Longform

Burden of proof

Page 5 of 8

Wardrip nodded in the direction of the nearby barrel. "Help yourself," he said.

By late that afternoon, the elated investigator had delivered the cup to GeneScreen, a forensic laboratory in Dallas that specialized in DNA testing.

"The only way there won't be a match," he confidently told lab technician Judy Floyd, "is if I somehow picked up the wrong cup out of that barrel."

The following week he received a call that assured him he'd made no mistake. Floyd said she had performed three tests on the cup and the evidence swabs taken from the bodies of Terry Sims and Toni Gibbs. She could not, she said, exclude Faryion Wardrip as the contributor of the sperm found in the murder victims.

After a decade and a half, the time had finally come to get an arrest warrant for the man Little was convinced was responsible for the deaths of the three young women. Barry Macha, amazed that less than a month had passed since his investigator had begun work on the case, quickly agreed.

On February 13, 1999, a crisp and sunny day before he was scheduled to read Scriptures during Sunday communion services, Faryion Wardrip drove to Wichita Falls at the request of his parole officer. The purpose of the trip, he had been led to believe, was to discuss removal of the ankle monitor that had so restricted his freedom. So confident was Wardrip that he would soon be free to go where he pleased that he'd confided to several co-workers that he planned to leave on a short vacation the following week.

Instead, he was met by John Little and taken to the district attorney's office.

There, Little and Paul Smith, an investigator with the neighboring Archer County distict attorney's office who had worked the Gibbs homicide, launched into a pre-arranged interview. With DNA linking Wardrip to two of the murders, they hoped to lure him into a discussion of Ellen Blau, the case for which they had no forensic evidence.



Wardrip repeatedly insisted he had not known the victim. "Look," he told the investigators, "you know I've been to prison, you know what I did." With that he began describing the remorse he felt over the death of Tina Kimbrew. "It's a tragedy I'll never get over; a terrible accident. I'd never hurt anybody before that, not even my first wife."

It was soon obvious that he was not going to cooperate. Finally, he asked whether he was free to go. Little, disappointed that they had gotten no information linking Wardrip to the third homicide, looked at the man seated in front of him. "I'm afraid not," the investigator said. Standing, he stared silently at Wardrip for several seconds, then said, "Faryion Edward Wardrip, I have a warrant for your arrest...for the capital murder of Terry Sims and Toni Gibbs."

As the sheriff entered the room and handcuffed him, Wardrip began shaking his head. "I got nothing to hide," he said. "I didn't do this. I know one thing, though. This is going to be a big circus."

It was not until the following day, while hearing news reports of his arrest, that Wardrip learned the investigators had not told him everything. They had not mentioned having DNA evidence linking him to the crimes for which he'd been arrested.



That, the prisoner knew, changed everything. It was, indeed, going to become a "circus."

The following Tuesday morning, Glenda Wardrip sat in the jail visitation room, looking through a Plexiglas window into the tired, empty eyes of her husband. During the half hour they talked, he had not once suggested his innocence.

It was shortly before 10 a.m. when jailers escorted Wardrip from the visiting room back to his cell. The prisoner had said nothing until locked up, then, as the officers began walking away, he called out. "Tell that DA guy, John, that I want to talk to him," he said.

"And you better tell him to hurry...before I change my mind."

Since the weekend, Little had found it difficult to share in the excitement that had been vibrating through the district attorney's office. It gnawed at him that it didn't appear they would be able to tie Wardrip to the murder of Ellen Blau.

When the call came from the jail, however, his spirits lifted immediately. He contacted Archer County investigator Smith and urged him to meet him at the jail annex as quickly as possible.

The dejected man escorted into the room where the investigators waited looked nothing like the confident, self-assured person Little had earlier confronted. Wardrip was dressed in the standard-issue white jumpsuit with "Wichita County Jail" stenciled across the back; his hair was uncombed, his shoulders slumped. Several seconds passed before he lifted his head and his eyes met those of the visitor he'd summoned.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers