From the Worldwide Faith News archives

South Dakota Pastor Is Convicted of Killing His Wife

Date 03 Feb 2000 20:07:55

    South Dakota Pastor Is Convicted of Killing His Wife 
    by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister in South Dakota 
has been sentenced to life in prison for the May murder of his wife of 30 
    The Rev. William Guthrie - formerly the pastor of the First 
Presbyterian Church in Wolsey, S.D., and of the Bonilla Presbyterian Church 
nearby - is now incarcerated in the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, 
approximately 150 miles from the two churches that he served. 
    The seven-woman, three-man jury deliberated for five hours on Jan. 21 
before handing down the guilty verdict that ended the 11-day trial - the 
first murder trial in Beadle County, S.D., in six years.  Guthrie was 
sentenced by Circuit Judge Eugene Martin on Jan. 24. 
    According to "The Plainsman," the daily newspaper in Huron, S.D., the 
judge asked Guthrie at his sentencing, "Mr. Guthrie, do you have anything 
to say?"  Guthrie replied, "No, your honor." 
    Guthrie had pled not guilty to the murder charge. 
    Guthrie's attorney Phil Parent of Madison, S.D., had no comment on 
whether or not his client intends to appeal.  The Beadle County State's 
Attorney Michael Moore, who prosecuted the case, is expecting notice of an 
appeal within the next 25 days.  Moore's office did not seek the death 
    "I feel that 12 people in the community were fair and impartial.  They 
heard the facts and they made a decision and I am satisfied with the 
verdict they made.  The best thing is that it gives some finality to this 
 ... for the family, for the church[es] and for the community," said Moore, 
who told reporters last August that Guthrie was the prime suspect in the 
drowning death of his wife, Sharon. 
    Sharon Guthrie, 54, drowned in the bathtub of her Wolsey home May 14. 
An autopsy revealed the contents of 10-20 capsules of Temazepan in her 
body, a sleeping pill that was prescribed for her husband. 
    The defense, according to "The Plainsman," suggested that she committed 
suicide because of a combination of medical and financial stresses. 
Prosecutors argued, however, that Guthrie killed his wife because he wanted 
to resume a relationship with a former female parishioner in Nebraska. 
    The prosecutor's office presented evidence from a computer expert that 
Guthrie's wife's alleged suicide note - found in a book months after her 
May demise -  was apparently typed onto the hard drive of a computer three 
months after her death.  Further, a computer in one of Guthrie's parishes 
had been used to research household and bathtub accidents, according to 
    Moore also said that there were unusual accidents in the Guthrie home 
just before Sharon Guthrie's death:  a lamp falling into her bath (when her 
husband was in the room), a string  found across the basement steps and she 
apparently had woken up groggy at least once. 
    "Both congregations came daily to the trial to support the family," 
said the Rev. William Pfautz, the interim pastor who served Guthrie's two 
churches after his arrest, who added that the preponderence of evidence 
convinced many parishioners of their pastor's guilt before the actual 
verdict was handed down. 
    "But both congregations," he said, "are in good health and have largely 
worked through their hurt and are on track with their fall and winter 
    A new pastor is beginning in those congregations this week. 
    Guthrie resigned his pastorates months ago so that the lives of the 
churches were not further disrupted. 
    A committee is being formed within the Presbytery of South Dakota to 
conduct an ecclesiastical investigation into Guthrie's conduct.  Its 
members will be announced at the Feb. 25 presbytery meeting. 
    The Rev. Bill Livingston, the presbytery's interim executive, told the 
Presbyterian News Service: "We are are deeply saddened by the guilty 
verdict issued to Rev. Guthrie.  We pray God's comfort for his family as 
they live through these most difficult times." 
    The Guthries have three grown daughters. 

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