The FAQ: The Murder of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen
What were the details of Byron Case's alibi?
Anastasia's killer and his supporters have long maintained that he was always consistent with his alibi of the night of the murder. This is not entirely true, as there were significant variations between important details in interviews and correspondence he had at different times and with different people.Inconsistencies
The Basic StoryThe basics of Case's alibi are that he, Kelly Moffett, and Justin Bruton picked up Anastasia from a Dairy Queen at Highway 24 and Brookside in Independence, Missouri, a little before 7 PM on October 22, 1997, much later than had been planned. There are differences and inconsistencies in events and intentions before that,1,2but this discussion is about the alibi regarding what he claimed transpired between then and her alleged exit from Justin's car.
According to the most commonly given form of the alibi, Case and his girlfriend, Kelly Moffett, rode with Justin Bruton as he drove to a Dairy Queen Restaurant to pick up Anastasia; rode with them from there into Mt. Washington Cemetery, riding around the cemetery for a few minutes; stopped briefly at the William Rockhill Nelson Mausoleum inside the cemetery; left the cemetery when they saw the caretaker following them; exited the cemetery and drove south along its eastern wall; and then turned west on Truman Road. At the stoplight near Truman and I-435, Anastasia became angry with Justin, got out of the car, announced she was walking home, and proceeded to walk east on Truman Road. Bruton and the others then drove back to Justin's condo, while Anastasia's actions beyond that time remain a mystery.
Why did they go to the Nelson Mausoleum? Did they stop there or just drive on?Problems with VeracityIn his first statement to police on October 24, 1997, Case stated that after picking up Anastasia, the group decided to "follow through with the original plan" and return to their original meeting spot, which was the Nelson Mausoleum in Mt. Washington Cemetery, and that they had stopped and gotten out briefly, but got back in the car and left immediately;3 when he told Anastasia's family about the same event via email about two months later, he described it as if they had been "looking for a place to park the car", but was indefinite about whether they stopped, leaving the impression that they noticed the groundskeeper while they were still driving, and opted to leave without stopping.4How much a surprise was Anastasia's behavior?
However, in his second police interview on July 29, 1999, Case described the drive to the Nelson as if they simply drove around nd decided at the spur of the moment to stop there. He told his interviewer that they all got out of the car briefly.5
In his testimony while on trial, Case referred to the Nelson as "one particular place that [Anastasia], I guess, had originally agreed to meet Justin". When a car pulled up behind them, he said that he "suggested to Justin that we just continue on," indicating that they did not stop in the cemetery.6
In short, he gave two stories that the group had always intended to stop at the Nelson, and two that the Nelson was just an impromptu stop. He twice stated that they stopped at the cemetery and briefly got out of the car, and twice gave the clear impression that they made no such stop.On the night of the murder, Case made a specific and unusual point to mention to his mother that Anastasia had gotten out of Justin's car. He told her that Anastasia "didn't even wait for the car to come to a stop before she jumped out."7 Case never mentioned this particular detail in any of his other statements or testimony. Debra Moffett testified that her daughter, Kelly Moffett, made the same kind of comment to her, and that it seemed odd for her to do so.8Where did Anastasia get out of Justin's car?
In his first interview with police on October 24, 1997, Case told police that Anastasia had gotten out of Justin Bruton's car at the traffic light at Truman Road and I-435 after announcing she was going to do so, that she and Justin argued about her leaving, that she slammed his door closed and walked off, and that neither he nor Kelly Moffett nor Justin Bruton considered it unusual, as she had walked out of Justin's condo during arguments many times before.9
When he described this to Anastasia's family two months later, he changed his story to say that "none of us expected her to get out of the car".10 Less than a week after that, he added the detail of Justin telling Anastasia he didn't really love her being the remark that set her off, and again treated her departure as having been no big deal.11
In his second interview with police, 21 months after the murder, he added details of Anastasia's and Justin's conversation that he seemingly hadn't been able to remember two days after the event, and treated her sudden departure as if it had been an inevitable and almost expected consequence.12
Finally, in his testimony at his trial, he gave the impression that if he had barely noticed the argument or Anastasia's leaving, and left out the earlier detail of Justin and Anastasia arguing briefly once she got out of the car.13
In short, he told his mother and Anastasia's family that he was surprised by Anastasia's "unexpected" behavior, but told jurors and twice told police that her actions were nothing out of the ordinary.While Anastasia's kller may have been inconsitent with exactly what happened when Anastasia got out of Justin's car (see above), he was basically consistent with his testimony to police and in court that she exited the car at the intersection of I-435 and Truman Road.Did Justin feel suicidal that night?
However, he was not entirely consistent with everyone. Of interest is the testimony of John Bruton, Justin Bruton's step-father. Mr. Bruton testified that Case had told him that the drive had been the result of a "double date", that they were in the process of taking Anastasia home (as opposed to going to Justin's condo), and that Anastasia had exited the car at a stop sign.14
While Mr. Bruton's testimony can be regarded as second-hand, it is significant that a former friend of Case came forward to Anastasia's family in late 1998 to tell them that she had spoken with Case the day after the murder and was told that Anastasia had exited Justin's car at the stop sign at Blue Ridge and Truman Road, near the front entrance of Lincoln Cemetery,15 not a dissimilar story to the one had been given Mr. Bruton by Case. That former friend's place in this murder investigation is told elsewhere.16
So before solidifying his alibi, he pegged the location of her departure at a stop sign instead of a stop light, at a spot more than four blocks east of his later claim, and one that would have had Anastasia starting her walk home by heading two blocks in the wrong direction.
Case told detectives during his first interview of October 24, 1997 that after Anastasia had exited the car, Justin Bruton made the comment, "Maybe I should just go and kill myself".17
In his second police interview, Case was directly asked whether Justin had made any indication that he might commit suicide, and his reply then was that he had no idea.18
While testifying on the stand, he could not remember having made that statement to police and categorically stated that he did not believe that Justin was suicidal that night.19
In three different statements, he could not make up his mind where Justin Bruton felt suicidal, though felt it important enough to mention it as important information one time to police.
What was "normal behavior" on that night?The jury did not find Case's alibi believable and convicted him of Murder in the First Degree. Top of pageOne of the key components of Case's alibi was that Anastasia's alleged behavior (angrily storming away from Justin's car and attempting to walk home along a dangerous part of town) was "not unusual behavior,"20 attempting to equate it with other times when Anastasia had walked out of Justin's condo in the Plaza and walked around the block a few times to cool off.How believable was the alibi in and of itself?
Anastasia's family considered this description to have been extremely inconsistent with her normal behavior from the very start, and Case once tried to justify his claim by telling the family via email that "Justin and Stasia argued a lot, but never as fiercely as they did that night",21 in effect proposing that if it was unusual behavior, it was still believable.
Case's alibi relied strongly on his assertion that Anastasia could become so upset as to take actions categorically at odds with her personality and previous known behavior. He only attempted to redefine such actions as being "normal" for Anastasia. when it became obvious that they were not "normal" actions for her in anyone else's perception.If we are to accept Case's alibi, we must also accept that Anastasia must have murdered at Lincoln Cemetery by a complete stranger, a scenario of which was disposed of in another article.22 Forensic evidence23 makes it clear that Anastasia had not been abducted, that she did not struggle with an assailant, and did not even try to shield herself from the fatal shot; along with other clues, and with the extreme unlikeliness of an assailant lying in wait at that time and place, such evidence renders this scenario exceptionally difficult if not outright impossible to believe.24