Justice on Main Street
Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Welcome to Crime Raven, real life stories from law enforcement crimes and issues, crime fighters face. This podcast discusses crimes researched using publicly available information or personal recollections. Content may be graphic disturbing or violent, and maybe upsetting to some. Listener discretion is advised.
Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
We introduced you to Calvin Phillips, Pam Phillips, and Ed Dansereau in part one. We presented the investigation into their murders, and the prosecution's case at trial. In part two, we'll share the defense's case and then pull it all together.
The Martin defense began with testimony from Laura Spencer's children who were in high school at the time of the murders. The kids had moved into Martin's Pembroke home with their mother in late summer of 2013. They lived with him for just over two years. Laura's now adult children testified that on November 18th, 2015, they were out of the house in school and later extracurricular activities. They didn't return home until 9:00 PM. Both Spencer children gave the same account saying that when they arrived home on the night of the 18th, Martin and their mother were together in the upstairs den, watching TV. They said that the rest of their evening was spent on homework and social media in their rooms before sleeping. Laura's kids noted that the house was old and creaky, and if Martin had left the house during the night and he hadn't, they would have heard him.
When Laura Spencer took the stand, she gave a similar account of time as her children. For two years, they lived with Martin and Martin daughter on South Main Street. Laura said she didn't know anything about the murders when they happened. Still, Laura said she was cooperative with the police and gave them codes for phones and devices. Laura was asked to go over what she recalled from November 18th through the 20th in 2015. Some of her recollections were refreshed by statements she had given to police on December 3rd, 2015, following the murders. Laura said that on November 18th, the kids went to school in the morning and were gone until 9:00 PM. Martin came home at 5:30 PM and he had flowers to celebrate their anniversary. She said that they ate dinner, watch TV, and went to sleep between 10 and 11:00 PM. She noticed nothing unusual about the evening.
Laura recalled that the following day, November 19 was also typical. She thinks that she spent most of the day at home alone. Martin went to work at 9:00 AM. He probably came home in the afternoon to drive Laura's daughter to horse riding instructions at 4, about 45 minutes away in Tennessee.
On November 20, Laura said she was hanging around the house cleaning and doing laundry. At around 11:00 AM, a Police, SWAT team suddenly entered the house. At first, she didn't know what was happening. Laura said she heard a breaking window and someone yelling. She said she ran out of the house, traumatized, saying she was sure that they were there to kill her. Laura was emotional as she recounted this story, shaking with her hands over her face. The defense attorney asked who she thought was there to kill her, and Laura cried out "Joan Harmon!"
When questioning continued, Laura revealed that the family lived in hotels after the police search warrant for a couple of weeks. They had a rental in Hopkinsville for awhile, and they later moved to North Carolina. In one of the last questions Laura was asked, she said that it was true that Calvin Phillips was going to be a witness for Martin in the court martial
Martins, adult daughter, Amanda Flag, lived with Martin in the Pembroke house, when the marriage to Joan Harmon ended. Amanda told the jury that Joan and her dad had regularly argued before the breakup. During the decisive argument in 2012, Martin told Joan that he wanted a divorce. Amanda said that Joan told Martin she would ruin him and his military. After that Amanda and her father left the house and had to stay away for three weeks. They were allowed to go back after a court hearing. They arrived at the South Main Street house to find that Joan had taken everything personal property and animals. Amanda said for a time after that, Joan had regularly harassed them. They found tire slashed and dead animals in the mailbox.
Catherine Foster was fresh out of law school and a newly minted Commonwealth's Attorney in 2012, when she prosecuted Joan Harmon for bigamy. She said that Martin was the victim in her case against Harmon. Harmon had not followed the process required to obtain a legal divorce decree before marrying Martin. US Army JAG Officer Major Garrett had called Catherine Foster about the Martin court-martial. Catherine said that Major Garrett pressured her not to prosecute Joan Harmon because she was a witness in the Army's case. Foster asserted that Garrett tried to influence the bigamy case, and that was unusual and unprofessional. Still, she admitted on cross examination, the discussion of defendants and witnesses by prosecutors from different jurisdictions was common.
Lisa Petrie testified that she was the manager of LNR soda bar in the tiny community of Elkton, Kentucky. She said that most of the workers at LNR were locals and she managed around 25 people, seven to eight on each shift. One of the waitresses she worked with was Joan Harmon. Lisa also knew Joan Harmon from the local school where Joan's kids attended and Lisa helped out part-time as a teacher's aid. Lisa was called to testify by the defense because of a report that she had filed with the police. In the police statement, Lisa said that after the Pembroke murders, Joan Harmon's demeanor had changed. She came to work happy and excited. Lisa thought it was strange, disturbing behavior.
Ken Buckner is a home improvement and remodeling contractor who lives and works in the Pembroke area. He'd done upgrade projects on both the Martin and Phillips homes. Ken testified that he once saw Joan Harmon carrying a concealed pistol, and that he worked on the Phillips home in the weeks after the murders. Buckner complained that he had arrived to find the house open and equipment moved during the project on some mornings. He said he didn't feel safe working there, so he quit. On cross examination, the prosecutor asked the Ken about working on Martin's house. He said that he had done some work on the front of the house, which included fixing the front door.
Ken Murray's trucking company, employees Williams Stokes, who was Joan Harmon's boyfriend at the time of the murders. Murray testified that based on his records on November 18th, 2015, William Stokes took a truckload of lumber from Elkton to Bowling Green. This trip generally takes two hours plus 30 minutes to unload. Stokes logged no other work that day. Murray said that he gave the Christian County Sheriff's Office the schedule documents for Stokes after they'd served him with a subpoena.
Doris Stokes is the brother of William Stokes. He was a volunteer firefighter in Christian County for about seven years, and over that time went on many call-outs. On November 19 he responded to both the Rosetown Road car fire, and later to Phillip's residence. In further questioning, Doris said that he has been friends with Joan Harmon in the past.
Ed Stokes testified that he is the brother of Doris and William, but that he doesn't talk to any of his brothers regularly. Ed worked for Christian County Sheriff's Office for 17 years. On April 17th, 2013, he was working in the Sheriff's Office when Martin came in with a court order to release weapons seized following the disturbance at the Martin's house. Ed Stokes had the paperwork for the transaction and item number three on the form is a Glock 21, the suspected murder weapon in 2015. Several 22 caliber weapons, and a shotgun were also returned to Martin at that time. Ed said that in 2015, he was also one of the responding officers for the Rosetown Road car fire, and also went to the Phillips residence to help with the search warrant service. While there Ed was asked by a commander to leave the Phillips house to avoid possible family conflict because his brother, William, was in a relationship with John Harmon.
Katherine Demps is Martin civil attorney who represented him in the divorce. She filed for an annulment of the marriage because Joan could not produce any record of a divorce decree from her first marriage. It turned out that Harmon was not married to Martin because she'd never divorced her last husband, which ultimately ended and Joan's bigamy conviction. In 2015, Demps said that she drafted the document, allowing power of attorney to Laura Spencer on November 16th, 2015. Demps noted that she and Martin communicated regularly and exchanged emails on the morning of November 18, starting at 9:00 AM and into the evening around 9:00 PM. On November 19, they emailed each other in the morning and periodically throughout the day, starting at 9:00 AM. Demps also represented Martin for part of the court-martial.
The defense recalled Lieutenant Smith from the Christian County Sheriff's Office. They showed him clips of the CCTV video for Martin's home, focusing on specific clips that he had not shown in his earlier presentation. The defense was able to clarify that the prosecution case left out some of Martin's movements on the 18th. Some of these omissions could have given the false impression that Martin returned to the house when a corresponding departure was not shown. This happened because only one channel of the multiplex system was shown to the jury during the prosecution's case. Basically the defense was showing that at best, the police portrayal in the video is incomplete and at worse, deliberately misleading.
As the defense presentation came to a close Martin, took the stand. He immediately denied any participation in the murders. Then the defense attorney led Martin through a chronological account of his adult life. Martin story started with him enlisting in the Army. He served from ranks E1 to E5, and then attended college in an ROTC program. Upon graduation, Martin received a commission, the start of three years of active duty flying helicopters. He then transferred to the Army Guard. After 9-11, Martin's request to return to active duty was granted. He served three combat tours in Iraq as a Battalion Commander. In 2016, after Martin was discharged from the Army, he wanted to continue working in aviation. So he went through a fixed-wing transition course and became an airline pilot. The defense attorney asked him a series of questions centered around when he lived in Pembroke. He and Joan bought the property in an auction. The house was in serious need of maintenance. Still, it was reasonably close to the base and sat on two and a half acres, which appealed to them because they'd always dreamed of raising farm animals. Martin said that the remodel of the house started right away and was always in progress while he occupied it. The front door was warped and never worked correctly. So he nailed it in place, hoping eventually it would unwarp. Martin said the front door was never used. Instead, everything was done out the back door through the screen porch. The house was old and it didn't have adequate insulation. So it was cold in the winter. He used a kerosene heater as a supplemental heat source and had just purchased a new one in the fall of 2015. November 18th, 2015 was the first time he used it. And that is why he set an alarm that would wake him up in the middle of the night so he could check on the heater.
Martin met Joan online. She told him that she ran away from her husband because he was abusive to her and the kids. Martin was under the impression that she'd been divorced for a while. The relationship progressed and they had a courthouse ceremony in 2004. They were together for nine years and married for eight. Martin said that towards the end of the relationship, Joan began to act weird. She became controlling and he noticed that she was lying. She changed key points in stories about her life that she had told over the years. He said, Joan didn't work. She didn't want to work, which was part of the problem. As things went downhill, they tried counseling, but the problems persisted. Martin said the marriage with Joan ended in 2012. On the night they separated Joan stormed around the house, making accusations. He tried not to fight in front of the kids and he tried to walk away, but she followed him. Martin told her that he wanted a divorce and she told him that if he left, she would ruin his life and enumerated how she was going to do that. They both called the police. When the police arrived and sorted the stories out, Martin agreed to leave for the night. He and his daughter stayed at a hotel. The next day, when he returned to the house, he was served with a DV restraining order. And part of that order was the couldn't return home. Martin went to a court hearing two weeks later during which his request to return home was granted. Martin described that Joan had taken everything except the heaviest furniture. He added, "which the cops eventually smashed". Joan even took all the animals. His personal dog, a German shepherd named Sarge was brought back to him from Joan's by Ken Buckner. Sarge had a broken leg and was obviously malnourished. The vet told him it was the worst case of abuse he'd ever seen.
The defense attorney asked Martin questions about the neighborhood and the neighbors. He said that his relationship with Calvin Phillips was initially cordial. They socialized shooting guns in the Phillip's backyard; went to an antique car festival. Martin said Joan spent more time with Calvin than he did. He knew Pam worked long hours going to work very early and coming home late Martin reasserted the claim that Calvin would give testimony at the court martial favorable to Martin. He said that his private investigator had an interview to that effect that it had been broadcast on a local TV news channel. This testimony was meant to imply that there was a recorded interview of Calvin by the private investigator.
Martin described Ed as a good guy who had a regular schedule out of town. He also knew that Ed was a musician and played piano well.
The defense attorney reviewed some of the prosecution evidence, which Martin generally dismissed, saying the expert testimony showed he was not guilty. Martin said that the timing of the power of attorney was not suspicious. He wanted Laura to have it in case anything happened to him. Martin had issued power of attorney whenever he was on Army deployment. When Martin looked at the dog tag that was found in Phillip's house, he denied it was ever his. He said he'd had numerous dog tags over the years and had given some to his kids, but no one else. He pointed to the string and said he would never have one on a string.
Martin talked about his arrest at the Louisville airport. He would be the pilot on a departing flight. And he was arrested just after passing through security. He was incensed, saying the seamless chaotic. Martin was angry that it happened in public where passengers could see what was happening.
The cross examination of Martin began with a brief recap of Martin's time in the Army. Martin had attended Ranger School and the prosecutor asked him to give details about that training. Martin said it was a strenuous course that lasted three to four months. It mainly involved training in small unit tactics and leadership while navigating challenging terrain.
The prosecutor continued the questioning by asking Martin about employment the defense had omitted. Martin said that he had worked for GCI maintaining cellular and internet networks in Kentucky.
Questioning turned to Martin's two marriages. Martin said that he was married to his first wife, Stacy from 1991 to 2004 and they'd had three children. Stacy asked for a divorce in March 2004, but their relationship had been good since. The prosecutor challenged Martin on this assertion, presenting a copy of a letter that he had written to the State of Tennessee Child Support Enforcement. In the letter, he complained that Stacy was calling and emailing repeatedly threatening him. Martin was asked to read the most vitriolic parts of the letter. During that part of the testimony, Martin appeared agitated. He denied remembering anything about the situation or writing the letter.
Martin had met Joan Harmon through an online service around June 2004. They exchanged emails and texts before meeting in person and Joan moved in with him at Fort Rucker, Alabama, within a few months. Martin said that the marriage to Joan was good for several years through several assignments in Fort Rucker, in Germany, and in Rhode Island where he attended school. The relationship took a turn after they moved to Pembroke in July 2011. By summer of 2012, their relationship had badly deteriorated. After they separated, Martin said he didn't know where Joan moved to, but he did see her around Pembroke from time to time. He denied knowing that Joan stayed with the Phillips across the street for some time after she moved out of the house. Martin met Laura Spencer online in November within two weeks of Joan leaving. Laura Spencer had been just widowed in October 2012.
When the prosecutor asked Martin about what he knew about Calvin Phillips and his role in the court-marshall, Martin was evasive denying knowing the extent of Calvin's role. He did assert that Calvin was going to testify for him, clearly meaning that Calvin would give testimony favorable to Martin's case. The prosecutor challenged him on this, but Martin was insistent and denied his defense strategy was to discredit Calvin. The prosecutor then handed Martin a copy of the defense's reasoning for calling Phillips submitted before the court-marshall. Martin was asked to read it, and it clearly stated that Calvin was being summoned to refute inconsistent statements that he had made. The defense alleged that Calvin was one of the instigators in the investigation and had a motive to fabricate evidence. In follow-up questioning Martin admitted that Calvin was subpoenaed each time the court martial was reset. He also knew that the trial was going to proceed on December 1st.
At the prosecutor's request, Martin gave his account of what he did on November 18th, 2015. When the kids left her school, he was alone at his house until he drove to Fort Campbell at 9:00 AM. Martin was at work for most of the day. He picked up some things for their anniversary and arrived back home about 4:15 PM. Laura was there when he arrived. The Spencer kids returned home briefly, but then left for a group activity. He claims to have not noticed anything happening around the Phillip's home that day.
On November 19th, Martin noticed police activity around the Phillip's house. He said he talked to his lawyer and his private investigator that afternoon. The private investigator asked him about his weapons. Usually, Martin kept a Glock 45, his 22 and a 38 in the back passenger area of his truck. The PI told him to move his Glock from the truck to the safe, because Joan Harmon might still have a key to the truck. Martin denied that any of his guns had been used. He further disputed that the experts had left open the possibility that one of his 22s fired the fatal bullets, but acknowledged that the casing on the porch was from his Glock. He insisted that that casing was planted evidence.
At the end of the testimony in a criminal trial, each side can sum up and draw conclusions from the body of information presented. The defense goes first. In the Martin trial, the defense attorney gave a lengthy oration along a simple theme. There was no real evidence. And where evidence existed, it had been planted by Joan Harmon, or was ordinary behavior interpreted to look sinister.
With the no evidence theme, the defense had several areas to point to. First, there were no bullet matches. There was no compelling trace evidence match, no hairs, no fingerprints, no DNA. Any evidence that existed was tainted by the chain of custody. The police didn't find the casing or the 22 bullet because those were planted after the fact, which was possible because the crime scene was not secure in the weeks and months after the murders. The defense attorney labeled two items as desperate attempts to plant evidence. He said the dog tag and the court-martial subpoena, positioned as if on display on Calvin's desk, were ridiculous. Obviously intended to steer the investigation away from the real killer.
The last night Martin and Joan were together, she told him that she was going to ruin his life. Joan's manipulation of Calvin initiated the court-martial proceeding. When it looked like the court-martial wasn't enough, Joan killed Calvin and staged things to frame Martin. That Joan is evil can be seen in her actions. She's an abuser of animals. She almost killed Martin's dog, Sarge.
Joan Martin may have had help in those killings on South Main Street. Her boyfriend, William Stokes only worked two and a half hours on November 18th, and William's brothers were involved in the response and investigation of the murders.
The Phillips family was involved in getting Martin falsely accused of murder. This led to a string of injustices against Martin. The victim's families hired in New York city attorney to advise them on how to get charges filed. They met with politicians to increase the pressure on law enforcement. According to the defense attorney, this pressure led to a lousy indictment by a grand jury that was presented with false information. This flawed indictment has been followed by prosecution errors, like an inaccurate timeline.
At this point, the defense attorneys showed John Homack's surveillance video of his parking area. The north face and cameras showed wisps of white smoke from left to right around 11:50 PM. The defense asserted that It was a smoke from the car fire that happened two hours before the prosecution presented.
According to the defense attorney, the remaining evidence was just Martin living his everyday life made to seem sinister by reverse engineering. Martin could not have been walking in the field when Matlock saw him, but if he ever had been Martin walked his dog regularly. The gaps in the cell record were just when he happened to not be using his phone. Martin led an organized life. He bought a new kerosene heater and he set an alarm to check to see if it was working in the middle of the night. Even if kerosene was used in the car fire off Rosetown Road, it's commonly used for heating throughout the region.
The defense used the example of Martin being very organized to assert that he couldn't have committed the crime because whoever did was sloppy. They went back to the scene repeatedly, moving things around. Martin wouldn't do those things.
And the final point the defense made was that it didn't make sense that Martin would commit the crime because he had no motive. Calvin wasn't going to testify against him. Instead, he would flip and testify in favor of the defense
Prosecution's closing was focused on why and how Martin killed three of his neighbors. Martin had the means, the opportunity, and the motive. No one else did the crime because no one else needed or wanted to. For motive, Martin faced a fast approaching court-martial that would end his military career. He had hired two private investigators to dig up dirt to trash the witnesses and stop the trial. And they'd been unsuccessful.
Another motivating factor was that Martin wanted revenge. The neighbor, a fellow Army guy living just across the street had betrayed him by helping Joan move out. The disloyalty was compounded when Calvin turned over evidence to the FBI. Calvin sensed this when he told people he knew that he thought Martin would try to harm him.
Martin had the means to carry out the murders, not only in terms of equipment, but also know-how. The prosecutor said that the crime was cold-blooded, calculated, military-style execution. Martin had the training and the capacity to do this. He had trained in over land navigation. The car dumpsite across the field was less than two miles from the house. He had reconned the dump area. Mr. Matlock saw him there. Martin knew how cell services worked. So he left his phone at home because he knew it would be tracked.
And Martin had the opportunity. He knew the schedules of the victims. He lived just across the street from the murder scene. Martin's alibi was that he was inside his home all the time with his family. And it doesn't hold up when you watch the backdoor video. On it, he goes in and out alone several times, even late into the evening when his girlfriend and her kids say he couldn't have left without their notice.
The prosecution presented the Martin defense as a made-up conspiracy. .Joan Harmon and William Stokes are diversions. There was no conspiracy by the Stokes brothers, no police conspiracy, no prosecutorial conspiracy, no conspiracy by the Phillips family against Martin.
The crime was all about Martin killing Calvin as revenge and to keep him from testifying. The murders of Pam and Ed were just collateral damage. The defense's assertion that there's no evidence was wrong. The state of Kentucky trace analyst testified four hairs found in Ed's car were similar in color and microscopic detail to Martin. They just weren't in the quantity or long enough for the mitochondrial DNA match at the FBI lab. Martin cleaned up the scene well, but he missed a critical piece of evidence. The 45 was fired from his Glock. It was missed by police officers for the same reason that Martin missed it. It had come to rest in a hidden place.
The prosecutor said that the defense had manufactured an answer for every question. Martin couldn't have gone outside from the front door because it was screwed shut. Well, if the door was screwed, shut why the special door block? He had to set the alarm to check on the kerosene heater that just happened to be in use for the first time? Martin wasn't Ed's friend. He never went to any of the parties with Ed. Calvin Phillips hadn't suddenly flipped to testify in favor of Martin. That's a lie.
The prosecutor then presented the timeline for the crimes that began on November 18th, 2015. Between five and 6:00 AM. Laura Spencer went to work. Between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM Spencer's kids went to school. At 7:00 AM, Pam Phillips went to work. Between 7:37 AM and 9:03 AM, that was Martin's window to kill Calvin. He lit a fire, but it didn't spread. At 9:50 AM, Martin logged on to his computer at Fort Campbell. At 10:00 AM, the appliance delivery van arrived at the Phillips house, but nobody answered the door. So they called Pam, but she couldn't reach Calvin by phone either. At 2:00 PM. Marlene Larock stopped by Pam and Cal's house. The door was open, but nobody was answering. At 3:32 Martin logged off of his computer at Fort Campbell. And at 4:14 PM, Martin arrived home. Between 4:53 PM and 6:07 PM was Martin's window to kill Pam and Ed when he had no cell phone activity. At 5:02 PM, Pam left the bank and called Ed. At 5:30 PM, Martin sets about finishing what didn't go right in the morning. He shoots Pam because Marlene Larock heard her scream. He shoots Ed who probably heard the shots that killed Pam. At 6:00 PM, there was no response when Marlene Larock yelled into the Phillips open door, and at 7:00 PM, Marlene, Larock returned, and the Phillips house was closed up and dark, but Pam's car had been backed up to the house. At 11:23 PM, Martin set his phone alarm for 1:10 AM, so he could dispose of the bodies. At 2:10 AM, the neighbors Jet and Homack woke to explosions, off Rosetown Road. Sometime on the morning of November 19th, Pam cell phone begins to ping east of Pembroke near Todd County. At 8:42 AM, Jet saw the car that had been burned and called 911. And at 1:55 PM Calvin's body was discovered.
The prosecutor concluded that the fire under Phillip's house was meant to burn everything. And when it didn't Martin had to fix it. Maybe he planned to re-light the fire. But Pam came home early. After getting rid of the car and the bodies, Martin drove Ed's car to Joan's, where he left, Pam cell phone. He drove back and left Ed's car at the elementary school in Pembroke. Martin's mission was accomplished. Without Calvin to testify, when the court martial went forward, six months later, instead of getting years, Martin got 90 days.
Marcy: Mark is here, and we're going to discuss this case. And after all of that, what was the verdict in the murder trial?
Mark: Martin was guilty and all charges, including several aggravators.
Marcy: And the sentence?
Mark: So he got life without parole on the multiple murder counts and max sentences on the other lesser counts.
Marcy: Talk about why you chose to cover this crime.
Mark: It pinged my radar for three reasons.
First, the arrest coverage. Martin was an airline pilot arrested in uniform. as he was about to board a flight. I have a bunch of pilots in my family. I've been surrounded by pilots my whole life. My grandfather was an Air Force pilot who flew in Vietnam and for an airline. My dad was in the Air Force. I lived on an Air Force bases has growing up. I got a private pilot's license from my grandfather's flight school before I was 18. So initially I was like an Army officer? An airline pilot? A triple murderer? That doesn't sound right. Second. I recently bought a farm in Kentucky. So I'm interested in what law enforcement is doing here. And third, when I started reading about the case, the controversies were like a rip current that pulled me deeper and deeper in.
Marcy: Let's talk about those controversies. Martin got really bent out of shape about when and where he was arrested. And his accusation was that the police and politicians made this arrest for maximum visibility, like political grandstand.
Mark: Yeah, it might look like that, but here's why I don't think that criticism is legitimate. At the time of his arrest. He was living in North Carolina. He was arrested when he was flying out of the airport in Louisville, Kentucky. That avoided the necessity of an extradition.
As far as the accusation that the arrest was meant to be public embarrassing or a public spectacle, I can tell you if I were making this arrest, I would have done it the same way. Think about it, you know where he's going to be, when he's going to be there. And he just went through a security screening. The very public arrest isn't optimum, but it never gets better than knowing when somebody's there, and that that target has been just screened in his unarmed.
Marcy: In the months after the murders, the Phillips family became increasingly concerned that there was no progress on the case. So they began contacting people they thought could help. What do you think about that kind of influence in an investigation?
Mark: Yeah, I think it's understandable. Think about it from their perspective, you know, they're going through the house, cleaning it out and they're finding multiple pieces of evidence just laying around It had to shake their confidence in the investigators, particularly as time pass and nothing was happening.
So I've handled investigations that had victim pressure, you know, almost any major investigation has victim pressure, and some that had political pressure. I've also had cases that died on the vine - cases where you're missing that compelling piece. The pressure is just part of the job. The real problem for an investigator is gathering enough evidence so you can sell a prosecutor on its success. That's the dying on the vine part.
A good investigator- prosecutor relationship is one of mutual trust and respect. Some cases never get off the ground, but for those, where I was approaching critical mass, I would take the file to the DA's office and make the pitch. The response was often, you know, I need you to get this or go nail down that, make sure the witnesses are available. It was always a negotiation. And you could tell when the prosecutors were getting excited, the ones that got excited were the ones you loved as a investigator.
Marcy: So the prosecutors in this case couldn't have been happy about the missed evidence.
Mark: No, I'm assuming that was part of the delay, trying to sort all that out, that and the wait for an analysis of all the, evidence.
Marcy: You found the victim's family testimony very sympathetic. Uh, then the defense attorney made snide comments about them hiring a New York city attorney and talking to politicians. Do you think that was an effective ploy for the defense?
Mark: Yeah. The political controversy sounds good if you don't get into the details. Matt Phillips met with, who was then the Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, talked about the case with him. By the time of the trial, Andy Beshear became Governor. The implication for the people that believe in this controversy was that Democrat, Andy Beshear rode this case into the Governor's mansion.
That sounds good. But the next Attorney General, Daniel Cameron who's a Republican, and oversaw the prosecution of this case. Well, he's definitely not a supporter of Governor Andy Beshear. He could have dismissed the case, but he didn't. The case continued on
Politically, a case like this can be a double-edged sword. Was charging Martin a popular move? I don't know. If a case is a rushed piece of crap and there's an acquittal, does a politician look bad? I don't know.
Marcy: The defense put forth a theory about a grand conspiracy by the real murderers. Can you explain a little bit more about that?
Mark: The defense and supporters have run a very public campaign and the conspiracy goes like this: Joan Harmon, and her boyfriend, William Stokes, committed the murders to a) pin them on Martin in the effort to seek retribution and ruin his life, or b) silence Calvin Phillips, who is going to change his testimony in the upcoming court-martial. In this scenario, Joan Harmon needed a successful court-martial to collect government money. An essential part of this conspiracy is that to get away with the crimes, William Stokes enlisted his brothers both in the Sheriff's department and the fire department to influence their respective organizations. Conspiracy was a key element of the defense. And I'll talk more about its effects later.
Marcy: Many of the questions I initially had with this case had to do with the evidence that either wasn't found or found in a wonky way. So is the evidence a problem in this case?
Mark: Yes, it's true there were evidence problems in this investigation. Some of the things that are missing are pretty basic. So that's true. There are things that really didn't come up in the court that I was surprised about. I was surprised that they were able to get a search warrant for Martin's house on day two, seemingly without interviewing him. He was the obvious suspect, but suspicion isn't enough. There are a lot of strong suspects in cases whose homes are never searched because probable cause does not exist.
Marcy: The police didn't interview Martin before the search warrants?
Mark: I don't think so. And the day of the search warrants day two of the investigation, they had him detained on base. According to Martin, he was taken to a remote location and starved. There were some basic things that procedurally were different than the way I think most investigations would be run.
Marcy: Can you give us an example of that?
Mark: Going through a suspect's house gets their attention. It's a perfect time to sit them down and say, Hey, give us your side of the story. We might've missed. You can get a read on the subject, even if he doesn't give an interview. And if he does, you have him pinned to a basic story. There's no indication that that happened from the trial testimony and you should see questioning that indicates other basic preliminary evidence gathering if that happened.
Marcy: What else do you think was missing?
Mark: The other thing that gets a suspect's attention is a body search warrant. In a case like this you'd want to take over all photographs of the suspect's body and obtain DNA from the get go. As the detective, you're trying to say to the suspect, a judge has found probable cause that allows us to search your house and scrutinize your body. Let's talk. Keep in mind, Calvin was badly beaten. We need to know what the defendant's hands and arms look like. If you have a suspect with corresponding injuries, you gather that evidence. He's also more inclined to give you a bullshit story about how suspicious bruises happened. Bullshit's okay. Any story pins him in. If on the other hand, there are no injuries, this is a detailed to be exploited by defense. In this case, those basic photos were not used by either side in the presentation. I suspect those photos don't exist and that's a problem.
Marcy: Do you have any idea why those steps weren't taken?
Mark: I'm not certain, there was some mention of staffing and support problems early in the testimony. It could be as simple as they were overwhelmed. In a 36 hour period, a department that doesn't handle many multi-victim, multi-scene crimes found itself with three houses, three bodies, two cars to process. And I'm sure there was a sense of urgency to get to the suspect's home before the evidence was lost. The problem is with too much haste, you miss things like the dog tag, like the remaining casing, and like the bullet that was loose under the stove. I mean, those things weren't in the peripheral area of the house, they were found just where you would expect to find them.
My department, with several hundred officers to support a large crime scene team would probably have taken several days to meticulously sift through everything. There may not have been those kinds of resources available here for that kind of detail.
Marcy: The defense made an issue of the prosecution's presentation of video evidence. What was the big deal there?
Mark: That was an embarrassment for the prosecution. It made it look like they were intentionally excluding details to mislead the jury, when probably it was just a technical misunderstanding. Video systems are kind of like computer programs, they can all have the same consistent way of using them, and sometimes little details can be frustratingly different. I think in the prosecution's case, Lieutenant Smith, maybe didn't have a complete understanding of the system and miss part of the recordings.
In my cases I would consult with other officers who are experts in video systems. Sometimes we'd have to go outside sometimes even to the manufacturer. Over the years, I developed several civilian contacts who I'd consult in different areas. I had a jeweler, an art expert, a local video and film producer. Those are the ones that come to mind.
Marcy: So that's like an informant. Did you have to pay them?
Mark: Mostly they do it for free. The jeweler I knew like cops. He had an uncle from out of state who was a Sheriff's Deputy. They'd mainly give you an opinion on what you're looking at for free in exchange for the interesting story. And if their testimony is needed by the DA, say for court, they had a contract procedure for that
Marcy: During the closing argument, the defense said that the trial never should have happened because of the indictment was bad. So can you explain a little bit about that?
Mark: Yes. In the trial, the defense made a big deal about erroneous technical information, cell data that was presented to the grand jury. The defense's assertion was that if accurate information had been given the grand jury never would've indicted. I'm really surprised the judge allowed them to say that without a correction. In reality, a factually flawed indictment, I mean, flawed in a meaningful way, must be corrected either with a dismissal or a re indictment.
Marcy: The defense said that the shell casing, a critical piece of evidence, was planted. What do you think about that? And is it tainted?
Mark: The shellcasing, the defense is not disputing that the casing was fired from Martins Glock 21. The dispute was what that piece of evidence means. Here's some, of the problems with that casing as evidence: It could have been fired anywhere, at any time, and then planted the scene. The defense asserts that Joan Harmon could have accessed the Glock because it was unsecured in Martin's truck. The murder scene was accessible and unattended for most of the five months between the killings and the casing's recovery. In addition, several people had access to the scene: the Durham family, because they were taking care of the house, Ken Buckner, the handyman, he said that house, or the porch was not secure. Also the casing could have been thrown through the open lattice on the porch. In this case, whether evidence is dismissed or except is completely up to the jury and how they feel about it, they obviously didn't buy that the casing was planted, but that it had been there waiting to be found the whole time. That piece of evidence is a linchpin because most of the gun forensic testimony was either inconclusive or leaned positively toward the defense. Logically. If the casing was planted, it probably would have been soon after the murders.
Marcy: Why is that?
Mark: People who plan evidence want to tell a story that's different from the one they know as fact. You can't just go placing random evidence around a crime scene. Early in my career, I was the responding officer, in a murder case that involved a staged scene. The staged evidence pointed in a direction that was inconsistent with other in alterable evidence.
In this case, the evidence that the defense is saying is staged is ambiguous. If the scene was staged, then why clean up the casings? Why burn the bodies?
Marcy: So do you think the dog tag was planted?
Mark: If this were a stage piece of evidence, I would think it would have been planted or placed differently under, around the body. Something more direct, a clearer statement then way up high on a shelf in the back. I suspect this was incidental. Maybe it was left behind when Joan Harmon moved across the street. The interesting thing. Is that Martin made a big deal about how he would have never wear anything on a string, but in post-conviction shots, in an orange jumpsuit, he's wearing a wooden cross and the cheap looking string. Big picture in this case, I see an attempt to cover up and divert. I don't see the kind of evidence placement you might see in a staged scene.
Marcy: So you don't think anything in this case was staged?
Mark: Oh, I do. I do think things were staged and that's the next controversy. But, let me be clear, the staging in this case was not what is billed by the defense. It's the drawing of attention away from the scene that's the staging. The killer could have killed the three victims, left them there, hidden them from view and walked away. They could have all been in the cellar. What happens instead was diversion, the delay, the attempt to distract away from the truth and the location, And that led to the next controversy.
Marcy: Ahhh! Joan Harmon!
Mark: Here's what we know. The police are satisfied that Joan Harmon is not a suspect.
The prosecutor wanted to hear her testimony and said she had no intention of charging the Harmon's. What Joan Harmon knows is that her ex-husband has repeatedly and very publicly accused her of the murder and that he planted evidence to frame her.
Marcy: Yeah, much hay has been made about Joan Harmon taking Pam's phone to the AT&T store. And it was a really big question for me going into this case. So how did Joan get the phone?
Mark: And the trial, there were some mentions of the phone that are significant. We know Pam used it immediately before her death. We know that the phone came into Joan's possession within a month of the murders.
Marcy: We don't know what Joan told the police, but it can be reasonably sure that she had an alibi that satisfied them. That she's not the murderer.
Mark: Yes. And based on what the prosecutor said in her closing statement, the phone was found around Joan's property. Remember what I said about staged evidence? It is identifiable as the evidence that stands out, that deflects or contradicts what the rest of the evidence is telling you. The murderer didn't take the victim's phone to the apple store. She had an alibi. That's why they had to pull in William Stokes and his brothers to suggest they're all involved.
Marcy: Can you imagine what that experience was like for her at the store, with the phone?
Mark: Like something out of a book. Imagine this: a month ago, you suspect that your husband killed three of your neighbors. Two of them were the people that helped you move out. Horrifying. Seemingly unrelated, one of your kids found an iPhone in the backseat of the car, on your porch, whatever. You try to open the phone who see whose it might be. No luck, no one reaches out asking if you have their iPhone, if they left it at your house. So one day you're out running errands, you take that pesky unclaimed iPhone in and boom, the trap is sprung. So what happened is immediately obvious to you, your ex is the murder and he has set you up. What'd you do? Well, you do what she did. You call the police. If what Harman is saying is true, evidence was planted. The case was being made to get her charged with a triple murder. She's already been convicted of bigamy, something that's almost never charged. She doesn't want to fall further into Martin's trap. So she decides to plead the fifth.
Marcy: The prosecutor wanted their testimony. Why didn't they just set up an immunity deal?
Mark: Prosecutors are hesitant to hand out immunity. It can have the appearance to a jury under questioning of impropriety. This is one of the areas I think might be reversed on appeal. And if that's the case, the prosecutor might have to offer immunity. The Harmon's testimony won't be the boone the defense is presenting. When Joan Harmon doesn't turn out to be a fire-breathing dragon. The second jury would likely be faced with the same basic facts as the first boat, the added testimony that Martin planted the phone trap.
Marcy: So what aspects of this case do you think are the biggest problem for the defense?
Mark: There's obvious overkill in this case. I don't think the prosecution uses this as effectively as they could have. I was once a case officer for a shooting where a guy was beaten badly after he was shot. It's not common in my experience. I mean, most of the time blowing holes in somebody is enough Calvin's shot five times and then had his jaw and nose broken. So the real question is who is motivated with that much anger?
Just as a side note, the prosecutor opined that Calvin's facial injuries were from pistol whipping with the butt of the Glock. I agree it was probably hit with something, but this is the kind of lack of evidence detail I mentioned earlier. A pistol whipping should leave distinct pattern injuries. There should also be DNA tissue left on the pistol. I mean, there are a lot of places that gun might retain DNA, even after a thorough cleaning. But a Glock is a bad gun to do a pistol whipping with. The lower receiver is a plastic polymer. It's very durable, but if you go hittin' a guy you're likely to have a base plate failure. I've seen it happen. When it happens, the bottom of your magazine falls off and all of your bullets are injected down into the ground.
So if I were to guess what caused the facial injuries based on what happened? I'm thinking a foot. It makes sense. After being shot five times, Calvin was likely to be down, but there again, you're looking for pattern injuries and the ME didn't identify any, so who knows what caused the damage.
Marcy: Can you talk a little bit more about pattern injuries? What would, what kind of things would you expect to see?
Mark: So the case I mentioned is a good example. The boy was shot multiple times, right on the well-lit street. The gang bangers who shot him kicked him over and over again. They knew they were being watched because both sides of the street were lined with multiple level apartment buildings. So they were sending a message. They were intimidating all the witnesses. The pattern injuries you expect to see in something like that, are shoe, shoe impressions, the edge of a soul, a heel. In some circumstances you might see a logo or a shoelace pattern, based on how the victim was kicked. And if the skin was exposed. You know, in that case it was witness intimidation. But in the Martin case, I think he's probably kicked, because he's on the ground and, a beating with hands on the ground is probably gonna create injuries to your hands. It just makes sense that kind of, that extensive amount of damage is probably a foot. Unfortunately we don't know.
Marcy: Are there other aspects of the crime that are a problem for the defense?
Mark: Yeah, it was a problem for the defense that none of the forensics let Martin off the hook. But there's a reason, like the car and the bodies were burnt to a crisp. Everyone could see that looked at the photos could see why the trace evidence was lacking there. In other areas, the crime scene had been cleaned. So we don't have the evidence. The jury could see that there was a lack of evidence in a lot of respect because it had been cleaned up. At the same time, the cleanup tells you something about that killer. That he's organized, meticulous.
Marcy: What about the defense timeline? Were they effective and the assertion that he could not have done the crime?
Mark: No. One of the things that makes this case provable is the tight timeline. We know about when Calvin was killed. We know exactly when the other two were shot. The problem for the defense is that Martin was available for what the prosecution says were the critical times on November 18th. The defense timeline weirdly focuses on the 19th. I think the defense was relying on jury confusion between the 18th, 19th, and 20th. The fact is there's unallocated time at critical points. The defense counter was, he was apparently busy leading a normal life.
Marcy: So they found a power of attorney in Martin's safe. Why do you think that was significant?
Mark: I know from deploying with the Marines about, you know, you get personally prepared for the time you're away. Martin, during his testimony said it himself, he'd gotten the power of attorney in the past. When deploying. To me the power of attorney timing is telling. He was preparing for a mission. He knows he's about to commit the worst crime and he's planning for contingencies like being captured.
Marcy: Speaking of planning ahead, do you think that the murders went as Martin expected?
Mark: I think Calvin's murder went as expected, but Martin thought the house would burn down. I think the rest of their crime was literally shoot on the fly. The defense attorney said it himself. Whoever did this with sloppy, went back to the scene over and over again. Things, the car position keep changing. The people committing these crimes are going in and out moving things. He's right. The takeaway from this is that the murderer had access over a long period of time. Had time to assess and adjust. Who had that kind of time and access? It was Martin. He had a front row seat to the murder scene.
Marcy: And why do you think the bodies were moved away from the scene and why the car fire?
Mark: I think Martin attempted to move them all away, but couldn't. This is based on the description of Calvin's body upon discovery. I'm thinking why would anybody flip and move a body in full rigor? Cops aren't going to do that. Neither are medic. The original fire, and later the movement of the bodies, serve three purposes: to delay discovery, to cast suspicion away from the immediate area and to destroy evidence that would link to the killer. Both cars were moved because it had to appear no one was at the houses. Why weren't the cars dumped further away? Because the distance to the burns scene is close enough to traverse on foot in a short time.
Marcy: Which brings me to the defense video, where they showed smoke on Rosetown Road at 11:50 PM on the 18th. And they present that, that disputes the prosecution timeline. What are your thoughts?
Mark: John Homac, the farmer, had a video camera that covered his parking lot. In cross examination testimony. He said that he thought the smoke was ground fog. Actually, you can figure out the truth of this by looking at the map and the video. The camera's north facing. The smoke or fog crosses from left to right, which is west to east. The car burning scene would have been a fair distance east and a little south. So the smoke in the video was blowing toward the area of the fire. Not from it. It was ground fog, just like the farmer sai. I'm surprised the prosecution didn't address this more completely.
Marcy: What do you think was the biggest defense mistake?
Mark: Not banging on the cops. Let me tell you a story about a prosecutor I worked with. Pam was a good prosecutor from my city. I went to trial with her a few times. She was formidable, aggressive, always prepared, a little tightly wrapped, but loved by police. The kind of person that takes work home. One night, Pam calls me wanting to talk about the case. I'm like Pam, it's 3:00 AM we have a trial in the morning, go to bed. She says, "I can't sleep. I'm getting ready." That enthusiasm was what made her great to work. After a couple of years, she went to private practice, defense work. Right? Her powers for good were going to be twisted to the needs of the dark side. Not too long after that, I'm sitting in a hallway waiting to go into a courtroom. Pam comes out of one of the other rooms. She looks at me and rushes over. She says, "Mark, tell Pollock that he didn't do anything wrong. Tell him, I'm sorry. It's just my job now. And even if there's nothing wrong with the case, I have to beat on the officer." Pollock was a friend of mine and academy mate. Later, Pollock said that being in trial against Pam was like having been eaten by Old Yeller. The point is a tried and true defense is to attack the credibility of the investigation. Attack the competence of the officers. It's a defense that works. Just ask OJ Simpson.
Marcy: You think the defense should have attacked the officers more? Why do you think they didn't?
Mark: The defense had a choice between brutalizing the investigation, and there's a deep well of flaws to choose from, or using the approach the police did a fine job and missed nothing because the evidence just wasn't there to find. That it was planted after the search. They chose the latter. And I think it was a mistake. If the defense had played it right, it is possible that the crime scene officers would deny they missed anything and therefore support the idea that evidence had to be planted. You can imagine that line of questioning. Who searched the kitchen? Who's responsible for missing the bullet under the stove? What? Nobody missed the bullet under the stove? Then it must be planted!
Marcy: Is there another example of that?
Mark: Yes. The prosecution omitting pertinent video evidence was a problem that was not fully exploited by the defense. I thought at the time that this mistake could destroy the trust between prosecutors and the jury. The defense pointed this out, but it just wasn't hammered home.
Marcy: If the problems with the evidence didn't sink the prosecution, what do you think kept it afloat?
Mark: I think that this case, the verdict was determined by the witnesses. The prosecution witnesses were just better, more authentic, more believable. Take Penny Cayce, the lady who worked in the bank with Pam Phillips. Penny had a long story. She said that she knows exactly when she and Pam talked about the court martial and Martin. It was on November 16th because that was the anniversary of her father's death. She said that Pam moved her workstation into Penny's office so that Penny wouldn't have to spend the day alone. When Penny told that story, it was very credible. It also humanized the victim. Same thing for Matt Phillips and Diana Phillips. They were great witnesses. They went through their process in a very believable way. If you listen to them, you had to be thinking, yeah, what would I do? That's how it would be if my sibling was killed. How would I handle that? And how would I get the answers I needed? RIght then, the defense attorney swings in with accusations of New York attorneys and political motivations. And talk about being tone deaf.
The least reliable of the prosecution witnesses was James Matlock because his observations weren't reported until just before the trial and his recollections at the time was disputed by Martin's phone records. On the other hand, he claimed to know Martin and the defense made a big deal about how Martin walked his dog all over the place and how the prosecution was making that sound sinister.
You know, that assertion from the defense kind of sabotaged their own efforts to undermine Matlock's testimony.
Marcy: Can I just mention that I have really mixed feelings about Marlene Larock? On one hand, I feel like she is very lucky that she wasn't victim number four. But on the other hand, I'm having trouble understanding why she was so concerned that she went back to the house at 7:00 PM. Never made contact with anybody, but then went home and never took it any further. She never called the police. What do you think about that?
Mark: I think she just rationalized the suspicious parts away. There's a famous trainer in police and military circles named Jeff Cooper. He has a system of situational awareness based on colors. The system starts with white, which is low-level awareness of any threat and progresses is upward to yellow, orange and red. Yellow being mildly aware or monitoring a potential threat and red, being fully aware and engaged in the fight. I'd say Mrs. Laura's situational awareness never left a white that day.
Marcy: Okay, so this might be related to that. The Phillips clearly had a lot of guns in their home and not just in a safe or in a drawer, but laying out as if they expected there might be trouble. Why didn't they use one of them?
Mark: Yeah. I was amazed at how all the victims had ready access to firearms, but didn't engage with them. I think the guns lying around the tables is a clear indication of the threat that Phillips were feeling. Your question is interesting. I once went to a call of a fight involving weapons. It turned out to be a guy with a steel pipe who had beaten the crap out of a guy who pulled a gun. I interviewed the guy with the pipe. I pointed out there was pretty brave or stupid. He said "a gun does you no good if you don't have the conviction to use it." Man are those deep words. The caveat to that is he could have easily been a guy holding a pipe at a gun fight. And I'm not trying to cast aspersions on the victims here. These people did not live the lives of gunfighters. Nor should they have to. I'm saying that being prepared with the right equipment is not always enough.
Marcy: You said the prosecution witnesses were better. So are you saying that the defense witnesses were lying?
Mark: No, not at all. They just weren't as believable in their assertions or that their assertions had a vailed motivation, or they just didn't provide pertinent testimony. The Spencer children were impeached by the security camera recordings. The children said that Martin didn't leave the house all night. The video clearly shows otherwise. This damaged Martin's alibi. The same is true of mark of Laura Spencer, a professional woman who should have made a fabulous witness and did for some of her testimony. Not only was the alibi damage by the video, but her dramatic assertion that she thought Joan Harmon was there to kill her when the SWAT team was coming in was jarring. It damaged her credibility. She also testified the Calvin Phillip was going to testify on Martin's behalf. Her willingness to go along with this, obviously misleading characterization, makes her testimony suspect.
Marcy: Can you explain how people living in a house could not be aware when somebody is leaving the property?