Richard Bible sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Arizona. I believe Richard Bible is in fact guilty of the brutal killing of a young girl. I nonetheless oppose his execution.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I seldom oppose an execution. Normally I find no chance of actual innocence and stand mute. I do not publicly oppose a death penalty because the person to be executed was underage at the time of the killing, or had a terrible childhood, or was mentally retarded, or was a foreign national who did not have an opportunity to coordinate with their consulate. I'm not necessarily arguing that such points are inconsequential. Instead I'm explicitly using a specific standard to decide whether I will publicly oppose an execution or stand mute while we put one of our own to death.
If I believe there is a chance that the person might be factually innocent, I oppose; otherwise, I stand mute.
That being said, I believe Richard Bible is almost certainly guilty of the crime, yet I oppose his execution. I'll allow you to read two summaries of his case and give you an opportunity to discern the cause of my objection before I explain it at the end of this post.
The first summary is from one of his appeals, State of Arizona v. Bible. The summary provides relevant facts, but provides them in reverse order of significance. Hang in there to get to the DNA evidence.
In April 1988, the Coconino County Sheriff seized a dark green and white GMC "Jimmy" (or "Blazer-type") vehicle in Sedona, Arizona. The GMC had been used to deliver newspapers. A deputy who drove it to Flagstaff noticed rubber bands in the GMC, as well as damage to the left rear quarter panel. Another officer noticed the damaged quarter panel and saw bags of rubber bands in the vehicle. The Sheriff stored the vehicle in a fenced impound lot near Flagstaff, close to Sheep Hill. On June 5, 1988, Defendant stole the GMC from the impound lot. A police officer saw the vehicle parked in Flagstaff later that day.
The next day, June 6, 1988, shortly after 10:30 a.m., the victim, a nine year-old girl, began bicycling from where her family was staying in Flagstaff to a ranch a mile away. The victim's family passed her while driving to the ranch. When the child did not arrive at the ranch, her family began to search and found her bicycle by the side of the road. Unable to locate the girl, the victim's mother called the police at 11:21 a.m.
The Flagstaff police arrived within minutes; they called in a helicopter, set up roadblocks, and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). The victim's mother told the police that she saw two vehicles on her way to the ranch. One was a royal blue Blazer-type vehicle. While at the ranch, she saw this same vehicle going the opposite direction at a high rate of speed. She described the driver as a dark-haired, dark-complected Caucasian male, mid-to-late twenties, possibly wearing a white T-shirt. He had looked at her intently.
That same day, Defendant's brother was at his home near Sheep Hill. Defendant arrived there shortly before 1:00 p.m., driving a dark green or dark silver, white-top Blazer-type vehicle with a dented left bumper -- the vehicle Defendant had stolen. Defendant was wearing levi pants, a plaid shirt, a camouflage baseball-type cap, and boots. He told his brother that the Blazer belonged to a friend. After Defendant left, his brother --who thought that Defendant had been stealing from him -- called the police and described the vehicle.
Shortly thereafter, a detective realized that the victim's mother's description of the Blazer-type vehicle and its driver approximated Defendant and the GMC Jimmy. At about 5:00 p.m., the GMC was discovered missing from the impound lot. At 6:20 p.m., police officers saw Defendant driving the GMC -- although it had been painted a different color. The officers attempted to stop Defendant, and a high-speed chase began. When finally cornered, Defendant ran from the vehicle and hid.
Using a tracking dog, officers found Defendant hiding under a ledge, camouflaged with twigs, leaves, and branches. When arrested, Defendant was wearing a "levi-type" jacket, jeans, a plaid shirt, boots, but no underwear. Defendant also had wool gloves, and police found a baseball-type cap nearby. Police also found a large folding knife where Defendant was hiding and another knife in one of his pockets.
Within hours after his arrest, Defendant confessed to stealing the GMC the previous day and painting the vehicle two hours before his arrest, but denied being in the area of the abduction. Defendant had planned to drive the GMC to Phoenix, but a helicopter had him "pinned down." When Defendant was booked, the police confiscated his clothing. Defendant was incarcerated for the rest of the relevant time period.
In the GMC, police found a green blanket and numerous rubber bands but no rubber band bags. The steering column had been cut open and one piece of metal had fallen to the floorboard. The GMC contained a case of twenty 50-milliliter bottles of "Suntory" vodka with two bottles missing. In the console was a wrapped cigar broken in two places, a "Dutchmaster" cigar wrapper and band were in the ashtray, and Carnation "Rich" hot chocolate packets were in the vehicle. Investigators found blood smeared inside and under the GMC, although testing did not reveal whether the blood was human.
Following a large and unsuccessful police search, hikers accidentally found the victim's body near Sheep Hill nearly three weeks after her disappearance. Police secured the area and later videotaped the scene and processed evidence. The victim's naked body was hidden under a tree, mostly covered with branches, with her hands tied behind her back with a shoelace. Police found one of the victim's sneakers, without a shoelace, near the body. The victim's panties were in a tree nearby.
An unwrapped, unsmoked cigar with two distinctive breaks in the middle was on the ground near the body. The cigars near the body and in the GMC looked very similar, had consistent breaks, and had identical seals. Microscopic analysis showed that the cigars had similar thresh cuts and tobacco mixtures. The cigars also had similar sieve test results and pH values. Although the nicotine values and ash content were slightly different, the cigars were from the same lot and were similar to, and consistent with, tobacco residue found in Defendant's shirt pockets.
An empty ten-pack box of Carnation "Rich" hot chocolate — matching the packets in the GMC — was near the body. Also nearby were two empty 50-milliliter "Suntory" vodka bottles — one approximately fifty feet from the body. Testing, which revealed no fingerprints, washed away the lot numbers on these empty bottles. In all other respects, these bottles were identical to the full bottles found in the GMC.
Rubber bands were everywhere: on a path near the body; over, on, and under the body; in the tree where the panties were hanging; near the victim's other clothing; in the brush covering the body; in a tree above the body; and under a tree where one of the victim's shoes was found. Visual observation as well as testing revealed that the rubber bands in the GMC were round rather than oblong and were identical to those found near the body. A rubber band bag containing a few rubber bands was found five feet from the body.
A patch of blood-matted grass was near the body. Testing revealed that this blood was human and was phosphoglucomutase ("PGM") subtype 2+, the same subtype as the victim's blood. Luminol spraying revealed a faint blood trail leading from the blood-matted grass to the body. Testing showed blood on the top of the branches covering the body.
Near the body, police found a piece of metal that fit the GMC's steering column. In Flagstaff, at the location where the GMC was seen parked the day before the victim disappeared, police found another piece of metal from the vehicle's steering column. The three metal pieces (found inside the GMC, near the body, and where the GMC had been parked) fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. An investigator concluded that the three metal pieces were part of the GMC's steering column.
An autopsy revealed that portions of the body (including the head and genital area) were severely decomposed, consistent with having been on Sheep Hill for approximately three weeks. Multiple skull fractures and a broken jawbone indicated that blows to the head caused the victim's death. The blood-matted grass near the body was consistent with the blows being inflicted there. Although the body was naked with the hands tied, suggesting sexual molestation, no sperm or semen was found. The physician performing the autopsy took pubic hair and muscle samples.
Near the body were several clusters of golden brown hair approximately six to ten inches long. Although the hair found at the scene appeared to be lighter in color, it was microscopically similar to the victim's hair and could have come from her. In one of the locks of hair, an examiner found a pubic-type hair. This pubic-type hair was similar to Defendant's pubic hair samples. Long brown hair found on Defendant's jacket, shirt, and in his wallet were similar to the victim's hair and could have come from her. Investigators found hair similar to Defendant's on a sheet used to wrap the body, and hair found on the victim's T-shirt was similar to Defendant's. Hair on a blanket in the GMC was similar to the victim's, with a total of fifty-seven hairs in the GMC being similar to the victim's hair.
Some of the hair found near the body, as well as the hair on Defendant's shirt and in his wallet, was cut on one side and torn on the other. The investigator had never before seen such a cut/tear pattern but was able to duplicate the pattern by using the knives Defendant possessed when arrested as well as other sharp knives. Twenty-one of the twenty-two hairs on Defendant's jacket had similar cut/tears.
Fibers found at Sheep Hill were identical to the GMC's seat covers, and similar to fibers from Defendant's jacket lining and the green blanket in the GMC. Fibers in the lock of hair containing the pubic-type hair were similar to fibers from Defendant's jacket. Fibers similar to those from the green blanket in the GMC were located in the branches covering the body. Microscopically, a green fiber on the sheet used to wrap the body was similar to fibers from the green blanket. A blue or purple fiber on the shoelace tying the victim's hands was similar to the lining in Defendant's jacket.
Investigators found blood on Defendant's shirt, pants, and boots. The spatter pattern on the shirt was consistent with beating force. Testing could not determine whether the blood on his boots was human but revealed that the blood on Defendant's shirt was human and PGM 2+ subtype, the same subtype as the victim's blood. Less than three percent of the population has PGM 2+ subtype. Because Defendant is PGM 1+ subtype, the blood could not have been his. Testing performed by Cellmark Diagnostic Laboratories, Inc., showed that the deoxyribonucleic acid ("DNA") in the blood on Defendant's shirt and the victim's DNA were a "match." Cellmark concluded that the chances were one in fourteen billion or, more conservatively, one in sixty million that the blood on Defendant's shirt was not the victim's.
While still in jail for stealing the GMC, Defendant was charged with first degree murder, kidnapping, and molestation of a child under the age of fifteen.
Now I excerpt a story from an Associated Press story by Lee Meyers. I found this story in AZCapitolTimes.com:
Bible ... has said that he can't prove himself innocent because he didn't get a fair trial.
Prosecutors were "looking for an overkill and they had no one else to blame this crime on," he told a probation officer in 1990. "I didn't kill her. The real killer is still out there."
Daniel Maynard, Bible's attorney, told the board Monday that hairs found on Jennifer's T-shirt have never been tested, and that the execution shouldn't move forward until that happens.
"Mr. Bible has always contended that he was innocent," Maynard said. "This evidence needs to be tested."
He also insinuated that items including vodka bottles and cigars found with Jennifer's body, which matched items in Bible's car, could have been planted by police, saying that hundreds of people searching for her over a three-week period likely would have seen them if they had been there the whole time.
He also argued against the death penalty in general, saying that most of the world does not practice it, and that the other countries still using it are China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
"Is this the company we want to keep?" he said. "The rest of the world that we believe is civilized looks at us and finds that what we do in executions is barbaric."
Prosecutors focused their arguments Monday on the evidence in the case and Bible's criminal history.
"The evidence is abundant and overwhelming," Coconino County Attorney David Rozema said. "We wanted to remind you of the fact that the inmate is a very dangerous, depraved and sick individual ... (and) once again put some emphasis on the extent of the suffering endured by Jennifer Marie Wilson as a 9-year-old innocent child. The crime was especially cruel because of the extent of her suffering at the hands of the inmate."
Under questioning by Rozema, a detective who investigated Jennifer's murder said Bible was released from prison on rape charges less than a year before the murder. Bible was convicted of binding up his 17-year-old cousin's hands, stripping her, repeatedly raping her and torturing her in 1981. That crime occurred less than 3 miles from where Jennifer was killed, said Gerry Blair of the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.
Blair also said that when Bible was booked into jail in Jennifer's case on the day of the murder, blood found on his shirt matched the girl's. The blood was in a pattern that indicated it was caused by bludgeoning someone else, Blair said.
Additionally, Blair said that hair found at the crime scene and on Bible's jacket, in his wallet and in his vehicle were matches. He said it was cut in a unique way that a forensic analyst could not duplicate on separate hair samples until he used a pocket knife that Bible had when he was arrested.
He said investigators at the time didn't feel that DNA testing of the hair would further the case.
Finding her blood DNA on his shirt is pretty compelling evidence. A lot of the other evidence sets off klaxons in my skeptical head.
Item #1: "possibly wearing a white T-shirt." -- I'm guessing the witness initially gave the police an answer different than what the police expected and wanted to hear. This is some sort of compromise testimony. Not the truth, exactly, but not perjury either.
Item #2: "He had looked at her intently." -- I'm guessing the witness was initially uncertain of her identification, but quite positive when it came time to testify in court. Witnesses don't become less certain with time. They become more certain as they learn more about the case and as their favorable responses receive positive feedback from authorities. Incorrect eyewitness testimony is far and away the number one cause of wrongful convictions.
Item #3: "driving a dark green or dark silver, white-top Blazer-type vehicle" -- I'm guessing the witness initially gave the police an answer different than what the police expected and wanted to hear. This is some sort of compromise testimony. Not the truth exactly, but not perjury either.
Item #4: "Investigators found blood smeared inside and under the GMC, although testing did not reveal whether the blood was human." -- Sophisticated testing can't determine whether or not this is human blood, but the jury is supposed to assume it is. In fact, the jury is supposed to assume it belonged to the victim.
Item #5: "Although the body was naked with the hands tied, suggesting sexual molestation, no sperm or semen was found." -- You know what suggests sexual molestation? Sperm or semen. Alternatively, blood from a small girl violated by a grown man. The evidence is that the body was naked, the hands were tied, no sperm or semen was found. "Suggesting sexual molestation" is not evidence. It's inflammatory oratory, but not evidence.
Item #6: "Although the nicotine values and ash content were slightly different, the cigars were from the same lot and were similar to, and consistent with, tobacco residue found in Defendant's shirt pockets." -- I would want someone to explain to me how cigars from the same lot have different nicotine values and ash content.
Item #7: "Testing, which revealed no fingerprints, washed away the lot numbers on these empty bottles." -- Here's a thought. Perhaps you should read the lot numbers before testing for fingerprints.
Item #8: "Near the body were several clusters of golden brown hair approximately six to ten inches long. Although the hair found at the scene appeared to be lighter in color, it was microscopically similar to the victim's hair and could have come from her." -- This one needs no comment.
Item #9: "Some of the hair found near the body, as well as the hair on Defendant's shirt and in his wallet, was cut on one side and torn on the other. The investigator had never before seen such a cut/tear pattern but was able to duplicate the pattern by using the knives Defendant possessed when arrested ..." -- This is absolute crap. Hair evidence is now widely recognized as crap-shoot forensics, and this is terrible even by hair evidence standards. The guy had never, ever seen this type of cut before, but somehow every knife that defendant possessed made the same unusual cut.
Item #10: "... as well as other sharp knives." -- Holy cow! As well as other sharp knives owned by the defendant? As well as other sharp knives purchased at K-Mart by Joe Doakes? What is so remarkable about the cut hair fragments if any sharp knife can create it? As a juror, this type of testimony makes me wonder about the integrity of the prosecution.
Item #11: "In one of the locks of hair, an examiner found a pubic-type hair. This pubic-type hair was similar to Defendant's pubic hair samples." -- Is it also similar to pubic hair from every other person on the face of the earth? How exclusive is pubic hair matching, assuming the pubic-type hair was indeed a pubic hair?
Item #12: "Testing could not determine whether the blood on his boots was human." -- Once again. Sophisticated testing can't determine whether or not this is human blood, but the jury is supposed to assume it is. In fact, the jury is supposed to assume it belonged to the victim.
Item #13: "Daniel Maynard, Bible's attorney, told the board Monday that hairs found on Jennifer's T-shirt have never been tested." Plus: "He [the prosecutor] said investigators at the time didn't feel that DNA testing of the hair would further the case." -- So the hairs found on the victim's T-shirt included the root. That's where the DNA is. The prosecutor concedes that hairs could have been tested for DNA, but weren't. Why the hell not? We should not be executing people in this country when DNA testable evidence lies around untested. This is what the entire Hank Skinner case is about. In that case, fingernail scrapings and a rape kit remain to be tested, yet Texas still wants to execute him as soon as possible.
Item #14: "He also insinuated that items including vodka bottles and cigars found with Jennifer's body, which matched items in Bible's car, could have been planted by police, saying that hundreds of people searching for her over a three-week period likely would have seen them if they had been there the whole time." -- Suddenly, I would like to hear more about the conditions under which objects were found near the body, and whether any searchers had covered that area but missed the body because "the victim's naked body was hidden under a tree, mostly covered with branches."
Item #15: "Police secured the area and later videotaped the scene and processed evidence." -- How much later? Why not right away? Does the videotape show the items the defense attorney suggests may have been planted? The defense attorney must have seen the videotape. Why would he suggest the police planted the evidence if the items were right there on the tape and the tape was taken soon after the body was discovered?
This seems to me like a really shoddy investigation and prosecution. I don't deny that it worked. It clearly did. As a juror, however, it would have given me the creeps. I wouldn't want to let such a man back on the streets, assuming he was guilty, and I would be suspicious of the prosecution. Good thing the DNA evidence proved to be a match.
I still think Bible is factually guilty. However, I don't think we should be executing people when we still have potentially probative DNA evidence sitting in a box somewhere untested.
I therefore publicly oppose the execution of Richard Bible.