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March 4, 2010

Ditmore pleads guilty to murder

Sentencing hearing under way in 2008 shooting death in Brad.

MINERAL WELLS — PALO PINTO – William Edward Ditmore Jr., 47, of Brad, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to the murder of his 71-year-old neighbor, Robert Mackey, on April 24, 2008.

Shortly after he entered his plea, testimony began in the jury sentencing trial for Ditmore, who faces between five and 99 years in prison. 

The five-woman, seven-man jury watched two videos taken by investigators shortly after Ditmore was taken into custody April 25, 2008, on suspicion of murder in which Ditmore confessed to shooting Mackey three times with birdshot and dragging his body behind an outbuilding. 

During the recorded interviews, Ditmore told investigators it was unprovoked and repeatedly stated he did not know why he shot Mackey.

According to testimony, Mackey’s body was found around 2 p.m. April 24 by his neighbor, Ditmore’s stepfather, after men delivering cedar posts to Mackey’s business found only his hat and sunglasses on the ground.

The 911 caller stated it looked like a possible wild animal attack and Mackey wasn’t moving. 

Sheriff Ira Mercer was the first on scene and found Mackey’s hat with evident shotgun pellet damage. 

Mackey’s body was found yards away behind a trailer.

“He was still fairly warm to the touch but it was obvious he was deceased,” Mercer said.

Deputy Linda Lusk testified she talked with Ditmore during initial canvassing of the area after the shooting.

Ditmore told her he had been sleeping and his parents had just informed him of the shooting, Lusk said.

“He talked a little fast and seemed nervous,” Lusk said, who chalked it up to the fact that a shooting had taken place across the street.

Ditmore was arrested after his stepfather called police reporting Ditmore had confessed to the murder. 

Then a sheriff’s deputy, Constable Gary Morris was a part of the team who responded to Ditmore’s residence when they received word Ditmore has fled into the woods, possible with a pocketknife. 

Morris told jurors he tackled Ditmore when he saw him coming out the woods on the property and did not heed commands to get on the ground.

After he was handcuffed and seated on the end of Morris’ vehicle and read his “Miranda rights,” Ditmore confessed to the shooting before officers asked any questions and offered to help law enforcement recover the gun and shotgun shells, according to Morris and the video taken by equipment in the patrol vehicle.

“I told my mom what happened,” Ditmore, who did not take the stand Wednesday, told law enforcement in the video. “Yeah, I can’t live with myself.”

Ditmore described shooting him in the back and then again in the chest.

“I don’t know why I did it, I don’t know,” Ditmore repeated throughout both recorded interviews.

“Bob was a good guy, he was an honest good guy,” Ditmore said, who described Mackey as a close friend of his stepfather’s.

According to his account, Ditmore had been out shooting turkey buzzards that day and stopped to talk with Mackey while he was walking through the woods.

After a 20- to 30-minute conversation, Ditmore said Mackey walked away to get back to work.

“I shot him in the back,” Ditmore said.

“He stumbles … goes ‘Oh, what the hell,’” Ditmore said. Ditmore then shot him again and when he tried to sit up again, Ditmore said he shot him in the chest.

Paramedics treated Ditmore for abrasions on his arm and a possible rib injury and Ditmore begged a cigarette from someone at the scene. 

Ditmore said he stayed up all night looking out the window every 15 minutes, expecting the sheriff to arrive.

“I deserve what I get and that’s that,” Ditmore said on the video, though he had earlier asked law enforcement if he could get a lesser sentence than the death penalty. 

When Mercer asked him if he’d ever had a problem with Mackey, Ditmore said “never.”

Ditmore then led investigators to the area where he’d thrown the gun in a ditch puddle across the road.

Lead investigator for the Palo Pinto County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Craig Goen, said Ditmore then led officers to the tree where the three shotgun shells were buried before he was taken to the Palo Pinto County sheriff’s department.

“Was he looking at you when you shot him in the chest?” Investigator Chad Jordan asked in the second video recorded interview.

“No, no, no, he was just sitting there,” Ditmore said. “I don’t know why I did it, it wasn’t provoked.”

Ditmore said he was standing about 60 feet away from Mackey when he first shot him, about 50 feet from the front porch where they had been talking. 

“And then it was too late and I had to shoot again,” Ditmore said.

Ditmore said he didn’t think he’d killed Mackey with his first shot. 

“I could have took off, got away from this but I just couldn’t live with myself,” Ditmore said. “I mean, what are you going to do?”

“It just doesn’t make sense, I’m not a bad person, never have been,” Ditmore said.

Ditmore said he was on mood-altering drugs often and sometimes drank at the same time, admitting getting into arguments when he was drunk.

Ditmore also said he had a history of mental illness.

A hearing last month found Ditmore competent to stand trial after he was examined two mental health professionals.

Goen said Ditmore’s record showed no history of assaultive offenses, though he had been arrested for driving under the influence, receiving stolen property, theft, larceny, contempt of court, and other offenses in Florida and Pennsylvania between 1996 and 2004. 

Dr. Tracy Dyer with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office said Mackey was 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 164 pounds at the time of his death. 

Dyer said they investigated three wounds and recovered birdshot and a shotgun wadding from his body. 

The wound to the upper back and and neck was spread out and the pellets did not penetrate major body cavities, according to Dyer. The shot was likely from many yards away and would not have been fatal, according to Dyer. 

The shot to Mackey’s right trunk area was closer and fractured ribs and went through his right lung, according to Dyer. It would likely have eventually been fatal, Dyer said. 

Mackey also had a shot to the heart that penetrated his chest bone, his heart and went down into his liver, according to Dyer. The shot was likely very close as the majority of the bird shot entered the hole along with the wadding from the shell, Dyer said.

Mackey’s death was ruled a homicide by multiple gunshot wounds.

“My father was 71 years old and wasn’t a physical threat to anyone,” Mike Mackey, Robert Mackey’s son, testified.

“It’s hard to put in words but it’s painful,” Mackey’s son said, describing the impact on the family to jurors.

Testimony was scheduled to resume this morning.



Staff writer Christin Coyne can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3428, or ccoyne@mineralwellsindex.com.

 

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