Nine-year-old Jennifer Wilson was on vacation with her family in Flagstaff in June 1988 when she went for a bike ride and never came back.
Hikers found the Yuma girl’s naked, decomposing body three weeks later. She had been kidnapped, molested and fatally bludgeoned. Her hands were tied behind her back with her own shoelace, and her underwear was in a nearby tree. After investigators collected evidence and cleared the scene, her hysterical father insisted on carrying her in a body bag to a waiting helicopter.
Richard Lynn Bible, 49, is set to be put to death for the crimes Thursday. If the 11 a.m. lethal injection at the state prison in Florence goes as planned, he will become the 90th inmate executed by Arizona since 1910, and the 25th to die by injection since the state abandoned the gas chamber 19 years ago.
Bible has always maintained his innocence during his more than two decades on death row, but investigators say the evidence in the case is overwhelming.
Bible failed to win any of his appeals, most recently motions in an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to delay his execution for DNA testing on hairs used as evidence in his trial. He also was denied a reprieve or commutation from Arizona’s clemency board Monday after one board member called him “the worst of the worst.”
Jennifer’s parents have fought for him to be put to death since his conviction, arguing that they’re not seeking revenge, only justice for what they lost.
“I know that if Jennifer had the opportunity to choose life or death, she would have chosen to live,” her mother, Nancy Wilson, said through tears at Bible’s clemency hearing. “That evil creature abducted, brutally raped and brutally murdered our precious 9-year-old daughter Jennifer. He should not be allowed to breathe beyond 11 o’clock Thursday morning.”
Jennifer’s father, Rich Wilson, wrote a letter in 1990 to the judge in Bible’s case before sentencing, saying his other three children were haunted by their sister’s murder, with his oldest daughter Michele repeatedly pleading for a miracle to bring Jennifer home.
Bible has said that he can’t prove himself innocent because he didn’t get a fair trial.
Prosecutors were “looking for an overkill and they had no one else to blame this crime on,” he told a probation officer in 1990. “I didn’t kill her. The real killer is still out there.”
Bible was born in Flagstaff in January 1962 and was the second oldest of four children. His father worked at a natural gas company, his mother was a homemaker, and Bible said he was not abused.
Before Jennifer’s murder, Bible had an extensive criminal history, including serving six years in prison for raping his 17-year-old cousin in 1981. That crime occurred in the same area where Jennifer was killed.
Bible said that after he was released from prison in 1987, he wanted to settle down, get married and stay out of trouble. He dated a woman with a 9-month-old son, and the two had plans for Bible to become the boy’s adoptive father. But the relationship ended after the son was taken away by the state Child Protective Services, and Bible turned to drugs and heavy drinking.
Bible’s attorney, Daniel Maynard, told the clemency board Monday that the execution shouldn’t move forward until hairs found on Jennifer’s T-shirt are tested.
He also insinuated that items including vodka bottles and cigars found with Jennifer’s body, which matched items in Bible’s car, could have been planted by police. Hundreds of people searching for the girl over a three-week period likely would have seen them if they had been there the whole time, Maynard said.
Gerry Blair of the Coconino County sheriff’s office, who investigated Jennifer’s killing, told the clemency board that when Bible was arrested on the day of Jennifer’s disappearance, blood on his shirt matched the girl’s. The blood was in a pattern that indicated it was caused by a bludgeoning, Blair said.
Additionally, hair found at the crime scene matched hair on Bible’s jacket, and in his wallet and vehicle. Blair said it was pulled and cut from Jennifer’s scalp in a unique way that a forensic analyst could not duplicate until he used a pocket knife that Bible had when he was arrested.
Investigators at the time didn’t think DNA testing of the hair would further the case, Blair said.
“There’s just so many pieces of this puzzle, and the only story they tell is that indeed Richard Bible killed Jennifer Wilson,” Blair said.
Many people in Arizona still remember where they were the day Jennifer was found dead, said Blair, who plans to be a witness to Bible’s execution.
“It did have a big impact on the state and also a big impact on Flagstaff and a big impact on Yuma,” he said Wednesday. “It caused a lot of people in Flagstaff to rethink how safe their children were.”
Blair said he wants to be at the execution, his first, to support any of Jennifer’s family members who will be there, and for a small sense of closure for himself.
“This case was that thing of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and through no fault of the child and no fault of the parents, this horrific thing happened to her,” he said. “This is the case I wanted to see to its finality.”
In a presentencing report in 1990, a probation officer wrote that no penalty “can rectify the indignity suffered by the victim’s family or the citizens of Arizona.”
“What was once a happy and prosperous family has been left an empty and grieving shell of its past,” wrote Robert Tomten. “What brought about this change was not only the death of a loved one, but the violent and heinous manner that this loved one was prematurely taken from them.
“In cases such as this, it is not only the family but the community as well as society as a whole who are indeed the true victims,” he said. “The victim in this offense is beyond pain, the living will grieve forever.”