Case a reminder selfishness can be lethal

Published 7:26 pm Saturday, August 20, 2016

I covered the Joseph Patton murder trial this week; the first time I’ve reported on a trial in many years.

It was fun to do something different, a nice change, but I’m glad to be back in the office, doing my “real” job.

The last murder trial I covered was almost 20 years ago — in 1997. It involved the murder of Becky Stowe, a 15-year-old high school student in Niles, Mich.

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Becky went missing in the summer of 1993. Search parties were formed. Candlelight vigils were held. Law enforcement interviewed family, boyfriend and friends, all to no avail. It was as if Becky simply vanished.

Becky, some said, was considered to be from the “wrong side of the tracks.” But the summer she went missing, she was proud to be dating the popular Robert “Robby” Leamon, also 16, an athlete on the school’s wrestling team. Only, he was seeing her “on the side,” while his real girlfriend, Angela Snyder, a popular cheerleader, was away for the summer.

Rumor had it Becky had become pregnant with Leamon’s baby. Leamon, her friends told police, wanted her to have an abortion. She told him she would, but apparently changed her mind and told him so. For a very long time, no one knew what happened from there.

About 18 months later — in 1995 — the “real” girlfriend, Snyder, went to police and told she knew what happened to Becky. She said Leamon had confessed to her shortly after she had returned from being away that he had killed Becky. She said he confessed to her in hopes it would make them “closer,” she told police. Snyder, who was never charged with a crime, kept Leamon’s secret for many months, until she sensed Leamon was acting odd. She told police she became afraid of him.

Investigators confronted Leamon with Snyder’s story, and he confessed, though he claimed the act was an accident and was not premeditated.

It seems that two days before Stowe went missing, Leamon went to his uncle’s farm near a pond where he often went gigging frogs and he dug a grave in which he intended to bury Becky Stowe. He left the shovel beside the hole.

Leamon said he called Stowe, told her he was OK with the pregnancy and wanted to meet her to discuss how they were going to move forward.

Under the guise of wanting to take her on a picnic, Leamon picked up Stowe from a friend’s house and drove her to the farm. He said they got out of the car and were sitting in a clearing. Leamon said he sat behind Becky and began hugging her and kissing her. He said when she relaxed he grabbed her and put her in some type of wrestling hold, twisted and broke her neck.

Leamon then dragged her to the pre-dug hole and used the shovel he left beside it to bury her.

One of the interesting things about this case: Leamon passed a lie detector test early on in the initial investigation.

He was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is serving his sentence today in a prison in Muskegon Heights, Mich.

When he was first convicted and sent to a prison in Ionia, Mich., I had many questions about Leamon’s crime, primarily why he saw no other way to deal with a pregnancy than to kill Stowe. He was from a good, supportive family that was crushed by what he did. I just didn’t understand.

I got permission to interview Leamon and drove to the prison and met with him. I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear, but I never felt like I got answers to my questions.

I asked him if he was certain Becky was dead when he buried her. He told me he was not. She had passed out, but he didn’t know if she was dead. He simply buried her as quickly as he could. It’s possible, he admitted, that he could have buried her alive.

When investigators dug up her body, it was in a seated position. It was too decomposed to tell whether she was pregnant at the time of her death.

When I think about that case and Becky — and Robby, too — it makes me sad, a reminder of how lethal selfishness and greed can be.

I watched the family of Alfred Patton in the courtroom here this week and those same feelings returned.

We heard testimony from Patton’s neighbors about what a good, fun-loving man he was. After meeting some of his family members this week, I know that must have been the case.

Despite how painful it must have been for them, they were in the courtroom for every minute of the trial, sitting quietly through what must have been some extremely painful testimony to hear.

I asked one of his family members how she could do it. She told me it was her job to be his representative in that courtroom.

While nothing will heal their pain, I hope Alfred Patton’s family can take some solace from knowing his killer has been convicted and will pay for his crime for the rest of his life.

 

Jan Griffey is editor of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at jan.griffey@vicksburgpost.com. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.