On the afternoon of August 17, 1990, Cathy Padgett was found dead in her home in Arab, Alabama. She had been stabbed 46 times and there were signs that she had been sexually assaulted. Cathy Padgett had recently separated from her husband, Randal Padgett, who immediately became a suspect in the murder. Randal Padgett gave the police blood samples which were then matched to semen found in Cathy Padgett’s body. He was arrested on October 5, 1990.
Before the trial, Padgett’s defense attorney recommended that he plead no contest and accept a life sentence with the possibility of parole, but Padgett refused, maintaining that he was innocent. Padgett suggested that his lawyer investigate his girlfriend, Judy Bagwell, who was known for jealous and obsessive behavior, but the lawyer did not pursue the matter. Because of the publicity generated by the brutal murder, Padgett’s lawyer requested a change of venue, but it was denied.
At trial, held in May 1992, the prosecution and the defense presented conflicting testimony regarding the semen found in the victim’s body. Though the state’s tests indicated that the DNA matched Padgett, the defense had conducted its own analysis and found that the blood the state had tested was not Padgett’s blood. On the second day of the trial, the state received the results of a second round of tests, which confirmed the defense’s finding – the blood tested the first time was not Padgett’s. However, prosecutors did not hand over this new evidence until several days later, when the DNA experts who had come to town to testify had already left. Padgett’s lawyer then asked for a mistrial, but the judge denied the motion. The jury found Padgett guilty, but did not recommend the death penalty; however, on May 22, 1992, the judge sentenced Padgett to death.
In January 1995, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction, ruling that exculpatory evidence had been wrongly withheld from the defense. At the retrial in 1997, the defense attorney argued that Judy Bagwell had killed Cathy Padgett and planted Randal Padgett’s semen on her body. He called Bagwell to the stand and she made several incriminating statements about her jealous and obsessive behavior; prior to the murder, she made repeated phone calls to Cathy Padgett trying to persuade her to divorce her husband, and on one occasion hid in the backseat of Cathy Padgett’s car, wearing a disguise, and when caught claimed she simply wanted to talk. The defense also called an acquaintance of Bagwell’s to the stand, who testified that she had heard Bagwell talk about her habit of saving her lovers’ semen after intercourse and using it as a facial cream or mixing it into protein shakes.
In October 1997, a jury found Randal Padgett not guilty and he was released. Judy Bagwell was never investigated for her involvement in the murder.
- Alexandra Gross