Emerson McCauley

Juniata County, Pennsylvania
Date of Crime:  June 26, 1977

Emerson McCauley was convicted in 1989 of the 1977 murder of 21-year-old Devera Frink. Frink had left her waitressing job at the Nittany Mall at 10 p.m. on June 25, 1977. She was then seen hitchhiking, a few miles away, in State College at 11 p.m. She was last seen alive about 15 minutes later in Boalsburg, a short distance from her apartment. Some time later, at 1:30 a.m., a motorist found her body more than 50 miles away under the twin-span bridges of U.S. Route 322 at the Thompsontown exit. She had been beaten, raped, and choked, but had been alive when she was thrown off one the bridges. The bridge she was thrown off was 44 feet above where her body was found.

An initial suspect in the murder, Robert E. Brown, gave a false alibi when questioned about the murder, then committed suicide three days later. In 1983, McCauley, then imprisoned on an unrelated charge, was released on a furlough. After failing to return, he faced escape charges. In order to avoid returning to prison, McCauley tried to obtain a deal by claiming to know something about the Frink murder. McCauley, who was 17 at the time of the murder, claimed to have accompanied Brown, then 40, and another suspect, Jesse Taylor, then 22, in Brown's van on the night of the murder. He said the pair picked up Frink at the Nittany Mall and drove her around drinking and smoking pot for several hours. He said he was passing out when Taylor became violent and started raping Frink. Brown allegedly held her down. McCauley said the pair later took her out of the van and threw her off a bridge as he peered out the rear window of the van. He could not describe Frink or the distinctive red-and-white outfit she was wearing.

For his “confession” and willingness to testify against Taylor, McCauley did not receive a plea deal that was acceptable to him. Even if McCauley's confession was true, his mere presence in the van did not implicate him in the murder. Some years later, in 1989, he was prosecuted for the murder under the felony murder rule. Under this rule, he could be guilty of felony murder if he participated in a felony which led to the murder. Thus if he participated in the kidnapping or rape, both felonies, the state could convict him of murder. However, McCauley was not charged and could not be convicted of either felony, as the statute of limitations for them had expired. McCauley had since recanted his confession.

At McCauley's trial, state police chemist Janice Roadcap testified that a hair found on the victim's leg matched one of McCauley's chest hairs. When jurors were asked why they convicted McCauley, several of them, without prompting, cited the hair as the most compelling piece of evidence against McCauley. Roadcap's testimony in other cases has since come under scrutiny because it led to wrongful convictions. In 2005, DNA testing was done on the hair. Results showed that it did not come from McCauley. DNA testing was subsequently done on semen stains found on the victim's clothing. Tests showed that it had come from two unknown males. As of 2008, McCauley is petitioning for a new trial.  [6/08]


References:  Patriot-News, Commonwealth v. McCauley

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Western Pennsylvania Cases