Nation - Oklahoma DA seeking death penalty in 1986 murder case Anonymous phone call clears up how girl was killed

By Nolan Clay

The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An anonymous phone call about a prison confession is the latest twist in an infamous Oklahoma City murder case that long went unsolved.

Because of the anonymous phone call, prosecutors now plan to seek the death penalty against Kyle Richard Eckardt, 45, a drifter. They are asking a judge for permission to give a jury that option.

Prosecutors told the judge they now can justify seeking a death sentence because they have new insight from the call. They wrote in a legal motion they have information about exactly how Kathy Sue Engle was killed in 1986.

Prosecutors had not sought the death penalty earlier because Engle's body was so decomposed it was unclear how she was killed and whether she was sexually assaulted.

Eckardt is accused of killing the Yukon woman after abducting her outside Shepherd Mall on April 23, 1986. Eckardt was charged in August with first-degree murder after DNA evidence from the victim's abandoned car linked him to the crime. He has denied involvement.

Prosecutors explained to the judge their lead investigator in May identified a second suspect, Steven A. Boerner, a long-dead ex-convict from Michigan. Boerner was linked by a fingerprint on the steering wheel of the victim's car.

Then the investigator, Mike Burke, learned about the anonymous phone call to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in April 2007.

The caller claimed he and Boerner had been in a Jackson, Mich., prison together. "Mr. Boerner had confided in the caller that in the 1980s he and another man had kidnapped a girl in Oklahoma from around a store and took her and her vehicle," prosecutors told the judge in the legal filing.

"According to Mr. Boerner, he drove the car while the other man raped the victim. Mr. Boerner had further told the caller that he and the other man took the woman out into the country and 'cut her throat,'" prosecutors wrote. "The information provided by the anonymous caller is consistent with the existing evidence in this case."

Prosecutors told the judge "this newly discovered evidence gives us insight into the horrific final hours of Ms. Engle's life, the depravity and cruelty of the defendant towards Ms. Engle and the precise manner in which the defendant executed the murder of Kathy Sue Engle."

The caller's information was not connected to the Engle case at the time of the call, prosecutor Jimmy Harmon told The Oklahoman.

Police knew two men were involved in Engle's killing because other mall customers witnessed the kidnapping. Engle, 41, was a mother of two and worked as a computer systems analyst.

The victim's bloody car, a 1981 Dodge Colt, was found at a New Mexico truck stop, two days after the kidnapping.

Engle's nude and bound body was found a week after the kidnapping. The body was in a meadow in far western Oklahoma near Interstate 40.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said the anonymous caller's information will be given to an out-of-state decomposition expert to see if the expert can confirm it from reports and photos of the body.

The expert then could become a witness at the trial.

At trial, jurors are unlikely to hear anything directly about what the anonymous caller told the OSBI, prosecutors said.

Boerner became a cross-country truck driver after his release from a Michigan prison. Boerner died in 1992 in a trucking accident in Pennsylvania. He was 33.

Prosecutors have to ask a judge's permission to seek the death penalty because Eckardt already has had his post-preliminary hearing arraignment.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals requires prosecutors to disclose before or at arraignment whether the death penalty will be sought.

The rule is so defense attorneys have enough time to prepare. The appeals court said a trial judge can "extend this time but should use its sound discretion in so doing."

District Judge Lisa Davis scheduled a hearing for Aug. 18 on the request.

Prosecutors said they and defense attorneys will ask the judge to set the trial for sometime next spring.

Published: Tue, Jun 29, 2010