Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Impending Wrongful Execution of Eric King: 2

Eric King sits on death row. The people of Arizona plan to execute him on 29 March. Though I stand mute for most executions, I fervently oppose this one. I believe Eric King may in fact be innocent of the crime for which he is to die.

This is the second part of a five-part series. Prior to reading this Part 2 you should first read Part 1. You can do so here. A link at the end of Part 1 will bring you back to this Part 2.


In Part 1, I attempted to provide all the significant evidence heard by the jury. I also attempted to limit the discussion only to information heard by the jury. I then asked you to consider how you would have voted had you been on the jury. I asked you also to consider why you would have voted such. I promised to reveal my vote and my reasons in this Part 2.

My vote must be of no surprise to any of you, given what I have written so far. I would have voted not guilty. Hopefully, my reasons will also come as no surprise.

The evidence most damning to Eric King came from his alleged accomplice Michael Jones and Jones' girlfriend, Nekita Hill. The primary exculpatory evidence was that related to Eric King's height. I will discuss each in turn.

Richard Jones

As a juror, I am suspicious of any testimony from a snitch or an alleged accomplice. My expectation is that the testimony has been purchased. The currency for such a transaction is freedom rather than imprisonment. In some cases, such as the current case, the currency may be life itself. The payment is made in exchange for testimony in accord with the State's wishes.

It is an unseemly business at best. If a defense attorney were to secure a prisoner's testimony for cold hard cash, the State would suffer an apoplectic fit, the jury would disbelieve the tainted testimony, and the defense attorney would face disbarment and criminal prosecution.

As a juror, you are apt to be told, usually during the State's closing argument, that the State must, on occasion, reluctantly rely on the testimony of disreputable characters. That may be true. However, if the State asks me to relieve them of their burden of proof because their witness is a scoundrel, I will decline. I will instead weigh each witness's testimony against all the physical evidence and against the testimonial evidence of all other witnesses. And if the witness be a snitch or an alleged accomplice, I will consider the likelihood that the testimony has been purchased in exchange for testimony favorable to the State.

Not only would I expect that Jones' testimony had been purchased, I would have taken note of the Sergeant Switzer's testimony that Jones' initially claimed he did not know the person who had been with him, the person who ran away when ordered to "Halt!" by the sergeant.

I would also take note of Jones' frequent and convenient bouts of forgetfulness followed by his  bouts of recollection. I take additional note of  his alleged drunkenness against the sobriety described by Switzer and Saldate.

It seems clear that Jones lied about knowing King when Jones was in danger of arrest, and equally clear than Jones lied about not remembering when he wished not to testify. But we need not rely on ancillary testimony to suspect him of lying. Consider, if you will, his testimony about the crime itself.

Jones claims that went to the store with the shooter (King or another) to buy wine, then claims he waited outside while the shooter went inside. That's a bit unusual but not damning. Jones then claims he was surprised when the shooter shot the employees. He not only ran from the scene in fear of arrest, he ran from the scene in the company of the shooter. We can assume he then waited for the shooter as the shooter returned to wipe the guard's holster. Jones then walked from the crime scene in the company of the shooter.

Jones made no effort to assist those who had, to his surprise, been shot. He made no effort to inform the police or other emergency personal. He made no effort to separate himself from the person who had suddenly, and to his alleged surprise, shot two innocent employees. He even waited patiently as the shooter returned to clean the crime scene. Then he lied to the police about even knowing the person he had been walking with.

Jones' testimony, though reluctant, seems self-serving. He was merely an innocent bystander, surprised by the events of the evening. He remained in the company of the actual shooter after the fact, not because they were fleeing together, but because ... because ... well, I have yet to hear an explanation for that one.

The self-serving, almost-certainly-purchased testimony of a possible participant in the murders does not, in my opinion as a skeptical juror, advance the State's case very far.

Nekita Hill

While Jones' testimony was questionable, that of his girlfriend was absolutely incredible, in the sense of  absolutely not credible.

Most significant and astounding was her claim that she not only saw King throw a plastic bag into a dumpster, she saw could somehow see what was in the plastic bag, despite the opacity of  your standard plastic bag, and despite the darkness frequently occurring near midnight. She didn't apparently claim to have opened the dumpster, removed the bag and looked inside. She apparently claimed instead to have seen the gun, the sweater, and the pattern on the bundled up sweater through the conveniently thin bag, in the dark of night.

Even King's presence in that area at that time was extremely unlikely. Assuming King was the shooter, he ran from the crime scene, returned to wipe the guard's holster clean, returned to where Michael Jones waited for him, walked from the scene with Jones until spotted by the police, then fled south. Hill claims she then coincidentally walked the same path or similar path soon thereafter, when helicopters were circling overhead and presumably while police cars were racing about with sirens blaring.

Are we to believe that under those conditions, with police cars racing to and from the scene, with helicopters circling above, that King decided to return to the area of the crime so that he could dispose of the evidence, closer to the scene, where it would be more easily found? Are we to assume that after fleeing south to escape the police, King acquired a thin plastic bag, inserted his sweater and the gun, made a U-turn, headed back north to the area of the crime, and then deposited the bag in the dumpster, just as Jones' girlfriend was walking by?

The unlikelihood of Hill's testimony is compounded by her claim that she wanted to, but could not go to the store with Jones and King. Recall that she claimed to be unable to find a babysitter. Are we to believe that she suddenly, in the time it took for King shoot two people and clean a cash register, found a sitter and arranged with her best friend to walk to her friend's house, which was coincidentally near the crime scene?

Though Hill allegedly knew that Jones and King intended to go to the store, and though she knew a crime had been committed there, and though she knew her boyfriend had been arrested for that crime, and though she had seen King dispose of the murder weapon and distinctive sweater in a dumpster, she claims it did not occur to her to contact the police until she saw a blurry, low-quality photo of the shooter three days after the crime.

Are we, as skeptical jurors, expected to accept such piffle as proof beyond a reasonable doubt?


The state presented no credible evidence that Eric King was involved with the robbery and shooting at the Short Stop convenience store. Their star witnesses, Richard Jones and Nekita Hill, boyfriend and girlfriend, were both obviously reluctant to testify, to repeat what they had earlier told the police. The stories they then told the jury were far from credible, especially so in the case of Nekita Hill.

None of the other witnesses identified King as the shooter. No physical evidence tied King to the scene. The State had bupkis, and clearly failed to meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Though the defense had no requirement to prove the defendant innocent, I believe they may have done just that. I believe the issue of height exculpates Eric King.

To investigate the height issue, I employ below a 2-dimensional person named Sang. Sang is a reference  person provided in Google Sketchup, a three-dimensional modelling program. I used Sang previously in The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Cory Maye. I needed to show multiple views of the Cory Maye duplex, both inside and out, so I constructed a three-dimensional model in Sketchup. I asked Sang to stand in front of the building for reference. You can see him in the image below.

Sang is described by Google as follows.
Sang is a member of the SketchUp development team. He enjoys rock climbing, pho and long walks on the beach.
For my fellow non-gastronomes, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. By default, Sang stands 5 feet 9 inches tall.

Frank Madden described the two men he saw as being a little over 6 feet tall. I therefore scaled Sang up to 6 feet in height, cloned him, and gave the clone a differently colored shirt. I show the unenlightening result below.

Jones and Shooter, as per Witness Madden

Sergeant Switzer confirmed Madden's observation. He described the man who fled as being slightly taller than Michael Jones. Jones was 6 feet 1 inch tall. I therefore scaled Sang to be 6 feet 1 inch tall and his clone to be 6 feet 2 inches tall. I show their comparative heights below. Again, there is nothing particularly interesting about the result.

Jones and Shooter, as per Sgt. Switzer

Eric King, however is only 5 feet 8 inches tall, according to the appellate decision. (He is listed as 5 feet 9 inches tall on his inmate record.)  I therefore scaled Sang's clone to be 5 feet 8 inches tall. Suddenly, the relative height comparison is striking.

Jones and King
Had I been in the jury room, I would have been unable to fall back on my computer to make my point. I would, however, have recruited volunteer jurors of various heights to stand side-by-side. Had the King jurors taken the trouble to do so, they would have seen exculpatory information staring them in the face. Had they weighed that straightforward evidence from the unbiased witnesses (with nothing to gain) against the unlikely testimony of the clearly biased witness (with Jones' very life at stake), I choose to believe they would have voted not guilty.

In Part 3 of the series, I will relay to you information critical to the case but kept from the jury. We'll see if it changes your thoughts on how you would have voted.

Continued in Part 3

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