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Published: Tuesday, 12/5/2000

Montpelier police chief quits to be investigator


MONTPELIER - The man who helped crack one of Williams County's most brutal crimes has taken leave of his office, but not police work.

Citing health concerns, William Noethen has resigned as Montpelier police chief.

Mr. Noethen, 49, has been on leave for a month. He will return as an investigator and safety officer, Montpelier Mayor Steve Yagelski said yesterday.

Mr. Noethen has been with the police department 23 years and chief 10 years. For more than eight of those years, Chief Noethen was involved in the Torilyn Contreras murder case.

Jonathan Leggett, 29, was convicted in March of the 1992 rape and killing of Torilyn, a 2-year-old girl. “The conviction was the highlight of my career,” Mr. Noethen said.

After the first of the year, Mr. Noethen will return to train other officers in what he has done best.

Mr. Noethen said he has had three heart attacks in 31/2 years, the last one requiring bypass surgery.

“The chief's job has a lot of stress that I don't need anymore,” he said. “But I'll contribute by educating other officers in investigative techniques.”

Those techniques helped convict Leggett.

“Chief Noethen was a diligent, persistent investigator. He wouldn't let go,” Williams County Prosecutor Bill Bish said yesterday. “He and his lieutenant, Jeff Lehman, and their officers checked hundreds of possible leads. The case took a lot of twists and in the end Bill Noethen brought it back to the original focus when everything else had been exhausted.”

Torilyn died Feb. 7, 1992, while in Leggett's care. Her mother, Leggett's girlfriend, was incarcerated at the time, and Leggett said the girl had fallen in the shower.

Leggett's stories changed several times, and he became a suspect. In a 1995 plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to child endangering and obstruction of justice. At the time, prosecutors said DNA evidence cleared him of manslaughter and rape charges.

Three years later, Leggett was charged with Torilyn's death based on more DNA results. A judge dismissed the charges, saying Leggett could not be charged twice for the same crime.

But an appeals court later reversed that decision.

Leggett was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter and rape of a person under age 13.

Prosecutor-Elect Craig Roth praised Chief Noethen's investigative work.

“There were difficult hurdles to overcome by police and our office. Bill certainly knew what he was doing.”

A Torilyn Memory Garden erected at the village office building helped keep the long investigation alive. A stone tablet and photograph of the young girl were put up by the girl's family, Mayor Yagelski said.

“Police saw it every day, so it was always on their minds, a daily reminder of the case,” he said.

Mr. Noethen said his plans are to retire within two years. Lieutenant Lehman has been appointed interim chief and said he will be among applicants for the permanent chief's position.

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