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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Christie Lynn Mullins Murder Case

     Christie Lynn Mullins resided with her parents on a residential street on the north side of Columbus, the central Ohio capital of the state. At one-thirty in the afternoon of Saturday, August 23, 1975, the 14-year-old and her girlfriend of the same age were walking to the Woolco Department Store located in the Graceland Shopping Center a few blocks from their homes.

     Mullins' girlfriend had received a telephone call from a man who claimed to be a disc jockey at a local radio station. According to this man, the radio station was sponsoring a cheerleading contest to be held at the department store at one-forty-five that afternoon. The winner of the event would be awarded a free pass to the Ohio State Fair. The girls were to wait for the man outside the store.

     When the girls arrived at the Woolco Department Store, Mullins' companion went inside the place to get the time. When she walked back outside, Christie Mullins was gone. The friend waited twenty minutes before going to another friend's house.

     At two o'clock that afternoon, a man and his wife were walking in a wooded area behind the Woolco store between the shopping center and the Olentangy River. The couple spotted a man hitting something on the ground with a two-by-four board. Realizing he had been seen, the man ran off. When the man and his wife walked to the spot in question to investigate, they found the partially clad body of a girl who had been bludgeoned to death.

     The local medical examiner identified the murdered girl as Christie Mullins. Her hands had been tied with telephone wire and she had been raped.

     The couple who discovered the body provided the police with a detailed description of the man they had seen at the crime scene. A few days later, police officers arrested a man walking on the sidewalk in downtown Columbus. The suspect, a man named John Carman, did not fit the couple's description of the man at the crime scene. Moreover, Mr. Carman suffered from severe mental retardation.

     Following an intense grilling at the police station, John Carman confessed to killing Christie Mullins. Soon after that he agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping, rape, and murder. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. But shortly after his imprisonment, the case became controversial when the public learned that the suspect possessed the mental age of a ten-year-old. The judge, a week after the story broke, appointed Mr. Carman a new defense attorney who immediately petitioned the court to allow his client to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge granted the motion.

     Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the guilty plea, the state went forward with its case against Mr. Carman. In December 1977, John Carman went on trial for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Christie Mullins. During the week-long trial, the prosecutor put a surprise witness on the stand. The so-called eyewitness to the crime, Henry Newell Jr., was at the time serving a stretch in prison for burning down his own home. The arson occurred about a year after Christie Mullins' murder.

     According to the prosecution's star witness, the 27-year-old had seen the defendant kill the victim behind the department store. Newell testified that after John Carman fled the crime scene, he, Newell, covered the dead girl's face with his shirt. He also said he had touched the board used to bludgeon the victim to death.

     After the defense attorney thoroughly discredited Henry Newell on cross-examination, he put several witnesses on the stand who testified that at the time of the murder the defendant was on the other side of the city.

     The jury, after a short deliberation, found John Carman not guilty on all charges. The jurors found the alibi witnesses credible and suspected that the real killer was Henry Newell Jr. The jurors also believed that the defendant did not have the mental capacity to commit such a brutal murder.

     Notwithstanding the outcome of the murder trial and the belief by most people familiar with the case that Henry Newell Jr. had kidnapped, raped and murdered Christie Mullins, the police insisted that the jury had let a man guilty of an heinous crime go free.

     Henry Newell Jr. died in 2013 of cancer at the age of 63. By then, cold case homicide investigators with the Columbus Police Department had come to the conclusion that Newell had indeed committed the crime and that the police at the time had horribly bungled the investigation. Before he died, Newell confessed to several people that he had murdered the girl.

     On November 6, 2015, Columbus police sergeant Eric Pilya, the head of the cold case unit, announced at a press conference that the detectives who worked on the case originally, now both deceased, had used "improper investigative techniques." Sergeant Pilya said he wanted to "formally and publicly apologize" to Christie Mullins' family who for years insisted that Henry Newell was the guilty party. 

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