The day before Kenneth Munson was scheduled to go on trial on June 17, 2003, prosecutors met to discuss a potential plea agreement. Munson, who had already admitted involvement in the crime, had waived his request for a speedy trial and began working with prosecutors on a deal. In the meantime, Hugh Munson, who Joseph McCormick identified as the driver of the dark blue or black Camaro tied to Peggy Sue’s kidnapping and slaying, was released by investigators after he passed a polygraph examination. “We thought there wasn’t enough evidence to keep him,” said Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling. “At this point, we don’t feel that witness testimony was credible.”
As just a simple country blogger here with no legal expertise, I’m baffled as to why the sheriff would publicly undermine the credibility of potential witnesses that could be called upon to aid in the prosecution of someone for the murder of Peggy Sue Altes. They’ve already made a deal with McCormick for his testimony. Even if Gulling thought McCormick’s story lacked credibility, why wouldn’t he just keep his mouth shut about it? Why is he providing ammunition for a possible defense and sewing seeds of doubt for a future jury to chew on? And, if McCormick’s story lacked credibility, why then did prosecutors give him such a sweet deal, especially when they had him dead to rights with the DNA?
Remarkably, as prosecutors prepared for trial, Joseph Mark McCormick was serving the final months of his sentence for child molestation. Due to good behavior, McCormick only had to serve three years of his six year sentence, and he had already been given time served for his pretrial stretch in the Hancock County Jail. That meant, at the time of his sentencing, he had only a little over a year left to serve. The man whose DNA proved he raped an 11-year-old girl, along with his own testimony tying him to a kidnapping and a murder, served a mere three years in prison.
On August 21, 2003, Kenneth Wayne Munson testified at a bond hearing for William T. Beever. Beever’s attorney, Larry Amick, confronted Munson with an array of statements and testimony Munson had given to investigators and the courts over the years. Munson had variously given statements omitting mention of William Beever and testimony identifying Beever as the assailant of Peggy Sue. Munson also testified in McCormick’s bond hearing that his brother, Hugh Munson, was involved in the crime, but at this bond hearing denied his brother’s involvement. Despite Munson’s conflicting testimonies, Joseph McCormick’s testimony corroborated the account that William Beever delivered Peggy Sue’s fatal stab wounds, and that Hugh Munson was involved with the crime, whether or not he was present at the time of the murder. Ken Munson’s story that Beever committed the murder is cited also by Judge Hamilton in his decision freeing Jerry Watkins. This is not a new version of events, invented to garner a plea deal, but one that had been mostly consistent over the years, and McCormick’s testimony confirmed it.
On Thursday, September 18, 2003, Kenneth Wayne Munson agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal confinement resulting in serious bodily injury of a child. Although he faced a potential 20 year sentence, Munson got six years. With good behavior and time served, he would be out in as little as three years. This is a man who admitted in court to pushing Peggy Sue to the ground and stabbing her. But, of course, Hancock County prosecutors were playing the long game, right? They were strategically building a case against William Beever, the man who actually delivered the fatal stab wounds, and they were going to use the testimony of McCormick and Munson to secure that conviction.
In February of 2004, prosecutors sought a delay in the trial of William Beever because new evidence had surfaced strengthening their contention that William Beever delivered the fatal stab wounds that lead to the death of Peggy Sue Altes. “We had some things that came out of statements (from Beever’s defense),” Hancock County Prosecutor Larry Gossett told the Daily Reporter. “You think a case this old would be done, but new things keep coming up.” At the time, this seemed like a very positive development. The prosecution had two witnesses who confessed to their own involvement in the crime, and were serving prison sentences, ready to testify to Beever’s participation. Now they had this new information. After twenty years, the table was set to finally convict the actual perpetrator for the brutal murder of Peggy Sue Altes. Next to the scarcity of evidence and lack of reliable witness testimony in the Jerry Watkins case, this prosecution must have seemed bullet proof.
In April of 2004, a week before the trial of William T. Beever was scheduled to begin, the Hancock County Prosecutor Larry Gossett moved to drop the charges. Prosecutors cited the need for more time to investigate. Additionally, prosecutors were up against an April 28 deadline to bring the case to trial or the charges would be permanently dismissed. The move to drop charges now bought them another year to investigate and refile at a later date. Of course, prosecutors would never bring William Beever to trial for his involvement in the slaying of Peggy Sue Altes. He would, however, be convicted for raping an 11-year-old Marion County boy and be sentenced to a 70 year prison term where he would eventually die while incarcerated. Reportedly, Beever had threatened to kill the boy if he ever told. But the boy, knowing Beever was securely behind bars in the Altes case, gathered up the courage to tell his story. In the end, this brave boy did what prosecutors in Hancock County were either incapable or unwilling to do. His courage put a very dangerous man behind bars and brought about a small measure of justice for Peggy Sue and her family over Peggy Sue’s murder.
On Veterans Day, November 12, 1984, a little girl had the day off school and desired only to spend it playing with friends. She went to Porter Park and played with some young boys she met there. Most likely, they talked about school and kids they each knew and teachers they disliked. They flew high on the swings, watching their feet stretch towards the sky. No doubt, they occasionally released their grip on the chain and felt themselves float free of their seat on the swing. There Margaret “Peggy Sue” Altes let go and drifted weightless in the air above Porter Park, laughing, gleefully shrieking, and hovering over a bare patch in the grass where she would eventually, in due time, come to land.
“There are days when it is all I can do to hold it all together,” Myrlene Altes told the Daily Reporter in November of 2004. “You don’t forget a child or something like this. They say that God knows what happened. They will have to stand before God and take his punishment.”
The Indianapolis Star
The Indianapolis News
The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)
Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)