UPDATE, Friday, Oct. 22
Why exactly did Stephen Allen Talley of Perryville decide to turn himself in this week in three 1999 murders – a couple in Perry County and 19-year-old Carson Prince of Little Rock? The five-year-old cases apparently had gone stone cold for investigators.
"It’s unbeknownst to me," says Perry County Sheriff Ray Byrd, to whom Talley gave his initial confession about midnight Tuesday. "I asked him probably four times."
Byrd had known Talley for years and was a long-time friend of Talley’s wife, who often confided in the sheriff about problems with her husband. She told the sheriff that Talley had started "arguing and acting strangely" in recent weeks. Several times, he volunteered, "I probably need to go talk to Ray Byrd." Finally, during a spat Tuesday, he said, "I’m going to talk to somebody." Mrs. Talley encouraged it, hoping it would "help him get his head on straight," Byrd reports.
The rest was a huge relief to law enforcement officials. He told a dispatcher he wanted to talk to the sheriff. Why? Two murders. The sheriff was called immediately from his bed. He got a confession to the Prince case first. She fell out of Talley's truck as she struggled with him. He'd picked her up after she ran out of gas on I-430 and she tried to escape when, as Byrd put it, Talley started acting "hinky." He then told Byrd about the abduction and murder of Christopher Barnes, 25, and his girlfriend Barbara Leggitt, 16. He told it in chilling detail, including the shooting of the Perry County man at point-blank range at a remote spot popular for parking couples and the terrified girl’s attempted bolt for freedom. Talley told how he ran her down, bound her with duct tape and raped her. Her skeletal remains hadn’t been found until Talley gave investigators a precise description of where to find them.
Talley has been checked for connection to other unsolved crimes, Byrd said. He says he’s guilty of only the three murders. He specifically was asked about, and denied a connection to the long unsolved killing of a woman at a highway rest stop near Morrilton.
Talley had had some previous brushes with the law. There was a complaint that he was taking videos of young women at Lake Sylvia, that resulted in no charges. Byrd said Talley was taken into custody by Perry County authorities several years ago after Pinnacle State Park rangers accused Talley of masturbating in front of gay men gathered in the park.
Byrd asked Talley if his conscience had been bothering him. He was non-responsive. "He came in all reluctant. I’d call him cowed down. And he remains that way today." Byrd finally insisted that he call a lawyer and Talley got in touch with a public defender Friday afternoon.
11:15 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 13
The State Police have announced an arrest in the high-profile 1999 slaying of Carson Prince, 19.
The daughter of former Little Rock Mayor Tom Prince and Suzanne Hixson, a deputy prosecutor, was killed when thrown out of a moving pickup on Interstate 430 near Maumelle April 28, 1999.
The arrest was made early Wednesday morning. The suspect turned himself in to Perry County authorities and confessed to two other slayings in 1999. He apparently was unknown to Prince, but picked her up after her car ran out of gas on the freeway. The investigation reveals that witnesses who obtained a partial license plate number on the pickup when Prince tumbled out came tantalizingly close to getting it right.
The State Police came under great pressure over the years for not making enough progress on the case, which was featured on a network TV show about unsolved crimes. Sources say the suspect was not among those considered at the time, but a spokesman declined to address that question directly today.
The State Police issued this news release Thursday afternoon:
Stephen Allen Talley, 38, of Perryville, Arkansas has surrendered to the Perry County Sheriff’s Department and is in custody charged with three counts of capital felony murder.
Talley is charged in connection with the June 21, 1999 deaths of Barbara Leggitt, 16, of Perryville and Christopher Barnes, 25, of Perryville and the April 28, 1999 death of Carson Prince, 19, of Maumelle.
Perry County Sheriff Ray Byrd contacted the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division yesterday morning following the surrender of Talley at approximately 12:30 AM Wednesday (October 20, 2004) morning.
Charges have been filed in Perry County District Court in connection with the deaths of Leggitt and Barnes and in Pulaski County District Court relating to the death of Prince.
Over the course of the past five years these cases have remained active and investigators assigned to the cases include those from the Perry County Sheriff’s Department, Arkansas State Police, Federal Bureau Investigation, and 6th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney.
The investigations involving these cases remain open and active. Other than the information contained in the attached affidavits, the Arkansas State Police will have no further comment relating to specific information about the investigations.
Investigators concede this is a case solved by luck, a suspect's voluntary appearance. But luck counts, if investigators compile sufficient corroborating evidence to make the case should he change his mind.
Affidavits filed in court detail some of that case.
They say that Talley went to the sheriff's office about midnight Tuesday and said he wanted to confess to killing three people. He said he was "looking for someone to rape" and picked up Prince from the side of the road as she walked back toward a service station. He said Prince realized something was wrong and panicked. She told Talley that her father was mayor of Little Rock "and if anything happened to her, he would haunt him for the rest of his life."
Talley said he became scared and struck Prince in the head with a crescent wrench. She opened the door and tried to get out. Talley said he pulled a 9-mm handgun and told her to get back in. He said he braked and Prince fell from the truck. He said he saw her hit her head on a guardrail and knew she wouldn't live so he continued on to Highway 10. Police say his statements are consistent with witnesses' statements and physical evidence.
Investigators seized the 1989 Ford pickup that Talley was driving that day, now owned by a stepson and repainted. The police found items removed from the truck, such as a toolbox, side rails and exhaust modifications, that witnesses had noted.
Talley's wife Virginia told investigators that he was worried someone might call because his truck and license number were similar to those reported by witnesses. He told her to say he had not been in Little Rock. She said that instruction, and his truck, had always made her feel he was involved in Prince's death.
Christopher Barnes and Barbara Leggett were last seen June 21, 1999. Barnes' decomposed body was found four days later and he apparently had been shot. Leggitt's body had not been found. Talley told investigators that he killed Barnes so that he could rape Leggitt. He said he abducted her, raped her, strangled her and left her body in another part of Perry County. As a result of his information, her skeletal remains have been located.
The arrest raises questions. Was Talley ever in the pool of potential suspects and, if witnesses had come so close to correctly identifying the truck and license plate at the time, as sources indicate, why wasn't it turned up in the extensive license plate search that State Police claim was done at the time. A police spokesman said it would "not be in the best interest" of the investigation to "address historical information" about information previously published, such as a description of the truck and the possible license number.