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David Housler, Jr.

Other Tennessee Exonerations
In the early morning hours of January 30, 1994, four employees inside a Taco Bell in Clarksville, Tennessee were fatally shot. About $3,000 was reported missing from the restaurant.

Police said Kevin Campbell and Angela Wyatt, both 22, and 39-year-old Patricia Price were shot execution style in the head. The store’s manager, Marcia Klopp, 24, was shot in the leg and chest.

On February 2, police arrested 19-year-old Courtney Mathews, a soldier stationed at the nearby U.S. Army base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Mathews, who had worked part-time at the Taco Bell for 10 days prior to the murders, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and robbery.

On March 7, 1994, police arrested 19-year-old David Housler, Jr., who also was a soldier stationed at Fort Campbell, for a robbery on the street in front of Grandpa’s Hardware in Clarksville, a week before the Taco Bell murders. Police asked him about the Taco Bell murders, but Housler said he knew nothing about the crime.

After Housler’s lawyer suggested he might get leniency on his robbery charge if he had any information about the murders, Housler told police that in fact he did know something and offered information in return for a reduced bond and a lesser charge.

Housler told police that on January 21, 1994, he was at a party in Oak Grove, Kentucky and that Mathews was present. He said Mathews talked about committing a robbery at his place of work and said that he would not leave any witnesses.

Housler told police that he saw Mathews in the Montgomery County Jail on March 14 and Mathews admitted committing the Taco Bell murders and laughed about it. Housler was then released on bond and returned to Kentucky.

More than a year later, in October 1995, police summoned Housler back to Clarksville for further questioning. At that time, Housler became a suspect when police said he admitted that he had encouraged Mathews to commit the crime. On October 19, 1995, Housler entered into an agreement with prosecutors: he agreed to provide truthful testimony against Mathews in return for a 15-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder for the Taco Bell murders and a concurrent four-year prison term for the Grandpa’s robbery.

Housler then gave a detailed statement saying that he went with Mathews to commit the crime, though he was not inside the restaurant. Housler also implicated several others as either having knowledge or being present outside the restaurant when the employees were murdered. One of those was his girlfriend, Sulyn Ulangca.

When police contacted Ulangca, she refused to corroborate any part of Housler’s statement because it was false. When she tried to confront Housler, he admitted he had implicated an innocent person. As a result, the prosecution said that Housler had breached his agreement. He was then charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The prosecution initially sought the death penalty, but later withdrew the notice and sought a sentence of life without parole.

In 1996, Mathews went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Housler, who did not testify at that trial, went to trial in November 1997.

The prosecution relied primarily on Housler’s statement, which Housler’s attorneys sought to bar from the trial because it was “substantially false.”

Among the prosecution witnesses were three inmates at the Montgomery County Jail. Lopez Gaddes testified that Housler told him that he knew Mathews and that he and Mathews talked about robbing the Taco Bell prior to the crime. Gaddes testified that Housler told him Mathews shot the victims.

Jason Carr testified that during a card game in the jail with Housler and another man, one of them (he could not remember which) said that Housler’s car was the getaway vehicle for the murders.

Larry Underhill testified that Housler told him in the jail that he had killed the Taco Bell employees and that he shot them execution style.

Several other witnesses who were at the party prior to the murders testified they saw Mathews and Housler talking during the party.

Housler testified in his own defense and denied involvement in the crime. He said the statement was false.

On November 21, 1997, the jury convicted Housler of four counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2007, after his convictions were affirmed on appeal, Housler, acting on his own behalf, filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, and the law firm of Sidley Austin was appointed to represent him on that petition. In 2009, the Circuit Court held a detailed evidentiary hearing on an amended petition filed by Housler’s post-conviction attorneys.

Among other witnesses, Housler’s own trial lawyers testified at the 2009 hearing. Mathews, Housler’s co-defendant, refused to testify at the hearing, but the lawyers and investigators who represented Mathews at his trial were called as witnesses. They were required to answer questions about their dealings with Mathews despite their own objections – and the objection of their lawyer – that the questions concerned privileged attorney-client communications.

These witnesses revealed that Mathews had confessed to his own attorneys that he committed the murders and told them that he acted alone, that Housler was not present at the scene of the murders, and that he did not know Housler and at most had met him once. They also testified that the investigators for Mathews had put together a timeline of Mathews’ conduct before, during and after the murders that clearly indicated that he had acted alone; that Mathews’ attorneys and investigators sought out Housler’s attorneys in order to tell them (based on their communications with Mathews) that Housler was innocent; and that Mathews’ investigators had provided one of Housler’s lawyers with the timeline they had created which demonstrated Housler’s innocence.

In September 2010, Circuit Court Judge John Gasaway vacated Housler’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The judge held that Housler’s trial lawyers provided a constitutionally inadequate legal defense because they failed to challenge the state’s decision that Housler had breached his agreement with the prosecution, failed to challenge the state’s unilateral power to declare such a breach, and failed to challenge the admissibility of Housler’s statement at his trial on the ground that statements made during plea negotiations are inadmissible in Tennessee except under circumstances that did not apply.

In October 2010, Housler was released on bond pending a retrial. The prosecution appealed the decision and in September 2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the decision to order a new trial.

On November 25, 2014 Housler pled guilty to the 1994 robbery in front of Grandpa’s Hardware and the prosecution dismissed the Taco Bell murder charges. Because Housler had served more time than he could have received on the Grandpa’s robbery, he remained free.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/3/2014
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No