Before a murder conviction sent William Virgil behind bars for nearly three decades, he had been no saint – he had cheated, he had robbed, he had bullied – so much so that when he was found guilty of murdering 54-year-old Retha Welch, despite his insistence he was innocent, he did not lament his fate.
In some ways, he said, maybe he brought her in.
“Karma is a beast, you know what I mean?” Virgil said in 2016. “The Bible says you reap what you sow, and you do.”
Still, he said, he didn’t deserve to spend 28 years in prison for something he didn’t do and, after his conviction was overturned in 2015, he hoped to live to see the people who put him behind bars to reap what they had sown too.
But he did not do it. Earlier this year, in January 2022, Virgil died in a Cincinnati hotel room, where he had spent the night before a medical examination. He had not felt well since his release from prison.
“When he had a lot of discomfort in his body, he always took a bath,” Elliot Slosar, Virgil’s attorney, recently told The Enquirer. “They found him deceased in the bathroom of the hotel room. It was clear he had just finished taking a bath or was about to take one.”
Listen: Focus on the mysterious death of the 3rd season of the hit true-crime podcast “Accused”
Virgil’s conviction had been the subject of eight episodes in the second season of Accused, a true-crime podcast reported by The Enquirer. A ninth episode has just been released to deal with Virgil’s death and the civil suit for wrongful imprisonment that Virgil had filed, which is still pending.
Welch, the victim at the center of the case, was a prison minister who met Virgil while serving time for burglary, receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon.
Welch was a God-fearing woman who had battled substance abuse issues. While praising her wit and generosity, her friends said they feared she had become too friendly with some of the convicts she counseled. Some stayed with her in her Newport apartment after they were released from prison. The friendship between her and Virgil had sometimes been intimate.
This overlap led police to focus on Virgil as a possible suspect after Welch’s assaulted and stabbed body was discovered in April 1987. The witness said he argued with Welch on the phone prior to his death.
What happened to: The wrongful conviction case filed by William Virgil from the 2nd season of Accused
When Welch’s body was discovered, she had been dead for a few days. Grubbs, meanwhile, had died two days before that discovery when Newport police shot him after they said he lunged at officers with a knife. Information that later linked the knife-wielding Grubbs to Welch’s stabbing death was not investigated by detectives, who had already identified Virgil as the killer.
After maintaining his innocence for decades, Virgil finally won a motion to have TAUT evidence collected in the test case. Of three semen samples found inside Welch’s body, none matched Virgil, leading to the overturning of his conviction in 2015. At the time, Campbell County District Attorney Michelle Snodgrass said the evidence did not clear Virgil of the crime, but when a grand jury declined to indict her to face a second trial, she did not file new charges.
Meanwhile, several people connected to the case — including a pair of initial investigators — have filed depositions in Virgil’s still-ongoing civil lawsuit, which is expected to continue in his absence. A cousin will replace Virgil to represent his estate.
“It’s heartbreaking that William won’t be here to witness a trial,” Slosar said, “but there’s not much that will change other than William’s presence who will be sorely missed. He did a deposition. The jury will hear his testimony.”
For more on what’s to come in Virgil’s case, check out “The Homegoing” – Season 2 Episode 9 of Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Retha Welch.
Accused is available on podcast platforms such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Episodes and additional content are also available at www.accusedpodcast.com.
This article originally appeared on the Cincinnati Enquirer: Wrongful imprisonment lawsuit continues after ‘accused’ suspect’s death