Keith Canaan

The law has always been something that I have been fascinated with.  I used to think, and sometimes I still do, that my dream job would be to be a lawyer.  In fact, I went to school and although I left a few credits short, to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Paralegal Studies.  When it is brought up in conversation my husband will often remind me that while being an attorney may be my calling it would not likely be as a defense attorney.  I will admit that if I were in fact a defense attorney I likely would not be a popular, or a rich one seeing as I am very much about personal responsibility and about the law.  If you are a reader of my blogs then you should know that there have been cases in which I believe the right person has been convicted for a crime, and yet I do not agree with the tactics taken to get that conviction.  There are also those that I believe are guilty who have been set free either because the state did not fully prove their case or because the defense did a good job at presenting reasonable doubt.  My problem often lies in the tactics that many defense attorneys will use to create that doubt. I could say to you that it does not matter to me if those tactics work or not for their client but I would not be telling the entire truth if I were to say that.  Making up theories to create doubt, whether it works or not, in my opinion is wrong, but when I do admit that when it does work it angers me more  One could argue that a prosecutor often creates a theory about a crime since there are very few prosecutors who go to trial knowing exactly, for a fact, what happened in a crime.  I give credit to those prosecutors who state unequivocally that it is a theory they are presenting and we know that this theory is created based on the evidence available.  A defense attorney has not only the right but the duty to argue the legitimate things that they can fight but I do not feel they have the right to make things up, often making accusations again other people when they know their statements cannot be backed up not only by evidence but by witnesses.  This is just such a case.  

At about 2:45 on the morning of December 29, 1985 Linda Rush returned to the Evansville Indiana  apartment she shared with three other women. When she got home the door was open but she did not think too much about it. They had recently had issues with the door staying shut, even when locked, when the outer door to the building was opened and caused a gust of wind.  Judging from the evidence and information I found this was not the best area so despite there being trash and things in the outer stairway that did not seem to be an issue for Linda either.  However, once she got inside things did not look right as the apartment looked as if it had been ransacked.  Linda knew her roommate, Lori Bullock was home because Linda had been using her car that evening and spoke to her on the phone around 9pm to see if she could keep it longer.  Lori had told her she was staying in as she had to be at work in the morning.  Linda made her way to Lori's room and at first did not notice anything because the light was not on but all of that changed when the light switch was flipped.  Inside Lori's room Linda found her laying naked, covered in blood and saw a butcher knife sticking out the side of her neck.  

Obviously the police were called and an investigation started immediately.  The autopsy would later report that Lori suffered from over 20 stab wounds, many of them to her vaginal area, although she had not been officially sexually assaulted.  It was pretty obvious from the start that a robbery had also occurred as there were things such as jewelry and money missing from the apartment but also things such as food was scattered inside and outside the apartment.  Strangely there had even been meat removed from the freezer that had later thawed and drained onto other items. Strangely this would play a key role for both the prosecution and the defense.  While of course the investigation began and focused on the apartment itself, the entire building and the occupants had to be looked at.  One key piece of evidence found, although they obviously did not know it at the time, was a pack of Kool cigarettes in the outer stairway (most reports say the pack was there while few say it was just a cigarette). Investigators would claim that there was saliva near the cigarettes also that was later tested. As is the case with so many of the cases that I blog about DNA was not an option in 1985 so forensically investigators relied on fingerprints and simple blood typing. 

Within a few short days Keith Canaan had made it to the suspect list but I can really only speculate how in the beginning as my research indicates while witnesses saw him and later identified him they did not seem to know his name. Then again there is the issue that A fingerprint of Canaan's was found on a box of spaghetti that had been removed from the apartment but then again IAFAIS was also a thing of the future and there were many fingerprints found in the apartment.  At any rate regardless of how he was identified as a subject is all but irrelevant because as time went on witnesses would come forward and he would face a trial for murder.

Initially all investigators really knew was that Linda Rush had spoken to Lori around 9pm and it was she who returned home about 2:45am to find her dead. No one knew what happened in between and that is what the had to figure out. As investigators moved their way around the building, there were four apartments in the building (two upstairs, two downstairs) with an outer door leading inside, they found their way to the neighbors upstairs.  There lived a young couple by the last name of Clark.  They seemingly had some sort of party or at least a small get together earlier in the evening.  They claimed that at about 10:45pm the previous night a man, who they later identified as Keith Canaan, knocked on their door and said he was looking for the girl who lived across the hall.  He was described not only as nervous but as strange and he seemed excited to think the Clark's were having a party and acted as he wanted to join.  A few minutes later he knocked on the door again asking if anyone would want to buy his bike for $30.  Once again he was refused and the door was closed.  The Clark's and their visitors said that they heard, or saw, Canaan knock on the door across the hall and then heard him knock on a door downstairs.  One of the visitors left the Clark's hoe about 12:30am and told officers that he saw the pack of Kool Cigarettes on the stairway at that time.  

At some point in time, at least eventually, it was determined that the man, who was later identified as Canaan, was the same man who had knocked on Linda and Lori's door a few weeks prior also looking for someone who lived upstairs but had said they were not home and asked if he could come in and wait for them.  On at least one of those occasions he had a case of beer with him and proceeded to sit on the couch and pass out.  He left only when one of the roommates woke him and told him to leave.  Everyone claimed that at no time did he touch anything in the kitchen.  This testimony was important because prosecutors would later claim that a fingerprint belonging to Canaan was found on the box of spaghetti that was found. Prosecutors would claim that the print was collected and found but that the actual spaghetti box could not be saved because it was one of the items that the thawed meat had drained on to. 

Within just a few days of the discovery of Lori Bullock's body the police had Keith Canaan in custody.  His first trial lasted one day in August of 1986 before it ended in a mistrial. His second trial was conducted in November of 1986 and on the 26th of that month he was sentenced to death.  In 2003 that sentence was overturned by the courts on the basis that Canaan claimed that he was not informed or spoken to by his attorney's about speaking a his sentencing hearing.  On June 7, 2005 it was finally agreed between Canaan's lawyers and the prosecutors that he would be re-sentenced to a total of 160 years (90 years for murder as a habitual offender, 50 years for attempted Criminal Deviance, and 20 years for Burglary).  So what was the evidence against Canaan that eventually led to his conviction?

As I stated earlier, although the Clark's had spoken of the strange man at their door that it was later discovered (although I do not know at one point) was the same man that had previously been in Bullock's apartment, and there was a fingerprint said to be found on the spaghetti box (remember we are talking about a time before both DNA or even IAFAIS), Canaan was a quick suspect.  My research did not indicated that he necessarily lived nearby but he did live with his brother, something the defense would later seemingly try to use.  Quite honestly he could have become a suspect so early because he was on the police radar already for other reasons and it is possible that the description given to them made them think they should just check in on him. Keith had just been released from jail on November 22, just over a month before the murder.  In 1983 he had been sentenced to six years in prison for convictions for confinement and issues surrounding a jail escape in nearby Gibson County.  He served half his sentence which is customary and had moved in with his brother, Kevin, in Evansville upon his release.  On December 11th he had been found loitering in downtown Evansville and in the process "smarted off" to officers.  My research indicated that the officers did not arrest him but took him to see his parole officer.  When Canaan met with the parole officer he admitted to him that he had been drinking (although not apparently at that point) heavily since he had been released.  This was a violation of his parole but there was nothing that the parole officer could do because he had to actually be caught intoxicated or in the presence of alcohol. It is not improbable that the parole officer informed the officers that had brought him in and so when the Clark's described the stranger that had come to their door they suspected Canaan.  

Later in the day on the 29th Keith, his brother Kevin, and a friend of theirs were out together when they saw some police officers nearby.  The friend would later testify at his trial that at the sight of the officers Keith became extremely nervous and began whispering with his brother but that he had repeatedly heard Keith say that he needed "to get out of here."  Kevin would later testify that Keith told him that he had been at a bar the night before and had a fight with a "biker" and had left him for dead. Kevin stated Keith asked him to pack him a bag and to get rid of some blood stained pants he had in his room.  The following day Canaan was picked up hitchhiking and carrying a duffel bag.  Inside the duffel bag they found some blood stained items and also saw that he was carrying a pack of Kool cigarettes (the same brand as found at the murder scene).  

In the process of all of this obviously friends, family and associates of Keith Canaan were interviewed.  Kevin Canaan told officers about the "biker story" and how he had asked him to get rid of the blood stained pants.  Kevin turned those pants over to the officers.  Kevin also stated that he and Keith had been at a Chi Chi's restaurant earlier in the day on the 28th and that Keith only had about $5.00 on him and that when he left him there Keith was attempting to sell his bike to Chi Chi employees.   One of Lori Bullock's roommates stated that she knew for a fact that Lori had about $200 in her wallet when she died but when the investigators looked her wallet was empty.  A waitress from a restaurant testified that Keith received a bill from their place dated at 12:45 am and had been in the establishment for 35-45 prior to paying for the bill. After that Keith met up with a friend, Kirk Pfeiffer and asked for a ride. Pfeiffer would testify in court that Keith offered him gas money and when he observed him counting his money Keith had at least $100.  He was next seen at a restaurant around 4am.  A waitresses testified that Keith asked her how to get blood stains out of clothing.  As far as forensics available to the prosecution for the trial they had the fingerprint from the spaghetti box, blood type from the saliva on the Kool cigarettes in the stairway matched Keith Canaan and blood found on shoes he had when apprehended as well as the pants that Kevin Canaan stated were his brothers matched Lori Bullock's blood type.

The defense obviously had their hands full when it came to defending Keith Canaan.  I do believe they had a few valid points that they could have made, and did.  When it came to the fingerprint found on the spaghetti box the defense pointed out that the spaghetti box was actually outside the apartment and yet 85 other prints were taken from inside the apartment and seemingly none of those matched Keith Canaan.  They were justified in pointing out that not only did the apartment have a lot of traffic in and out but the entire building did also.  They also pointed out that the blood typing simply narrowed the scope but it was hardly conclusive as at least 33% of the population shared that blood type.  Where I take issue with when it came to the defense is they tried to indicate, at least to the media, if not to the jury, that another possible suspect was Keith's brother, Kevin.  They indicated to the media, although I found nothing in my research to substantiate this claim, that Kevin Canaan had also been in the apartment building that night and that the brothers looked so similar that witnesses were later uncertain which brother they had seen.  They also made a big deal about the fact that the duffel bag that Keith was in possession of when he was apprehended was packed by Kevin indicating he could have planted things to make Keith look guilty.  They continued this theme when discussing the blood stained pants Kevin gave them as well as things found inside Keith's bedroom in the home he shared with Kevin.  There never appeared to be any evidence that Kevin was involved what so ever.  Of course it appears the jury obviously did not buy this theory and more than likely this may have been based on the fact that Keith's bike was also seen and he was known to have it with him on the night of the murder. 

I must be fair in saying that I do not know exactly what the defense attorney's at the trial knew or believed at the time they represented Keith. However, with that being said, at least at some point throughout the years Keith Canaan has admitted to not only being in the apartment but also being the one to murder Lori Bullock.  Now of course, as with many stories by admitted criminals, his story of what happened on that night is full of holes and seems to put him in the best possible light as he can muster.  What we do know is that at the very least by 1993 Keith Canaan has told his story to a neurologist who would later testify in a hearing in which his attorney's were attempting to obtain a new trial. According to the story in which the neurologist testified to Keith Canaan had expressed to him that he had gone to the apartment building to buy marijuana from one of occupants but "couldn't find her." He then claimed that he saw a party (this would be at the Clark's apartment) but he "couldn't get in." He then claimed that he saw Lori Bullock's door ajar and began going in rummaging through things.  He stated he had either brought or had gotten a knife from the resident and unlocked a bedroom door to which he was confronted by Lori Bullock who had just gotten out of the shower. In Canaan's story to the doctor Lori saw the knife and in her attempts to get away "ran into the knife." He went on to claim that was all he could remember of the night because he was highly intoxicated.  So why would a doctor presumably tell this story at all considering doctor/patient confidentiality let alone in a courtroom?  Well the theory behind this hearing was to show that Keith Canaan had obtained brain damage through drugs and from sniffing things, such as glue and paint as a teenager and that this had not been or allowed to be examined thoroughly in his trial in 1986.  According to the doctor this supposed brain damage had affected his impulse control as well as his ability to make rational decisions. At the time of the hearing Keith Canaan was still on death row and in my opinion this was just another tactic in appeals to have his sentenced reduced.  In his 1989 appeal his attorney's were still arguing about some of the evidence in the trial, seemingly in attempts to in a sense still maintain his innocence.  By his 1997 appeal they began talking about his mental stability and possible neurological issues. In discussing that issue his attorney's claimed that Keith's family had not been able to testify.  In the courts finding they found that his lawyers had contacted his family but they were less than willing to cooperate. 

Aside from the murder, the trials, and the appeals there was another aspect of this crime that made the paper.  Lori's mother, Patricia Hilsmeyer, was obviously overly distraught over the loss of her daughter.  She, as many of us often can be, was confused as to why Keith Canaan was even still on the street. It was her belief, and rightfully so, that if he would have still been in prison her daughter would have been alive.  She contacted the Governor of Indiana several times complaining of what is called the "good time law" and explaining her position.  She stated in the media that she received a letter back that in essence told her that judges and juries knew that when a sentence was enacted that the perpetrator would likely only spend half the time they are sentenced.  This obviously brought no comfort to Patricia Hilsmeyer.  She also had her name in the news in between the trial that ended in a mistrial in August of 1986 and the start of the second trial that November.  The mistrial had been declared because one of the officers that apprehended Keith Canaan described the items that were in his duffel bag and used the phrase "prison boxer shorts." The judge decided that a large number of the jury members heard this reference and felt that it would prejudice them in knowing that Canaan had a criminal past.  This greatly disturbed Lori's friends and family, her mother especially.  They had been given a taste of what the defense was intending on saying and this also upset them.  In between the two trials Patricia had sought treatment with a counselor.  She also had made contact with at least one of the defense attorney's.  It was reported that she had expressed her dismay that they had elected to represent Canaan.  It was said that she had stated, probably what most families of homicide victims would like, that if their tactics allowed Canaan to go free it was her hope that his next crime spree involved them or their family.  This was perceived as a threat which caused extra security within the courtroom for the second trial. Extra security, which includes people being searched, is not always a bad thing when it comes to a trial like this.  I am sure Patricia was simply expressing her frustration and was less of a threat than was perceived.  

In the end, despite not receiving a death sentence, society at large will never have to worry with Keith Canaan again.

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