Why did Nebraska board deny pardon to Caril Ann Clair, ex-girlfriend of serial killer Charles Starkweather?

Caril Ann Clair was 14-years-old when she was convicted as Charles Starkweather's accomplice in the 1957-58 murder spree in Nebraska and Wyoming. She served prison for 17 years before she was paroled in 1976.

The ex-girlfriend and convicted accomplice of serial killer Charles Starkweather, notoriously known for murdering 11 people in 1958, was denied pardon by the Nebraska pardons board.

Caril Ann Clair, formerly known as Caril Ann Fugate, was denied pardon by the board, comprising of Republican officials: Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State Bob Evnenin in a 3-0 vote, on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Clair was 14-year-old when she was convicted as Starkweather's accomplice and served prison for 17 years before she was out on parole in 1976.

Charles Starkweather
Charles Starkweather was executed in 1959 after serving 17 months in prison. Wiki commons

Starkweather's notorious murder spree that went on between 1957-58 left 11 people dead in Nebraska and Wyoming. The victims included Clair's mother, stepfather, and baby half-sister.

While Starkweather was executed in 1959 at the age of 20, the murders inspired many films, books, and songs, including the 1973 movie "Badlands" starring Martin Sheen, horror author Stephen King's works, and Bruce Springsteen's song "Nebraska." The murders were referenced in Billy Joel's track "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Clair, who is now 76-years-old and had since married and lives in Michigan, in her pardon application, wrote that she refuses to be associated with Starkweather's actions as a willing accomplice, and it is "too much for me to bear anymore."

Image for representational purpose

"I was terrified and did whatever he wanted me to, as he told me his gang had my family held hostage, and they would be murdered if I didn't do what he said," her application read. She believed "receiving a pardon may somehow alleviate this terrible burden."

Is the Board's rejection justified?

John Stevens Berry Sr., Clair's attorney, said the board's decision was "absolutely the end of the road" for Clair's hopes since she had applied for a full pardon once before, in 1996. But this time, Clair was hopeful since she was supported by Liza Ward, the granddaughter of S. Lauer and Clara Ward, who were killed in their Lincoln home in December 1958.

Since there's no appeal process for a denial, Barry told reporters that it is the first time since 55-years of practicing law that in which he was turned down without a hearing. "They could've at least heard me," he told the Lincoln Journal Star.


However, the board argued, stating that a pardon does not absolve a person's record. According to the law, a pardon restores certain rights such as the right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, bear arms, be licensed for certain professions, serve in the military or get a passport.

"None of those were things being sought here," Attorney General Doug Peterson said. The governor's spokesman, Taylor Gage said, "The crimes Caril Ann Clair participated in were horrific and depraved, and created immense public fear. Caril Ann Clair's story continues to change."

Clair's public guilt unjustified, says victim's granddaughter

Berry has also co-written a book arguing that Clair's conviction was unjustified as Starkweather was the main witness against her and had changed his story multiple times. It is argued that Starkweather accused Clair because he was angry at her as she had previously told him that she never wanted to see him again.

Ward, the author of the novel 'Outside Valentine', which is based on the murders, said she believes Clair was Starkweather's victim and ended up receiving the public ire based on misinformation.