John Carter admits guilt in plea deal in Fairfield fiancée’s death

Man accused of killing Fairfield’s Katelyn Markham in 2011 faces up to 3 years in prison.

Nearly 13 years after Katelyn Markham died and 15 months after her fiance’ was indicted for murder, John Carter has admitted to his role in the death of the 21-year-old art student.

Carter, who was scheduled to go to trial in about a week, pleaded guilty Friday morning to involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony. He faces a maximum of three years in prison.

The charge is a third-degree felony because the underlying crime is a misdemeanor assault, according to prosecutors.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said after the pleading, “This brings absolute undeniable finality to the question of who is responsible and accountable for the disappearance and death of Katelyn Markham.”

Carter said “guilty” clearly to Judge Dan Haughey on Friday morning, and Haughey set sentencing for July 18.

The remains of Markham, a Fairfield resident, were found in Indiana nearly two years after she went missing.

Markham’s family sat in the front row for the hearing Friday.

As the hearing began, prosecutors alleged that on Aug. 13, 2011, or Aug. 14, 2011, Carter did cause the death of Markham by commission of misdemeanor assault. His attorney, Lawrence Hawkins, said he stipulated to that statement of facts in the crime.

Earlier Friday morning, father Dave Markham told the Journal-News he met with prosecutors this week.

“I have so much to say,” Markham said before the hearing. “Hardly feels like justice of Katelyn. But I understand and support the Butler County prosecutors.”

A grand jury indicted Carter in March 2023 on a single count of murder under two sections of the law following a monthslong review by investigators from the county prosecutor’s office.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

He has been free since arraignment in April 2023 after posting a $1 million bond shortly after the indictment. Haughey continued that bond until sentencing.

Years in the making

Markham was days away from her 22nd birthday when she vanished in August 2011 from her Fairfield townhouse. Searches and vigils followed her disappearance.

Her skeletal remains were found April 7, 2013, in a remote wooded area in Indiana about 30 miles from her home. Her death was ruled a homicide, but the cause of death has not been determined.

The original bill of particulars in the case stated: “During the late hours of Aug. 13, 2011, through the early morning hours of Aug. 14, 2011, starting in the area of 5214 Dorshire Drive in the city of Fairfield, Butler County, Ohio, John Carter by physical violence and by force did cause the death of Katelyn Markham.”

Years of investigation by Fairfield Police, who initially treated it as a missing persons case, resulted in no charges even after her body was found. Indiana State Police, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and two private investigators also took on the case over the years, but without an arrest.

In March 2023 when the indictment was returned against Carter, Gmoser said his investigators had taken another look and probed the evidence for about 18 months before presenting the evidence to a grand jury.

Circumstantial evidence

Gmoser told the Journal-News the case was largely circumstantial, but pointed to Carter. That circumstantial evidence included previously available evidence, new evidence gathered by the prosecutor’s investigator and residences searched by officials, including the Fairfield home of Carter’s mother.

A large piece of the case was the anthropology report that deduced Markham suffered trauma and said her remains were not originally in the Indiana location where they were found.

The report was not new to law enforcement, but it was new to the prosecutor’s investigator. It’s dated June 8, 2013, and authored by Dr. Stephen Nawrocki of the University of Indianapolis Archeology and Forensics Laboratory. It’s likely why, even without a cause of death, Franklin County, Ind., Coroner Wanda Lee in 2013 ruled Markham’s death a homicide.

Nawrocki, along with forensic scientists Jessica Campbell and Madison Earll, first examined the remains on April 19, 2013, days after they were found on Big Cedar Road in Cedar Grove, Ind. Markham had been missing from her Fairfield townhome for nearly two years.

The skull was found inside a knotted plastic grocery bag, according to the report. There was very little soft tissue, decomposition fluid or staining inside the bag, “indicating that the head had not decomposed in the bag, but that it was placed inside after the head had already undergone significant decomposition,” Nawrocki reported.

The state of decomposition indicated “broadly” that Markham died one to two years prior to recovery, according to the report.

Three small incised wounds or cut marks caused by “sharp force trauma” were found on Markham’s left wrist, the report states. One wound is described as a v-shaped incision that shaved off a layer of the bone. The report says it was caused by a weapon.

“The instrument that caused these incised wounds cannot be determined from the available evidence, but it is clear that the weapon had at least one sharp, knife-like edge,” Nawrocki said in the report.

Trial averted

Well more than a year after Carter’s indictment, it appeared the case would go to trial in June, with Carter’s defense team filing a notice of alibi last month, prosecutors issuing 80 plus subpoenas for witnesses and each side stipulating to authenticity of documents.

Prosecutors turned over hundreds of documents, reports, pictures, maps, cellphone and computer data, search manifests, witness statements and work product in the case from police and a private detective.

In January, after a status report hearing that didn’t happen in open court, Carter’s attorney Chris Pagan said the defense would file no motions to suppress evidence.

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