A federal grand jury in Austin returned a five-count indictment against David R. Waters on Tuesday, charging him with kidnapping, extortion and robbery that resulted in the deaths of Mrs. O'Hair, 76, her son, Jon Garth Murray, 40, and her adopted daughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, 30, from their Austin home on Aug. 28, 1995.
Mr. Waters' attorney, Patrick Ganne of Austin, could not be reached for comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Carruth declined to comment.
Mr. Waters, 53, an ex-employee of the O'Hairs' Austin headquarters, has long been a key suspect in the lengthy federal investigation into the O'Hairs' disappearance. He has not been charged in the case before. He is currently serving a 60-year sentence in state prison for the 1994 theft of $54,000 in atheist funds.
The charges are almost an exact copy of charges that resulted in the conviction June 2 of Gary P. Karr, an old prison buddy of Mr. Waters'. In June, a federal jury in Austin convicted Mr. Karr of extortion and robbery of $500,000 in gold coins, jewelry and other assets belonging to the O'Hairs.
Mr. Karr, 52, received two life sentences as a habitual offender. Jurors, however, acquitted him on kidnapping charges, noting that prosecutors had made a better presentation against Mr. Waters, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
The O'Hairs disappeared from their Austin home on Aug. 28, 1995. After sporadic phone contact with atheist organization officials, they vanished a month later. FBI investigators believe the O'Hairs were murdered, their bodies dismembered and buried on an isolated 5,000-acre ranch 120 miles west of San Antonio.
The indictment released late Tuesday afternoon charges Mr. Waters with conspiring to kidnap, extort and rob Mrs. O'Hair and her two children for financial gain. He is also charged with interstate travel to aid a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to deal in stolen property and interstate transportation of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In a separate indictment, Gerald Lee "Chico" Osborne, 49, of Weatherford was charged with using a false Social Security card to rent a storage rental unit in Austin on Sept. 26, 1995, for Mr. Waters.
The storage unit, according to authorities, was eventually used to cut up the O'Hairs and dispose of their bodies.
The indictment against Mr. Waters alleges that between April 1995 and October 1995, Mr. Waters conspired with Mr. Karr, Mr. Osborne and Danny Fry, a Florida con artist, to kidnap the O'Hairs.
A headless, handless corpse, later identified as Mr. Fry's, was found in October 1995 along the banks of the Trinity River in southeast Dallas County.
The O'Hairs were held in a San Antonio apartment during September 1995. In the Karr trial, testimony showed that Mr. Karr accompanied Jon Garth Murray to New Jersey, where he arranged for the wire transfer of $600,000 in atheist organization funds to a San Antonio bank.
The funds were later converted to gold coins, $500,000 of which Mr. Waters stole and stored in a second Austin storage unit, according to the indictment. That unit was rented by his girlfriend, Patti Jo Steffens, who testified at the Karr trial. She is expected to be a key witness against Mr. Waters.
After the O'Hairs were killed and their bodies disposed of, Mr. Waters is alleged to have also stolen expensive Rolex watches belonging to the O'Hairs, as well as other jewelry, cash, cars and assorted personal property.
Mrs. O'Hair first gained notoriety in 1962 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld her complaint against the Baltimore school system for requiring prayer. The high court decision virtually wiped out mandated prayer in public schools across the country.