FORT SMITH (KFSM)—Charles Ray Vines is spending his life in prison for two murders in our area. On Wednesday (Aug. 9), his story will air on Investigation Discovery.
The whole case started at a home near railroad tracks off Jenny Lind Road. In 1993, he brutally murdered and raped Juanita Wofford. A short time after that, a similar crime happened just two blocks away from Wofford’s house.
“The one woman who survived, she had been knocked unconscious immediately, so it was felt like the perpetrator thought that she was dead and Juanita Wofford was just brutally stabbed to death,” former prosecutor Ron Fields said.
Fields served as prosecutor of Sebastian and Crawford counties from 1978-1995. Footage from a 5NEWS story in March of 2001 shows Vines being sentenced to life in prison.
“There was a plea bargain,” Fields said. “The new prosecutor elected not to go for the death penalty.”
Fields said police initially arrested Danny Bennett, who confessed to the crimes.
“Everything rocked along until I got a call from Crawford County that another woman middle aged, had been murdered,” Fields said.
The DNA test came back inconclusive for Wofford, and the other victim wasn’t a match at all. Fields told police they had the wrong person behind bars.
“Then about 4-6 months later, I got a phone call one night from the police saying, ‘Gee we want to apologize you were right Danny Bennett didn't do it,’” Fields said. “’We've got a guy named Charles Vines.’”
Police had caught Vines in the act, attempting to rape a 16-year-old girl. His DNA ended up matching the Wofford case, the rape case and the 1995 murder of Ruth Henderson in Crawford County. By that point, Fields lost the re-election for prosecutor without the police department’s endorsement.
He said had he still been prosecutor, he would have gone for the death penalty in Vines’ case.
Investigation Discovery interviewed Fields ahead of Wednesday’s airing of Murder By Numbers.
“I think one thing is the public likes to know when things go right with the justice system,” he said.
Fields said Vines should be considered a suspect in virtually every sex crime where the victim ended up dead, including the cases of Missy Witt and Morgan Nick.
“A rapist who murders and does it over and over again is incredibly rare, so you've got to look at him in other cases,” Fields said.
Murder by Numbers airs at 9 p.m. on ID.
You can also watch it online, here.
Special thanks to National Investigative Crime Correspondent Mandy McGlothlin for putting 5NEWS in touch with the producers of ID who provided footage of tonight's episode.