Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on June 22, 1993.
John List, the former Chesterfield County man who was fingered by "America's Most Wanted," lost an appeal yesterday and won't be eligible for parole until 2048.
He would be 123 years old.
"We plan to object," Richard P. Rodbart, a prosecutor in Union County, N.J., where List was convicted, said jokingly. In Trenton yesterday, three judges from the appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld List's 1990 conviction of murdering his mother, wife and three children in 1971.
After the killings, List took the name Robert Clark. He remarried, moved to Brandermill, joined a Lutheran church in Chesterfield and went to work as an accountant. In 1989, the Fox television show re-enacted the Westfield, N.J., crime. The FBI arrested List 11 days later at his Henrico County office. "After 18 years, five months and 22 days, it is now time for the voices of Helen, Alma, Patricia, Frederick and John F. List to rise from the grave," Union County Superior Court Judge William L. Wertheimer said as he imposed five consecutive life sentences.
In a letter left at the shooting scene, List told his pastor that he had slaughtered his family in order to guarantee them eternal life. At the trial in Elizabeth, N.J., prosecutor Eleanor J. Clark dubbed List "a hideous angel of death."
The confession letter was a key part of the appeal by J. Michael Blake, an assistant deputy public defender in Newark. Blake contended the letters were protected by priest-penitent privilege and said their use violated List's constitutional protection against self-incrimination. Blake also said police should have obtained a search warrant before combing the List mansion.
But yesterday the judges ruled in an eight-page opinion that police and prosecutors had acted properly.
"The letter to Rev. (Euguene A.) Rehwinkel, left for anyone to find and read, cannot be considered to have been made with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality," the judges said. `
Rodbart, investigations supervisor for the Union County prosecutor's office, said List's five-page letter "shows how brazen he was in his belief that he could avoid capture indefinitely. One doesn't confess unless he feels pretty confident he won't be caught."
List, 67, is in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
Blake, the public defender, said he would appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. He said List suffers from diabetes but otherwise has adjusted to prison.
List's lawyers had contended he suffered from a mental disease that made him incapable of malice or premeditation.
In Blake's appeal, he also had objected to a statement Ms. Clark, the prosecutor, made while attacking the candor of Dr. Alan Goldstein, a forensic psychologist testifying for the defense about List's mental state.
In questioning Dr. Goldstein, Ms. Clark referred to testimony by another couple -- "being the true Christians they are, telling the truth, not shading it."
Blake said Dr. Goldstein is Jewish and that the question could appeal to religious prejudice.
— John List died from complications related to pneumonia in 2008 at a N.J. medical center while in prison custody.