Local News

Ex-housekeeper gets life in women's beating deaths

Posted October 6, 2008 2:39 p.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2008 7:24 p.m. EDT

— A former housekeeper was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to fatally beating two elderly women at an upscale retirement community last December.

Barbara Turrentine Clark, 41, of Toomer Loop Road in Pittsboro, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. She also pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining property by false pretense in an unrelated case.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against her.

"I can tell you after seeing all of man's inhumanity to man over the last 40 years of practicing law, this (case) ranks up there as the worst," Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said.

Manning sentenced Clark to life in prison without parole for the murders, as well as 145 to 183 months in prison for the assault. He also ordered her to pay about $11,000 in restitution to a Chatham County couple in a fraud case from September 2007.

Three women who lived at Galloway Ridge at Fearrington, off U.S. Highway 15/501 north of Pittsboro, were attacked on Dec. 5, authorities said.

Margaret Murta, 92, her roommate Mary Corcoran, 82, and their neighbor, Rebecca Fisher, 77, were beaten with a cane and doused with pepper spray during a dispute over money, authorities said.

Murta and Corcoran died from their injuries. Fisher was seriously injured but recovered.

Clark initially told investigators she had gone to the retirement community to help Murta and Corcoran pick up a Christmas tree and that she witnessed a black man assaulting the women. Deputies searched for a man the day of the attacks, but they said after Clark's arrest that they had doubts about her account almost from the beginning.

Assistant Chatham County District Attorney Kayley Taber said Clark had a history of using her job as a housekeeper to defraud her clients and that  Murta and Corcoran had discovered Clark forged a $1,000 check she had stolen from them.

The women confronted Clark the morning of the attacks and asked Fisher to be there as a witness, Taber said.

Even before the confrontation, Clark was planning to kill the two women and drain their bank accounts, Taber said.

Investigators found a notebook in Clark's purse that listed Murta's drug allergies and an envelope with notes inside that read "put a bag or something over her face" and included a list of ways to camouflage the taste of antifreeze.

Defense attorney James Williams had tried to get Clark committed to a mental hospital for treatment, but a judge rejected that move in March.

Williams said Monday that Clark was "zombie-like" after the attacks and that it took months and the proper medication for her to even be able to communicate with him.

Clark's sister, Julie Stephens, apologized to the women's families Monday.

"I just wanted them to know how sorry we were that all of this happened," Stephens said.