State begins laying out its case against serial killing suspect
By CRAIG PITTMAN
©St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 1997
James Randall, accused of strangling four Clearwater prostitutes and on
trial this week in two of the slayings, brought to court Tuesday a
paperback thriller: Chain of Evidence by Ridley Pearson, the fictional tale
of a detective tracking a serial killer.
Meanwhile, prosecutors Glenn Martin and Doug Crow spent the day forging the
links of a real chain of evidence, trying to convince jurors that the Palm
Harbor window installer is himself a serial killer.
In his opening statement to the jury, Martin emphasized that the state will
be relying on what he called "silent witnesses" - a few carpet fibers, some
dog hair, a tire print and a tiny scrap of cigarette paper - to prove
Randall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.
Randall, 42, is on trial this week charged with the deaths of Wendy Evans,
47, and Cynthia Pugh, 27. Detectives have also named him as their prime
suspect in the slayings of Ladonna Steller and Peggy Darnell, but he has
not been indicted in those killings.
All four women were prostitutes who plied their trade along N Fort Harrison
Avenue. They were all stripped naked, strangled and beaten.
Detectives found a tire print in the mud about 7 feet from where Evans'
body was dumped in Oldsmar. The tire print led them to a Dodge pickup truck
driven by Randall, who has told more than one person he has a compulsion to
choke his sexual partners.
On both Evans and Pugh, investigators found pink fibers that Martin said
were consistent with a rug in the Belcher Road apartment Randall shared
with his girlfriend, former prostitute Terry-Jo Howard.
Also found on the two bodies were animal hairs that Martin said were
consistent with hair from Howard's dog, Penny. And on Pugh's breast
investigators found a scrap of cigarette paper. They were able to draw
enough DNA from the saliva in the filter paper to match it with Howard's
DNA, Martin said.
When sheriff's Detectives Tom Klein and Jeff Good questioned Randall, he
denied ever having either woman in his truck or home, or going near the
spot where Evans' body was found, Martin said.
But Martin said when they tried to arrest Randall he fled, telling a
neighbor, "It's my life!"
Defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg made no opening statement. But in
cross-examining the doctor who performed the autopsy on Evans, Schwartzberg
asked if the force that strangled her "could be inadvertent pressure or
"I don't think so," Dr. Robert Davis said.
Until this week Randall always appeared in court with a shaved head and a
jail uniform. On Tuesday, though, dark stubble ringed his head and he wore
a rumpled blue striped shirt and gray slacks that bunched up around his
As witnesses described the grip needed to choke the life out of the
victims, Randall casually reached a hand into a plastic shopping bag to
grab another mouthful of fat-free jelly beans.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. today. - Times researcher Kitty Bennett
contributed to this report.