Next Parole Hearing : May 2019
Suzanne Candler was abducted, raped, and murdered while driving home on Mother’s Day
|Inmate Name:||James Thomas Curtis|
|Offenses:||Aggravated Murder x 2; Aggravated Robbery|
|Min/ Max Sentence:||Life – Life|
|Next Parole Hearing:||May 2019|
18-year-old Suzanne Candler was driving home for Mother’s Day when she was pulled over by what the thought was a police cruiser. She was confronted by James Curtis who identified himself as a police officer. Suzanne Candler was never seen alive again. Her body was found a short time later in a field a few miles from where she was pulled over. James Curtis was sentence to death for his crimes however a Supreme Court decision in 1978 took him off death row and made him parole eligible.
Suzanne Candler’s Story
A Trip Home For Mother’s Day
Suzanne Candler, age 18, dreamed of earning her degree in business and becoming a stewardess. Suzanne, who had graduated from Lima Ohio Senior High School in 1974, had been accepted to Southern Ohio College which was located a about three hours away in Cincinnati Ohio. Although Suzanne was sad to be so far away from her parents she was excited to begin school in the fall of 1975. Suzanne’s future was bright and her parents could not have been more proud of their only child.
On Sunday May 11, 1975 Suzanne decided to head home early so she could spend Mother’s Day with her mom. Suzanne headed out at around 5:00 AM so she could arrive in Lima by the time her mom woke up. While Suzanne was preparing to go home, predator James Curtis was searching for his next victim. Curtis, a mechanic and part time security guard, had outfitted his vehicle to look like a make-shift police car complete with flashing red light. At around 3:30 AM Curtis was pulled over by a suburban policeman who was concerned about the vehicle. At the time impersonating a police was not a crime so Curtis could not be arrested. The policeman warned Curtis and sent him on his way.
A Deadly Freeway Encounter
At 4:30 AM Curtis spotted a woman driving alone in a vehicle. Curtis tailgated the woman for about ten miles and then turned on the flashing red light. The woman pulled over and Curtis approached the vehicle. He did not realize the woman had a male passenger sleeping in the backseat. Curtis flashed his security guard credentials and told the woman he had pulled her over for speeding. He then asked her to accompany him back to his vehicle. Curtis took the woman’s drivers license and inspected it. At some point the woman realized something was wrong. She grabbed her license back from Curtis, went to her car and left the scene. A short time later she reported the incident to police.
An hour hour later, at 5:30 AM, Curtis spotted Suzanne Candler driving home to see her family. He once again turned on the red light and pulled her over. That was the last time Suzanne would be seen alive. Authorities found her body several hours later in a weed filled field 75 feet off the freeway exit ramp. She had been shot once in the face and once in the back. Her clothes were in disarray and it appeared she had been raped. She was covered in blood. Her high school class ring, her watch, and her purse were missing. Police began hunting for a killer.
Arrested, Convicted, and Sentenced to Death
After hearing about the murder the police officer who pulled Curtis over told authorities about his encounter with him. Based on that tip police arrested Curtis and obtained a warrant to search his home and vehicle. When police arrested Curtis he was carrying Suzanne’s watch and class ring. They found her purse in his home. When authorities looked in the trunk of Curtis’ car they found the .38 revolver that was used to kill Suzanne. After his arrest the first woman Curtis attempted to abduct identified him through a one-way mirror. James Curtis was the charged with the aggravated murder and rape of Suzanne Candler.
At trial prosecutors presented a multitude of evidence including the murder weapon found in Curtis’ car, the purse found at his home and the ring and watch found in his pocket. Despite the overwhelming evidence Curtis said he had nothing to do with Suzanne’s murder. His defense was that he had met Suzanne three weeks earlier and they were “dating” despite the fact he was married. He claimed they had seen each other about 15 times and said that Suzanne had given him her class ring as a keepsake and he had her watch because she wanted him to get it fixed. Curtis claimed the two had went on a date the night before the murder. This fact was disputed when the mother of the Suzanne’s roommate testified that she had spent the entire evening with Suzanne the night before she was murdered. According to Curtis after the date he went to an all night restaurant with a friend and then came home and took a nap until 3AM. When he awoke he said he went to see his wife at her job however he was unable to see her.
It took the jury one day to find Curtis guilty of aggravated murder during rape or attempted rape, aggravated murder during robbery or attempted robbery, and robbery. Due to the lack of sophisticated DNA testing at the time the jury could not find enough evidence to convict Curtis of rape. The judge ordered Curtis to be evaluated by five psychologists prior to sentencing and four of the five found him to be sane. Citing no mitigating circumstances Judge Robert Kraft sentenced Curtis to die in the electric chair on July 12, 1976.
A Predator Escapes the Death Row and Wants Freedom
During the time Curtis was appealing his case The Supreme Court of the State of Ohio overturned the death penalty resulting in Curtis being taken off death row. He immediately became eligible for parole. As we expected Curtis has behaved well in prison and is determined to be released. After being denied parole multiple times Curtis attempted to obtain clemency in 2010 from then Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. His clemency request was unanimously opposed by The Ohio Parole Board and was subsequently rejected by Governor Strickland.
Although the jury did not find Curtis guilty of raping Suzanne, on March 16, 2000, the court did find enough evidence to adjudicate Curtis a sexual predator, the most dangerous of all sex offender classifications.
Suzanne’s senseless murder would later inspire lawmakers to pass a law which made it illegal to impersonate a peace officer or private police officer in the State of Ohio.
James Curtis is a violent and methodical predator. He drove a make shift police car and used his credentials as a security guard to stalk innocent, unsuspecting women driving on the freeway. After failing to abduct one woman he pulled over 18-year-old Suzanne Candler who undoubtedly believed he was a police officer. He then abducted her, raped her, and shot her in the face and the back. It is impossible to imagine the terror this young woman experienced in the last moments of her life.
Releasing James Curtis would be a complete injustice to Suzanne Candler and would demean his cruelty to her. It would also pose an immeasurable risk to the community. Based on the extreme brutality of his crimes, and the fact he was originally sentenced to death, we believed James Curtis should be required to serve his full LIFE sentence. To further the interests of justice and to protect society we urge The Ohio Parole Board to give James Curtis the maximum continuance of ten years at all future parole hearings.