Dunagin: Two murder cases strikingly similar

By CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,

The July murder of a pretty Ole Miss coed is eerily similar to one that occurred about 33 years ago when the daughter of a couple who then lived in Magnolia was sexually assaulted and slain in her off-campus apartment in Oxford.

Brandon A. Theesfeld, 22,  of Ft. Worth, Texas, has  been charged with murder in the death of Alexandria “Ally” Kostial, 21,  of St. Louis, Mo, whose body was discovered near Sardis Reservoir July 20.  She had been shot multiple times.

Theesfeld, an Ole Miss student who now has been suspended, was arrested in Memphis after Kostial's body was discovered and is now in jail in Oxford. The case is expected to go to a grand jury, possibly as early as late August.

Any defendant is entitled to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and so it is with Theesfeld whose family has retained well known and competent defense attorneys on his behalf.

Law enforcement are close-mouthed about whatever evidence they have against Theesfeld, but that isn’t stopping rumors and speculation in Oxford and elsewhere about the case which has been reported nationally.

No doubt there are differences in the two cases and possible outcomes, but there are striking similarities in Kostial’s murder and that of Jean Elizabeth Gillies in 1986.

The suspects who were charged with murder in both cases are from white privileged families from out of state. Both were business majors.

Both victims had dated the men accused of their murders. Both were in their early 20s. Their deaths rocked not only Oxford but the communities where their families live or lived.

Gillies' parents at the time of her death lived in Magnolia where her father was a physician.

Her murder was particularly brutal. The 24-year-old  graduate student was raped, sodomized and beaten before she died in a barehanded stranglehold. Authorities  said Gillies was about eight weeks' pregnant. They said her hands were tied behind her and she was gagged.

Douglas Hodgkin, a junior from Winchester, Ky., was charged with Gillies’ murder.

During his trial, Hodgkin, who had dated Gillies for about five weeks, testified someone else attacked and killed her in her apartment while he slept there.

He was convicted of capital murder, but the jury couldn’t agree on the death sentence, so he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

That was before Mississippi passed a law providing for a life sentence without parole. That loophole was closed in 1995, but legally Hodgkin was eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Hodgkin, with the backing of his well-connected family in Kentucky, was unsuccessful in seven parole hearings before finally gaining his release on parole in 2009 after he had served 22 years.

The Gillies family objected to all of the paroles which were supported by some  public officials in Kentucky and at least one well known  Mississippian.

An Associated Press article after Hodgkin’s release reported that the director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, a former mayor of Natchez, along with a judge, sheriff and circuit clerk in Kentucky were among those who supported the parole.

“MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown sent at least two letters on agency letterhead supporting Hodgkin’s parole, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request,” the article said. “The letters in Hodgkin’s Parole Board file date back as far as 1996 and coincide with the years he was eligible for parole.”

The AP article continued: “In letters dated Nov. 16, 2004, and May 1, 2006, Brown describes himself as a former elected official, current head of a state agency and ‘close friend of Douglas Hodgkin’s father, Will, a gentleman of utmost integrity with the highest moral character.’’’

The Kentucky Sex Offender Register currently lists Douglas Goff Hodgkin. Under remarks it describes him as a “move in offender from Mississippi. Original conviction for capital murder while engaged in the commission of sexual battery.”

When and  if someone is convicted of capital murder in the Kostial case, one similarity  with Gillies will end. The jury will have the option of sentencing the defendant to life without parole.

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