On July 31, 1987, 50-year-old Carole Vandergrift Carter was wounded by a gunshot to the neck while in bed at her home on a rural estate east of Middleburg, Virginia.
The shooting occurred at Greenwood Farm, a 210-acre property where Carter and her ex-husband, whom she had divorced in February, kept thoroughbred racehorses. Within hours, Carter’s ex-husband, 55-year-old William Douglas Carter was arrested and charged with the shooting.
At the time of the shooting, the couple was still feuding over the distribution of their assets, which included Greenwood Farm, valued at $2.3 million. The divorce had been contentious and the divorce court judge had found that William Douglas Carter had committed adultery with his wife’s foster daughter from 1977, when the girl was in high school, through 1985. The Carters were living in different houses on the grounds of Greenwood Farm.
At William Carter’s trial in March 1988, Carole Carter testified that her husband had shot her. She said he was wearing rubber gloves and that after shooting her, he grabbed her hand and forced it to grasp the pistol in an effort to make the shooting appear to be a suicide attempt. She said she wrote her husband’s name in blood on the bedroom floor in case she died.
William Carter denied involvement in the crime and testified that he was driving to Saratoga, New York, at the time his ex-wife was shot. The defense contended the victim could not see her attacker because the bedroom was too dark and she was not wearing her glasses.
On March 11, 1988, a Loudoun County Circuit Court jury convicted Carter of malicious wounding and felonious use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
In 1991, a motion for a new trial was filed on Carter’s behalf, alleging that the prosecution had withheld crucial evidence. At a hearing in November 1991, a Loudon County sheriff’s deputy testified that several weeks prior to the shooting, when he was on a temporary leave from the Sheriff’s Department, Carole Carter asked him to move into her house to protect her from William Carter. The deputy testified that he came to her home to discuss the offer and that during their conversation she said she would do anything to make William Carter suffer.
“She says to me, ‘You know, I hate him so much that I would shoot myself, even if I die, if I could make it look like he did it, so he would spend the rest of his life in jail, or ruin the rest of his life,’” the deputy testified.
The deputy said that after the shooting occurred, he told his supervisor in the sheriff’s department about his conversation with Mrs. Carter, but was ignored. He said he made a separate attempt to tell the prosecutor, William T. Burch Jr., but was again ignored. The information was not passed to William Carter’s defense team. The deputy said he came forward after seeing a television movie about a woman who framed her husband for murder.
Burch and the deputy’s supervisor denied that the deputy had passed along the information.
In February 1992, a judge found the deputy’s testimony credible and vacated William Carter’s conviction. Carter was released on bond pending a retrial.
William Carter went on trial a second time in July 1992. The deputy, who said he had since been fired for revealing that he had told the prosecution about his conversation with Carole Carter, testified about her incriminating statement. Another witness testified that she had been coached at the first trial to withhold information about a statement Carole Carter made after the shooting.
On July 28, 1992, a jury acquitted William Carter.
The Virginia State Bar investigated Burch for three years. In 1994, he was cleared of wrongdoing.
– Maurice Possley