Crime & Courts

Appeals court upholds conviction in Deb Dewey murder

Ruling comes 20 days after killer Andersen died

A Putnam County murderer didn’t live to hear it — Clifford Andersen died Nov. 10 in prison — but an appeals court has upheld his conviction and sentence.

Tuesday, the Third District Appellate Court issued a 2-1 ruling upholding Andersen’s conviction for the murder of his sister-in-law Deborah Dewey, whose body was found in a shallow grave in Standard in 2016.

At the time of Anderson’s death, attorneys with knowledge of the case surmised his appeal would be dropped; but the appellate justices issued a ruling, anyway. Justices Vicki Wright and Mary K. O’Brien upheld Anderson’s conviction and 60-year sentence while Justice Mary McDade said there was enough “cumulative error” to warrant a new trial.

Putnam County State’s Attorney Christina Judd Mennie said she had not yet reviewed the opinion and could not comment at this time.

Andersen was convicted based on a circumstantial case. Prosecutors argued Andersen fed his gambling habit by tapping his sister-in-law for funds and, when no more aid was forthcoming, he killed her and tried to conceal her death. Witnesses and surveillance footage placed him at suspicious sites and suggested a growing dependence on Dewey’s money.

On appeal, Andersen argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel, alleging his lawyers failed to move for the dismissal based on a violation of his speedy trial rights and because they failed to object to the admission of improper evidence of motive. He also argued there were “cumulative” errors at trial that demanded he be returned to Putnam County for new proceedings.

But the justices took a deep look at the record and found Andersen effectively “tolled,” or temporarily waived his right to a speedy trial for a critical 69-day period that would have negated his claim for a speedy-trial violation.

As for the motive, Andersen argued his financial affairs with Dewey were “irrelevant and inadmissible.” Actually, Andersen’s lawyers had argued as much in a pre-trial motion that was denied; but Andersen said they should have tried again on the cusp of trial. The justices rejected that.

“Moreover, it is well established that the State is entitled to introduce relevant evidence, which tends to show than an accused had a motive to kill the deceased,” Wright wrote, citing the applicable case law.

But the justices parted on the last argument, that the accumulation of individual errors at trial demanded new proceedings. While Wright and O’Brien decided the conviction should stand, McDade disagreed and said one particular procedural error, during a phase when jurors were asked if they understood the law, was grounds for reversal.

“By failing to ensure that every juror understood the principle in question, the court created a likelihood that one or more of them might shift the burden of proof by holding against the defendant any perceived absence or weakness of evidence countering that produced by the state,” McDade wrote. “Any such likelihood is unacceptable.”