The mother of a teen abducted and murdered in 1997 will try to walk away after a judge put a halt to the killer’s death sentence.
If Connie Sutton never hears Michael Dean Overstreet’s name again, she might be able to live with it. If he dies of old age some day in a prison cell, that itself could be justice, she said.
Sutton is not sure coming to peace with the case is a realistic goal. Right now, too many emotions are going through her head — anger, sadness and frustration. But she thinks she can let it go, even if Overstreet doesn’t face the death penalty.
After 17 years, Sutton at least knows that Overstreet acknowledges what he did to her daughter Kelly Eckart and the pain he’s caused her family.
He’s never said it to her, but she heard it during a prison mental health worker’s testimony in a hearing this year to decide whether Overstreet was competent to be executed.
Sutton finally got that small amount of closure, which is what she’ll focus on as she tries to bury the pain and history of her daughter’s grisly murder.
“I don’t want to say it, but I feel like a little that I’ve let Kelly down. But I know I didn’t. I’ve fought all this time. She understands,” said Sutton, who has attended every hearing for Overstreet since his arrest.
Overstreet won’t be executed in the next few years and might never be. The decision by St. Joseph County Judge Jane Woodward Miller that Overstreet is not competent to be executed means his lethal injection is put off indefinitely. If the state could someday prove he is competent, the execution could be back on track. But attorneys would need to overcome a lot of evidence detailing Overstreet’s long and severe case of paranoid schizophrenia that shaped Miller’s decision.
Sutton was worried about the outcome of Overstreet’s hearing even before it happened in September. After four days of testimony from doctors, mental health providers and Overstreet’s sister, Sutton wasn’t sure how the case would end. The attorneys from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office did a great job presenting their case, but it wasn’t enough, she said.
She had wanted the prosecutor to pursue the death penalty during Overstreet’s original
trial in 2000 because it’s what
he deserved for killing Eckart, she said.
But the execution wasn’t something she was looking forward to. She didn’t even plan to go into the viewing room but had decided she would because her son wanted to be there.
“I didn’t want to watch a man die,” Sutton said. “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’s something my son didn’t need
Eckart was 18 years old and had just started her freshman year at Franklin College in September 1997. After shopping at the Franklin Walmart with her boyfriend and his mom, she left the store and began driving home to Boggstown. Her car was hit from behind by a van at Graham Road and Earlywood Drive.
When she got out of the car after the accident, police said, she was grabbed by Overstreet. Police found her car at the intersection a short time later — the door was open, her purse was on the front seat and the keys were still in the ignition.
Overstreet raped and strangled her with her shoelaces and the straps of her overalls, had his brother pick him up at a motel and drive him to the Camp Atterbury area, where he took Eckart’s body into the woods and dumped her in a ravine. A few hours later his wife came to pick him up and bring him home. Eckart’s body was found three days later.
A month later, police received a tip connecting Overstreet to the crime and arrested him. At a weeks-long trial in 2000, DNA evidence linked Overstreet to Eckart, he was convicted on charges of criminal confinement, rape and murder and sentenced to death.
Since then, Overstreet has filed multiple appeals, delaying any execution date from being set.
Sutton has sat through every hour of trial, appeals and court hearings in Overstreet’s case. Now, she’ll try to put all the history behind her.
She knows Overstreet will never hurt anyone again.
Eckart’s death also led to state legislators passing a law that allows family of a victim to read a statement to the convicted killer, something that Sutton never got to do. But she’s been able to help other people who have lost family members to murders, abductions or disappearances.
She’s done all she could, but the law didn’t go her way this time, she said.
Life on death row is punishment itself. If Overstreet truly wanted to be executed and now has to live instead, maybe that’s a new punishment, too. If some day he can be executed, maybe he will, she said.
But Overstreet isn’t worth the worry any longer, Sutton said.
“I keep telling myself I’m going to walk away because of what I learned up there. It’s still a hard one to take,” Sutton said. “I’m going to try. That’s my goal right now. It’s going to be a few days before I can get through all the processing of it. But that person isn’t worth any more of my time.”