Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Crystal Todd Murder Case

Trials and Appeals

On September 21, 1992, Ken Register was tried for the indecent exposure charges. It only took the jury two hours to return a guilty verdict on that same day.

Prosecutor Ralph Wilson
Prosecutor Ralph Wilson

During the murder trial, the defense attorneys for Ken Register stressed that their client's Fifth Amendment rights to silence had been violated and the DNA test results were improperly conducted and should not be admitted as evidence. They also argued that his confession was taken in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

The trial judge rejected the motion to suppress the DNA evidence concluding that the techniques and procedures used by SLED in the case were those generally accepted in the scientific community. Therefore the DNA evidence was admissible and the jury could determine what weight to give it. The judge also ruled that Register had freely and voluntarily confessed, that he had been properly advised of and understood his Miranda rights, and that he had knowingly and intelligently waived his rights to remain silent and to have counsel present with him during custodial questioning.

Defense Attorney Morgan Martin
Defense Attorney Morgan Martin

Register's attorneys then maintained that the trial judge should have granted a continuance to give their client time to properly evaluate and analyze the DNA evidence.

On September 28, 1992, the state was ordered to provide the computer hard copy of statistical bin frequencies, the SLED protocol manual, and numerous other items. In addition, Register's experts were given permission to visit SLED's headquarters to examine and copy data relating to the DNA evidence.

Although Register's trial was to commence on January 11, 1993, his counsel did not visit SLED's headquarters with experts until December 17, 1992, and at that time requested additional information. On December 31, 1992, another discovery hearing was held, and Register moved to suppress the DNA evidence, asserting the need for additional discovery. The judge denied the motion after determining that the state had complied in good faith with the September order by providing Register with all of the information as mandated.

The parties knew in September that the case was set for trial in January and full discovery had been afforded to Register from September forward. The fact that Register's counsel waited until the middle of December to investigate the evidence did not warrant a continuance. Moreover, the record provided additional circumstantial evidence linking Register to the homicide.  One of Register's friends testified that Register normally carried an Old-Timer knife, and an expert testified that Todd's injuries were inflicted by a blade which was the same size as an Old-Timer knife. Register also described to third parties Todd's injuries in sexual terms and revealed details of the crime which only the perpetrator would know. Register mentioned dragging her body, and there were drag marks from the pool of blood on the dirt road to her body in the ditch. Also, in spite of the fact that Register thoroughly cleaned his car after the homicide, traces of blood were found on the steering wheel, gear stick, and door handles. Furthermore, Register's accounts of his whereabouts on the night of the homicide were inconsistent. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the serological evidence established that Register's blood, rare PGM subtype, and secretor status matched semen found in Todd's body, and an expert testified that there was a one in 250 million chance that this would happen.

Ken Register led from court
Ken Register led from court

It took the jury only 75 minutes to return with a verdict. Johnnie Kenneth Register II was unanimously found guilty on all counts, of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and torture. The jury also unanimously recommended that he be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life. In 1995 his appeal to the State Supreme Court was reviewed. All counts were upheld. 


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