I-Team 8

More than 20 years after admitting to killing wife and son, Indianapolis man still awaits trial

UPDATE: A lawyer for Adams, Robert Hill, told a judge in court Thursday that Adams suffers from profound delusion disorder and is not capable of helping his defense. Hill said there is almost no chance Adams will ever recover from his mental illness. Adams has been in state custody for 23 years without ever facing a jury.  A competency hearing is held each year to determine if Adams is capable of standing trial. Hill said a number of doctors have examined Adams over the years, and determined his mental health illness is not going away. 

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — On Sept. 21, 1999, police looking into armed robberies of two Pizza Hut restaurants found two bodies stuffed in a freezer inside of the garage at 3950 Thrush Drive on the near-west side of Indianapolis.

Within days of the discovery, police made an arrest. The suspect, John Keith Adams, of Indianapolis, was found on Sept. 30, 1999 in Independence, Missouri. He waived his Miranda rights and admitted to killing his 28-year-old wife Robin Adams on April 19, 1999 and 10-month-old son John Ramseys Adams around June 1999.

The suspect, John Keith Adams, has spent much of the last two decades in Logansport State Hospital, deemed incompetent to stand trial.(WISH Photo)

The prosecutor at the time was prepared to try the case and wanted to seek the death penalty. More than 23 years later, Adams has yet to face a jury for the crimes he openly admitted to committing and the case is still nowhere near going to trial.

Adams is still in custody after more than 20 years. He has spent most of the past two decades at Logansport State Hospital.

“There will be no appeals or anything. I’m going plead guilty if they want to execute me, they can. If not, I mean, there is no way I’m gonna spend 20 years in a place like this. I mean, if they don’t do it, I will just kill himself,” John Keith Adams said in an interview with News 8 in October of 1999. 

According to the original probable cause affidavit, Robin had been shot in the head and John was asphyxiated.

“Robin’s death was instantaneous and quick. She didn’t even know. She was asleep, she didn’t even know what hit her. Little John, I mean, I didn’t want his death to be as prolonged as it was,” Adams said in 1999.

I-Team 8 has reviewed more than 450 pages in the case file for Adams. 

Detectives reflect on the case

The victims were discovered by two Marion County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Doug Scheffel and Chris Hefner. Both men are now retired.

(WISH Photo)

In 1999, the two detectives were investigating Adams for the armed robbery of two Pizza Huts in Indianapolis. A tip led them to the Adams house. On their first visit, they knocked on the door and Adams didn’t answer. They got a search warrant and came back later in that week.   

With a search warrant in hand the detectives returned to the house. The first thing they noticed was a strong smell of pot in the house, like raw, recently cultivated marijuana. The search led them to the garage.  

 “I went in looking for evidence of the robberies and Hefner went out to the garage. Hefner was a narcotics detective. He had a nose for narcotics. He was out in the garage and called me, ‘hey, you got to take a look at this,’” Scheffel said.

Hefner’s past experience led him to believe he was about to discover some pot.

“I can’t tell you how many times I had seen bales of marijuana or bricks of marijuana in freezers. So I thought, ‘ah, ha.’ I walked over to the freezer and lifted the lid and the initial thing I remember seeing was blood on the interior of the lid and it didn’t click yet,” Hefner said.

“I thought he found some drugs and he took me over to the freezer and that is where we located the bodies,” said Scheffel.

The pair found the bodies of Robin and John inside of the chest freezer.

A portion of the probable cause affidavit for the arrest of Adams.

“That child was put in that freezer alive,” said Hefner 

As it turned out, Adams had been at the house when the two detectives first visited. He later told police he hid in the living room and was prepared to shoot them if they came inside. Before detectives returned with the warrant, Adams had fled.

“He fled and went to Missouri and we entered his vehicle information after locating the bodies and everything. We entered his vehicle into the NCIS as a person of interest in a homicide case and a police officer in Missouri located him asleep in a car,” said Scheffel 

It was Adams’ roommate, Elliot Peter, who told police Adams was driving a rented van and was on the run. He had kept the information to himself to give Adams time to get out of state. Peter told police he knew Adams had robbed a couple of pizza places and led them to storage box that contained items from the robberies. Peter told police didn’t know about the bodies in the freezer.

Scheffel went to Missouri to interviewed Adams. He said Adams was very matter-of-fact about the murders and didn’t show any remorse 

 “It was just like you and I talking and, you know, I never got any real indication of like mental illness, other than the fact that you would think it would take somebody mentally ill to do something like that, but never said, ‘I heard voices in my head to do this,’” said Scheffel.

Was he competent to stand trial at the time?

A portion of a letter written by Adams regarding his competency.

“I was surprised he was found mentally incompetent,” said Scheffel.  

Adams never denied killing his wife and son. The Marion County prosecutor at the time, Scott Neuman, said he would seek the death penalty against Adams. The case seemed open and shut, but there’s a hitch. 

Adams planned to represent himself in spite of concerns if he was competent to even stand trial, let alone represent himself in a death penalty case. Much to his disapproval, he was assigned a public defender.

In 2001, the court ruled him incompetent to stand trial.  

“I think it is unusual unless someone is adjudicated incompetent. What I did find unusual is that basically his public defenders keep continuing the competency hearings,” said Dr. Jody Madeira of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. 

Over the years the court has scheduled dozens of competency hearings and he has been through several psychiatric evaluations. Adams has written several letters to the judge asking for new counsel, and continues to insists on representing himself, but the judge has not ruled in his favor. Every year, he and his court-appointed lawyers are required to come to court for a competency update.  

“The tricky thing is that it appears that his very pleas for the competency hearing are why he is incompetent. In other words, he wants to become competent so he can represent himself and essentially give himself the death penalty,” said Dr. Madeira. 

Why did Adams kill his wife and son? He told detectives he didn’t know how to leave his wife and had apparently met another woman.

I-Team 8’s attempts to contact counsel for Adams – past and present – have been unsuccessful.

A remote status hearing for Adams is scheduled for Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. in Marion County Superior Court 30. I-Team 8 will let you know if the judges decide if is time after 23 years for Adams to stand trial.