Justice Long Overdue... The Story of John V. Carothers
By John V. Carothers. Edited by Peter Centorcelli, Justice: Denied Staff
One hundred twenty-five miles wasn't far enough away from the crime
for John V. Carothers. Perjured testimony and a judge's illegal instructions
were enough to convict him.
John V. Carothers had been in trouble with the law when he was young. At 25
he was convicted of attempted second-degree robbery and larceny. John
served ten years and was paroled from New York to Washington in October 1970.
Still a young man at 35, John was determined to turn his life around. He
enrolled at Diver's Institute in Seattle and received his diving
certification. His life was in control until he helped a friend.
John befriended Joseph Lalak while in prison. Joseph was released in May 1971
and contacted John who was eager to help another ex-con turn his life around.
John gave Joseph a place to stay and even managed to secure him a temporary
job. On September 2, 1971 Joseph borrowed John's car to go to Bellingham to
get certified as a welder.
Joseph never went to Bellingham. Instead he went to Sequim, WA. Once there,
Joseph shot and killed two people, a retired man and his wife. Jospeh took a 357 revolver weapon from the home where the shootings took place. Joseph Lalak had the pistol in his possession when he was arrested in Bellingham Washington. When the police checked the pistol registration it was discovered to be the property of Mr. Buck, the man who was shot. In October 1971 Joseph decided to flee to Canada. He stole his employer's car and took the murder weapon with him. Ironically, Joseph had an accident near Bellingham and fled the scene. He attempted to dispose of the weapon but was apprehended by police. Police ran a make on the gun and Joseph was charged with the double murder and robbery. Joseph implicated John as the shooter and made a deal to testify against John.
On January 27, 1971 John V. Carothers was arrested at his home in Bothell,
WA. He was taken to Port Angeles where he was arraigned several days later.
John's mother retained an attorney, Thomas Keefe, to defend her son. Mr.
Keefe had no interest in handling this case and retained another attorney,
Emmett Walsh, to handle the defense. Mr. Walsh had never handled a criminal
matter before. After several closed-door sessions between the attorneys, the
prosecutor and the pro-tem judge and without an evidentiary hearing, John's
trial began in mid-June 1972.
The police had retrieved a sawed off shotgun and a rifle from John's barn
when he was arrested, weapons that Joseph admitted owning. However, the
prosecution claimed these weapons, which had nothing to do with the double
homicide, were stolen from a gun shop by John and Joseph. A claim the
prosecution never attempted to prove. These weapons sat intimidatingly before
the jury with no objections from the defense attorneys.
Nearly a dozen witnesses testified as to John's whereabouts during the day of
the crime, establishing clearly that John could not be at the shooting which
occurred 125 miles away. On this day, John was re-fencing his property
for some horses. John received a load of fence posts from the local
lumberyard that day. The boss's son was delivering them and clearly
remembers it because the bands broke on the load as he drove into the
barnyard, dumping the entire load all over the place. A very memorable
occurrence. Both the owner of the lumberyard and his son testified on
John had also spoken with several other people during the day in question. He
had called his wife that morning and spoke to her and her foreman. John also
received several calls that day. His wife's ex-sister-in-law called asking
when John's wife would be home. His mother also called to tell him that his
parole officer had sent some paperwork that John drove to pick up. Clearly
John didn't have time to make a four hour round trip on this particularly
The judge informed the jury that the burden of proof of the alibi was with
John. This alibi instruction had been ruled unconstitutional in 1955 as the
defendant can never have the burden of proof. Even though John was indicted
as the sole acting principal, the judge also instructed the
jury that they could find him guilty of aiding and abetting and of being an
accomplice. An accomplice to whom? John was the only one indicted. The jury
was even informed John didn't need to be at the scene of the crime to be
found guilty. John has affidavits from several jurors indicating these
instructions are what cinched their agreement.
With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, John was found guilty
based on Joseph Lalak's testimony, a man who had been caught repeatedly
committing perjury. John was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences for
the murders and 20 years for the robbery, to be served consecutively. The
worst was still to come for John.
John began serving his concurrent life sentences in 1972. A life sentence in
Washington State is twenty years minus good time credits. John's good
time release date (GTRD) for the murder convictions was May 1985. At that
time he was to begin serving his consecutive 20-year robbery conviction, with
a GTRD of October 17, 1989. In December of 1985 the parole board expunged all
GTRD's ex post facto. Even though John's GTRD had passed in May, he was
resentenced by the board (without authority of law and ex post facto) to 840
months plus 90 months. This has been repeatedly changed and is currently 256
to 366 months.
John has been infraction free for 27 of 30 years, having spent his time
earning five college degrees. He is 65 years old and most of his family has
expired. Clearly John poses no risk to society but his parole is denied time
and again. The simple fact is for parole to be granted, the convict must
admit guilt. This is something John will never do even though it would
probably make him a free man at his next parole hearing. He was convicted on
perjured testimony and illegal jury instructions. He has served 30 years for
a crime he never committed, a crime that occurred 125 miles away from where
witnesses place him.
We will never know what society has lost by having Mr. Carothers spend his
life behind bars. Nothing can be done to make amends for this injustice. The
least that society can do for him is to allow him to live out the rest of
his life as a free man. Mr. Carothers is in desperate need of someone to
fight on his behalf. Can someone please step up and help erase society's
debt to this innocent man.
Gary Quinlivan and Fern Buffington
© Justice Denied