Murder of Rebecca Wight
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Rebecca Wight (October 17, 1959 – May 13, 1988), a 28-year-old woman, was murdered on May 13, 1988, in Pennsylvania's Michaux State Forest, when Stephen Roy Carr fired on Wight and her partner, Claudia Brenner (b. June 26, 1956).
Rebecca Wight was a student, of Iranian-Puerto Rican heritage, who was working on her Master's Degree in Business Administration and 32-year-old Claudia Brenner was a Jewish, Manhattan-born architecture student; partners for two years after having met over breakfast while both were students at Virginia Tech.
In May 1988, Wight and Brenner were hiking that part of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. They had parked their car at Dead Woman Hollow, and hiked into Michaux State Forest where they set up camp.
Stephen Roy Carr
It was Wight who first encountered Stephen Roy Carr. She had walked into a public restroom near their campground, nude except for her shoes because she thought no one else was there. There she ran into Stephen Roy Carr. Carr, 22, sometimes lived in a cave and carried a .22 caliber rifle. He asked Wight for a cigarette. She said she didn't have one, and hurried back to the campsite, where she told Brenner that someone else was there. The couple dressed, and decided to find a more private campsite.
"See you later," he said to them. The couple encountered Carr again, when they stopped to look at their map later that day. They kissed again. Carr, behind them, asked if they were lost. Carr's .22 caliber rifle was slung over his shoulder. Wight and Brenner turned to look at him, and said no, they weren't lost. Brenner and Wight finally found a place. After looking around to make sure they were alone, the couple set up camp. They had dinner, talked, and around 5:30 p.m. they began to have sex.
Unseen by the couple, Carr watched them from 82 feet away. He raised his rifle and fired eight bullets at the women. Brenner was hit in the arm, face, head and neck. She took a total of five bullets. Wight was shot twice in the head and back. The last shot was fatal, shattering Wight's liver. The eighth bullet missed.
Wight fell, calling to Brenner to hide behind a nearby tree. Unable to get up, Wight gave Brenner her wallet as Brenner set out to get help, returning three miles to the road, where she was able to get a ride to the Shippensburg police station.
At the station, Brenner gave the police all the details of their ordeal except one. She did not tell police that they were lesbians.
Wight died beneath the tree, from her wounds. The police found her body that night, and stayed with her until morning to photograph the evidence. Brenner received word of Wight's death while in the hospital.
Carr thought both women were dead. He left 25 rounds of ammunition at the scene, along with the knit cap he'd worn. Police found them at the scene. For 10 days after the shooting, Carr hid in a Mennonite community. Since members of the community did not read the news or watch television, they did not know Carr was a suspect in a shooting until one member, who had secretly watched television, recognized Carr from the composite drawing on the news and called police.
Police arrested Carr on a warrant from Florida for grand larceny. He told police that he was glad to be leaving, because he didn't like the way men kissed men there. Carr told police that his rifle and other belongings had been stolen. When police told him his belongings had been found at the murder scene, Carr claimed that he thought he'd been shooting deer, until he heard screaming.
Carr waived his right to a jury trial in exchange for an agreement by the prosecution not to seek the death penalty and to drop several lesser charges. At trial, Carr claimed he had been enraged by the sight of the two women having sex, that the two women had taunted him by having sex in front of him. His public defender said he'd been raped in a Florida prison, and raped as a child. His public defender claimed that the couple's lesbianism was provocation that caused her client "inexplicable rage."
The court refused to allow evidence of Carr's psychosexual history, ruling it irrelevant. The judge in the case also disallowed the introduction of Brenner's and Wight's relationship in court, thus forcing the defense to cut a deal and accept a sentence of life without parole. On March 8, 1991 Carr's appeal, based on the court's decision to disallow introduction of his psychosexual history in court, was denied by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Brenner moved to Ithaca, New York and went on to write a book about the shooting, Wight's death, and her ordeal -- Eight Bullets: One Woman's Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence -- and to become an active speaker against anti-gay violence. In 1999, H. L. Pohlman also wrote a book about the murder, titled, "The Whole Truth".
In 2015, a short documentary called, In the Hollow, was released, about the ordeal. The survivor, Claudia Brenner, appears in this documentary, and she also tells her story on the British radio program, BBC Outlook.
In autumn 2015, Carr's lawyer Michael George ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as a Republican, during which his aggressive defense of Carr became an issue. Roy Keefer, the District Attorney who prosecuted the case, described Carr's conduct as "a ruse in order to slander the victims" but defended his actions in retrospect, noting that he had a duty to use every tactic he thought could benefit his client. Brenner said of George that he "added a lot of pain to a very traumatic and painful time in my life."
● Short Movie about this case. In the Hallow [Vimeo]
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