Longform

Burden of proof

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Little remembered reading Wardrip's name in other reports: He'd been a janitor, then an orderly, at the hospital where Gibbs had worked--one of dozens of employees routinely questioned and dismissed. Later, he'd been employed at a fast-food restaurant just a few doors from where Blau worked. The apartment where he'd once resided with his wife and children was only a block and a half away from the small frame house where Terry Sims had been murdered.

Most tellingly, a computer check revealed that Wardrip had only recently been paroled from prison after serving 11 years of a 35-year murder sentence.

The murder for which Wardrip had been convicted also involved a Wichita Falls woman: In May 1986, the body of 21-year-old Tina Kimbrew, bartender-waitress at a local hotel, had been found in her apartment by her grandmother and cousin. Dressed in a nightgown and robe, the auburn-haired native of nearby Vernon had been suffocated with a pillow.

Police Chief Curtis Harrelson, then briefing the media on the investigation, said there did not appear to be any connection between Kimbrew's death and those of the other Wichita Falls women.

But, three days after that briefing, a sergeant in the Galveston Police Department received an almost incoherent call from a guest in a shore-side motel who said that he wanted to confess to a homicide he'd committed in Wichita Falls. "I just wanted to come here and see the ocean before I killed myself," the sobbing caller said. He had walked the beach for two days before stopping into a Wal-Mart to purchase a knife, he said. But, he'd been unable to go through with his planned suicide and wanted to turn himself in.

The caller's name was Faryion Edward Wardrip.

Returned to Wichita Falls, he pleaded guilty to the murder of Tina Kimbrew in exchange for a 35-year prison sentence.

It was 11 years later, when it became clear that Wardrip was going to be paroled, that Kimbrew's parents finally gave up their ongoing campaign to keep him behind bars and, instead, agreed to participate in a new and unique Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue program being run by the Victim Services division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Designed to benefit those troubled by past crimes, the revolutionary program afforded family members an opportunity to question an inmate about anything from details of the crime to motive to plans for his future. The only criterion was that both the perpetrator and the victim's family members had to agree to participate. Wardrip, a trouble-free prisoner and self-avowed born-again Christian, said he was willing.



So impressed was Tina's father, Robert Kimbrew, that at the end of the emotional five-hour session he extended his hand to the apparently shaken Wardrip and said, "If, when you get out of here and find yourself headed for trouble again and have run out of other people to turn to for help, you call me."

A portrait of contrition, the prisoner repeatedly insisted to his visitor that he'd never committed a violent act before and that it had only been his addiction to drugs that triggered the tragic death of Tina. Later, he would say, "I wanted to meet Mr. Kimbrew so I could tell him how sorry I was--that I live every day in memory of Tina. She was my friend."

He had even asked the father if he would mind his visiting Tina's grave when he was released from prison.

When he later met with Tina's mother, Wardrip had tearfully promised to continue with his Bible studies.



Finally paroled in December of 1997, Wardrip moved to Olney, a short drive south of Wichita Falls, where, with the help of his father, he managed to find employment at Olney Door & Screen. Soon he was an active participant in the Hamilton Street Church of Christ, singing in the choir and teaching a Sunday-school class. Divorced from his first wife since 1986, he soon married a woman he'd met at church.

Required to wear an electronic ankle monitor and allowed away from home only to work and attend church, Wardrip made no complaints about the conditions of his freedom, nor did he try to keep secret the fact that he'd been in prison. The reasons he gave for his incarceration, however, were patently false. To some, he told a story of being charged with vehicular homicide in the aftermath of an unavoidable accident. For others he fabricated a story of a drunken barroom brawl during which a man he was arguing with fell, hit his head, and died.

All that, the scripture-quoting Wardrip insisted, was in another life. That was the old Faryion Wardrip. Soon, he told fellow workers, he would begin studying for the ministry.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers