News and Tribune

March 6, 2013

Murder charges filed in Clarksville teen’s death

Accused has history of violent sexual crimes

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The man believed to have carried out the brutal killing of a 17-year-old girl in her Clarksville apartment Saturday was charged in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 on Wednesday.

Richard Carley Hooten Jr., 49, was arrested by Clarksville police about five hours after the battered body of Tara Willenborg was discovered in her Cambridge Square Apartments home by her boyfriend about 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

Hooten appeared for his initial hearing without counsel, as Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull, who are representing the state, sat nearby.

Judge Vicki Carmichael presided over the court and read to Hooten the charges he faces. 

The charges issued by the Office of the Clark County Prosecutor are murder, a class A felony; rape and criminal deviate conduct, both class B felonies; abuse of a corpse, a class D felony; and habitual offender.

Stewart said he has not decided whether or not the death penalty will be sought, and that he expects that decision to be made in the next two weeks.

Hooten told the court the extent of his schooling is the completion of the eighth grade, after Carmichael asked him of his educational background. He also requested the judge appoint him a public defender. 

Following a suggestion made by Stewart, Carmichael said Hooten will remain in the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex without bond until further proceedings. 

When Stewart began speaking with area media, he took a moment to remind everyone that Hooten is presumed innocent until found guilty at trial. Stewart also remarked on Hooten’s past criminal history.

“The allegations include no less than six prior felony convictions, which include aggravated assault, sodomy, rape over three states — Georgia, Kentucky and Indiana,” Stewart said.

He said it is likely the state will not offer a plea bargain, and the trial date, which was set for Aug. 13 during the hearing, will take place.

“I can’t see a whole lot of plea bargaining taking place,” Stewart said. “I anticipate it going to trial .. There is no question he [Hooten] should not ever see the light of day again, just based on his prior history,” Stewart said. 

Hooten is scheduled to return to the court May 13 for a pretrial conference.

 

AN ACCOUNT OF THE CRIME

Following Hooten’s initial appearance Wednesday, court officials released the probable-cause affidavit leading to his charges. The affidavit includes an account of Willenborg’s boyfriend, Joshua Lewis, returning to the home he shared with her after he finished working a shift at Amazon.com.

Lewis found Willenborg naked and unresponsive in their bedroom with a Subway restaurant apron tied around her neck. The document reveals that Lewis removed the apron and attempted CPR then went to a neighbor’s home to call 911. The neighboring apartment belonged to Hooten’s girlfriend, who was in the home with two of her nephews and Hooten.

After Lewis arrived at the door, Hooten soon left.

A brief physical description of Hooten was provided to police, although his girlfriend could not provide his last name or date of birth. She told police they had been dating about two or three months.

Hooten was located about 7: 30 a.m. walking near Eastern Boulevard by a Clarksville police officer, and he was taken into custody. He was transported to the Clarksville Police Department and interviewed by investigators about 9 a.m. Saturday.

Hooten told the investigators that he, his girlfriend and her relatives had gone to Rojos bar at America’s Best Inn near Eastern Boulevard and Interstate 65 about 10:15 p.m. Friday. His girlfriend and her nephews corroborated his account of going to the bar. Hooten told police he hadn’t felt like drinking and walked by himself back to Cambridge Square Apartments.

Once he reached the apartment building in the complex, where both his girlfriend and Willenborg lived, he found Willenborg sitting on the stoop outside the building.

He would later tell police that he knew at that time he would rape the girl.

Hooten made conversation with Willenborg, then went into his girlfriend’s apartment for about 10 minutes, according to the affidavit. When he came back outside, he found Willenborg still sitting on the stoop.

He asked Willenborg if he could come into her apartment to “kick it,” as his girlfriend was not home and he just wanted to hang out, according to the affidavit. Hooten told police that Willenborg let him into her home, and they sat on a couch and watched television. After about 10 minutes of watching TV, he started forcing himself on her by trying to kiss her, he told police.

“Hooten stated she was resisting, wanted no part of it, and stated that’s when he grabbed her by her arm and [dragged] her back to her bedroom,” according to the affidavit.

Hooten told police while he was raping Willenborg he noticed she had stopped breathing. The affidavit reveals that after he then pulled her off the bed and began to administer CPR.

“He stated that once he believed she was deceased, he panicked and grabbed a Subway apron and wrapped it around her neck to make it appear that she had committed suicide,” according to his statements.

The document continues that Hooten then went back to his girlfriend’s apartment and packed his bags because he knew that he needed to leave the area. Hooten told police Lewis then came to the apartment and asked for someone to call 911.

At this point in the early morning, Hooten’s girlfriend and her nephews had returned from the bar.

Hooten said that he went back to Willenborg’s apartment and saw that she was dead. He then returned to his girlfriend’s apartment, got his bag and left.

He told police during the interview that he was not intoxicated nor under the influence of drugs when he committed his assault on Willenborg.

He was then taken to the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex.

On Monday, Hooten agreed to return to the Clarksville Police Department for a second interview, at which time he reiterated to investigators his account of the crimes.