09 | Cut!

bystander: one present but not taking part in a situation or event: a chance spectator.

edit/1 c: to alter, adapt, or refine esp. to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose; 3: DELETE

cutting room: a room where film or videotape is edited—often used attributively in cutting-room floor to describe something removed or discarded in or as if in editing a film. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

Innocent bystanders are a staple of stand-up comedians and cartoonists. Who can’t relate to an ordinary joe who happens onto something grisly or grotesque? But a bystander who stumbles onto a crime scene is no joke. He’s a defense lawyer’s worst nightmare because he has no stake in the case. Duane’s bogeyman was thirteen-year-old Bret Walker.

Bret was Greg Frye’s best friend. He lived one block from the Fryes, a three-minute walk. The morning Betty was killed, Bret wanted Greg to go with him to 7-Eleven. He rang the Frye doorbell twice before Duane answered. Bret insisted that was shortly after 11:30 a.m. The clocks with the loot in the garage near Betty’s body stopped at 11:22, 11:23 and 11:27. If Bret was right, Duane’s house was being burglarized while Duane was answering his own front door.

Timing was why Bret came forward. When a neighborhood kid told the Wackers he heard Betty was murdered between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Bret said it couldn’t have been before 11:30 because he was at their house. He was certain of the time because he’d been watching The Monkees and switched the channel to Sherlock Holmes for his brother just before he left. He said he’d be home in an hour, and his mom looked at the clock and thought, he better be back by 12:30. The T.V. Guide for June 9, 1973 said The Monkees ran from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 on Channel 9 and Sherlock Holmes began at 11:30 on Channel 2.

Duane’s defense team had three ways to deal with Bret: change his time of arrival, alter his testimony to favor Duane, or discredit him as a child. Duane’s alibi for the crucial hour and a half that morning was jampacked with trips to Safeway, a liquor store and a megamall, and two visits to a nearby Chevron station where he’d left Betty’s car.

Confronted, Duane first admitted Bret came over looking for Greg, but claimed it was an hour earlier. The T.V. Guide nixed that. Defense investigator Jim Blake monkied some more with the timeline. He changed Bret’s arrival to between 11:45 a.m. and 11:57. To account for Duane’s presence at the house when Bret arrived, Blake added a third visit by Duane to the Chevron to retrieve a jacket he’d left in Betty’s car. Duane then returned home just long enough to throw the jacket in the closet a minute or two before Bret rang the bell.

Blake also reported that Bret said Duane was dirty from doing something with a car seat. This was a whopper. In 1973, Bret’s father refused to let Blake interview his son, and Bret told the cops and the grand jury Duane had no dirt or stains on his clothes. Was Blake trying to explain away the bruise on Duane’s forehead? Finally defense lawyer Davies jumped in. He told the Littleton Independent the only person who placed Duane at the scene at the time of the killing was a child.

Forty years later, Bret Wacker was a tech company executive. He remembered going to his best friend’s house the day Greg’s mother was killed and Duane answering the door. As a boy, he’d walked into a murder scene; as a man, he knew he was lucky to be alive. The cold case dragged on for years. Duane’s lawyers called dozens of witnesses, but not Bret. They left him on the cutting room floor.

Did you ever stumble onto something by chance? Did you realize its significance at the time? Did you feel responsible later to reveal what you saw or heard?

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