N.J. court upholds man's conviction in 1971 slayings

Published June 22, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

An appeals court has upheld the 1990 conviction of a man for the slayings of his mother and his wife and their three children 22 years ago.

John List vanished for nearly 18 years after the killings, then was captured in Richmond, Va., in 1989 after the crime was depicted on the television program America's Most Wanted.

A three-judge panel on the state appeals court ruled Monday that a letter from List to his pastor confessing to the crime did not violate "priest-penitent privilege."

"The letter to Rev. (Eugene A.) Rehwinkel, left for anyone to find and read, cannot be considered to have been made with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality," the court ruled.

The priest testified at List's trial, telling police that he considered the letter confidential. But prosecutors argued that the letter should be part of the public record because List did not express in it his wish for absolution or penance for the slayings.

Superior Court Judge William L'E. Wertheimer, who presided over the eight-day trial in Elizabeth, allowed the letter to be used as evidence because he said police properly obtained it.

List, 67, is serving five consecutive life terms without hope of parole.