Sunday, April 6, 2003

Patton's wife pleads in Flint River case

Misdemeanor charge for concealing body in 1977 killing by husband


Norma Jean Patton told her husband over the years that he would eventually be caught for killing Liddie Matthews Evans 25 years ago because of advances in DNA technology.

Mrs. Patton spoke briefly with The Citizen after pleading guilty Thursday morning to concealing Evans' death by helping her husband, Carl Millard Patton, throw the Jonesboro woman's body over the Flint River bridge on McDonough Road.

Norma Patton also said the killings had weighed on her heavily over the years. Now, she plans to get on with other difficulties and joys in her life, including finding justice for her daughter, Melissa Wolfenbarger, who was found dead a short distance from her Atlanta home in 1998.

"I'm raising two grandkids and I have a daughter ... now it is my goal to see the person responsible goes to jail for her death," she said.

Wolfenbarger's husband Christopher has been questioned about his wife's death but he has not been labeled a suspect in the case, which is now being investigated by the Atlanta Police homicide division. Christopher Wolfenbarger never reported her missing, but he told police that she walked off from the couple's home and never came back.

For her role in Evans' death, Mrs. Patton was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $1,000 fine by Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr.

Caldwell said she was "fortunate" that the crime was a misdemeanor at the time of the killings.

"If that were not the case, you'd be charged with a felony and I'd put you in prison, do you understand me?" Caldwell said.

Caldwell, ironically, was the district attorney at the time 25 years ago when Carl and Norma Patton were originally arrested for Evans' murder. Caldwell indicated at the time that there was not enough evidence to hold the couple on murder charges, so he allowed them to be released from jail.

The difference between now and then is in the advances in DNA technology, which late last year was used to identify blood on a sofa cushion taken from the Pattons' home as that of Liddie Matthews Evans. The case broke when that cushion was found in the evidence room of the Clayton County Police Department, which originally investigated the case along with Fayette since Evans' body was found after outdoorsmen discovered the body of another woman floating in the Flint River on the border between the two counties.

Although prosecutors have said Norma Patton helped plan the killings, she did not kill Evans, said District Attorney Bill McBroom.

By agreeing to testify against her husband, Norma Patton played a substantial role towards the resolution of the death of Evans, her boyfriend Joe Cleveland, and two others, testified Lt. Col Bruce Jordan of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department.

"It is my opinion she saved the taxpayers a lot of money," Jordan said, adding that he requested the "deal" that gave Mrs. Patton immunity from any murder charges relating to the four killings.

Carl Patton has already pled guilty to those four killings and he has been charged with a fifth murder stemming from a 1973 case in Henry County.

Mrs. Patton's case had to be adjudicated as a misdemeanor since when the crime was committed in 1977, concealing the death of another was not a felony as it is now, explained McBroom.


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