By GARY POPP
JEFFERSONVILLE — In what Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden called a first for him, an inmate requested and was granted a press conference to confess to the rape and murder of a Clarksville teenager.
Richard Carley Hooten, 49, talked with area media Thursday morning from a conference room in the sheriff’s department. Hooten remained calm as he was questioned for nearly 15 minutes during the press conference.
Hooten had already admitted to Clarksville police that he entered the Cambridge Square Apartments unit of 17-year-old Tara Willenborg in the waning minutes of Friday, March 1, and raped and strangled the young woman as she pleaded with him to stop. Her body was discovered in the apartment by her fiance in the early morning hours of March 2. Hooten has been charged in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 and faces several felonies, including murder.
Rodden said in his seven years of serving as sheriff, he has never had an inmate request to speak with reporters. Hooten sat at the end of a long table, dressed in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit.
“I don’t know,” was Hooten’s response when asked why he committed the violent acts.
He was asked what message he would like to give to Willenborg’s family if given the opportunity.
“I am just sorry what happened, just wish I could take it back,” Hooten replied.
Hooten said he had left Rojos bar at America’s Best Inn near Eastern Boulevard on March 1 and walked back to Cambridge Square Apartments where he found Willenborg sitting outside on the stoop of the building, where she and Hooten were living in separate apartments.
Hooten said he “just lost it,” after returning to the apartment complex, but according to his statements to police, he never acted out of a sudden rage.
He talked his way into Willenborg’s apartment, and even watched television with the girl for several minutes before he started to forcibly kiss her, though she refused his advances. He subsequently raped and fatally strangled her. Following a medical examination, it was determined Willenborg died from asphyxiation/suffocation.
During Thursday’s interview, Hooten tried to recount his actions.
“I didn’t really plan it,” he said. “I went in to her apartment. She was a pretty girl, you know. I didn’t know that she was 17. I thought she was like 19 or 20, you know.”
A reporter attending the press conference asked if it would have made any difference if he had known Willenborg was minor.
“Not really,” Hooten answered. “Maybe a little bit because she was a minor, you know. Seventeen years old is a minor to me.”
HISTORY OF CRIME
Hooten said he has committed four or five rapes in his life, the first taking place when he was in his 20s. Hooten said that he had never before raped a person younger than him.
When asked why he commits such terrible crimes, Hooten responded by only shaking his head back and forth. He said he had been to prison three times following rape convictions.
Hooten said during the interview he had raped a woman as recently as around the first of the year. He said he had only met the woman once, and the assault took place behind a bar on Third Street in Louisville. He said the woman was about 50 years old, and he couldn’t remember her name.
Hooten said he felt “pretty bad” that he killed Willenborg, and said the rape had unintentionally escalated to her death.
He said after he realized she had died, he tried to revive her by performing CPR. He then tried to stage the scene to make it appear Willenborg committed suicide.
Hooten said he didn’t call for authorities so Willenborg’s life could have possibly been saved because, “I was scared because I did that crime.”
He said that he thinks he should remain in jail and knows he needs help.
Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart said Wednesday, after Hooten’s initial court hearing, that he will decided within two weeks if he will pursue the death penalty. Congruent with the rest of Hooten’s remarks during the press conference, he was nonchalant about of the idea he could be sentenced to death.
“If they want to take my life for a life, that’s fine,” he said.
He said he decided to talk to the media in an effort to provide closure and help Willenborg’s family.
“I am sorry for what I done,” he said. “It’s the first time I ever have did that to anybody, especially that young of a girl.”