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Richard Gagnon

Other Exonerees Sentenced to Life without Parole Before Exonerations by DNA
On April 12, 2005, Charles Parker Sr., and his wife, Diane, both 54, were found shot to death in their home in Nixonville, South Carolina.

Two weeks later, police arrested Diane’s daughter, 34-year-old Bambi Bennett, and Bennett’s 32-year-old boyfriend, Richard Gagnon and charged them with first-degree murder and burglary.

Horry County Sheriff’s police said there had been disputes between the victims and Bennett and Gagnon over money and the custody of Bennett’s two sons by a prior marriage. Witnesses said Bennett and Gagnon were at the Parker’s home the night before the bodies were found. Police said Charles Parker’s blood was found on one of Gagnon’s shoes and one of Bennett’s boots found in the Myrtle Beach residence where Gagnon and Bennett lived with the boys, ages 12 and 14.

Bennett and Gagnon had lived with the Parkers for a period of time, but they had moved out prior to the murders following disagreements between the two couples. For a time, Bennett and Gagnon and the boys lived in a tent in the woods and came into the Parker’s home to shower and eat when the Parkers were not home.

In May 2007, Greg Hembree, the prosecutor for Horry County, dismissed the charges against Bennett, citing a lack of evidence. Crime lab tests performed on the blood on her boot were inconclusive and did not link Bennett to the crime scene, Hembree said.

Gagnon went to trial in March 2008 in Horry County Circuit Court. Robert Lee Mullins, who was in jail with Gagnon while Gagnon was awaiting trial, testified that Gagnon admitted to him that he committed the murders.

“He never said he shot them,” Mullins told the jury. “He said, ‘I did it.’” Mullins also testified that Gagnon said he committed with the murders with someone else, but never named that individual.

A crime lab technician testified that Charles Parker’s blood was found on one of Gagnon’s shoes which were found in Gagnon’s residence after the murders.

Gagnon testified in his own defense and denied killing the couple. He said that after the bodies were removed from the home on the day they were discovered, Bennett asked him to go into the house and retrieve her purse and car keys. He said that when he went inside, he passed by the bathroom—where Charles Parker’s body was found. He explained the blood on his shoe by recalling that he saw a massive amount of blood on the floor and that he must have stepped in it when he was retrieving Bennett’s purse and car keys.

The defense also pointed out that DNA tests performed on blood found at the scene had identified a DNA profile that did not match the DNA profiles of either Charles or Diane Parker or the profiles of Bennett and Gagnon. However, the prosecution contended that the unidentified DNA came from the person who was with Gagnon when the murders were committed.

On March 13, 2008, the jury convicted Gagnon of two counts of first-degree murder and first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

By that time, police had matched the unidentified DNA profile from the Parkers’ home to a home invasion in 2006 in Horry County—after Gagnon was in custody. In 2009, the DNA profile was matched to that of 24-year-old Bruce Hill, whose DNA was entered into the FBI’s national DNA database after he was convicted and sent to prison in Tennessee for a home invasion there.

Hill was charged with the murders of Charles and Diane Parker and in 2011, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Authorities said that Hill and Gagnon had committed the crime together.

In 2012, Gagnon’s lawyer filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial. The motion said that Hill said in a prison interview that he had never met Gagnon.

At a hearing, however, Hill refused to testify.

Gagnon’s lawyer also presented the testimony of Robert Troy Taylor, a former preacher at Murrells Inlet Community Church, who had been convicted of sexually molesting young children. Taylor said that he was incarcerated in the Evans Correction Institution where he met Mullins—the witness who said Gagnon had confessed to the murders while awaiting trial.

Taylor testified that Mullins admitted to him that his testimony about Gagnon’s admissions was false. Taylor said came to know Mullins because Taylor played the piano in the prison chapel which Mullins frequented.

In 2012, Taylor said he met Gagnon in prison and that they studied the Bible and prayed together. Taylor said that he and Gagnon were playing cards in prison one day when Gagnon mentioned that a man named Mullins had been pivotal to his conviction. Taylor testified that when Gagnon said the name Mullins, he recounted what Mullins had told him years earlier.

“I think I probably could have pushed him over with a feather,” Taylor testified.

In January 2013, Horry County Circuit Judge Steven John granted Gagnon’s motion for a new trial and vacated his convictions. John credited Taylor’s testimony as the key to his decision. “Mr. Taylor’s statements were subject to rigorous cross-examination and he did not waiver in his statements…if his testimony is believed by a jury, it would cast significant doubt on the reliability and believability of Robert Mullins and therefore a significant part of the State’s evidence against Gagnon,” the judge declared.

In February 2013, Gagnon was released from prison on a $50,000 bond pending a retrial. On April 23, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/2/2015
State:South Carolina
County:Horry
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes