Prosecutors say jailhouse letters show suspected serial killer's desperation

Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:27am

Although no decision was made at a hearing Friday on whether or not to exclude from his murder-for-hire trial a suspected serial killer’s jailhouse letters and phone calls, the prosecution used excerpts from two dozen of them to paint a picture of Bruce Mendenhall’s desperation.

“Unless I get some alibis, I'm done,” Mendenhall wrote to his now-deceased wife.

“The only way to beat this system here is with some alibis,” he writes in another.

“I will get the death penalty for sure unless some alibis start popping up,” said one.

Those are quotes from sections of 24 letters read aloud during the hearing. The letters were selected from nearly 500 letters and phone calls Mendenhall has written to or received from friends, family and pen pals. Although most of the writings talk of daily minutiae and family matters, prosecutors hope to introduce portions of the letters they argue give a glimpse into the former truck driver's state of mind.

Mendenhall is scheduled to go on trial later this month on solicitation of murder charges stemming from his stay in jail while suspected in the murder of Sara Nicole Hulbert. The 25-year-old’s body was found at a north Nashville truck stop in June 2007.

Throughout the writings selected by the state, Mendenhall presses friends and family to look for individuals who might have seen him on the date and says he wishes someone would step in and account for his whereabouts.

State prosecutors said the letters and phone calls sketch Mendenhall's desperate attempt to find witnesses and create false alibis for the night of Hulbert's death. When these attempts fail, Mendenhall felt his only option was to have witnesses and police officers killed, they argued.

Mendenhall allegedly approached fellow inmate Ray Lucas McLaughlin and asked him to arrange the deaths of five individuals including witnesses Laurie Young, Richie Kiem and David Powell, and Metro detectives Lee Freeman and Pat Postiglione.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Sobrero argued the letters and phone calls show Mendenhall's oblique attempt to convince others to lie for him in order to establish an alibi. The material is relevant because it records the suspect's efforts to escape his charges, efforts that ended with the murder solicitation, she said.

“The charges that he is on trial for – the solicitation – are the end result of a number of ways he tried to get out of his murder charge,” Sobrero said. “From the beginning, he's trying to set himself as being somewhere else, he's trying to get other people to say he was in places other than Nashville when the murder happened. He's trying to get witnesses to lie for him. All of that is relevant towards his frame of mind.”

The material would be too prejudicial, the defense maintained, and should be suppressed.

Public Defender Dawn Deaner countered the state's assertion by pointing out that nowhere in the communications does Mendenhall specifically ask anyone to concoct an alibi for him.

“There is not evidence in the letters or the phone calls of him actually asking that to be done,” Deaner said. “There is talk all around it, there's talk about 'wouldn't that be nice,' and there's talk of 'oh what if.' But there is no actual evidence of him asking someone to lie for him.”

Judge Steven Dozier will issue a decision on the letters at a later date.