I tend to not blog about cases until they have at least some sort of finality. Of course I many, if not most, of the cases here obviously involve cases in which there have been convictions and the defendant is in the appeals process. This case has finally, after over four years, gotten to that point. It has sat near, or at the top, of my list of cases for quite some time but the trial against Victoria Rickman has been delayed many times. A few weeks ago the television show 48 Hours did an update on this case and showed that the trial had finally commenced and concluded, but the show was about much more.
I suspect that many of the readers here watch television shows like 48 Hours and Dateline, but also watch the Investigation Discovery channel with their multitude of reality television shows based on crimes. Over the years there have been several different shows following crimes. The show The Shift was always particularly interesting to me because it followed detectives in Indianapolis Indiana, where I grew up, so it was always neat to me to see actual places I was familiar with. The show Inside Homicide was similar and followed the detectives in the case against Victoria Rickman in Atlanta Georgia. Unlike The Shift that had at least three seasons, Inside Homicide only aired seven episodes in 2014 as they followed cases in the Atlanta area. The first episode aired on October 9, 2014 and was titled The Black Widow. This was the Victoria Rickman case. I had remembered seeing this show, likely when it first aired. The detective in charge, Summer Benton seemed to be the star not just of this episode but of the series itself. Before Victoria Rickman ever went to court in essence both Inside Homicide and Detective Benton would face their own interrogations. This case and this show started asking questions on whether these types of programs, especially those aired before a trial has been commenced, damage the cases in any way.
On September 13, 2013 Victoria Rickman called 911. She reported that her (ex?) boyfriend, Will Carter Jr. had entered her home and after raping her she had shot him. Detective Benton, along with the crew of Inside Homicide, went to the scene. They found Will Carter's body riddled with bullets. He had been shot nine times (some say ten), three of which were apparently from the back. At least one was a head shot. Detectives only had to look at the record of both Rickman and Carter to see that there had previously been reports of domestic violence against both of them, from the other, in the past. Prosecutors would later say that at the time of the shooting Rickman was facing charges of battery against Carter and they would claim that would play a role in the shooting.
Within a very short period of time, while the film crew was taping, Detective Benton was reporting that she did not believe Rickman's claim of rape as she believed she saw no sort of struggle in the room the rape allegedly occurred, she did not see scratches on either Rickman or Carter and because of the amount of gunshots fired. She announced either to the crew or to dispatch that was aired on the show that Rickman had apparently done a “tactical reload” of the weapon which would have eliminated any self defense claims.
Rickman was taken to the hospital for an examination where it was determined that she had engaged in sexual activity but no tears or injures to her vagina area could be found which left the question of rape open. They did note that she had bruises on her arm and leg but of course could not determine when exactly they had been administered. Meanwhile Will Carter's body was taken to the morgue where an autopsy was performed. This too became controversial Rickman had claimed that Carter had been erratic in his behavior. There had been questions as to whether he was had any drugs or alcohol in his system as apparently this had been an issue before. This would be a huge point for any sort of defense. If Will Carter had either been impaired by alcohol or drugs it could have given more credence to Rickman's story. There were reports by those who knew him, and apparently records to prove that Carter had been addicted to drugs in the past. All is seems his family would say was that it was something “more than marijuana” and that after several years of battling addiction he has sought help. There were allegations and of course the possibility that he had fallen into addiction again although friends and family disputed that. The problem arose when no such toxicology tests were taken. It would later be argued that Benton had not been with this particular department for very long and was unaware that the medical examiner did not automatically conduct these tests and that they had to be requested by the detective in charge. Of course Rickman's defense team pointed to this as just one more claim as a shotty investigation. The idea was that the answer as to whether Carter was impaired on that night would never be answered.
Within seven hours of the shooting Victoria Rickman was arrested and charged with murder. The prosecution would claim that she had all but lured Carter to her home and when he refused to drop the battery charges against her she shot him in cold blood. They pointed out the shots that he obtained to the back. Now, if you read articles on this case, many of them claim that he was shot “at least ten times in the back” but the reality is that only three of the many bullets were obtained through his back. The defense would argue that in the heat of the moment of her shooting the gun, in self defense, and basically emptying the gun, the victim had either turned on his own or had turned as the force of the blasts made him. They would also argue that when one is defending themselves, as they and Rickman would claim, that it is not unusual to simply continue to fire. The defense biggest claim leading up to the trial was that the television show had unjustly tainted any jury pool. Prosecutors, but more importantly, the judge disagreed and while it would take over four years Rickman would face a jury.
I have to say the prosecution theory is a little confusing to me. They presented a audio tape found on Rickman's phone, who had apparently taped the altercation with Carter that had led to the pending charges against her. In the audio tape Carter was very clear that he wanted nothing to do with Rickman anymore and that he thought she was “crazy.” They presented witnesses that would claim that Carter continued to make these claims as well as claiming he was scared of Rickman and that in their opinion he had no intention of attempting to work things out with Rickman. And yet, the prosecution would then claim that Carter loved and adored Rickman up until his dying breath. I find this difficult to reconcile. They say it is the latter issue that allowed Rickman to “lure” him to her home on the evening of the shooting. They would go on to claim that Rickman did this in attempts to get Carter to drop the battery charge she was facing and that she had already decided to shoot him and kill him if he disagreed to do so. They say this was the motive behind the murder and while I found litte but their theory to to claim premeditation it did allow them to file first degree murder charges against her. At the time Rickman was all but renting a room off a friend of hers and she had asked the man to stay at his mother's home on the night of the shooting so she could have some time alone. Whether the man knew Carter was coming is unknown. It was while he was gone this night, and with the only other witness (Carter) dead, that the shooting occurred. By the time the trial commenced in August of 2017 however the prosecution did have to tread a bit lightly when the issue of Inside Homicide came up and also were all but forced to drop the issue in which Detective Benton claimed Rickman had made a “tactical reload” when committing the murder. It had been discovered that this was not true based on the evidence. It appears that Benton did not know specifics on the weapon that was used and her statement, no matter how much she believed it at the time was untrue. The amusing thing about this is that when the episode of 48 Hours occurred in November of 2017, after the trial, and Benton was first interviewed she refused to admit that she was not only wrong about the statement or that she should have made the statement at all in front of a film crew. It appears that after the initial interview however she spoke to her superiors and decided that she should take a softer approach. While later she did admit that she was wrong, she refused to admit that it made any difference in the investigation or the case.
The defense of course had actually quite a bit on their side. First they had a first hand account of how the investigation was handled. This was evident on the Inside Homicide episode. While they had argued that the airing of the show could have tainted a jury and on one hand likely did not want potential jurors to see it, they were able to show just how much inaccurate information was in the broadcast. The issue of the reload was just one of many issues they had. They attempted to show through the episode just how a tunnel vision theory had been concluded. They of course also had the mistakes made in the investigation, including the failure of toxicology on Will Carter. They let the jury know that during the autopsy blood had been drawn but again, without specific instructions the medical examiner did not do any testing. Eventually the blood was destroyed, which also destroyed any chances of collaborating Rickman's claim. The defense argued that the fact the victim obtained bullet wounds to the back (they said three) did not mean that he was attempting to get away and still argued self defense. It was their argument that when placed in a situation of fear a person (in this case Rickman) picked the gun up that sat on the side table in the bedroom and just simply continued to fire until the gun unloaded.
The defense also brought up issues with the weapon that was used but to be fair I am unsure if this helped or hurt the defense. Rickman had apparently become friends with a man named Rick Price. Price was a deputy sheriff in the county and they had supposedly met outside the local courthouse a few months before the shooting. Price would say that Rickman appeared with a black eye and several bruises and indicated that she was in an abusive relationship. Rickman and Price became friends and he gave her one of his personal guns. He also took her to a local shooting range and showed her how to use it. It was this gun that was used in the murder. In fact, after the shooting telephone records show that Rickman called Price before calling 911, something he says he instructed her to do during the two minute phone call. Price was eventually let go from the department but it is unclear if this was because of his involvement with Rickman or the fact that he appeared to withhold information in an investigation. Prosecutors obviously could not dispute the friendship but both they and detectives involved apparently believe this was a “scheme” developed by Rickman to imply abuse and have an officer on her side. This goes with their theory of premeditation. They would paint Rickman as a manipulator who could get people, especially men, to believe her stories, do things for her and give her things. The defense of course wanted to use the issue that Price had given her the gun for protection after believing her story of abuse.
After a two week trial the jury took only a few hours to return a verdict of guilty on September 1, 2017. In October Rickman was sentenced to life without parole, plus five years.
Personally I am unsure how I feel about this verdict. I have to tend to agree with the defense, maybe in not how the television show could have influence jurors, but in how the investigation was played out on the show. Detective Benton made several inaccurate comments while to crew was filming and none of it was clarified in the end so the viewer would see her statements as true. But, the bigger issue with me that has me on the defense side in this issue is the apparent tunnel vision used by the investigators based on those inaccuracies. I am a firm believer that many, if not all, of these types of programs are bias in one way or another. The producers go in wanting a story to be told and depending on which side they take depends on what the viewer sees. Few people take the time to do research and see if everything is accurate. I find the same issue when I research a case. This case is a good example. If I read only one article on this case I would come away believing that Will Carter was shot ten times in the back. I would have also believed the television show when Benton claimed that Rickman had reloaded the gun. In fact, I remember when I saw the episode I did believe that and for me the re-loading ended any thought of self-defense, at least at that moment.
To not believe that these types of shows do not just influence the viewer but also the investigators involved is simply unreasonable. I know that several readers here likely enjoy the series Cold Justice that previously aired on TNT. I too enjoyed that show in the beginning until not only did I realize how quickly, and with so little evidence it seemed suspects were arrested. Many of their episodes have added this information at the end of the show. There were accusations that police departments were pressured to make arrests based on the information the show had gathered prior to the airing or threatened it would not air. I have done more than a few of the cases that they showed in that series and more than one of them have ended in an acquittal. I believe this is based on the pressure the departments were to make the arrest. In most jurisdictions there are time limits on pressing charges as well as taking a defendant to trial. It does not look good for a prosecution if an arrest is made, or even charges filed, to have them dropped even if more information is found later to properly charge. So just the arrest and charges filed is a hurdle for prosecutors. There is such a demand for these types of shows and the pressure is on to have them solved that in my opinion things are not done as properly when someone has such a huge spotlight on them.
I am sure that Victoria Rickman will be appealing her case but only time will tell if the courts will decide if she received a fair trial and investigation.