1999 was a memorable year. Prince wrote a popular song about it, the hit HBO series “The Sopranos” debuted, and John Elway earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIII with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons. It seems so long ago, but many of us can remember what experiences we had living in the last year of the 20th Century.
One local family could never forget that year because on a small, rural route northwest of Copperas Cove, Raymond “Red” Litchfield was found murdered in his home on January 29, 1999. His death haunted the Litchfield family because not only had they lost Red, but his murderer had never been brought to justice. It was a period of sadness and frustration that repeated itself for the next 16 years—until October 19, 2016, when a Coryell County jury returned a guilty verdict against Red’s wife, Margaret Litchfield, for murdering her husband so long ago.
Red Litchfield was 49 at the time of his death. He was born and raised in Coryell County and had lived on his family’s land outside of Copperas Cove with his wife, Margaret. His mother, Opal, had lived just 100 yards away on the same property. Red had been in the construction business his entire life, starting as a bulldozer operator, then eventually opening and managing his own home construction business. Like most country boys, Red loved the outdoors. He fished, hunted, and looked for arrowheads around the area, and he was always up for a domino game with his buddies.
On January 29, 1999, at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Red was found dead in his kitchen by his wife. She told authorities that she had left that morning for work at 6:30 a.m. Red was going to stay home that day because the weather was nasty and he couldn’t get any work done because of the rain. They got up that morning, had coffee (she drank regular and he drank decaf), visited, and Margaret said that as he was going back to bed, he had asked her to leave the gate open (an electronic gate at the entrance to the house that required a remote to open), as some guys were going to come out and play dominoes. Before she left, she went into the back bedroom, leaned over to kiss him goodbye, and told him, “See you later, lazy bones.”
Margaret left the house that morning and went to several places for work and errands. She was a home cleaner by trade, so she went to the first home to clean that day, then to Lampasas to get her truck worked on, then back to Copperas Cove where she stopped by Chess’s, a popular coffee restaurant. She told investigators she stopped there to look for Red (but he wasn’t there), then went to get her vehicle registration renewed, then back to Chess’s, then to the grocery store, then back to Chess’s one last time before making her way home. That’s when she said she found Red’s body at about 2 o’clock p.m. She then called 911 and waited for emergency personnel.
The Coryell County Sheriff’s Office, along with several Texas Rangers, responded to the scene to conduct the investigation. No forced entry was indicated, and nothing was missing from the residence except for Red’s .22 Ruger pistol, which he kept in his bedside table. Investigators learned from the scene that the shooting began in the bedroom where Red was in his bed. Six .22 bullet casings were found in the room, and several gunshot holes were in the mattress, floor, and door. Red was first shot in bed, got up to escape the shooter, and stumbled through the bedroom, down the hallway, and into the kitchen, where his body was. His blood was found along this entire path: on the bedsheets and floor, the walls in the hallway, and the floor in front of the refrigerator.
EMTs noted that Red’s body was “hard as a rock” and that it was in full rigor. He had three gunshot wounds, one to his side that was a through and through, one to the right side of his chest, and another on his back on his right shoulder blade. His body was taken to Dallas to the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science for an autopsy, and his death was declared a homicide. Investigators believed his time of death to be at least six hours before he was found, but at that time no expert was enlisted to help establish time of death.
Investigators first met with Margaret that night to take her initial statement about that morning’s events and to collect any other information that would be useful to the investigation. She said that she knew no one who wanted to harm Red and that things had been going well for them financially and personally. Red had planned to purchase a new boat that day and was set to meet with the bank to do all of the financial paperwork. Margaret told investigators that there was no insurance policy on Red.
Investigators interviewed bank employees, friends, family, and other people who worked with Red in the construction business, and none of his family, friends, coworkers, or subcontractors knew of anyone who wanted to hurt him. Through an interview with one of the bank employees, investigators learned that Margaret had frantically called the bank the day before her husband’s death to reschedule his financing meeting so that she could apprise him of a debt she had incurred on a Discover credit card. She was concerned that he would learn of the debt at the bank and be upset that it could affect his financing options for the boat.
In the meantime, investigators requested that Margaret submit to a polygraph, and she agreed. The results revealed deception on her part, and investigators began to believe that she was involved in her husband’s death. However, collecting the evidence to prove her involvement was challenging. She had clear alibis for where she had been that morning, her whereabouts were corroborated by a host of witnesses, and her story was consistent and did not change. Plus, there was no apparent motive.
The case eventually grew cold as no new leads were secured. Rangers retired, and other investigators were reassigned as two new sheriffs were elected over the years. Red’s sister, Faye Powell, bought an ad in the local Copperas Cove newspaper every year on the anniversary of Red’s death seeking any information that would help in solving his murder. This went on for over 15 years.
I was elected District Attorney in 2012 and took office in January 2013. About a year into my first term, Faye’s husband, James Powell, approached me and asked me to look at the case again. The family firmly believed that Margaret was involved in the murder and requested that I consider evaluating the case to determine if anything could be done. At my direction, my legal assistant pulled the old file, and we began to review the events as they happened in 1999. I engaged my new Ranger, Jason Bobo, who was already familiar with the case because Faye had reached out to him as soon as he was assigned to this area.
Upon initial review, I had the same concerns as the family: that Margaret either knew more about or was more involved in her husband’s death than she initially represented. The facts surrounding the shooting itself caused me to believe that the murderer would have to know intimate, personal information about Red the day he was killed. More questions than answers soon developed, and we believed those questions would be best asked through the grand jury process.
At the grand jury, we called all the previous witnesses, even Margaret Litchfield on two separate occasions, and collected as much of the old information as possible (as well as some new). During that time Margaret’s story made some significant turns, more importantly how and when she last saw her husband. In 1999, she claimed the last time she saw him, he was returning to bed and that she leaned over and kissed him goodbye, telling him, “See you later, lazy bones.” However, in her testimony to the grand jury in 2013, she claimed that the last time she saw him alive, Red was naked and smoking pot at the kitchen counter. This was a serious deviation in her story, even with 15 years passing since the murder.
We also gathered information about Margaret’s whereabouts that day that suggested she had intentionally traveled to and stopped at locations throughout the area to create her alibi. Additionally, we determined that the Litchfields’ financial condition was not as robust as Margaret told investigators in 1999. The payout of a life insurance policy, which Margaret had initially lied about to the original investigators, had a significant impact on the investigation. What she wrote on the applications for the policies’ claims was inconsistent with her original statements to police. Once grand jurors considered the information, they returned an indictment for murder against Margaret Litchfield.
In the meantime, we tried to establish a reasonable time of death on Red. Dr. Kendall Crowns, a medical examiner from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, worked on this for us. This was a crucial part of the case because in 1999, investigators didn’t identify a possible time of death. The only information at that time was a notation from the responding paramedic that she believed Raymond to be deceased at least six hours. To get an expert opinion on this issue, Texas Ranger Jason Bobo and I traveled to Austin to visit with Dr. Crowns, taking with us pictures of the crime scene, reports from the EMTs, and the autopsy report. Dr. Crowns believed that Red’s death occurred prior to 6:30 a.m., which we always felt was true. Because pinpointing an exact time of death can be very difficult, Dr. Crowns established a window of time based on the pictures, statements, EMT reports, and the autopsy report, that Red’s time of death was anywhere from six to 18 hours before his body was found, but in his opinion more likely around the 12-hour mark. That meant that Margaret would have been in the house when Red was killed.
Additionally, we reached out to Tom Bevel of Norman, Oklahoma, to assist us in the crime scene reconstruction. It was imperative that we establish that the shooting began in the bedroom while Red was in bed. If that were true, the shooter would have had to pull up to the house, navigate two dogs that weren’t friendly to strangers, enter the residence, walk through the house to the back bedroom where he slept, get the .22 Ruger from his bedside table, walk to the other side of the bed, and begin shooting. These facts indicate that the shooter had personal, intimate knowledge about Red and the house to carry out such a crime. Mr. Bevel confirmed the original investigators’ belief that the shooting began in the bedroom, and he eventually testified about his conclusions based on his review of the crime scene photos, sketches, and investigators’ reports.
At this point, we felt that we were prepared to make a strong case against Margaret Litchfield. With a better understanding of the time of death, a confirmation of the sequential events of the shooting itself, and the interview with the bank employee who talked to Margaret about the debt she had incurred, we were ready for trial.
As we were putting the finishing touches on our trial preparation, we learned that one of the Litchfields’ neighbors, who had told investigators back in 1999 that he heard gunshots around noon the day of Red’s murder, was in an Illinois prison for shooting and killing his wife. Understanding that the defense could possible point the finger at him, we secured a subpoena to bring him from Illinois and have him testify at trial. Steve Miller, the neighbor, testified that he had heard several gunshots at the noon hour. He had also observed Red’s house at about that time and said that no one was there, and there was nothing unusual at the house that caused him to believe that the shots came from the Litchfields’ place. Investigators in 1999 had known about the gunshots and had learned that several soldiers from Fort Hood who lived in that area had been target practice shooting, and the shots Steve Miller had heard had come from them. At that time, Miller didn’t even own or keep a weapon.
As the trial progressed, the most compelling evidence against Margaret came from the banking issues. The bank clerk who had taken her call in 1999 regarding Red’s appointment with the bank testified that it was a conversation she would never forget because Margaret’s demeanor on the phone was so erratic. Margaret had called frantically the day before Red’s death asking to move his appointment with the bank, which was scheduled for the next day, because she needed time to disclose a debt to her husband. Additional bank records found by Ranger Bobo showed that Margaret would draw funds out of Red’s construction account to cover another account in a bank in nearby Killeen. It was obvious that the Litchfields’ financial situation was not as stable as Margaret indicated in 1999. Additionally, despite her representation that there were no insurance policies on her husband at that time, we learned that several policies existed. In fact, she had received $30,000 from one of them, which she never told law enforcement.
The jury took three hours for deliberations before returning a guilty verdict. Judge Trent Farrell of the 52nd Judicial Court sentenced her to 60 years.
Looking back on how we approached this 17-year-old murder case, I realize how important it is to give certain cases a second and third look. Re-evaluating information (and then testing that information against its original source) and enlisting help from the law enforcement community on how that information has changed can make an old or cold case take a drastic turn. In this case, our re-evaluation of what led up to the murder of Red Litchfield ultimately led to closure for his family and justice for our community. i