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Friday, November 11, 2016

The Bobby Wilson Murder Case

     About 6,000 people live in Spanish Fort, Alabama, a Gulf Coast suburb of Mobile on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. In the early morning hours of August 11, 2007, Spanish Fort police officer Steve McGough pulled into Wilson's Service Center for gas and a cup of coffee. When McGough walked into the convenience store he found the owner, Arthur "Bobby" Wilson, slumped over the counter. The officer grabbed hold of the bleeding 71-year-old and helped him onto a chair. Mr. Wilson had been beaten in the head with a blunt object, and robbed. As the officer called in the robbery and assault, the victim made "gurgling sounds," and mumbled incoherently. Four months later, Mr. Wilson died from his head wounds. The victim had been unable to describe or name his assailant. The robbery/assault case had turned into a murder.

     In December 2008, shortly after Bobby Wilson's death, Baldwin County prosecutor Michael Plyant charged Leslie Eric Buzbee with capital murder in the case. Police arrested the 23-year-old and hauled him to the Baldwin County Corrections Center in nearby Bay Minette, Alabama. The murder suspect remained in custody without bail.

     Detectives had learned that days before the robbery/assault, Buzbee, who lived ten minutes from the service station and knew the victim well, had asked Mr. Wilson to cash a check. According to the police theory of the case, when Bobby Wilson refused to cash Buzbee's check, the suspect assaulted him with an aluminum baseball bat the victim kept on the premises. The authorities were convinced that Buzbee, high on cocaine and in desperate need of money, assaulted Mr. Wilson out of anger and the need for cash to support his drug habit.

     Leslie Buzbee's trial got underway on May 4, 2009 in Bay Minette. His attorney, John Beck, exploited the fact the prosecution, without the murder weapon, physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene, a confession, or an eyewitness, had an extremely weak, circumstantial case. As it turned out, Attorney Beck was right. Four weeks later, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach an unanimous verdict.

    Following the hung jury, prosecutor Plyant decided to try again. The second trial, which commenced in August 2009, ended prematurely when the judge declared a mistrial on a procedural issue.

     On August 8, 2009, the Baldwin County prosecutor took a third run at Leslie Buzbee. Without new, incriminating evidence, the third jury to be empaneled in the case, after four hours of deliberation, found the 25-year-old defendant not guilty. Buzbee, having been incarcerated in the Baldwin County Correction Center since December 2008, walked free. (The double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution protects Buzbee, regardless of what new evidence might surface, from being tried a fourth time for Mr. Wilson's murder.)

     Following the not guilty verdict, in response to a reporter's question about whether the authorities would re-open the murder case, prosecutor Plyant said, "The investigation is done because we tried the person we believe did the crime."

     The Wilson murder case, from an investigative point of view, produced a suspect, but didn't feature enough hard evidence to support a conviction. Had Bobby Wilson, before he died, been able to communicate with the police, the outcome of this case might have been different.

     On December 31, 2012, officers with the Mobile Police Department arrested Leslie Eric Buzbee in connection with a series of residential burglaries and thefts from vehicles. Officers found cocaine and drug paraphernalia in his car. At the time of his arrest, Buzbee was the subject of several burglary warrants issued out of Baldwin County. He was back in jail, but not for murder.

     In May 2013, while out on bond for the December 2012 case, Buzbee was charged in Baldwin County with second-degree receiving stolen property. (As of this writing I can find no disposition of these cases on the Internet.) As for Bobby Wilson, no one has been held accountable for his murder.

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. "The investigation is done because we tried the person we believe did the crime." What about the unidentified bloody fingerprint on the check? Oh well........

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    1. Good point. Very good point. They can't close the case. They must check that print against IAFIS. In David Westerfield's murder trial (San Diego, 2002), there was also a print at the crime scene which was ignored as it didn't match the suspect.

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  3. He escaped justice for far too long. I doubt her parents really feel that the law aided them to the best of their ability. What about the uncle? The money due to their daughter's scholarship fund? Complete mess of an investigation.

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  4. There are so many unsolved murders, but even one wrong conviction merits beyond a reasonable doubt

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  5. Didn’t Bobby Wilson utter the word “watch” at the crime scene? That should provide a clue, if only someone could figure out what he meant.

    I also seem to remember that the crime scene was cleaned up pretty quickly, potentially destroying evidence.

    Was Eric’s claim ever confirmed that the wad of money at his home was payment from his job?

    His subsequent criminal activities make it plausible that he would have robbed Mr Wilson. On the other hand, he apparently hasn’t been guilty of any violent criminal acts, despite his drug use.

    There was also no evidence linking David Westerfield to the crime scenes in his murder trail. And there was strong evidence that he wasn’t there (the police dogs, the insects, and cell-phone records). But he was convicted anyway, and sentenced to death.

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  6. Personally I would like the finger prints of the police officer who for some reason was the first person to come across Mr Wilson. Who decided to give the okay for the crime scene to be cleaned up so early. Very suspicious indeed. The person accused of the murder is completely innocent in my eyes. Lazy investigators, I blame them.

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