A D.C. Superior Court jury acquitted William C. Rindgo yesterday of the rape, robbery and murder seven years ago of a young airline ticket clerk outside the WTOP radio and television studios.
Rindgo had previously been convicted of the three charges in connection with the slaying of 24-year-old Barbara L. Meyersburg, who worked for Pan American World Airways. However, the D.C.Court of Appeals overturned his conviction and ordered the new trial.
Rindgo was convicted only of a prison-break charge yesterday, for which he faces five years in prison. But after the jury returned from deliberations early last night and announced the acquittal in the courtroom, Rindgo appeared stunned. Later according to his attorney, Rindgo exclaimed, "Thank the Lord!"
Rindgo's attorney, Dennis O'Keefe, said he was pleasantly surprised at the verdict. Earlier, before the jury returned its verdict, he was pessimistic about the outcome because all the jurors in the previous trial had voted for Rindgo's conviction. At still another trial, which ended with a hung jury, 10 of the 12 jurors voted for his conviction.
The government's star witness Edward C. Burke, testified at the trial last week that he saw Rindgo attack Meyersburg in the parking lot next to the studios, located at 40th and Brandywine streets NW.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David W. Stanley told the jury that Rindgo unexpectedly encountered Meyersburg outside the studio late the night of Jan. 7, 1974, while he and Burke, were planning a robbery at a nearby service station. According to Burke, Rindgo attacked Meyersburg "to stop her from screaming."
Stanley told the jury that for Rindgo to be found guilty the jury would "have to believe Edward Burke's testimony." He tried to rebut defense arguments that Meyersburg had not been raped or murdered by Rindgo, claiming "she was raped, and she was killed during that rape."
Meyersburg body was found the morning of Jan. 8, near some bushes. She had been beaten, raped and strangled, according to evidence at the trial. Rindgo was later charged with Meyersburg's death. Burke was offered immunity in the case in return for his cooperation with prosecutors. However, O'Keefe claimed during the trial that Burke's story was "invented."
Rindgo's week-long trial began with his defense attorneys subpoenaing former WTOP newsman Max Robinson in an attempt to help prove Rindgo's innocence. O'Keefe argued that Meyersburg had not been raped by Rindgo but that "some point in the evening [she] had consensual relations with some other persons -- and that person has not identified himself.
But D.C. Superior Court Judge Sylvia Bacon refused to permit evidence entered at the trial that would have led to Robinson's appearance because it was only "speculation," she said.
Rindgo's first trial on the charges took place in 1976 but ended with the hung jury. He was convicted in 1977 ofthe charges, but last February the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that he had been denied a fair trial because a judge permitted testimony about his prior criminal activity.
Rindgo's conviction yesterday on the prison-break charge was for leaving a halfway house, where he was serving a prison sentence for a prior robbery, two days after the Meyersburg murder. O'Keefe said that since Rindgo has been in prison since 1977 in connection with the Meyersburg slaying, he is going to be eligible for parole as soon as he is sentenced by Bacon next month.
Rindgo also was acquitted yesterday of a charge of assault with intent to commit rape. Prosecutor Stanley argued that if the jury felt it could not convict Rindgo of raping Meyersburg, there was sufficient evidence of attempted rape. However, O'Keefe contended that the varying versions in Burke's testimony regarding the time he witnessed Rindgo allegedly attack Meyersburg cast doubt on the government's version of events.