CRIME

Catherine Fuller murder case: could defendants in brutal '84 murder get a new trial?

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Catherine Fuller’s son didn’t look down the alley of 8th and H Streets NE on that October day in 1984. He heard the police, and a friend goaded him on, telling him to take a peek, but the Fuller boy had band practice that day, was waiting for his bus, and didn’t care to be nosy. So the boy didn’t look down the alley. He didn’t see his mother dead on the ground.

This painting of Catherine Fuller hangs in Barbara Wade's home. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Catherine Fuller died a terrible death. The wispy 48-year-old housewife, who often sucked on her thumb and laughed so easily, was pummeled by a group in broad daylight on Oct. 1, 1984, police concluded. There was no mercy. She was kicked and beaten; no one came to help. A metal pipe was shoved up her rectum. She reportedly suffered a torn liver and punctured ribs. All this, police said, for Fuller’s rings and a measly $50.

Nearly a dozen people stood trial for Fuller’s robbery and death. Her family members, including sister Barbara Wade, watched from the courtroom. It wasn’t easy. Wade, who testified, recalled leaving her seat only once, during the description of the pipe.

"I tried to sit there the whole trial,” Wade says, “because I wanted to know."

The story of Catherine Fuller is the kind that gets worse and worse with each twist. A 99-pound woman dies in a horrific beating, leaving behind her kids and husband. A handful of people — barely adults themselves — are trotted off before a judge months later, accused of participating in “one of Washington's most brutal homicides.” Most are locked up. A few are not. One died behind bars, some are still there.

The District took notice of the Fuller case. The carnage inspired headlines like “Bring Back the Death Penalty” and “Why Did Sanity Flee?”  

Those weren't the last of the headlines. Later this year, a group of men will return to D.C. Superior Court and seek a vacated conviction or a new trial. They will claim that they spent years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Confessions were coerced, they will say. Testimony was false. Evidence wasn’t properly disclosed. The Fuller case might burst open in a D.C. courtroom again this fall, nearly three decades after the victim died on the street.

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