Man arrested in 20-year-old LaPorte homicide
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org August 23, 2013 11:24AM
Updated: September 25, 2013 6:08AM
More than 20 years ago, Jason Tibbs was one of many friends who showed concern when Rayna Rison went missing, helping search for the 16-year-old LaPorte girl, passing out fliers and even telling police how he believed Rayna’s brother-in-law had abducted her with help from other people.
Now police say that was all an act and that Tibbs was the one to kill Rayna, his ex-girlfriend, in a jealous fit. In the first public movement in the case in more than a decade, they arrested the 38-year-old LaPorte man Friday on a murder charge.
Tibbs pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday morning and was ordered held without bond. He indicated he would retain his own attorney.
Rayna’s case drew national attention after her father reported to police that she never came home from her job at Pine Lake Animal Hospital on the evening of March 27, 1993. Her body was discovered a month later in a LaPorte County pond, and her death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation.
Prosecutor’s charged her brother-in-law, Ray McCarty, in 1998 with her death but eventually dismissed the charges against him.
Witness says he hid
According to a detailed probable cause affidavit, the new push in the case came in March 2008, when Rickey Hammons, who was then a convict being held in Wabash Correctional Facility, told police he saw Tibbs and another teen, Eric Freeman, with Rayna’s body in a trunk of the car the night she went missing.
Hammons’ sister was dating Freeman at the time and Freeman lived with their family, along with driving his girlfriend’s Buick. Hammons described how he was in the family’s barn on the night Rayna went missing, smoking a joint.
When Freeman and Tibbs, who would have been about 18 at the time, drove up and backed the Buick into the barn, Hammons, then just in eighth grade, hid because he didn’t want Freeman telling on him to Hammons’ parents.
He then watched as the two got out of the car and opened the trunk, where he saw a girl’s face whose body was covered by a blanket. Tibbs started asking, “What are we going to do, what are we going to do?” and Freeman said they couldn’t stay there, Hammons told police.
The two eventually drove off, and Hammons claimed he never told anyone what he saw until a month before the police interviewed him, when he told his parents. The affidavit does not say why Hammons finally spoke up about what he saw.
Police interviewed Freeman, who now lives in South Carolina, days after their first interview with Hammons, and Freeman at first disclaimed knowing anything about Rayna’s body, although he never outright denied it, saying he couldn’t remember. He then opted against speaking with police, telling them he had retained a lawyer.
Break in the case
Indiana State Police Sgt. Al Williamson and LaPorte Police Detective Brett Airy kept investigating the case, however, and reinterviewed several friends of Tibbs who had provided him with alibis at the time Rayna went missing.
The alibis contradicted each other, however, along with contradicting what Tibbs told police at the time as to how he had spent that evening, with some people saying he had been at one friend’s house since 5 p.m. that night while Tibbs himself said he didn’t arrive there until after 6 p.m., which is when Rayna was supposed to get off her part-time job.
One former friend of Tibbs, Chad Green, told police in May 2008 that he had changed his statement shortly after Rayna went missing because Tibbs told him to tell police he was with him that night.
“Chad stated that he was friends with Jason at that time but that Jason would often take advantage of him,” the affidavit says.
Another friend, Jamie Swisher, told police in April 2008 that she didn’t remember Tibbs asking her to say he was at her house from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. but that she had a crush on him at the time and would have done it without question. She added that statements she and her mother allegedly made to police at the time didn’t make sense. Reports say the women told police then that Swisher’s mother was upset to discover Tibbs at her house at 6 p.m. but then let him stay until 9 p.m. Both daughter and mother said in the 2008 interview that the mother would have kicked him out immediately if that was the case.
Other witnesses claim they saw Freeman and Tibbs talking with Rayna in the parking lot of her job just after 6 p.m.
Many of Tibbs’ friends said at the time Rayna went missing that Tibbs still had feelings for Rayna, whom he had dated several years before, and that the two were close friends.
The big break finally came on June 27 this year when officials offered Freeman immunity if he testified against Tibbs. He then told police that Tibbs had Freeman drive him to the animal clinic so he could talk to Rayna when she got off work. She and Tibbs got into an argument because Tibbs wanted to date her again but Rayna wasn’t interested. They both got into the car, and Freeman drove to Fail Road, where the former couple got out of the car and kept arguing. Freeman then watched them both punch each other before Tibbs strangled her to death, according to the affidavit. The two then disposed of her body in a pond just off Range Road, where two fishermen found her body on April 27, 1993.
The affidavit says Freeman corroborated other details about Rayna’s death, such as the position of her body.
The case, if proven, would turn the tables on a man who presented himself as someone greatly worried for his missing friend in 1993. The affidavit says Tibbs, who was open about wanting to start dating Rayna again, talked to police several times after she went missing, telling them that he and friends had gone searching for her and quizzed someone he called a “suspicious neighbor” about what the man knew about Rayna’s disappearance.
About a week later, he told police he suspected McCarty, Rayna’s brother-in-law, was behind her abduction. McCarty was convicted in 1990 of molesting Rayna, and Tibbs said during his second interview with police that Rayna allegedly told him McCarty was still molesting her. He also claimed a psychic had called him to say that Rayna was somewhere in the Rolling Prairie area and was still OK.
Tibbs went into even more detail as he told police how he suspected McCarty must have had help as he would need someone else to drive him away after dumping Rayna’s car on County Road 200E. Tibbs would later testify before the grand jury in 1998 that he saw Rayna’s car in the parking lot of the animal clinic as he drove by around 6:15 p.m. that day.
The affidavit says there never was any direct evidence linking McCarty to Rayna’s death.
Other people told police at the time how Tibbs was passing out fliers asking people to call him with any information and “yelling that he was going to find out who did this,” the affidavit says.
A lot of hard work
When reached Friday morning, Rayna’s father, Ben Rison, said he knew nothing other than that an arrest had been made and declined to comment because his family is still trying to process the news.
LaPorte County Prosecutor Robert Szilagyi said the arrest came after a lot of hard work by his office, and by Williamson and Airy, who had to review evidence and testimony from so many years ago. In some cases, such as with the vehicles, the evidence no longer exists, he said.
“Because this is such an odd case, it just means we got a couple of lucky breaks after this longer period of time,” he said. “State police and LaPorte police have done a lot in working with my deputy prosecutor to get to this point.”
Police continue to investigate the case, and anyone who has more information is asked to call either Williamson at (800) 552-8917 or Airy at 362-9446, Ext. 210.
Along with being issued about a dozen moving traffic violations since 1990, Tibbs has also been charged in several separate cases with conversion and theft. In two cases, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation.