See attached comments from reader at the end of this article.
Hugh “Pete” Bondurant Jr. and his brother, Kenneth Patterson “Pat” Bondurant, known as “The Bondurant Boys,” were over 300-pound twin-brothers from Lawrence County in southern Tennessee, who each committed two brutal murders. The twins were equally brutal in the murders and both were convicted of double homicides, but Pete is scheduled for release in 2018 and Pat in 2070. But why was there a 52 year difference in sentencing?
Pete and Pat were both convicted in 1991 and were sentenced to 25 years for the murder of Gwen Dugger after they drugged and raped her in 1986. Gwen Dugger of Ardmore, Alabama, a 24 year-old mother of two, was an innocent victim. After doping her up, Pat beat her unconscious with an ax handle and then Pete finished her off with two shots from a 22-pistol. The initial arrest of the twins in 1990 shocked residents in Giles County, Tennessee, and Limestone County, Alabama. The details of Gwen’s murder were horrific, and local citizens said that the twins had a “Manson-like” following of young people who came to Pat’s farmhouse in Elkton, Tennessee, for drugs.
Pat’s wife, Denise Bondurant, testified that the brothers raped, tortured and shot the young mother before burning her body in a 55-gallon drum and dumping the ashes in a creek near Pat’s rented farmhouse near the Shady Lawn Truck Stop. The twins stuffed Gwen’s body upside down in a burn barrel and set it on fire. Then they dumped her charred remains in the Elk River. Gwen’s body was never recovered, which is one reason why the twins only received a 25-year sentence.
Pete is scheduled to be released in 2018 after serving his time for this murder, but Pat will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Both have been denied parole several times. Why was there such a disparity in sentencing of twins with the same propensity for violence who committed similar crimes? Did our judicial system fail again?
Once the twins had the taste of blood, they couldn’t stop with just a single murder. They both committed another murder. In 1986, Pat was convicted of beating his co-worker Ronnie Gaines to death, while Pete was charged with helping his brother dismember and burn Gaines’ body. Charred bones were unearthed in the front yard of their parents’ Giles County home. The brothers went to trial individually for the murder of Gaines with Pat being sentenced to death, while his brother only received a sentence of a few years because he didn’t actually commit the murder.
According to Denise Bondurant, who testified at trial, the defendant had confessed to her both the killing of Gaines and the burning of the victim’s house. Denise testified that the defendant had been angry at Gaines for some time because the defendant suspected that Gaines had stolen his wallet containing money from the monthly social security disability check belonging to the Bondurants’ disabled son, Matthew. During this time, the defendant had made veiled threats against anyone who stole “from him or little Matthew.” The defendant told Denise that on the evening of October 17, while at Gaines’ house, he caught Gaines cheating while playing cards. At this point, the defendant “just went off,” and beat Gaines to death with a small rocking chair because he “could not allow anyone to take anything from little Matthew.” The beating, which continued for thirty minutes after Gaines had died, was of such force as to leave only a small piece of the rocking chair intact. The defendant and his brother, Pete, dismembered the victim’s body, cleaned the house so that no trace of blood or hair remained, and transported the body to their parents’ home in Westpoint, Tennessee, where they burned the corpse.
In May of 1990, relying upon information provided by Denise Bondurant, law enforcement officials obtained a search warrant and returned to the Westpoint house where, with the help of a team of forensic anthropologists, they located seven burned human cranial fragments. Dr. William Bass, the leader of the forensic anthropologists, testified that he was 100 percent certain that the bones were human, 75 percent certain that they came from a male, over 50 percent certain that blunt trauma had been applied to the skull before it had been burned, and 90 percent certain that the bones had been in the ground no less than one nor more than fifteen to twenty years.
Other proof also supported Denise’s testimony and the forensic evidence. For example, a child’s rocking chair that had been in the front left bedroom of Gaines’ house was missing after the fire. The defendant had also made several strange or incriminating statements around the time of Gaines’ disappearance. These statements ranged from the defendant’s remark that Gaines had joined the Foreign Legion to the defendant’s outright admission to one co-worker that he had “killed the son-of-a-bitch.”
Pat Bondurant appealed his conviction of premeditated first degree murder and arson. Upon finding that Tennessee had proven two statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, the jury sentenced the defendant to death by electrocution on the conviction for first degree murder. On the arson conviction, the trial court sentenced the defendant to ten years consecutive to the death penalty. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The state Supreme Court concluded that the defendant’s convictions of first degree murder and arson should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. The defendant offered clear proof to establish that the statutory procedures governing selection of a special jury venire were totally disregarded and that the jury, which was required by law to remain sequestered, was allowed to separate twice daily to drive between their lodgings and the courthouse. No evidence was offered by the prosecution to refute the defendant’s claim regarding the selection of the special venire or to rebut the defendant’s prima facie showing of jury separation. Under clear and longstanding Tennessee precedent a new trial was required if the State did not offer proof to negate prejudice once the fact of jury separation has been established by the defense.
Furthermore, in a highly publicized capital murder case it is particularly important that trial courts scrupulously enforce the statutory directives governing selection of a special venire and the law requiring jury sequestration. Otherwise, the risk is great that a jury will base its decision on extraneous information. Here, the trial court failed to utilize the selection procedures prescribed by the statute and also allowed the jury to separate twice daily during the course of the trial. In the absence of countervailing proof from the State to show that the jury’s decision was not influenced by extraneous information, the court was unable to conclude that these serious errors were harmless. Accordingly, the defendant’s convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.
One of the problems with our judicial system is that it schizophrenic when it comes to dealing with really evil criminals. In the lower court, the judges and prosecutors are emotionally and politically invested in ensuring that the hardened criminal gets the maximum sentence, usually the death penalty if available. Then the higher court will find some reason to reverse the lower court. In effect, the truly evil criminals many times end up getting a better deal than those criminals who got caught up in a passionate moment.
In the new trial, the jury sentenced Pat to life in prison amounting to about 50 years. So, how did Pete, who also murdered a second person, receive such a light sentence? Well, part of the problem was that Pat’s wife, who sealed his fate, was not able to testify in Pete’s case for the murder of his girlfriend. And there was no body. The evidence was skimpy in the beating of his girlfriend, Terry Lynn Clark, in 1986, but the lower court again was motivated to put away a callous criminal and sentenced Pete to 15 years in prison. But he was able to get the sentence reduced through appeals. There just wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify the sentence.
In our judicial system, sometimes emotion and politics interfere with the normal course of a trial. When that happens, it can cause reversals by higher courts of verdicts and sentences. If the cases are remanded back to the lower courts, it can make it difficult for the prosecutor, because the defense has a second chance, knowing exactly what the prosecution will do. And many times, witnesses lose their resolve the second time around.
The lower courts should not only follow the judicial system rules carefully to prevent the sentence from being overturned by a higher court, but they also should take a moderate position even in extreme murder cases. There is no reason to deviate from our judicial rules based on extreme emotions of the public or court relating to the trial.
The Bondurant twins are serving their time at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Tennessee with different sentences even though they should be the same.
NOTE FROM READER: Being from the area where these murders occurred, touring the home, and having correspondence with Pete Bondurant personally, I feel the need to clarify a few errors that you have made.
Terri Lynn Clark was not beaten, and her dead body was actually discovered in the Bondurant home by TBI investigator. He had an appointment with Clark to verify Pete’s alibi. Upon arriving at the Elkton farmhouse, Clark was found in Pete Bondurant’s bed dead of an apparent drug overdose. The reason he was sentenced to only 15 years is because he was convicted of manslaughter because prosecution couldn’t prove the drugs were injected by Bondurant, only obtained from him. The reason that Denise Bondurant didn’t testify in the murder trial of Ms. Clark was due to her not being present as she had moved from the residence at that time.
The brothers were originally incarcerated together at Riverbend, however Pete Bondurant was transferred to Northeast Correctional Complex in Johnson City, Tennessee. His release date is also 2017, not 2018.
The parents’ home in West Point, Tennessee is located in Lawrence County, not Giles county.
Lastly, while you are accurate that Pete Bondurant has been denied parole, Pat is serving a sentence without the possibility of parole. He will in fact die behind bars because he will not be released until 2070.
Please forgive my corrections, but as a fellow author, I would want the same courtesy extended to me should my publications contain errors.