In less than four years, William McTonic went from a warm welcome at the White House to a 6-by-8 cell in the Somerset County jail.
The 75-year-old former trucker was charged in April 2009 with the murder of his wife of less than a month.
Ruth Henderson McTonic was found on the porch of her home in Jerome. She had been shot twice and bled to death.
McTonic was released from prison in February after a judge ruled that statements he had made during initial questioning were not admissible as evidence.
Jerry Spangler, Somerset County district attorney, withdrew criminal homicide charges, but called the decision “one of the most difficult of my career.”
“With the case’s gaps and the lack of sufficient evidence, my office can not continue to pursue this case without new evidence or leads,” Spangler said at the time.
Although McTonic’s freedom has been restored to him, he says his life is far from back to normal.
He estimates his defense has cost at least $200,000 and he has lost nearly everything he owned – a public auction disposed of most of the items he had spent years collecting.
These days, he occupies a small apartment in Somerset where a hospital bed dominates a sparse living room. A photo with former President George W. Bush holds a place of honor near the bed.
McTonic was a truck driver for 38 years without causing an accident and also ran a small mechanic shop.
The great-grandfather believes he enjoyed a good reputation in Jerome, where he has lived all his life.
But he is no longer comfortable walking those familiar streets.
“Lots of times I go into places and I don’t talk to people I know, ’cause I don’t know what they’ll say,” he said. “I’m followed all the time.”
A pastor of one local church asked McTonic not to attend services.
McTonic said he’s had “murderer” shouted at him from a passing car.
He spends much of his time in his apartment – struggling with constant pain brought on by a fall from a truck in 1992 and 10 subsequent back surgeries.
He has lots of time to recall the
48 years he spent with his first wife, and the events that led to his arrest in his second wife’s death.
‘Loved that woman’
Patricia McTonic, William’s first wife, died of liver cancer in 2003.
They had been married 48 years.
The two had met when she was just 11 years old and married when she turned 18.
“By the time she was 24, she had five children,” McTonic said.
He said he could have been a more supportive husband.
“I thought I was doing all the work because I had three jobs,” he said. “I wasn’t doing a darn thing compared to what she was doing.”
McTonic longs to have that kind of steady relationship again.
“I don’t like living alone,” he said. “I want to be married.”
The lonely widower thought he had found the right woman when he met 73-year-old Ruth Henderson. Her daughter occupied half of the duplex he owned and occupied in Jerome.
“I was expecting to live the rest of my life with Ruth,” he said. “I really loved that woman.”
The two eventually started to date.
“Ruth was a nice lady,” he said. “She was changing my life completely, and I loved every minute of it. She was fixing me up to be the way she wanted me to be.”
Gone were the suspenders and his big, out-of-date glasses.
He said he started having his hair cut the way she liked it.
“I never bothered with that stuff before,” he said.
But she had been single for 16 years and, according to McTonic, often felt stifled by the relationship.
“It didn’t go smooth all the time,” he said. “I had to back off sometimes.”
Nevertheless, after about a year of dating, he proposed.
“First she said no,” he said.
“Then she changed her mind and set a date for April.”
But the engagement suffered frequent breaks.
“Around Thanksgiving, she said she didn’t want to see me anymore,” McTonic said.
‘She was my wife’
He said it was during this breakup that another woman called him out of the blue. She learned about him from a mutual acquaintance who thought the two might hit it off.
They met the day before Christmas but, McTonic said, he warned his newfound friend that there was another woman in the picture.
When Ruth learned he had met someone else, she moved the date of the wedding up, McTonic said.
They married on March 14, 2009, in a church ceremony and moved into her home a few blocks from his.
“I tried to do everything for Ruth that I could,” McTonic said. “She was my wife.”
He filled the oil tank at the house and got new tires for her car, he said.
But after just four days, McTonic said his new wife once again told him she needed some space. Though not happy, he said he understood and accepted the arrangement.
“I was giving her room,” he said. “If I waited till whenever she came back to me, it was always nicer than it was before.”
So he moved back to his place and started making renovations. He believed she planned to move in with him when the house was ready.
“(Ruth) was at my place painting on the day she died,” McTonic said.
After painting, she showered and changed, leaving her painting clothes and shoes behind.
The shoes still sit in his living room.
“If we were fighting, would she have left her clothes?” he asked.
That evening, she went out for ice cream with her daughters.
McTonic said he saw his wife pick up her daughter at the double house.
He then lay back down and watched TV, eventually falling asleep.
“That was the night my wife got shot,” he said.
‘Pointing their guns’
The next morning, McTonic said, he left his home to meet someone who was moving a trailer he owned.
That job ended at around 10:30 a.m. and, McTonic said, he went home – where he showered and changed clothes.
He then headed to Somerset to meet his attorney to turn over paperwork for the trailer.
McTonic said he realized his attorney would not be in the office yet, so he stopped for a bite to eat.
It was then that he got a phone call from his daughter, who told him Ruth was dead.
McTonic continued to his attorney’s office to drop off the papers.
Although this act was perceived as cold, McTonic said he had no idea where they had taken his wife’s body and thought the attorney would advise him.
The attorney called the police and told them McTonic was with him and arrangements were made for him to go in for questioning.
“As soon as I got in my car, there was two cops behind me and three in front of me,” McTonic said.
“They just came onto me ... pointing their guns on me.
“I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “I just thought they wanted to talk to me. I was her husband, why not talk to me?”
McTonic said the officers tried to pull him from the car without releasing the seatbelt causing a shoulder injury that still bothers him.
“I was what, 75 years old?” he said. “What did they think I was going to do?”
Although he said he asked for his attorney to be contacted, that did not happen.
He believes he was picked up at around 11:45 a.m. and was questioned until almost midnight.
“They kicked me back and forth on a chair,” McTonic said, adding that his hands were cuffed behind his back the entire time.
“They never took those handcuffs off till late at night,” he said. “It hurt like hell. I’d fall out of that chair and lay on the floor – my back hurt so bad.
“They’d pick me back up and put me on the chair.”
McTonic said the investigators wanted him to admit that he was at his wife’s house that night.
“They will never get me to admit that,” he said. “Because I wasn’t there.”
‘They had to do something’
To family members, McTonic’s arrest was not believable.
His niece, Jodi Shockey of Friedens, was one of his ardent supporters.
“If you know Bill, you know that he did not do it,” she said.
“I don’t think physically he could have done that. And he loved her.
“No matter what she did to him, he could not have shot her.”
Shockey thinks local police jumped the gun.
“I think they thought they had to do something,” she said.
“They had a murder. I think they overreacted.”
McTonic said he was put in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with a cement slab to sleep on.
There was no mattress, just a blanket to lay on and to cover with.
His clothes were taken away and he was given a gown to wear. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day, often being turned off just when his food was passed in.
“I didn’t even know if it was day or night,” he said.
The worst part of his imprisonment, McTonic said, was the pain he experienced.
He is on the strongest medication available – administered through a pump – to give him some relief for his constant back pain.
But McTonic said he only was given two Tylenol when he complained.
“It felt like scalding water up to my knees,” he said.
‘They had nothing’
He was given his Bible when he asked for it, and said he had read it all the way through twice and was on his third reading when he was released in February.
McTonic was kept in solitary confinement and on suicide watch for the next seven weeks.
“Suicide was the furthest thing on my mind,” he said. “I wanted to know what happened to my wife.”
Shockey said the family did not hear anything about her uncle the entire time he was in solitary.
“When I didn’t hear from him, it about drove me crazy,” she said.
When he was put in with the general prison population, McTonic was given a pleasant surprise.
“Them prisoners in there treated me like a king,” he said.
When he wasn’t permitted to use the elevator to attend religious services, McTonic went down two flights of stairs at least once a week – sliding on his rear end.
At times, the men often made a sling with their arms to carry him around.
Shockey visited twice a week and wrote to her uncle frequently.
“I didn’t want him to give up and die in jail,” she said
After 320 days, McTonic was set free.
“(God) left me out on Ash Wednesday,” he said.
McTonic said ballistics and DNA tests could not be tied to him.
“They had nothing,” he said.
‘An open investigation’
A lifelong hunter, McTonic said there was a gun laying in plain view in a case in the back seat of the car when he was arrested.
Police confiscated the weapon and four others he owned, but none of the bullets found at the scene matched any of his guns.
A neighbor had heard three shots at 9:30 p.m., and McTonic said evidence showed more than one gun was used in the crime.
One bullet was found under his wife’s body.
Police believed McTonic walked to his wife’s house while she was dropping off her other daughter – who lived about a quarter of a mile away. They estimated it would have taken six or seven minutes.
McTonic scoffed at the idea.
“I could barely walk,” he said and pointed out that it was dark and that the path would have crossed a highway, a ditch, neighbors’ yards, gardens and fences.
Evidence against McTonic included the testimony of the woman he had been seeing.
She told police McTonic had called her at around 7 a.m. and told her that his wife had died – long before her body was found.
Although he acknowledges that they spoke that morning, he said he did not tell her of Ruth’s death until after he learned of it from his daughter.
Shockey said the woman contacted her throughout McTonic’s imprisonment and used her as a messenger.
McTonic said he was under the impression that the woman still loved him and wanted to be with him.
But in August, the woman charged McTonic with harassment for stalking her.
According to the charges, he sent her flowers, called her on the phone and drove by her home. The case will be heard Nov. 18.
McTonic said he would like to know what happened to his wife.
“When I read her autopsy, that really bothered me,” he said.
He said he has his own ideas about the shooting and wants the investigation to continue.
“The only thing I got left of my Ruth is those shoes,” he said. “I don’t even know where she’s buried.”
The district attorney said the case is not closed.
“It is certainly an open investigation,” Spangler said. “As leads are developed, (the authorities) certainly will follow through with that.”