In the 20 years since she became a young widow, Lisa Keeling (now Lisa Hill) has moved away from Colorado, remarried and spent a lot of time in courtrooms in Kentucky – testifying and offering moral support to the family of the other man killed by the Oklahoma escapees later in their crime spree. The two were tried and retried, and after multiple appeals, one of them received a life sentence and one, just this month, was sentenced to death.
But she hasn’t spent a day in a New Mexico court, because no one was ever prosecuted in connection with her husband’s death in New Mexico.
Hill told me on the phone from Texas, where she now lives, that during the latest Kentucky court proceeding – a weeklong resentencing after a successful appeal – it occurred to her that she had spent a lot of time and emotional energy in court but had never had the opportunity to help bring justice on behalf of her own family.
“There is a healing that comes with that,” she said. A healing that she hasn’t had and feels is her due.
“The light finally came on,” she said, and she asked, “Why didn’t New Mexico ever do anything?”
She asked me to find out why New Mexico never brought Dennis Reese and Michael St. Clair to trial for the murder of her husband.
After weeks of inquiries that involved tracking down and interviewing a dozen current and retired police officers and court personnel, I have to say it’s not clear.
A lot of people remember the case, including the first police officers who responded to the lonely crime scene and the lead criminal investigator who eventually filed murder charges against the two.
But Donald Gallegos, the district attorney for the three-county region that includes Keeling’s murder scene, had never heard of the case when I called him and relayed Lisa Hill’s request that he resurrect it and bring it to trial.
After digging through old papers, his staff in Clayton finally located a case file in a dusty storage locker: Charges dismissed. A handwritten note by a deputy district attorney alluded to prison sentences pending against the two in other states as the reason for New Mexico bowing out.
Closed and forgotten. That is exactly what Lisa Hill feared she would find when she contacted the newspaper – and the governor -looking for answers.
Reese and St. Clair are bona fide bad guys. Reese escaped as he was awaiting trial for strangling and beating a woman to death. St. Clair was serving time for killing his uncle and the hit man he hired to kill his uncle when he escaped.
Reese has two life sentences to serve in Oklahoma and one in Kentucky. St. Clair has four life sentences to serve in Oklahoma, along with a life sentence in Kentucky and the death sentence he just received there.
You might think New Mexico’s would be a fairly straightforward case against them. Reese gave authorities a detailed statement about the escape, the kidnappings and murders. He said he and St. Clair forced Keeling into the truck cab with them and drove toward Dallas, stopping on the highway between Springer and Clayton so St. Clair and Keeling could relieve themselves.
Reese told the New Mexico State Police investigator who filed charges that he remained in the truck and heard a gunshot, then heard Keeling yell, “Oh, God” before a second shot was fired.
Toby Dolan was one of the New Mexico State Police officers who responded to the crime scene after state Transportation Department workers found Keeling’s body by the side of the road. He retired last year, and he’s got a keen memory.
Although the medical investigator’s report surmised Keeling might have been killed elsewhere and his body dumped on the side of U.S. 56, Dolan says that wasn’t the case.
“Based on the evidence at the scene, I believe Tim was shot near the right-of-way fence,” Dolan said. “He then crawled toward the highway, probably in an attempt to be seen by a passing car.”
He said it appeared Keeling crawled more than 20 feet. “There was blood on both of his sides, indicating that he flipped from side to side as he was crawling. There was a blood trail through the grass where he crawled,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Tim was shot right there, just as Reese said in his statement.”
Reese also related that when St. Clair returned to the truck, he joked there must have been something wrong with his gun because it took two shots to kill Keeling. Later, Reese said St. Clair told him shooting people was like shooting dogs – “Once you killed one, the rest was easy.”
St. Clair denies he was ever even in New Mexico, and he stood up in the courtroom in Kentucky last month, looked at Hill and told her, “Lady, I didn’t kill your husband.”
Hill would like to be able to sit in the courtroom and watch the state of New Mexico challenge that boast.
Gallegos said that might still happen.
“I’m very willing to do that if the evidence is there, if the file is there, if everything we need is there,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos agreed to review the case and weigh what Hill wants against what is best for the taxpayers.
“Given the fact that they’ve already been sentenced to multiple sentences, including the death penalty, the first criticism is going to be, ‘Why are you wasting resources on an academic pursuit?’” Gallegos said. He added, “Obviously, there’s nothing academic when a person’s life is at issue and the family is still suffering.”
No one has to tell that to Lisa Hill.
“I can’t really heal and I can’t really go on until I understand why wasn’t something done,” Hill told me. “I still love Tim. Ultimately, I think everybody wants for there to be some sort of finality on behalf of your loved ones.”
It’s what Tim’s mother, Alla Keeling, calls “long overdue.”
The young Keelings met in Bible college and were doing youth ministry in Denver when Tim Keeling was killed. According to his kidnapper Reese, whom Hill met with the last time she was in Kentucky, Keeling wasn’t much concerned about himself throughout his ordeal. He spent his last hours praying for his captors.
He seems like the kind of man New Mexico could pay some respect to by bringing his killers to justice.
Charges against the two were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they can be brought again. And there is, after all, no statute of limitations on murder. http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2011/...ars-later.html
Killers freed kill again...and again...and again!