Caril (Fugate) Clair has tried over nearly six decades to clear the images set in so many minds of her as Charlie Starkweather's girlfriend and accomplice in a 1958 killing spree.

Her efforts included being a model prisoner for 17 years and then living a quiet, law-abiding life after she was paroled in 1976.

Now, two lawyers who have spent time with her and have written a book that says she, too, was a victim rather than an accomplice in crime say she will take one more step in clearing her name and her image.

John Stevens Berry Sr. and Linda Battisti, who together wrote "The Twelfth Victim, the Innocence of Caril Fugate in the Starkweather Murder Rampage," say Caril Clair will apply for a pardon from her murder conviction.

Battisti, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Ohio, said she has encouraged Clair to do so.

"She's an innocent … and innocent people do want to have a pardon. Although, when you never committed the crime in the first place, a pardon kind of just doesn't do it," she said.

Battisti can't participate in the pardons process because of her job, but said, "I certainly hope and pray that she is granted a pardon."

Even more important than a pardon is for people to know how much they've been lied to about the former Caril Ann Fugate over the decades, she said.

To know that public opinion has changed would be gratifying to her, Battisti said.

Clair, now 71, is gathering information and documents for her pardon application, said Berry, who practices law in Lincoln.

The rampage began 56 years ago on a January day when Fugate was a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Whittier Junior High in Lincoln. According to the attorneys' book, she arrived home from school that day and was greeted by her boyfriend, Starkweather, holding a gun.

She was with him when he went on the spree across Nebraska, killing 10 people in 1958. He also killed a gas station attendant in 1957.

The book lays out the argument that Caril Ann Fugate did not know Starkweather had killed her parents and sister, and that he forced her to accompany him. Berry said she was mistreated by Starkweather and by the criminal justice system after the two were brought back to Lincoln from Wyoming.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Everything Starkweather said about her was a lie, Berry said.

“And yet those lies somehow have been adopted as kind of a folk wisdom here in Nebraska,” Berry said.

Berry's office will file the application for a pardon. And the book's publisher will send copies of it to candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, the three state officials who sit on the Nebraska Board of Pardons.

Berry will ask the candidates if they will at least give her a hearing.

"I'm not asking anyone to guarantee to pardon her but I am going to ask -- I think voters are entitled to know -- if they are going to give her a hearing," he said.

There is probably not enough time to get the pardon application in front of the current board, but Berry said he would not hesitate to do that.

The Pardons Board does not allow applicants or their attorneys to try to retry cases or present evidence to determine a person’s innocence. It looks more at how a person has behaved or what he or she has accomplished since being convicted or since leaving prison.

“Of course, we will bring up the exemplary life she lived, even while she was in (prison), and the exemplary life she’s lived since ... ,” Berry said. “But I see no reason why we shouldn’t bring up a few things, such as one of the jurors … had made a bet that she would get the death penalty. And then when he was being selected as a juror, he lied and said he hadn’t formed any opinions.”

Berry acknowledged there probably has been more hate directed at Caril Ann Fugate in this state than anyone who has appeared before the Pardons Board.

Still, he is hopeful she will return to Nebraska and appear before the board if she gets a hearing.

“I would love to have her here, if that can be worked out, but that will be between her and her physicians,” he said.

Clair was injured a year ago and her husband killed in a car wreck between their home in Ohio and Battle Creek, Michigan. Her husband, Frederick Clair, was 81. Her right arm and leg each were broken in several places in the accident, and for months, she was unable to move her right side.

"I'm very happy to say she's doing a lot better," Battisti said.

Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

Load comments