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Thomas Mitchell OVERTON

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Rape
Number of victims: 2 + 1
Date of murder: August 22, 1991
Date of arrest: 1997 (six years later)
Date of birth: November 5, 1955
Victims profile: Susan and Michael MacIvor (Ms. MacIvor was eight months pregnant)
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation
Location: Monroe County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death March 18, 1999
 
 
 
 
 

Third District Court of Appeal

 

opinion 3d07-85

 
 

Florida Supreme Court

 

opinion SC95404

opinion SC04-2071

 
 
 
 
 
 

DC# 911193
DOB:  11/05/55

Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, Monroe County Case# 96-30167-CF
Sentencing Judge:  The Honorable Mark H. Jones
Trial Attorney:  Jason Smith – Private
Attorney, Direct Appeal:  Maria E. Lauredo – Assistant Public Defender
Attorneys, Collateral Appeals:  Terri Backhus, Christina Spudeas &
Linda Mroz – CCRC-S

Date of Offense:  08/22/91

Date of Sentence:  03/18/99

Circumstances of the Offense:

On 08/22/91, the bodies of Susan and Michael MacIvor were found in their home in Tavernier Key by concerned neighbors and coworkers.  Ms. MacIvor was eight months pregnant.

When law enforcement searched their house, they found Mr. MacIvor’s body in the living room. The room appeared as if a struggle had taken place.  Mr. MacIvor was dressed in a T-shirt and his underwear. His head was covered with masking tape so that only part of his nose was exposed. There was a blood spot on the shoulder of the T-shirt. The body displayed slight bleeding from the nostrils, and there was evidence of bruising on the neck.

Ms. MacIvor’s body was found in the master bedroom. Her body was on the bed on top of the comforter. She was completely naked. Her ankles were bound with a belt, masking tape and a piece of clothesline rope. Her wrists were bound with a belt, and there was a belt linking her ankles to her wrists.

A garrote made of a necktie and a black sash had been tied around her neck. A dresser drawer was open in the bedroom that led to the officers to conclude that the articles that were used to secure Ms. MacIvor belonged to the victims. Ms. MacIvor’s eyes were covered with masking tape.

Several items were found under the comforter: items that appeared to have come from Ms. MacIvor’s purse as well as her nightshirt and panties. Ms. MacIvor’s nightshirt had been ripped off with great force and her panties had been cut by a sharp instrument at each side.

A luma light revealed semen stains on Ms. MacIvor’s pubic area, buttocks, and the inside of her thighs. The luma light also exposed semen stains on the sheets. The sheets and the mattress pad were placed into evidence. A .22-caliber shell casing was found in the bedroom along with a bullet hole in the bedroom curtain.

In addition, an address book with pages torn out was also found.  The sliding glass doors in the bedroom were open and a box fan was running. There had been a heavy rain storm the night before, which, combined with the heat, had left a layer of moisture on Ms. MacIvor’s body.

In the guest room, the sliding glass doors were also open. A ladder had been propped up against the house near the guest bedroom balcony. The clothesline from the balcony had been cut. A piece of clothesline rope had been found outside of the master bedroom door. Outside the house, the phone wires had been cut with a sharp instrument.

The medical examiner testified to findings from the autopsy. Mr. MacIvor suffered a severe blow to the back of the head. There was bruising around the larynx. The larynx, hyoid bone, and epiglottis had been fractured. There was bruising and an internal contusion which reflected a heavy blow to the back of the head. There were ligature marks on his neck indicating the device was wrapped around his neck several times.

Internally, the neck was unstable and dislocated at the fifth cervical vertebrate. There was internal bleeding in his left shoulder, signifying a severe blow. He also had bruising in the abdominal area that could have been caused by a strong kick to the stomach.  The cause of death was reported as asphyxiation by ligature strangulation.

The medical examiner estimated that Mr. MacIvor was conscious for 10 to 15 seconds after the ligature was placed around his neck, although he limited his opinion by stating that it would have depended upon the amount of pressure that was used.

Ms. MacIvor’s body had several abrasions on her face, genitals and legs in addition to ligature marks around her neck and wrists. The medical examiner stated that it appeared that she had moved against the ligature causing friction. Her face was discolored due to the partial application of the ligature. This caused the blood to enter the head at the normal rate, but it was unable to exit as quickly, in addition to increasing the time that it took to render Ms. MacIvor unconscious.

Ms. MacIvor was eight months pregnant. The medical examiner testified that the male child would have been viable if Ms. MacIvor had given birth. The child lived approximately 30 minutes after Ms. MacIvor passed away. Evidence indicated that the child tried to breathe while still in the womb.

During the initial stage of the investigation, tests were run on the stains found on the mattress pads and the sheets, which tested positive for sperm. The swabs of Ms. MacIvor’s body did not reveal any spermatozoa. The medical examiner attributed this contradiction to the moist climate in which Ms. MacIvor’s body was found. This climate provided the environment for the seminal fluid to decompose leaving no sperm.

It was at this time that law enforcement initially considered Thomas Overton as a possible suspect. He was suspected in another murder, which he was never arrested for. He was a known cat burglar, plus he worked at the Amoco gas station that was located only minutes away from the MacIvor’s residence.

In June 1993, the bedding samples were sent to Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for DNA testing. No match was found at that time.

In 1996, Overton was arrested during the course of a burglary. While he was in custody, FDLE asked Overton for a blood sample. Overton refused. After his refusal and while still in custody, Overton attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat. A blood sample was taken from the towels that had been used during the incident. Preliminary testing of the sample gave law enforcement enough evidence to obtain a court order forcing Overton to relinquish a sample of his blood.

In November 1996, Overton’s DNA was compared to the DNA found on the bedding sample from the MacIvor murders. The comparison produced a match with the probability in excess of one in six billion. In 1998, the samples were submitted to another lab for a different DNA test. Again, the comparison produced a match with the probability of one in four trillion.

This DNA evidence was presented at Overtons’ trial in addition to the testimony of two witnesses. The first witness was William Guy Green. Green testified that Overton admitted to him that he had committed a burglary in a wealthy neighborhood in the Florida Keys.

Overton related the events that occurred to Green stating that he entered the house and fought with the woman, who had jumped on his back. He also stated that he had fought with another individual in the house. Overton told Green that he to “waste somebody in the Keys.”

Overton discussed the safety measures that he would utilize when he committed burglaries, such as cutting the phone wires to the house, wearing gloves, and bringing along equipment such as a gun, knife, gloves and disguises. Overton also told Green that the best time to burglarize a house is during a power outage or a storm.

The second witness was James Zientek. Overton had met Zientek in the Monroe County jail in May of 1997. Overton related all of the details of the two murders to Zientek so that Zientek could relate to law enforcement that he had heard the story from another inmate thereby creating reasonable doubt for Overton. The following events are what Overton told Zientek:

Overton had met Ms. MacIvor at the Amoco station by the victim’s house where he had worked. He described Ms. MacIvor as being “hot and cold” due to the fact that on some days she was nice and other days she was “bitchy.” Overton had gotten Ms. MacIvor’s address from one of her checks. He had observed the house prior to the night of the murder on several occasions.

On the night of 08/21/91, Overton went to the MacIvor’s home. He was dressed in all black with a mask and gloves. He cut the phone wires and then leaned a ladder against the balcony. This movement made some noise and subsequently a light came on in the house.

Overton waited 20 minutes before entering the house. He climbed up the ladder, and when he reached the balcony, he cut the clothesline, “popped” the sliding glass doors in the guest bedroom and entered the house. He walked through the house and viewed the MacIvors sleeping.

Overton continued to walk around the house and, at one point, he heard a noise and he looked to see Mr. MacIvor walking to the kitchen and then opening the refrigerator. According to Overton, Mr. MacIvor must have sensed that something was wrong because he began to look around and Overton panicked.

Overton came at Mr. MacIvor from behind and hit him in the head with a pipe from the house. Mr. MacIvor was not rendered unconscious immediately, so Overton hit him with his fists to knock him out. At this point, Ms. MacIvor ran out of the bedroom, and Overton then chased her back into the bedroom.

Overton tied her up with items that he found in the bedroom and tried to talk to Ms. MacIvor telling her that if everyone cooperated no one would get hurt. Ms. MacIvor told Overton that she knew who he was. Overton became concerned about Mr. MacIvor coming to. He went back to the living room and placed a sock over Mr. MacIvor’s eyes and put masking tape around his entire head.

Overton’s rationale for this behavior was that he did not want Mr. MacIvor’s eyes to pop out of his head, and he knew that his nose would bleed. Overton went back to the bedroom and raped Ms. MacIvor and then strangled her because he didn’t “want to leave any witnesses.”

Overton stated that, at some point, he saw movement in Ms. MacIvor’s stomach and placed his hand on her belly to feel the fetus move. Overton returned to the living room and saw that Mr. MacIvor was “just becoming conscious.” Overton proceeded to kick Mr. MacIvor in the stomach and then strangle him.

Overton also told Zientek that he did not know about the bullet hole and that he tore pages out of the address book to make the scene appear as if the assailant wanted to remove their name from the book. Overton admitted that his intent when he entered the house was to rape Ms. MacIvor 

At the trial, the defense rested solely on the notion that the stains on the bedding had been planted by law enforcement officials; specifically, that a detective had collected some of Overton’s sperm from Overton’s girlfriend and then brought the sample to the crime scene in a condom.

Nonoxymol-9 had been found in the samples, but it could not be ascertained whether the substance, used both as a spermicide and as a cleaning agent, originally came from a condom or the detergent used to wash the sheets.

Additional Information:

In October 1996, Overton was convicted of Armed Burglary, Possession of Burglary tools, and Carrying a Concealed Firearm. He was sentenced to life for Armed Burglary and 10 years for each of the other two charges.

Trial Summary:

12/09/91          Indicted as follows:

Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: First-Degree Murder
Count III: Killing an Unborn Child
Count IV: Burglary of a Dwelling
Count V: Sexual Battery Involving Serious Physical Force

12/18/96          Defendant entered a written plea of not guilty.

11/20/96        Public Defender’s office filed a motion to withdraw due to conflict of interests.

12/02/96          Motion for Public Defender’s Withdraw as Counsel was granted.

04/25/97          Motion to Withdraw as Attorney.

05/01/97          Order granting the Motion to Withdraw as Attorney. Charles L. Everett withdrew as counsel due to irreconcilable differences, and Jason Smith was appointed as counsel.

02/10/99          Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment.

02/04/99          Jury recommended death by a vote of 8-4 (Michael MacIvor).

                       Jury recommended death by a vote of 9-3 (Susan Michelle MacIvor).

03/18/99          Sentenced as follows:

Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count III: Killing an Unborn Child – 15 years
Count IV: Burglary of a Dwelling – Life
Count V: Sexual Battery Involving Serious Physical Force – Life

Case Information:

Overton filed a direct appeal to the Florida Supreme Court on 04/22/99. The main issues raised in the appeal were that the trial court erred in denying the defense challenges for cause of two prospective jurors. In reference to this issue, reversible error is constituted if there was error in the denial of challenges for both jurors. The Court ruled that one of the jurors should have been excused for cause but that the trial could did not abuse its discretion by not granting the challenge for cause in the case of the second juror; therefore, reversible error was not established. In regard to the sentencing phase of the trial, Overton asserted that the trial court erred in not considering certain available mitigation, even though Overton refused to present any mitigation at the sentencing hearing. The Court stated that the trial court did not commit any error in its consideration and evaluation of the available mitigating evidence.

The Court affirmed the conviction and sentence on 09/13/01. The rehearing was denied and the mandate was issued on 12/03/01.  

Overton filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on 03/13/02. The petition was denied on 05/13/02.

On 04/30/03, Overton filed a 3.851 Motion to the Circuit Court.  The motion was amended on 10/31/03.  The motion was denied on 02/14/05.

Overton filed a 3.853 Motion (DNA) to the Circuit Court on 04/03/03, which was denied on 08/19/04.

On 10/27/04, Overton filed a 3.853 Appeal (DNA) to the Florida Supreme Court.  On 06/01/05, Overton filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.  Overton filed a motion to consolidate the appeals (3.853 Appeal (DNA) and 3.850 Appeal) on 06/02/05, which was granted on 07/21/05.  The Appeal is currently pending.

On 06/01/05, Overton filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.  On 07/21/05, the Court issued an order to consolidate with the 3.853 (DNA) Appeal.  The Appeal is currently pending.

On 02/08/06, Overton filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Florida Supreme Court, which is also pending.

FloridaCapitalCases.state.fl.us

 
 

My Life in the Murder Mystery House

By Michael Rodgers - Salon.com

January 23, 2009

The mysterious noises continued in different areas of the house. Now that I knew the house that I lived in is the one that the young couple were killed in, I was more curious than ever about the noises and the case. I’m not so much a believer in ghosts and spirits as I am a believer that just because something can’t be explained by science, doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.

The noise wasn’t a spooky noise. It was also not a noise that could be explained away by the normal happenings that go on in a house. It was not the water pipes. The sound would come from areas with no plumbing. It wasn’t electrical. The noise didn’t come from any of the walls. It was not the house “settling”.  I’m familiar with those sounds.

When I lived in the downstairs flat, it sounded like someone was dropping something on the floor upstairs. When I moved upstairs it sounded like someone was dropping something on the floor upstairs. The best way I can describe the noise is if you took a solid object like a ball bearing and dropped it on a ceramic tile floor from maybe eight or ten inches, the object would bounce several times before settling. The intervals would get closer together as it bounced lower to the floor. Tic………tic…….tic….tic..tic. tic tictit.

It had been almost two years since Missy and Michael had been killed. Rumors around town had many an armchair detective weaving fantastic scenarios of the event. The sheriff’s office had no solid leads. Then one day it seemed they may have gotten a break in the case.

Michael MacIvor was an aviation mechanic and a private pilot. He’d recently flown to Central America to purchase a plane that was seized in a drug smuggling operation. He was also arrested four years before his death at a remote airfield in central Florida by U.S. Customs officials. Drug residue had been found in the plane. The charges were eventually dropped.

A background check had shown that he was in considerable debt and was in dire need of money. One day the Sheriff’s office got a call from an FAA official in Miami. They had an informant in their custody that claimed that he new two Columbian drug smugglers that were responsible for the murders.

Agents were sent to Columbia to investigate. After two months the investigation had reached a dead end. The informant finally admitted that he made the story up to get leniency in the case against him. The investigation returned to square one.

Other crime detectives in the area were suspicious of a local cat burglar and made mention of him to the murder investigators. A canvass of the area had exhausted all leads and the few persons of interest all had alibis that had checked out.

An FBI profiler had been called in to aid in the investigation. A high profile case worker by the name of Dayle Hinman arrived and went over the crime evidence. She quickly came to the conclusion that it was not a drug oriented killing and that Missy had been the target. She also believed it was not a burglary that had gone awry. It was a premeditated case.

The items used to kill and bind the victims had been household items found at the scene. There was the ladder used to get to the second story. The tape used was the same type used in the remodel of what was to be the new nursery.

Michael had been attacked with a pipe commonly used to secure a sliding glass door. He was then strangled in the living room. His eyes and mouth had been bound with tape.

Missy’s hands and feet were bound with a belt from a dresser drawer. She was sexually assaulted then strangled with the belt from a bath rob.

Hinman deducted that a professional would have been more prepared and would have brought their own “tools of the trade.”

If they were trying to recover money or drugs, Michael would not have been killed first. He would have been forced to watch his wife get tortured in hopes of recovering some unknown bounty.

Michael was just “in the way.” The time spent with Missy during her assault and killing showed that she was the target.

A close eye had been kept on the cat burglar. He was a suspect in many Upper Keys burglaries. Thomas Mitchell Overton was a drifting criminal with a long rap sheet. He had worked maintenance at the local theatre for a while and had been working at the gas and convenience store on the corner at the time of the killings. Missy frequently shopped and bought her gas there.

Watching Overton finally paid off when he was apprehended breaking into a local residence. He was asked at the time of his arrest to submit to a DNA test. He refused.

Although authorities had nothing to connect Overton to the killings, his close proximity and criminal record made him the prime suspect. The only evidence that could connect him to the murders was the DNA collected from the semen sample left on the bedding. During the year or so Overton spent in jail on the burglary charges he’d repeatedly refused to give a DNA sample.

Overton became depressed and was also thought to have become suicidal while doing time in county lock up. Lead Detective Jerry Powell devised a plan to recover a blood sample.

Thomas Overton was given a razor in his cell to shave with. A close but loose watch was kept on the prisoner. As suspected, Overton dismantled the razor and cut his neck with the blade. The guards rushed in to save his life. The bloody towels would be sent to the Florida crime lab for analysis.

Six weeks later Sergeant Powell received a phone call from the Crime Lab. There was a one in six billion chance that someone other than Overton had committed the crime. The notorious killings at the Tavernier Airstrip had been solved. In a strange, yet poetic irony, Thomas Overton had literally cut his own throat in the case

First degree murder charges were filed against Thomas Mitchell Overton. A ten day trial, complete with local media circus began later that year. The jury deliberated less than two hours before coming back with a verdict of guilty on all charges. One month later he was sentenced to death. Almost five years after the murders the case was finally closed.

Thomas Overton waits on death row to this day. He has filed papers for a new trial claiming his defense was inadequate. It's been almost eighteen years since the murders.

Although he never admitted to the crime, it was felt that he had developed some sort of fatal attraction to Missy MacIvor while working at the convenience store. Maybe he will come clean before he dies. Maybe not.

There will never be closure for the families of Missy and Michael MacIvor. They will carry their grief to their graves.

I lived in the house for another three and a half years. I never discovered the source of the strange noises. They continued until the day I left.

 
 


Thomas Mitchell Overton arrest.

 

Overton's Arraignment.

 

 

The victims
 

Missy and Michael MacIvor wedding photo.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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