'Truck stop killer' to go on trial in Wilson County

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 12:29pm

The second murder trial for Bruce Mendenhall, the man known as the “truck stop killer,” is expected to begin in Wilson County on June 21.

That’s when a disposition date is set for Mendenhall, 59, and likely when his next trial date would be set. Mendenhall is charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence if convicted, and abuse of a corpse in the June 2007 death of Symantha Winters, 48.

Davidson County juries convicted Mendenhall in two cases surrounding Sarah Hulbert’s murder and a murder-for-hire plot to kill witnesses and detectives in the case.

Hulbert’s body was found on June 26, 2007, at a TA truck stop near downtown Nashville, and Winters’ body was found June 6 of that year in a trash can at a Lebanon truck stop.

Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Tommy Thompson said the Winters case is closely tied to the Hulbert case in that much of the evidence came from the Metro Nashville Police Department’s investigation after Mendenhall was spotted returning to the Hulbert crime scene a couple weeks after her body was found.

Brian Fuller, assistant district attorney for the 15th Judicial District, agreed that evidence from Nashville “will be an integral part of our case,” though he declined to discuss specifics.

For the sake of the Hulbert jury, testimony from both sides danced around evidence of possible other murders found in the cab of Mendenhall’s truck. Blood and other items from several possible victims were found in a bag in the truck.

Immediately following Mendenhall’s conviction for the murder of 25-year-old Hulbert, Metro Homicide Detective Pat Postiglione characterized the other cases as "very strong."

After police arrested Mendenhall in Nashville, authorities in other states contacted the MNPD to see if Mendenhall, who is from Albion, Ill., was responsible for similar killings.

In 2008, authorities in Indianapolis, Ind., charged Mendenhall with the July 2007 murder of 31-year-old Carma Purpura. In Birmingham, Ala., he’s charged in the death of Lucille Carter, 44, also from July 2007. He is suspected in several other cases as well.

Mendenhall was already serving a 30-year sentence in a murder-for-hire plot before receiving a mandatory life sentence for killing Hulbert. He won’t be allowed before the parole board for at least 51 years of his life sentence.

With a sentencing hearing set for June 18, Davidson County Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said he would file a motion to make that life sentence consecutive to the one Mendenhall is already serving.