Burden of proof

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"I had a talk with my wife this morning," he said, "and we agreed that I've got to get right with God."

"You tell her what you did, Faryion?" Little asked.

"Naw, I didn't tell her. I couldn't. But she knew." With that his voice broke and tears welled in his eyes. Taking a deep breath and folding his hands, he said, "I'm ready to talk about it."

With a tape recorder and video camera chronicling the conversation, Little said, "OK, Faryion, what I'd like to do is just go back to the beginning...in your own words...and start with the events surrounding December 21 of 1984. This would be in reference to the death of Terry Sims."

Wardrip's fists clinched, then opened. He looked toward the ceiling, then at Little. While specific dates escaped him, he recalled it as a time when he was heavily involved in drugs, a time when his life had become a dysfunctional nightmare. He and his first wife fought constantly. His only escape from the hatred he felt for her was to leave the apartment and take long walks.

It had been, he said, while returning from hours of walking that he had noticed Terry Sims on the porch of the house where she was staying. He had seen several people that evening--total strangers--and had thought about lashing out at them but had managed to restrain his anger until he saw Sims.

"She was at the door," he said. "I went up and forced my way in. I slung her all over the house in a violent rage. Stripped her down. Murdered her."

Wardrip acknowledged stabbing her, but said he didn't "recall all the details." Little stared silently at Wardrip for several seconds. Nine stab wounds to the chest, slash wounds on the arms and hands, blood all over the house, and it's hard to remember?

"OK," he said, "let's move to a time approximately a month later--January 19, 1985," Little said. "Mr. Smith would like to ask you some questions about a case he's investigating."

Silent since Wardrip had entered the room, Paul Smith made no attempt at mock warmth. If John Little was understated and soft-spoken, the good cop in this three-man drama, Smith was the bull-charging, let's-cut-the-nonsense bad cop.

"We're referring to a nurse that worked at General Hospital. Toni Jean Gibbs. Do you remember that?" Smith began.

"Yeah," Wardrip replied, nodding. "Again, I was out walking. Been walking all night and somehow wound up downtown. By the time I started home, it was almost daylight. I was walking up by the hospital, and Toni saw me and asked me if I wanted a ride. I told her 'yeah.'

"When I got in the car I started seeing these images of anger and hatred and started in on her. I told her to just drive. I don't remember which direction we were going. As she was driving I grabbed her and started slinging her around. She swerved off the side of the road and stopped. I had her by her jacket and told her to turn down this little dirt road that went into a field. I was slinging her and screaming at her. Screaming as loud as I could. I finally told her to stop the car, and when she did I took off her clothes and stabbed her."

"Do you remember the weather that day?" Smith asked.

"Cold. It was really cold."

Soon, though, Wardrip's memory became selective. He was able to describe the white Camaro Toni Gibbs had been driving and what she was wearing, even the color of the jacket she'd worn, but he said he had absolutely no recollection of having a weapon with him or of what might have happened to it after he committed the crime. "Probably," he finally said, "it stayed right there."

He had, he said, begun removing her clothing while they were still in the car. "I think she got away from me," he told Smith. "She got out the door and started to run. I think that's how we got out in the field."

Smith's impatience began to show. "Did you have sex with Toni Gibbs?"

"I don't really remember. I just remember screaming at her, screaming that I hated her. I don't remember if I had sex. I just remember screaming and screaming and screaming how much I hated her, how much I hated everybody."

"You said that you knew Toni and she asked if you wanted a ride," Smith said. "How did Toni know you?"

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers