Friday, February 5, 2010

Hank Skinner Part VI: Eyewitness Testimony

Responding to what I have written so far, one reader commented: “If he did dress his wound, that takes away any doubt of his lucidity. And why would Andrea lie? After that read, he looks even more guilty.”

Welcome to the world of the juror. It’s a world in which opponents of an ultimate-stakes face-off spoonfeed you morsels of well-massaged information, a world of appetizers but no main course, a world of thirteen-line sonnets. You are one of the twelve people least-informed about the tragedy just laid bare before you. You are nonetheless expected to assume lead role for the final act.

Though eyewitnesses tend to be held in high-regard by jurors, they are responsible for more than 75% of all wrongful convictions. Recent studies by The Innocence Project and numerous other organizations simply re-enforce a phenomenon well-documented more than a century ago. Hugo Munsterberg  wrote of the issue in his 1907 work “On the Witness Stand.”

It is a wise juror that weighs eyewitness testimony as it weighs all other testimony: with a skeptical eye.

After the trial, well after the trial, Andrea Reed recanted her testimony. She claimed she lied to the police that night and lied to the jury during the trial.  I’ll defer to her words. I’ll allow her to tell you why she might have had reason to lie.

Dated, September 27, 1997
Gray County, Texas

My name is Andrea Joyce Reed. The attorney who represents Henry Skinner gave me a copy of the written statement that I made to Officer Connie Ogle on January 1, 1994, and the transcript of my testimony at Hank's trial for capital murder in Fort Worth on March 9, 1995. I carefully read both of these documents before I signed this affidavit. I swear that all of the statements in the affidavit are true.

Several of the things that I said in my written statement to Ogle and my trial testimony are false. I lied because of implied threats and I was intimidated by Officer Katie Gerhardt and the district attorney's investigator, Bill McMinn.

This is what really happened. At about midnight on the night of December 31, 1993 , I was in the bedroom of my trailer house at 705 Henry St. in Pampa, Texas, with my daughter, Jessica, and son, Kris, when I heard someone pounding on the wall. I asked the person to identify himself and I heard a voice that I recognized as Hank shouting, “Andy, I’m hurt. Please let me in" or words to that effect. At first, I told Hank to leave and threatened to call the police if he did not do so. Hank was an old friend, but I did not associate with him because he was an alcoholic and drug user.

When I told Hank to leave, he said that he had been shot and pleaded with me to help him. I turned on my porch light and opened the front door so that I could see him. Hank had a lot of blood on him. I decided to help him because I felt sorry for him. I went back into the house, put my dog in the bedroom with my children, closed the door to that room and went outside again. Hank was still standing in the front yard. I invited him to come into the house. He stumbled and fell over backwards when he tried to climb up the porch stairs. I caught him or helped him to get up. He had to lean on my arm as we walked into the house. He was with me for over three hours before he was arrested.

Very shortly after Hank was taken into custody, I heard Officer Katie Gerhardt tell one of my curious neighbors that he could not enter my house because it was "a triple homicide crime scene." I assumed that this meant that Hank was accused of murdering three people. I did not understand how my house could be a crime scene because no crime was committed there, but I feared that the police believed that I was involved in the offense.

My fear of being falsely accused increased when McMinn and Gerhardt told me that they believed that Hank had an accomplice and asked me where that person was. I told them I did not know what they were talking about, but they apparently did not believe me because they kept asking the same question. Gerhardt finally told me that I could be charged with being an accessory after the fact if I did not cooperate with them. I did not understand why she made that threat because I believed that I was cooperating .

I told my first lie when Gerhardt and McMinn asked me how Hank got into my house. I was afraid to admit that I helped him inside because I did not want to say anything that could later be used to suggest that I offered a murderer a place to hide from the police who were trying to arrest him. I told McMinn and Gerhardt that he entered the house without my consent and I did not know how. Gerhardt said that she did not believe me. She asked me why I did not try to leave my house and get help. I told her that I did not want to leave my kids alone with Hank. She warned me that I could be charged with a crime if I invited him into my house knowing that the police were trying to arrest him.

My written statement to Ogle left the false impression that I only treated Hank's wounded hand because he entered my house against my will and threatened to kill me. I did not admit that I invited him in because I was afraid that the police would arrest me for helping a wanted man.

I falsely claimed in my written statement that Hank warned me, "don't call anyone or I'll kill you" when he saw me pick up the telephone. Hank did tell me not to call anyone, but he did not threaten to kill me.

I falsely claimed in my written statement that I believed that Hank was capable of killing me because of his intoxicated condition. The truth is that he was much too drunk or high on drugs to physically carry out such a threat. I know what Hank is capable of doing when he is intoxicated because I saw him in that condition many times. When he arrived at my house, he was too intoxicated to strangle Twila Busby until her neck broke, repeatedly hit her on the head with an ax and precisely stab her two sons to death .

I also lied in my written statement about two small details because I did not want the police to believe that I voluntarily did anything for Hank. I said that Hank took his shirt off and hung it over a chair in my living room. The truth is that I helped him remove his shirt and I put it on the chair. I said that Hank washed blood off of his watch. The truth is that I washed off the blood.

When I described in my written statement how Hank said that he thought that he tried to kick Twila to death because he found her in bed with her ex-husband, I left out the fact that Hank gave me a ridiculous description of Twila's ex-husband that did not fit him at all. This is one of the reasons why I believe that his statement about kicking Twila to death was just a drunken fantasy like the other violent stories that he told me to explain how he was injured.

I informed Ogle that I did not want my daughter, Jessica, to be a witness because it would be a traumatic experience for her. Ogle told me that it was up to the district attorney. I was very upset when I received a letter from John Mann notifying me that Jessica would be subpoenaed as a witness. I sent her out of town to stay with a relative shortly after I received that letter. McMinn warned me that I would be arrested if I did not tell him where she was. I told McMinn that it was his job to find his witnesses -- not mine. McMinn finally promised that my daughter would not have to be a witness if I testified "as instructed by John Mann."

When I arrived in Ft. Worth for the trial, Gerhardt and McMinn told me that I could not go anywhere or do anything without a police officer or prosecutor being present. I was not allowed to eat alone in a restaurant, receive visitors at my hotel, make phone calls or take a walk by myself. Gerhardt even insisted we share a room. I felt like a prisoner. I was told that all of this was done for my own safety, but that explanation made no sense because Hank was in jail and no one had threatened me. I was more afraid of the cops who were supposedly protecting me than I was of Hank on the night of the murder.

Shortly before I testified at the trial, Assistant District Attorney Tracy Blades gave me a document in a clear plastic folder and told me, "read it. This is your part. She explained that the document was a "condensed" version of my statement to Ogle. It placed several things that I said way out of context, but I cannot recall what they were.

I tried to follow the script that Blades gave me because that is what I was instructed to do and I still wasn’t sure they (Law) would leave my daughter alone, but I did not believe my testimony was going to be helpful to the State. I did not understand how anything that Hank did or said at my house on the
night of the murders could possibly show whether he was guilty or innocent.

When Mann asked me how Hank was able to get in to my house after I told him to leave, I falsely answered, "I don't even know." I repeated what I told the police on the night of the murder because I was afraid to admit that I lied to them and I did not believe that the truth could make a difference. I lied again for the same reason when Mann asked me what Hank did with his shirt and watch.

I falsely testified that Hank walked to the bathroom by himself when I went to make a telephone call because I was still afraid to admit that I did any thing to help him. The truth is that I had to help Hank walk from the kitchen to the bathroom before I went to make the call because he was so intoxicated that he could not keep his balance.

I falsely testified that Hank warned me that he would kill me if I tried to call anyone. I lied to the jury about that threat because I said the same thing in my written statement to Ogle and I was afraid to admit that it was false. The truth is that Hank told me not to make a call without threatening to kill me.

I gave the jury the false impression that Hank’s statements about finding Twila in bed with her ex-husband and killing her were not related to each other. The truth is that Hank said that he thought he tried to kick Twila to death because he found her in bed with her ex-husband. The questions that John Mann asked me did not allow me to explain this to the jury.

I falsely testified that out of all of the stories that Hank told me on the night of the murder, the only one that he made me swear not to reveal was his story about kicking Twila to death. The truth is that he swore me to secrecy or made me promise not to tell each time that he gave me a different story about what happened.

I am not sure why I lied about this on the witness stand, but I may have repeated what was in the condensed version of my statement to Ogle that Blades prepared for me. It is also possible that I gave the answer that I thought John Mann wanted to hear.

After Hank was sentenced to death, I read news stories about the trial and began to understand the importance of my testimony. The lies that I told to protect myself made it appear as if Hank broke into my house, held me hostage and confessed to the murders. The truth is that I invited a harmless drunk into my house and listened to three hours of meaningless gibberish. I have no idea who killed Twila Busby and her sons, but I pray that I get another chance to tell the truth about what I do know to a jury because I do not want to be responsible for the execution of a man who may be innocent .

Andrea Joyce Reed

Here’s the deal with recantations. They don’t work. 

I’m aware of plenty of people who have recanted their trial testimony.  I’m not aware, however, of a single recantation which has, by itself, led to the release of the defendant / prisoner.  Hopefully someone will inform me of a counter-example to prove me wrong.

In any case, we now know with confidence that Andrea Reed will lie if circumstances so dictate. Either she lied to the police and perjured herself during trial, or she lied when she recanted her testimony. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Andrea’s situation provides but one more substantiating example for my skeptical juror rule-of-thumb: trust no one.

Trust not the witness, the attorneys, or even the judge. They will lie, muddle, and confuse. All of them will. They will obfuscate, prevaricate, orate, and bloviate. They will attempt to manipulate you. Your only defense  is to remain skeptical of them all. Rely not on their oration and special pleading. Rely instead on the evidence, the physical evidence, and examine that with a jaundiced eye.

Part VII, The Physical Evidence, follows.

1 comment:

Chris Halkides said...

This is a very important entry, apart from the light it sheds on the Skinner case. It sheds light on how witnesses can be coaxed or coerced into giving statements that are a little or a great deal out of line with the truth.

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