By Patti F. Smith / WLAA
A jury of his peers found Padgett guilty, the judge sentenced him to life in prison. That summer of 1936 saw the convicted criminal transferred from the local jail to a prison in Marquette where he was to quietly serve his time.
The next seven years proved anything but quiet in the life of William Padgett.
Padgett appealed his conviction, taking his case through the appellate court system. In 1943, the Michigan Supreme Court found that Judge Sample’s jury instruction to be prejudicial and granted Padgett a new trial.
A visiting judge was brought to town and a new trial commenced in 1944. Attorneys provided evidence, witnesses testified, the jury deliberated – but there was one key difference in this trial. Eyewitness James Akers was serving his country overseas and unable to attend the trial. Nevertheless, the jury found the defendant guilty and visiting Judge Chenot returned Padgett to Marquette.
Throughout his imprisonment, Padgett insisted that he never came anywhere near Ann Arbor the day of the murder and in fact was in another state. He asked for maps so he could pinpoint his exact location, but juries found that unconvincing. Still, Padgett remained adamant that he did not commit this crime. He took and passed a lie detector test and a truth serum test. (While the examiner said that he could not “find any issues of deception” from Padgett, it should be noted that something Padgett said under the sodium pentothal conflicted with an earlier statement. Until then Padgett maintained that he had never been in Ann Arbor; however, during this test he said that he had passed through the town on a bus.)
In 1948, Padgett appealed his conviction again, claiming new evidence to prove he was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the night of the murder. His attorney also found fault with the failure to produce Akers at trial and with the jury instructions of the visiting judge, who only gave the jury the options of finding Padgett guilty of first degree murder or not guilty.
A key piece of evidence offered in this appeal was a sworn statement from a Harrisburg official indicating that Padgett was given public lodging on March 20, 1935. The murder took place at about 3:00 on March 21, 1935.
Visiting Judge Archie McDonald was brought in to review the case. Judge McDonald ultimately opined to the parole board that while he could not find the defendant “innocent”, he also did not object to having Padgett’s sentence commuted. At the hearing for commutation, a Washtenaw County deputy testified that Padgett was “severely beaten” after his first conviction in 1936. Further, the sheriff’s deputy in charge of administering lie detector tests testified that he believed in Padgett’s innocence. The police chief of Ann Arbor wrote that he “cannot help but feel that Padgett may be innocent.” While Captain Heusel (one of the original investigators) could not say the same he did indicate that he had “no objections to whatsoever having Padgett’s sentence commuted.” Prosecutor Rapp said that he had never been convinced that Padgett wasn’t the shooter but nonetheless deferred to the parole board.
On December 23, 1949, Padgett walked out of prison, having had his sentence commuted by Governor Williams.
After his release, Padgett fades into history. He did approach Mr. Wetherbee in the late 1940s and forgave him his “misidentification” but otherwise stayed out of Michigan choosing to settle in Wisconsin.
No other suspect was ever arrested in this case.