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Judge denies petition

Posted: Monday, Mar 17th, 2008

FILE/PLAINSMAN William Guthrie leaves the Beadle County Courthouse during a break in his January 2000 trial. A jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the drowning death of his wife, Sharon, and he was sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison. Accompanying Guthrie is then-Deputy Sheriff Jim Sheridan.

A former Wolsey minister’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the constitutionality of his conviction for murdering his wife nine years ago, has been denied by a circuit court judge.

William Boyd Guthrie, 63, was found guilty by a Beadle County jury of first-degree murder in the drowning death of his wife, Sharon.

He was given a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

In the petition, Guthrie alleged that his trial attorney, Phil Parent of Madison, provided ineffective assistance of counsel. Effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Guthrie alleged that Parent was ineffective because he failed to file a motion to suppress evidence found on a computer that the defendant had used to do Internet Web site research on household accidents and prescription drugs.

Mrs. Guthrie had an incapacitating level of the sleeping pill Temazepam in her system when she was found in the bathtub of the couple’s Wolsey home.

The defendant, in the petition, said law enforcement officers didn’t have probable cause to allow them to get a warrant to search the computer.

But Judge Tim Tucker of Madison said the 10-page affidavit prepared by a Division of Criminal Investigation agent provided sufficient information about the possible presence of a conspiracy between Guthrie and a Nebraska woman he was having an affair with.

Guthrie also alleged that the state illegally obtained his prescription drug records by subpoenaing pharmacies without search warrants. The judge agreed search warrants should have been obtained, but also said the state would have otherwise gotten the prescription drug records through legitimate means.

The judge said it was not reasonably probable that Guthrie would have been acquitted at trial even without the drug evidence.

Tucker cited 10 examples of trial evidence introduced by the state that, when put together, were overwhelming.

They included testimony of a suicide specialist, testimony of Mrs. Guthrie’s disposition, the bad relationship between the Guthries, testimony regarding Guthrie’s veracity, Guthrie’s different stories of his wife’s death, the observation of Guthrie during the discovery of Mrs. Guthrie’s body and interaction with emergency medical technicians at the scene of the crime and Mrs. Guthrie’s “accidents” before her death.

Also used was testimony — from physician assistant Jean Thompson who prescribed Temazepam to Guthrie — that the defendant had obtained a double dose of Temazepam, and a “suicide note” found on Guthrie’s computer which bore a striking resemblance to a draft note which a computer specialist testified was created on Guthrie’s computer three months after his wife’s death.

The defendant can appeal Tucker’s ruling to the South Dakota Supreme Court. He has gone through two other appeals to the high court.

The prosecution of Guthrie, a former Presbyterian minister serving the Wolsey and Bonilla churches, was an early case involving computer forensics.

Beadle County State’s Attorney Mike Moore told jurors Guthrie ended the life of his wife of 30 years in May 1999 because he wanted to get out of a terrible marriage and resume a relationship with a Nebraska woman without having to worry about losing his ministerial job due to a divorce.

But Parent, the defense attorney, countered that in his closing arguments at the January 2000 trial that Mrs. Guthrie was suicidal and not the happy-go-lucky person described by some witnesses.

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