16 years ago on this day,
Summary: In October 1996, Trisha Stemple’s body was found near Highway 75 in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. Her death was briefly investigated as a hit-and-run accident, but as the investigation progressed, the Tulsa Police Department began to suspect that Timothy Shaun Stemple had orchestrated the death of his wife.
Stemple was ultimately charged in her death with First Degree Malice Aforethought Murder, Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Murder, and Attempted First Degree Murder. At trial, the prosecution put forth evidence that Stemple concocted a plan to murder his wife, mother of his two children, then ages 11 and 6, and collect the proceeds of her life insurance policy, worth almost $1,000,000.
Stemple was having an extra-marital affair with Dani Wood. Dani Wood had a sixteen year old cousin, Terry Lee Hunt. According to Hunt, Stemple offered him $25,000 to $50,000 to help kill Trisha (if they collected the insurance money). Hunt recruited another person, Nathanial Helm to assist in the plan. Helm and Hunt went to Wal-Mart where they purchased a baseball bat and plastic wrap. The plastic wrap was wrapped around the bat to keep the bat from getting bloody. On October 10, 1996, Hunt and Helm went to the designated location on highway 75 and waited for Stemple and his wife to arrive. A while later Stemple drove up and told Helm and Hunt that Trisha was ill and he could not get her to accompany him.
Two weeks later, Stemple arranged for Hunt to drive Stemple's pickup to a particular location on highway 75 and leave the hood up. Stemple and Trisha arrived in their black Nissan Maxima. Stemple began working on the truck and Trisha stood next to the truck. Hunt came up behind Trisha and hit her in the head with the bat. The blow did not render Trisha unconscious, so Stemple took the bat and hit her several more times. Stemple and Hunt then placed Trisha's head in front of the front tire of the pickup and attempted to run over her head, however, the tire would not roll over Trisha's head so her head was pushed along the pavement. After this, Trisha tried to get up. Stemple grabbed the bat and hit her several more times. The pair then placed Trisha's body under the truck and drove over her chest.
After this Trisha rose up on her elbows, so Stemple hit her again several times with the bat. Stemple then went back to the black Nissan and drilled a hole in the front tire to make it look as if Trisha's car had a flat. One expert testified that the hole in the tire had spiral striations consistent with drilling. Stemple and Hunt left in the pickup, but decided to turn around to make sure Trisha was dead. When they got back to the spot where they left Trisha, they noticed that she had crawled into the grass beside the road. Stemple then sped up and ran over Trisha as she lay in the grass. Trisha's body was found later that morning, after Stemple called reporting that she was missing.
The autopsy evaluation revealed that Trisha had fractures to her arm, ribs, pelvis, vertebrae and skull. The medical examiner concluded that Trisha died from blunt force trauma to the head. While in the Tulsa County jail awaiting trial, Stemple made numerous notes including confessions, lists of witnesses, etc. Inmates testified that Stemple tried to get them to arrange the death of several witnesses. The inmates also testified that Stemple gave them a copy of his confession. Included in these writings were sample letters for witnesses Terry Hunt and Dani Wood, detailing their involvement and exculpating him from the crime. Hunt and Wood were to be coerced into rewriting and signing the letters by persons hired by the other inmates.
Stemple claimed that he was at home when Trisha left during the middle of the night. Stemple testified that he believed that Wood was responsible for the murder of Trisha. Additionally, the prosecutor introduced a five-minute long videotape of an interview Tulsa police officers conducted with Stemple prior to his arrest, during which Stemple stated that he knew “how ugly this looks for me,” summarized the evidence which he believed the police would use against him, and eventually invoked his right to counsel.
Ultimately, the jury convicted Stemple on all three counts. During the separate penalty-phase proceeding, the jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances: (1) Stemple committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration; and (2) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. The jury therefore recommended that Stemple be sentenced to death on the murder conviction. The trial court sentenced him in accordance with the jury’s recommendations. Hunt pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
QUOTE 1: “Today is not about Shaun,” said Trisha’s little sister Deborah Ruddick-Bird. “Today is about justice and finality and closure for my gorgeous sister Trisha and my family.”
Trisha’s father was out of the country on a missionary trip but a lifelong friend wrote a statement on his behalf. A portion of the statement: “Before the judgment seat of Christ the Lord will determine the eternal outcome for his soul,” wrote Morris Ruddick.
QUOTE 2: Stemple will be a man they never have to face again.
“Today we put a period at the end of a chapter that has held us captive for far, far too long,” said Trisha’s sister.
QUOTE 3: They have a future without a woman they loved but also without the man who took her from them.
“Today we say all is well,” said Trisha’s sister. “Today we say it is finished.”