News and Tribune

March 5, 2013

Teen’s accused murderer in court

Richard Hooten informed of possible charges, held without bond

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The man believed to have sexually assaulted and killed a 17-year-old girl in her Clarksville home Saturday morning appeared in a Clark County court Monday afternoon for an advisement-of-rights hearing.

Richard Carley Hooten, 49, was informed by Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Daniel Moore of the six felony charges that the Office of the Clark County Prosecutor can bring against him at an initial hearing expected to take place within 72 hours of Monday’s hearing.

Hooten was identified as a suspect in the death of Tara Willenborg, 17, soon after Clarksville Police Department officers responded to her Cambridge Square Apartments unit and found her lying next to a bed, unclothed, battered and deceased.

Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull represented the state during the proceeding. Hooten appeared with no counsel.

Moore told the court that Hooten will be held without bond in the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex in Jeffersonville until his next hearing.

The charges that were named during the hearing consisted of murder; rape and criminal deviant conduct, both class A felonies; criminal confinement, a class B felony; sexual battery, a class C felony; and strangulation, a class D felony.

Hooten wore inmate attire during the proceedings, his face solemn under a mussed top of graying hair as he listened to the litany of charges and the corresponding possible prison sentences. 

While the state has 72 hours to issue official charges, Stewart said after the hearing that he expects the charges will be issued within the next day and that he anticipates formally issuing all of the charges presented Monday.

“There is no question our victim suffered a horrible death. She was 17 years old, and there was no real prior relationship between [her and Hooten] when this happened,” Stewart said. “It is a heinous crime, and it is my job to see justice is served in this case.”

Stewart said it is too soon to determine if he will seek the death penalty.

“This type of case, obviously, has our highest priority,” Stewart said. “It is not very often that, even as a prosecutor, we sit down just a day or two after the murder happened and have to face the victim’s parents and explain to them the legal process that is going to go on in the next year or two years.”

Stewart said the handling of such a tragic case is tough for those involved, including him.

“You can’t see pictures of a 17-year-old who has been the victim of a rape and murder and not have it affect you,” he said.

According to a probable-cause affidavit, Hooten, who has previously been charged with sex crimes, admitted to police that he forcibly raped and strangled Willenborg.

He was arrested about 8 a.m. Saturday, about five hours after Willenborg was killed in her home at Cambridge Square, near Kopp Lane.

Willenborg lived in the apartment with her boyfriend, who was not in the residence when she was killed, according to CPD. Police said Willenborg’s boyfriend discovered her body after returning home from work. 

According to the affidavit, police responded to the murder scene after Willenborg’s boyfriend called 911.

“I could see a large section around her neck that was consistent with bruising,” a responding officer wrote in the report.

Police spoke with a woman who lives across the hall from Willenborg’s apartment. The woman told police she is Hooten’s girlfriend, but she didn’t know his last name. The woman also said Hooten works at a furniture store in Louisville, but she didn’t know the name of the business. She told police that Hooten often stays in her apartment.

Willenborg’s boyfriend told police that he sold Hooten alcohol Friday, according to the affidavit. The boyfriend also said that he had talked Willenborg about 11:30 p.m. Friday, and Willenborg had told him she had sold more alcohol to Hooten and another man in the neighboring apartment.

Hooten’s girlfriend told police that Willenborg’s boyfriend came to her apartment at about 3 a.m. Saturday wanting to call 911, at which time Hooten “grabbed his clothes and left the apartment,” according to the affidavit.

A physical description of Hooten was given to officers, and he was later found Saturday walking along Eastern Boulevard and taken into custody.

During his arrest Saturday morning, police discovered Hooten was wanted on two warrants issued out of Clark County for failure to appear for unrelated case proceedings. The cases involved Hooten failing to register as a sex offender and possession of methamphetamine.