The man who pleaded guilty in August 2021 to murdering a Fort Worth teenager in 1974 has filed an appeal for a re-trial.
Glen McCurley, 78, waived his right to a jury trial on the third day of court proceedings last summer and changed his plea to guilty of capital murder. Judge Elizabeth Beach accepted the plea and sentenced him to life in prison.
McCurley confessed to the kidnapping and killing of Carla Walker, a 17-year-old Fort Worth girl whose murder haunted her family and friends for decades. Her family waited more than four decades for answers in her disappearance until DNA technology and a dogged police investigation led to McCurley’s conviction.
Through his attorneys, McCurley appealed the sentencing in December. In McCurley’s appeal, his lawyers say the DNA evidence against him should not have been admitted in the trial, police acquired DNA from McCurley’s trash without a warrant and Fort Worth detectives induced a confession from McCurley.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office replied to the appeal in April In the response, prosecutors dismiss the arguments made in the appeal, saying that the conviction should stand.
On May 24, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Fredericka Sargent and McCurley’s defense attorney Steven Miears argued McCurley’s appeal before the Second Court of Appeals.
Carla was last seen on Feb. 16, 1974, when she and her boyfriend, Rodney McCoy, attended the Western Hills High School Valentine’s Day Dance. The two parked in a bowling alley parking lot after the dance.
In his confession, McCurley told detectives he was drinking whiskey and beers that Saturday night and driving around the town. He said he saw Carla and McCoy in the car and attacked — he yanked the door open, beat McCoy over the head with a pistol and dragged Carla away. Carla’s body was found three days later in a culvert near Benbrook Lake.
Decades later, Fort Worth police Detectives Leah Wagner and Jeff Bennett re-opened the cold case. Through coordination with various forensic labs, the detectives utilized forensic genealogy and new DNA extraction technology to zero in on McCurley as Carla’s killer.
A DNA profile was created and analyzed by Othram, a forensic genealogy lab based in a Houston suburb, and the Serological Research Institute out of Richmond, California. The DNA profile was eventually matched to a DNA sample police obtained from McCurley — first from a McDonald’s straw pulled from McCurley’s trash and then from a direct DNA sample that McCurley consented to.
Employees from Othram and the Serological Research Institute testified at McCurley’s trial and described in detail the process in which McCurley’s DNA was linked to Carla.
In the appeal, McCurley’s attorneys said testimony and evidence from Othram and the research lab should not have been used in court because Othram and employees with the Serological Research Institute lab were not accredited through the Texas Commission on Forensic Science.
However, as the DA’s office points out in its brief, Othram and the research lab utilize technology that is so new, an accreditation process does not yet exist for them.
The appeal also says the DNA sample pulled from McCurley’s trash should not have been able to be used in court because police did not have a warrant for it. The appeal acknowledges that police legally do not need a warrant to search trash, but argues the legal search does not extend to discarded DNA.
“The search of trash for observable physical items is profoundly different from the laboratory analysis of the trash to obtain a DNA profile,” the appeal says.
In its answer to the appeal, the Tarrant County DA’s office says “there are no privacy rights attached” to trash or the DNA found on that trash.
Finally, the appeal argues McCurley’s confession was induced. According to the appeal, Fort Worth detectives promised McCurley he would not get the death penalty if he confessed. For a confession to be used in court, a person cannot have been persuaded or compelled into confessing.
During the trial, Tarrant County prosecutors showed footage of McCurley’s interview with detectives Wagner and Bennett, in which he confessed to killing Carla. He told the Fort Worth detectives that he “just got carried away” when he strangled and killed Carla.
The appeal includes a back-and-forth from the video interview in which McCurley says if he tells the detectives what happened, he will be hanged or go to the electric chair. One of the detectives says, “They’re not going to do that to you. I promise you.”
In the appeal, the attorneys said this is evidence of the detectives persuading McCurley to confess.
However, at the trial, detectives said they told McCurley those punishments were not going to happen because those punishments do not exist — people who are given the death penalty are given a lethal injection, not put in an electric chair or hanged.
“While there was a discussion of possible punishment, it ended with Detective Wagner explaining that, ultimately, it was for a jury to decide,” the DA’s office said in its reply. “In any event, Appellant was plainly more concerned about his wife and who would take care of her if he was in prison, regardless of the sentence.”
McCurley’s attorneys say that distinction was not clear, and it does not matter if McCurley’s confession “was true or false.”
McCurley was arrested on Sept. 21, 2020, at his Fort Worth home. McCurley lived near the Walkers’ house — his sons went to the same school Carla attended.