Guilty Plea in 1980 murder of William Cooke

William Cooke

William Cooke

In July 1980, William Cooke (49) was found stabbed to death in the Ramada Inn, Lafayette, Indiana. Police took an ashtray with a cigarette butt with them as evidence. In 1980, DNA testing was unavailable.

Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Steve Kohne said that the case went cold a few days after the murder. He even thought that at some point they had lost the case’s evidence. Thank heaven, all evidence was returned by the state police lab to the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. Kohne later found it in the evidence room in an unmarked box.

The cigarette butt was sent to the state police lab in May 2009. With advanced technology, they retrieved DNA and entered it into the national databases. They found a match in Texas inmate Dion Watkins. Watkins was in prison for the battery of an elderly person. Watkins was 21 at the time Cooke was killed. He was scheduled to be released on parole. Had no match been found, Watkins would have been paroled and Cooke’s case would still be unsolved.

The extradition process from Texas to Indiana was set into motion so Watkins would faces murder charges.

The affidavit of probable cause states that police interviewed several witnesses who were present at the motel on the night of Cooke’s death. It reveals that two of these witnesses claimed to have spoken with a white man who told them that he had been in the military in Germany for two years. He was at the motel with an older gentleman who had picked him up while hitchhiking. These witnesses also said they saw that same man later, but he appeared pale and was shaking, and admitted to these witnesses that he had killed someone.

Court records showed Detective Steve Kohne spoke with Watkins at a Huntsville prison in July 2009. Watkins said he had been in the Army between 1978-1981 and that he had been stationed in Germany. When he was asked how his DNA got into Cooke’s motel room he ended the interview.

According to the Texas Department of Corrections, Watkins is currently serving a three-year prison term for reckless bodily injury to an elderly person, and that he had finished serving a nine-year sentence for theft.

Watkins plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges. Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington said Watkins plead guilty by the 1980 law that was in effect at the time of the crime. Indiana law states that a person is sentenced under the law that was in effect the day of the crime.

“It’s a class B felony, which means the punishment is six to 20 years.” Harrington said even though the sentencing range is six to 20 years, 10 years is the set sentence. The judge can increase or decrease the sentence based upon aggravating and mitigating circumstances at the sentencing hearing.

Watkins told police got a ride from Cooke in Ohio and they ended up in Lafayette, Indiana, for the evening. They started drinking heavily. They also started arguing. Watkins claimed Cooke made a sexual pass at him. Watkins then stabbed Cooke twice. Read more here. Watkins was sentenced to 18 years in prison.