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A voice for a murder victim

Published June 12, 2005 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Death in a Fish Pond, the story of the 1994 slaying of Salt Lake City flight attendant Pamela Mead, has all the elements of a good true-crime thriller: a mysterious death, a two-timing husband, vindictive lovers, surprise witnesses and a half-million-dollar life-insurance policy as motive.

It's a tale of greed, infidelity and a man who nearly got away with murder.

But as told by fledgling author Howard R. Lemcke -- the Salt Lake County prosecutor who took husband David Earl Mead to trial and got him sent to prison for up to life -- the book also explains how homicides are really solved.

Lemcke said one of his goals in writing Death in a Fish Pond (New Horizon Press; $22.95) was to dispel "the CSI effect," the TV notion of how murder cases are handled.

"Everybody has this [pop-culture] image of what a case is going to look like, and it isn't," he said. "That isn't the way things work."

Readers with an interest in the law should find Lemcke's book -- 3 1/2 years in the making -- much more satisfying than the rush jobs that often appear at the conclusion of high-profile crime cases.

Lemcke taps into the drama and emotion of the case. But he also educates, explaining the ins and outs of the legal system with an easygoing, conversational style that will make readers feel like real insiders.

As the twists and turns of the murder plot unfold, Lemcke offers detailed but digestible insights on everything from how witnesses are interrogated and how jurors are picked to how judges decide whether to admit evidence.

Lemcke said the book was also a way to sort out his feelings in the wake of the one case where he lost his objectivity. The veteran prosecutor recalled that while waiting for the jury's verdict, he fretted about what he would tell the victim's family if Mead was acquitted.

"This is the case where I forgot the rules," he said. "One of the rules is you leave work at work, you don't get emotionally involved."

Lemcke dedicated the book to Pamela Mead, to whom he tried to bring a measure of justice.

"It might sound trite," Lemcke said, "but that's the person you are working for. Particularly in a case like this, I'm the only voice she has left."

Lemcke portrays Mead as an evil, immoral man who plotted his wife's murder while acting the role of a loving husband. Mead decided on murder as the way to save his failing aircraft-cleaning business and meet his girlfriend's demand that he leave his wife.

After Mead "discovered" his 29-year-old wife floating face down in the backyard fishpond he had finished building just four days earlier, her death was initially deemed an accident by the state medical examiner. That left him in position to collect $500,000 in double-indemnity life-insurance benefits.

But Mead's present and former girlfriends came forward to accuse him of premeditated murder. So did Mead's cousin, an ex-con who claimed Mead tried to hire him to kill his wife or find someone who would.

Lemcke came slowly to believe that Mead had murdered her. But proving it to a jury was another matter.

Prosecutors got the additional evidence he needed to bring charges only after Pamela Mead's parents sued Mead for wrongful death in federal court. During the civil trial, a surprise witness walked, unsolicited, into court and exploded Mead's alibi.

After Mead was charged, a second surprise witness appeared. After a six-day trial in 1998, Mead was convicted of first-degree felony murder and murder solicitation. Then 31, he was sentenced to prison for 5 years to life by a judge who said he was indeed "the calculating and cold-blooded planner" of his wife's murder.

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole has scheduled Mead's original parole hearing in October 2016. By that time he will have served more than 18 years in prison.

Lemcke believes Mead should never be freed.

He acknowledges that some might argue the manner of Pamela Mead's death -- knocked unconscious with a brick and then drowned -- was not especially heinous, cruel or shocking.

But Lemcke asserts the killer should pay for his planning and deceit, and for committing the ultimate betrayal. As Lemcke's story ends: "David Earl Mead employed the cruelest weapon of all, love."


Stephen Hunt covered the Mead trial.






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