TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Local News

21 years later, murders continue to haunt family

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:39 PM
KEY WEST -

On a stormy August night in 1991, a gloved intruder cut the outside phone line of a stilt home along a private grassy airstrip in the Upper Keys. Next, he climbed a ladder to the second-floor balcony and entered through the sliding glass door of the new nursery.

The next day, pilot and plane parts dealer Michael MacIvor, 30, and his eight-months-pregnant wife, Susan "Missy" MacIvor, 29, were discovered dead by a neighbor and co-workers in Tavernier.

Both had been strangled. Missy, a third-grade school teacher, also was raped. The Monroe County Medical Examiner determined that their unborn child, who was going to be named Kyle Patrick, fought for his life inside the womb for about 30 minutes after Missy took her last breath.

"Imagine being home asleep." said Sharon MacIver, Michael's older sister. "They were tortured. I went to the crime scene afterward and there was (fingerprint) powder all over. You could see where all the struggle marks were."

For the young couple's families, the deaths were just the start of a nightmare. For five years, the killer remained a mystery. And that nightmare did not end in 1996, when a DNA match led to the arrest of a 6-2, 250-pound bodyguard and gas station attendant, Thomas Overton. Prosecutors said he had targeted Missy, who regularly bought gas at the station.

The emotional trauma also didn't end when Overton was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders in 1999. The appeals have dragged on for years, with no end in sight.

The MacIvors were back in a courtroom last week at Key West's Freeman Justice Center for an evidentiary hearing. Overton, 56, balding and still burly, was trying for a second time to get a new trial due to new evidence that his attorneys claimed would have altered the outcome of the verdict had it been available at the murder trial.

That new evidence included claims that a key witness in the murder trial, a jailhouse snitch named James Pesci, was bribed with prostitutes and alcohol provided by a prosecutor and two detectives.

The evidence also included a new witness who suddenly realized 12 years after the crime that her former boss, a private investigator, could be involved. This revelation came after watching a documentary segment about the murders on the TV show "Body of Evidence."

"His attorneys are just throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks," Sharon MacIvor said. "This is all ridiculous. This has ruined our family. You don't see my parents here."

"They passed away from stress," added brother Tim MacIvor. "Dad died in 2000. Mom died in 2004."

The siblings sat through the daylong hearing Tuesday as attorney Roseanne Eckert, with the state-funded Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's south office, presented Overton's case before District Court Judge Mark Jones.

In the June 2006 legal motion that led to the hearing, it stated that Monroe County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jon Ellsworth arranged for Pesci to be taken to the Holiday Inn (now La Concha Hotel) on Duval Street, "where he sat at the bar in his jail garb and shackles." Ellsworth put his coat over Pesci to hide the jail uniform.

Linda Mroz, then an investigator for the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, said she believed Pesci was telling the truth because he had great detail about specifically ordering a Long Island Iced Tea.

Another time, Ellsworth was said to have arranged for Pesci, who was in jail on charges of raping a woman in a Key West hotel, to have oral sex with a prostitute while shackled and handcuffed in a detective's vehicle.

Ellsworth, now retired, last week emphatically denied Overton had received such treatment.

"It was so ridiculous when I heard about it all that I just laughed," he said.

Pesci — whose real last name is Zietnek, goes by the name Pesci because he thinks he looks like the actor Joe Pesci. He testified last week that he had made up the story about the special treatment. Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson said the "wild allegations" were concocted one month after Pesci was sent by the courts to the Civil Commitment Center for an indeterminate sentence for treatment as a sexual predator.

"He was angry," Wilson said. "But then he had a change of heart."

Wilson added that the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's attorneys knew the allegations were false when they filed the motion in June 2006. On Tuesday, Overton's lawyers also presented Sandra Shaw, a new witness for the case. Shaw testified that on the Friday before the MacIvor murders, her friend and part-time boss, private investigator Martin Woodside, and his Marine Corps buddy named "Sam" came by her Hollywood home. She said they told her they had just returned from the Keys. She offered them dinner.

"I said, 'Come on, I'm killing some crabs here,'?" Shaw said. "Martin said, 'Well, Sam here really likes killing people.'?"

Shaw said she thought it was just Marine Corps bravado. In the next couple of days, Shaw said she heard about the MacIvors' murders. She said she recognized their names because she had typed reports for Woodside that had them listed as being under surveillance, but she had no copies of those reports.

Shaw also testified that three weeks later she saw a gun and duct tape in the trunk of Woodside's car. Shaw said she never reported any of this information to anyone at the time.

It was not until 2004 while watching "Body of Evidence" that she said it dawned on her that Woodside and the guy "Sam" might be involved. But instead of going to the police or prosecutors, she wrote emails about the information to several media, including Stone Phillips of NBC's "Dateline," columnist Carl Hiaasen of The Miami Herald and "America's Most Wanted." No one responded.

After more than a year, the Innocence Project put her in touch with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel. Mroz, the counsel's investigator at the time, testified that she traveled to Shaw's current home in North Carolina to check out her credibility. She said she also talked to ex-wives of Woodside, who said he had not been paying child support and just "dropped off the planet." Mroz never spoke to Woodside during her investigation, nor to Ellsworth.

Public records show that Woodside has always maintained a residence in South Florida. Woodside did not return a detailed phone message from The Miami Herald seeking comment.

Judge Jones is expected to issue a decision in about two months on whether Overton will get a new trial.

"This motion was just a delay tactic," Wilson said. "Presumably if the motion had any merit, they would have been beating down the courthouse to have it heard."

The motion was filed in June 2006 and for five years collected dust in the clerk's office at the Key West courthouse.

It's now been nearly 21 years since the MacIvors were killed and more than 12 years since Overton was sentenced.

"He's evil — a vile, vile representation of the human form of evil," Sharon MacIvor said. "Why is he still breathing?"

The Florida Supreme Court has denied Overton's direct appeal (in 2002), and it has denied an appeal of the trial court's decision not to issue a new trial after a 2004 evidentiary hearing.

There are 395 inmates serving death sentences in Florida. A majority have spent at least 12 years on Death Row. Gary Alvord, who killed three women in Tampa in 1973, has spent 38 years and counting.

"I know this is part of the American process that makes our country so great," Sharon MacIvor said. "But I think this country should speed up the process."

At the 1999 murder trial, the jury took less than two hours to find Overton guilty.

"The DNA was the star witness," Ellsworth said last week.

Overton's DNA matched samples found in Missy MacIvor's bedroom. Dr. Robert Bever of Bode Technology testified that the likelihood of finding another individual whose DNA would match was one in 4 trillion Caucasians, one in 26 quadrillion African-Americans and one in 15 trillion Hispanics.

Overton had refused to supply his DNA after a 1996 burglary arrest. But law enforcement got a sample of his blood when Overton intentionally cut his throat with a razor and a towel used to stop the bleeding was left in the jail cell.

Those familiar with the case believe Overton was not attempting suicide but rather inflicting superficial wounds so he would be taken to the hospital, where there is better opportunity to escape. (At age 14 he escaped from detention while getting treated at a hospital.)

At sentencing, Overton told the judge, and his lawyers, that he did not want to mount any defense or allow his mother to plead for his life. Instead, Overton laughed and smiled during the hearing, according to newspaper accounts.

"He's pretty cagey when it comes to the courtroom," attorney Manny Garcia, who co-represented Overton during his murder trial, said in 2001.

Death sentences usually receive higher scrutiny by appeals courts than life sentences. "And you have to know his history," Ellsworth said. "Those people would be alive if he hadn't gotten off on his 1981 conviction."

Career criminal Overton was sentenced to 99 years in prison in Escambia County for robbery with a firearm. But in 1989, the conviction was thrown out because a prosecution witness, who reportedly was once Overton's girlfriend, said she lied on the witness stand. Overton was granted a new trial, but it did not occur because evidence had been destroyed.

The next year, Overton was a suspect in the murder of Rachell Surrett, 20. Her decomposed body was found in the Upper Keys. Overton told officers he had been on a date with Surrett the night she disappeared. That homicide remains unsolved.

In 2001, Overton went to trial for the 1996 burglary of a mobile home that was unrelated to the murders.

"The judge said, "Really, the guy's already got two death sentences,'?" Ellsworth said. "It was, 'Yes, your honor. How many people have to die? We've got to stop this guy.'?"

Overton was sentenced to life in prison on those charges.

Recently, while Overton was at the Monroe County Detention Center awaiting his hearing, officers discovered the middle ring was missing from a three-ring binder he had in his cell with hearing information. When officers tried to have Overton change rooms to search for the missing ring, he refused. It required several officers to forcibly move him.

The Monroe County SWAT team traveled with Overton to and from the Union Correctional Institute in Raiford. The team and other officers also escorted him between the county detention center and courthouse. And in the courtroom during Overton's hearing, 15 uniformed and plain-clothes officers packed the place — more than the number of spectators.

"He sits in jail 24 hours a day just thinking of ways to get out," Sharon MacIvor said. "He should never be free to do terrible things again."

Comments