Convicted Tahoe murderer back in court to battle for a new trial
The 1979 convicted murderer who has been back in El Dorado County fighting for a new trial had a chance through his attorney this week to question the retired sheriff’s detective who handled his case, and also a man whose testimony had been key to his nearly 30-year-old conviction.
Thomas Michael Clark, who lived at Solano State Prison for 28 years, first filed court documents for a second trial in 2003. He alleges misconduct on the part of investigators and also by the man who prosecuted him, former District Attorney Walt Miller.
Clark, 53, was convicted of the 1978 murder of Richard Husman, whose skull was found off Highway 89 near Lake Tahoe. Clark reportedly killed Husman after he owed him $500 for a cocaine deal.
Clark’s two primary allegations are that Robert Overdeck, a man who testified in 1979 that Clark admitted to the murder, might have been promised a deal for his testimony, and that a key interview by another witness, Clark’s girlfriend, was withheld by Miller.
Overdeck had two pending criminal cases at the time of his 1979 testimony, but both he and Miller testified recently that no deal was given to him to come forward. Overdeck later was convicted of an unrelated murder in 1983.
Clark also says his former girlfriend, Celeste O’Dell, was interviewed while under hypnosis (a tool used by investigators in the ’70s), and that the audiotapes of that interview were not released to his attorney, then-deputy public defender Gregory Haas (who later became an El Dorado County judge). Haas testified last year that he never was given the tapes and admitted to tension existing at the time between him and Miller. The tapes are known to exist, based on reports filed by law-enforcement officials.
Retired detective Edward Newman testified this week that he wasn’t present during the hypnotized interview of O’Dell, but said she previously had stated that she, at the time of the murder, heard a gunshot and saw Clark return from the woods and say, “You’d better not say anything,” and, “Would you rather see me dead than him?”
Overdeck also returned to testify this week but did not take the stand until after press time.
Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe, who is handling the case for the prosecution, said he doesn’t see merit in any of Clark’s claims.
“He’s basically throwing a bunch of allegations on the wall and hoping something will stick,” Uthe said.
The South Shore senior prosecutor said the case’s age makes it difficult to respond to the claims. Uthe also said he still considers Clark an extremely dangerous sociopath.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of these lifers, and I can tell he’s still a threat,” he said. “With some of these guys, you can tell they’ve matured with time and are ready to be released back into society, but Clark’s not one of them.”
“And to kill someone for $500 says a lot about the way his thought process works,” Uthe added.
Clark will be back in court next week to conclude the hearing. Judge James R. Wagoner then will decide if the evidence presented warrants a new trial.
Clark has been housed in the El Dorado County Jail since 2005.