Konnie Glidden says her confession in the 1992 cold case murder of James Horton in Berkeley County was pack of lies
One of the last vestiges of Konnie Glidden's former middle-class existence is a large, flat-screen television propped on a folding table in her cramped West Ashley apartment.
Beside the television is a stack of worn videos from one of her favorite TV shows, “NCIS.” Glidden and her husband love to watch Mark Harmon and his fictional team of naval investigators crack military mysteries and serve up justice in a tidy one-hour time frame.
Glidden, 40, knows firsthand that things don't work that way in real life. After all, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had a large role to play in her present circumstances.
The former Navy medic is awaiting trial on charges of murder, kidnapping and rape — a felony trifecta that could put her behind bars for life.
Glidden is one of three people accused of participating in the 1992 beating, gang rape and killing of sailor James Horton in Berkeley County. Her own words put her front and center in the case and implicated three others in the grisly killing.
Glidden now maintains that the confession she gave two years ago was a pack of lies, the product of an emotional meltdown after eight hours of grueling interrogation by NCIS investigators. Glidden said those lies ruined her reputation and cost her a good-paying job and a spacious Goose Creek home.
Soon, it might cost Glidden her freedom as well.
“I am not guilty of this,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “This is not what I've done. This is not who I am.”
The Horton killing is one of dozens of Lowcountry cold cases that lingered for years with few leads and no easy answers. It illustrates the challenges and pitfalls investigators face when they retrace a cold trail, hoping to finally find justice on the other side.
And it shows just how high the stakes can be for everyone involved.
Glidden insists that she never met Horton, barely knew her co-defendants and had nothing to do with his killing. She told investigators otherwise, she said, because they wore her down to the point where she would say anything to make the questioning stop.
Glidden and her attorney, Columbia lawyer Kate Landess, maintain that she is the victim of a sloppy investigation by overzealous NCIS agents determined to solve a case that frustrated them for two decades. Similar claims have been made by a former co-defendant who recently had his charges dismissed for lack of evidence.
Glidden said NCIS Agent Stanley Garland, in particular, hounded and pursued her despite her cooperation with investigators, a lack of physical evidence tying her to the crime and a polygraph test that indicated she did not participate in Horton's killing.
Garland, who received a national Top Cop award for his work on the case, said he is unable to comment on the matter while the case is pending. Assistant Solicitor Greg Voigt, the lead prosecutor, also declined to discuss the accuracy and substance of Glidden's claims. No trial date has been set.
Nothing to hide
Horton, 22, was stationed at the former Charleston Naval Base, assigned to the ocean minesweeper Exultant, when his body was found in a drainage ditch off Sheep Island Road on Nov. 14, 1992.
He lay face down in about 4 feet of water with his hands tied behind his back. He had been shot in the chest, struck on the head with a blunt object and sexually assaulted.
Glidden was a medic at the Naval Hospital in Charleston when Horton was killed, but she said she didn't know him and wasn't questioned by investigators at the time.
She had all but forgotten about the incident when a former roommate mentioned in late 2009 that the NCIS was re-opening the case. Her old roommate had dated one of Horton's best friends, a fellow sailor named Doug Emery, who gave investigators one of their few leads in the case.
Shortly after the killing, Emery had told authorities about a run-in Horton had with a sailor named Thomas Solheim, who was Emery's roommate. Horton had walked in on Solheim having gay sex, which at the time was potentially career-ending conduct. Solheim was angry, Emery said.
That lead went nowhere at the time, but NCIS hoped to rekindle its investigation. Glidden's old roommate suggested she speak with investigators, since Glidden was one of the few people still in the area who could possibly shed light on the people and goings-on at the base back then.
Glidden, now working as a work therapy coordinator at the Veterans Administration hospital, said she couldn't imagine what her comments would add, but she agreed to speak with investigators just the same.
“I thought it might help, and I didn't have anything to hide,” she said.
The tables turn
Glidden soon met Garland, a veteran investigator who worked cold case investigations at the Charleston County Sheriff's Office before joining NCIS. Garland earned praise for his work, but he also encountered the frustrations that come with dusty, vexing cases.
In 2001, then-deputy Garland helped crack the 30-year-old fatal stabbing of Margaret Jenkins in Mount Pleasant, only to see a judge dismiss the murder charge against his suspect for lack of evidence.
Then, in 2006, Garland and NCIS named a suspect in the puzzling 1997 disappearance of Kevin McClam, 14, in Goose Creek. They predicted an arrest within a month, but nothing came of it.
Glidden said her initial conversations with Garland in early May 2010 were cordial, but that soon changed. Garland kept pressing her for more and more details about her military life.
He took particular interest in a young sailor named Chucky, a Montana native she had dated for about a month in 1992 while stationed in Charleston, Glidden said.
Glidden said she couldn't recall Chucky's last name, and that frustrated Garland.
A few days later, Garland arrived at Glidden's house in Goose Creek with a search warrant and a small army of officers, Glidden said.
They took her diaries, photos, computers, tax information and other personal material. And he brought her in for another round of questions, she said.
At Garland's insistence, Glidden said, she took a polygraph test on May 18 of that year to prove she wasn't lying about her inability to remember Chucky's last name or her insistence that she didn't know who killed Horton. She passed the test with no signs of deception, records show.
Garland told her she was in the clear, Glidden said, and she continued to offer her help in the case, even sitting down with the agent to produce a composite sketch of Chucky, her elusive former beau.
She didn't realize that she was still very much in the crosshairs of the investigation.
On July 14, 2010, Glidden read in the newspaper that investigators had finally identified Chucky as former sailor Charles Welty. What's more, he was under arrest in his hometown of Missoula, Mont., after he reportedly confessed to participating in Horton's killing along with others.
Glidden said she was thrilled to learn that the case had finally reached some conclusion. She spoke to Garland that day, and he asked her to stop by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office to answer a few more questions. She said she went voluntarily and without a lawyer.
She didn't know at the time that Welty had provided investigators with a detailed account of Horton's death — a disturbing tale of bad blood, sodomy and execution. She also didn't realize that investigators had repeatedly peppered him with questions about her possible role in the killing.
NCIS investigators initially weren't sure they had the right guy when they located Welty, so they asked Missoula sheriff's detectives to speak with him first. They did, in a grueling five-hour session in a cramped, wooden-panel room.
Staring with rudimentary facts and pausing at times to consult with Garland in Charleston, the two Missoula detectives gradually milked a detailed confession from Welty, a wiry man with bipolar disorder and thinning hair.
Over the course of the videotaped interview, the detectives coaxed and cajoled Welty into recalling a host of memories he claimed to have repressed for two decades. Welty slowly transformed from a man professing no knowledge of the killing to a confused confessor who suggested that he deserved the death penalty for his actions.
By the end, he took responsibility for not only kidnapping Horton, but sexually assaulting him and shooting him as well.
Welty described how he, two men and a woman forced Welty into a car at gunpoint, bound him with rope, then raped him in sadistic orgy in a trailer. He claimed Horton was beaten, driven several miles away, then shot and left to die.
“You're walking this Earth since '92 knowing that you've done that?,” a detective asked at one point. “How do you live with that?”
“I tell you, till today, I don't remember this,” Welty replied. “... Until you brought it up today, I don't remember this happening.”
Toward the end of the interview, the detectives brought in a cellphone and put Garland on speakerphone so he could address Welty. Garland urged him to name names and finally bring some closure to Horton's family. Welty could either get on board the train or be hit with it, he said.
“The train is gonna leave the station whether you're on board or not,” Garland said. “You gotta chance to be a hero here. You can be a hero.”
Welty did not implicate Glidden in the initial confession. In fact, he stressed that the woman involved in the attack on Horton was someone else he dated, not Glidden. Investigators said Welty later changed his tune and named Glidden as the woman in question.
Glidden said she had no idea what she was in for when she sat down with investigators that July day. She soon found herself under a withering barrage of questions from NCIS agent Kaylyn Dueker and a Berkeley detective, she said.
“They were relentless. Whenever I would say something they didn't want to hear, they would say, ‘Let's start over again.' It was always ‘Let's start over again,'?” she said. “It was horrible.”
As hours passed with few breaks and no food, Glidden said she became nauseous, numb and willing to do whatever it took to make them stop. She said she finally concocted a wild, disjointed tale in which she implicated herself, Welty, Solheim and Emery.
“I just started to say the most horrid things about people. It was so ... unbelievable,” she said. “But (Dueker) just ate it up. She loved it.”
Landess, Glidden's attorney, said the statement is riddled with inconsistencies and differed markedly from the account provided by Welty. She said investigators ignored those problems and arrested Glidden and her co-defendants on murder charges.
Jail and changes
Glidden said she spent the next 10 months in the Berkeley County jail. During that time, she lost her job at the VA, her dog and the three-bedroom home she and her husband rented in Goose Creek.
She was finally granted bail in May 2011, but she has been unable to find work in her field — she holds a master's degree in clinical counseling — with the murder charge hanging over her head.
“They basically took everything from us,” said her husband, John Glidden.
They take hope from the fact that prosecutors dismissed the case against Emery in December for lack of evidence. Landess hopes to get the charges against Glidden dismissed as well. Landess plans to file a motion to suppress her confession, claiming it was coerced.
Voigt, the prosecutor, said he couldn't discuss a motion that has not been filed.
Andy Savage, Solheim's attorney, said he has concerns about the validity of Welty's confession as well, as the Montana detectives seemed to be suggesting facts to Welty during the lengthy interview.
Welty's attorney, public defender Patricia Kennedy, declined comment on the case.
Glidden said she just wants people to understand one thing: “I am not guilty of this crime.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.