Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Impending Wrongful Execution of Eric King: 1

Eric King
This is the first in a 5 part series regarding the impending execution of Eric John King by the people of Arizona. The execution is scheduled for the 29th of this month. While I stand mute regarding most executions (since I find no chance of innocence in most cases), I fervently oppose this execution.

Around midnight on 27 December 1989, a black male, brandishing a pistol, entered the Short Stop convenience market at 48th Street and Broadway in Phoenix, Arizona. The robbery was captured on two time-lapse video cameras. The videos were of such low quality that the armed robber would be difficult to identify. The robber was, however, wearing a dark sweater with a band of light colored, diamond-shaped markings across the chest and arms.

At nearly the same time, Frank Madden was driving to the Country Kitchen restaurant, located near the Short Stop convenience market. As he drove past the Short Stop, he saw two black men walking in the parking lot. Each was a little over 6 feet tall. One of the two wore a blue or black and white sweater with "some pattern like pyramids." The other wore a "green sweatshirt."

Frank Madden continued past the Short Stop to the Country Kitchen. There he met his girlfriend in the parking lot. They discovered that the Country Kitchen restaurant was closed.

At nearly the same time, Kevin Harris and his friend David Dils were driving through the intersection of 48th Street and Broadway.

While Frank Madden was talking to his girlfriend outside the Country Kitchen restaurant, and while Kevin Harris and David Dils were passing through the intersection at 48th and Broadway, the armed robber shot the Short Stop clerk. On the security video, the clerk can be seen moving backward then falling to the floor. Though not shown on the video, the security guard was also shot. Though the clerk survived long enough place a phone call for help, both shooting victims would die.

Kevin Harris and friend David Dils heard the gunshots. Harris was looking in the direction of the Short Stop and saw two black men running away from the store. One of the men held a gun in his hand. Harris and Dils drove into a nearby parking lot, got out of the car, and approached the store.

Frank Madden and his girlfriend also heard the gunshots. Madden drove the short distance to the Short Stop, arriving before Harris and Dils. Madden exited his pickup and walked to the front of the store. He saw the security guard lying on the ground. He noticed that the guard's holster was empty. The guard was moaning. Madden saw blood on the right side of his stomach.

Madden noticed a black man, one of the two he had seen just a bit earlier (the one with the dark sweater) walking toward the store. Madden phoned 911. While Madden was calling 911, the man with the dark sweater went over to the security guard, pulled out a white cloth, wiped the guard's holster and belt, then left the scene.

Just then, Nolan Thomas, his son Derek, and Greg Hecky pulled into the Short Stop. As Nolan parked his car, Derek directed his dad's attention to the security guard lying on the ground. Nolan looked over and saw a black man with a mustache and goatee, wearing a black sweater with a white "logo," bending over the security guard. Like Madden, he saw the man wipe off the guard's empty holster with a white rag and then run off.

Harris and Dils arrived soon thereafter. Harris saw the security guard lying on the ground and Frank Madden using the phone. Dils checked the guard's pulse and found none. Harris and Dils then entered the store and saw the clerk behind the counter. The clerk had been shot in the right shoulder and stomach. He was holding a telephone yelling into the receiver. Dils and Harris assisted the clerk until the fire department arrived.

Phoenix Police Sergeant Richard Switzer received a radio call to go to the Short Stop. The call included a description of the suspects. While driving east on Broadway, he saw two black males walking west on Broadway across 44th Place. Sergeant Switzer made a U-turn and drove toward the men to determine whether they fit the suspects' descriptions. Switzer shined a spotlight on the two men, got out of his car, and walked toward them. Despite Switzer's order to "halt," one of the men (the one wearing a blue sweater with white markings on the upper sleeve) fled the scene running south. Switzer remembers the man who ran as being slightly taller than the man who did not run away.

The man who stopped identified himself as Michael Jones. After being asked about the man who ran away, Michael Jones told Sergeant Switzer that he had just met the man and did not know him. Jones was arrested and interrogated by Detective Armando Saldate.

Jones was staring at a capital murder charge. Eric King was arrested later that same day, 28 December.

Three days later, a savior stepped forward in the form of Jones' girlfriend, Nekita Renee Hill. Nekita Hill contacted the police and told them that she saw a picture from the Short Stop security video on the television. She recognized the man in the picture as Eric King. She recognized him, where others couldn't, because she knew Eric King. Eric King was a friend of her boyfriend, the endangered Michael Jones, and she had therefore encountered him frequently.

Once she realized that the armed robber was Eric King, she remembered that on the night of the murder, she was walking with her friend to her friend's house near 48th Street and Broadway, the very corner where the crime occurred. She remembers helicopters were flying overhead. As they approached her friend's house, she saw Eric King walking toward a dumpster. She saw him throw a light-colored, thin plastic bag into the dumpster. The bag contained a gun and a dark sweater with a white diamond pattern. She had seen Eric King wearing that very sweater on the night of the robbery.

At King's trial, Michael Jones testified that he had been to the Short Stop a couple of times on the evening of the crime, and was in fact there when the robbery and murders took place. He testified that he and Eric King had gone to the Short Stop to buy wine, and that he had remained outside while defendant went inside the store. He testified that while he was waiting outside, he heard gunshots. On hearing the shots, he turned toward the store and saw King leaving the store with a gun in his hand. He saw the security guard lying on the ground in front of the store with no gun in his holster, though (during an earlier visit) he had seen the guard armed with either a .44 or .357 magnum. Though he did not ever see King touch the guard, he believed that King took the gun from the guard.

Jones testified further that the next time he saw King, after they had both been arrested, King's hair was shorter and he had shaved his beard and mustache. When shown a photograph made from the surveillance camera inside the store, Jones testified that the person in the photo "looks a lot like" King and that "it seems like" King.

Jones made clear that he did not want to testify. On muliple occasions, he claimed to have forgotten events and conversations he described during his interrogation by Detective Armando Saldate. When pushed, however, he would often remember what he just previously claimed he could not. He attributed his lack of recollection to drinking that night, though Sergeant Switzer and Detective Saldate each testified that Jones did not appear to be intoxicated.

Detective Saldate was therefore called as a witness to describe what Jones had said during the interrogation.

Jones' girlfriend, the timely Nekita Hill, also testified for the state, but only reluctantly. She admitted that she did not want to be involved with the trial and that she was testifying only under threat of arrest. She testified that her boyfriend Michael Jones and his friend Eric King had gone to the Short Stop in the "middle of the night" on the night of the murders. She wanted to go with them but her mom would not babysit for her.

When Hill was shown a copy of the picture that was broadcast over the television, she admitted that the picture prompted her call to the police. She also admitted telling the police that the person depicted in the picture was Eric King. She tried recanting her earlier identification, however, by testifying that the person depicted in the picture did not look like Eric King. She confirmed that King had a beard and a mustache, and that his hair was longer and wilder at the time of the murders.

Pickup driver and eyewitness Frank Madden could not positively identify defendant as the man he saw that night, but he testified that the man he saw had "high cheekbones" like defendant's, that defendant looked very familiar, and the only difference was that the man he saw had facial hair and was not as nicely dressed as defendant.

Eric King did not testify. The only witness called by the defense was Sergeant Switzer, who essentially restated his earlier testimony concerning the height of the man who ran away when he stopped Jones.

During closing arguments, the defense attacked the credibility of the state's two key witnesses (Michael Jones and girlfriend Nekita Hill) and focused attention on his Eric King's height. King was only 5 feet 8 inches tall. Two witnesses, Frank Madden and Sergeant Switzer, testified that the person with Jones was over 6 feet tall.

The jury unanimously convicted Eric King of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery, dangerous. Eric King is now scheduled to die by lethal injection in 17 days.

What do you think of this case?

Did the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?

If you had been on the jury, how would you have voted?


On a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being positively innocent and 100 being positively guilty, what number would you assign to King's probability of guilt? 

Tomorrow, I'll explain how I would have voted.

And why.

Continue Reading Part 2


1. There was not press converage of this case available on the net. I relied heavily on the appellate decisions,  as I frequently do. The appellate decisions did not include the date of arrest or the names of the victims. 

2. Incorporated the date of King's arrest into the post. King was arrested on 28 December 1991.

3. The store clerk was Ron Barman. The store security officer was Richard Butts.

4. Incorporated the question regarding the reader's assesment of King's probability of guilty.

5. Incorporated Eric King's middle name, John.

6. Approximately $72 was taken during the robbery.

7. Added photo of Eric King.

8. Added detail about Jones testimony, including his claim to have been drinking and his ability to remember what he had previously forgotten.


Reagan said...

This is excellent journalism. I'm very much looking forward to the follow up to this.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he was railroaded. Can't say whether he is totally innocent but, how is Jones able to walk away scott free? Doesn't seem to me that there was enough evidence to convict on a murder charge. There has been a lot of Black men in American history that have suffered this same fate.

Post a Comment