Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Barbara Lunsford

All of the case documents that Guest Blogger Al and I have used while writing about Preston Hughes III have come from the Mystery Crime Scene web site. That site is the work product of Barbara Lunsford, accountant, blogger, and wrongful conviction advocate. She has been at this far longer than have I.

I've been blogging for two years and a month. I've been working to free Byron Case for a few months more than that. I'm not sure how long Barbara has been blogging, but she has been working to free Betty Wilson for eight years. Eight long years. I repeat the introduction to her blog.
Nine years ago, if someone had told me I would be spending the next eight years of my life involved in injustice, I would have said "You are stark raving mad!". Well, I am here to eat those words.
Eight years ago a friend was telling me about twin sisters, Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe, from Alabama who were arrested and tried for supposedly hiring an alcoholic, drug addict con-man, James Dennison White, to kill Betty's wealthy husband, Dr. Jack Wilson, who was a very well-liked and well-known eye doctor in Huntsville. Both sisters were tried on the same evidence and lying testimony. Betty was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole because she was a rich bitch and slept with a black man in Alabama. Peggy, the saintly one, was acquitted. The convicted con-man, who never really admitted to killing the doctor, has come up for parole several times but is still incarcerated. 
After spending six years studying this case including both trial transcripts, putting up an extensive website ( and spending the remaining two years putting together a book about this case Killer For Hire - The Final Chapter of the Alabama Twins Murder Case, I, as many others, believe that the real killer of the doctor is walking around free. Neither of the twin sisters had a motive to have the good doctor put away but the doctor's ex-wife and son did. 
As time permits, I hope to present other similar cases of injustice along with information on books, movies, TV shows, video games, etc., related to mystery crime. In the meantime please visit 
One of the cases that she has presented is that of Preston Hughes III. I'm not sure what prompted her to pursue the Hughes case, but I understand she obtained the case documents on her own dime. Actually, she obtained them on 4,000 of her own dimes. That was what she was charged for copies of the documents she obtained from the Houston PD, or the Houston DA, or whomever. She does not have copies of the trial transcripts because they would have cost her 32,000 of her own dimes.

I am impressed with what she has done with the data they sent her. I like that she made much of the data public. I like that she constructed a timeline. I like that she did a careful accounting of the photos. (She discovered that some had been and are still being withheld.) I like that she tracked the physical evidence as it allegedly moved through the system. (She discovered several substantial and interesting irregularities.) I like that she took the trouble to carefully examine the documents. (She discovered what may be evidence of a falsified voluntary consent to search form.) I like how she focuses on data-supported reasoned argument as a means of correcting what she perceives to be an injustice. I like working with her as I work on the case of Preston Hughes III.

I learned of the Preston Hughes case while working on the case of Frances Elaine Newton, probably innocent and certainly executed. (See The Three-Gun-Monte, Sack O' Fertilizer Conviction and Execution of Frances Elaine Newton.) It is the pathetic work of the Houston PD crime lab that joins them. In Newton's case, the Houston PD crime lab failed to track the alleged murder weapon (a handgun) by its serial number. It's likely they associated the wrong handgun with Newton, and thereby killed her. In Hughes' case, the Houston PD crime lab did not even test the alleged murder weapon for blood before the trial. In fact they first tested the alleged murder weapon from the witness stand, right there in front of the judge. The knife tested negative for human blood and positive for animal blood, just as Hughes claimed all along. The knife was nonetheless presented to the jury as the murder weapon, and thereby helped place him on death row for the last couple decades.

Without the initiative, hours, and dimes of Barbara Lunsford, I would have learned nothing substantive about Preston's case. Based mostly on what she presented on her blog, I am reasonably confident that Preston Hughes is wrongfully convicted.

I have since been communicating with Barbara via email. She has been incredibly generous and gracious with her time, her insight and her data. She has provided me with copies of Preston's two confessions, the police statement provided by Drew Hartley, the police statement provided by Barbara Ann Szekely, all other photographs she had of Marcell and Shandra, all other photographs she had of the crime scene, and ten overhead photographs of the area that the Houston PD sent her. Everything she sends me stimulates my thinking. I have much to study and write of. 

In return, I have shared with her several significant discoveries of my own, still unreported in this blog or anywhere. As I said, I have much to study and write of. However, before I begin presenting posts based on the information she has so kindly provided me via email, I wanted to take a moment to thank her publicly for her efforts in general and for the assistance she has provided to me in particular. It is a pleasure to be working with her on this case.

I'll end with the tag line for her blog, one that is eerily similar to that of The Shadow:

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men and Women?

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The Case of Preston Hughes III: Table of Contents

This blog already includes much writing about the case of Preston Hughes III. Much more will follow. I therefore summarize below all the posts related to his case. I will update this post, this Table of Contents, as I add new posts regarding the case.

This Table of Contents is intended to help both me and the readers of this august blog. It will make it easier for readers to familiarize themselves with the case, and to locate any particular post. It will also free me from the need to summarize the case and all previous posts at the beginning of each new post.

09/27/2001:  An Offer and a Challenge -- In which I challenge readers to investigate any case of possible wrongful conviction, and in which I offer use my blog to publish their findings.

10/07/2011:  The Lingering Case of Preston Hughes III -- In which I ask readers to help investigate the specific case of Preston Hughes III.

10/13/2011:  Reader Response to My Offer and Challenge -- In which I note that multiple readers expressed interest in writing of specific cases of wrongful conviction. Three readers expressed interest in writing of Preston Hughes III.

01/30/2012:  Part 1 of 2 -- In which Guest Blogger Al actually writes of Preston Hughes III. (Fifteen-year-old Shandra Charles and her 3-year-old cousin Marcell Taylor were murdered late at night in a vacant lot in Houston, Texas. The police claim Shandra lived long enough to identify her attacker as "Preston". The police located Preston Hughes in a nearby apartment complex. Hughes confessed not just once, but twice. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He has been on death row for more than two decades.)

02/01/2012:  Part 2 of 2 -- In which Guest Blogger Al provides his analysis of the crime and identifies an alternate suspect. (Hughes provided two confessions. Each confession contradicted the other, and each confession was contradicted by the evidence at the crime scene. Shandra's dying identification of Preston as her murder is questionable, particularly in light of the officer's inability to correctly hear the name of the apartment complex at which Preston lived. The physical evidence in the case is questionable. Preston's previous conviction for sexual and aggravated assault is also questionable. A possible alternate suspect is Douglas Swanson, now serving a life sentence for multiple sexual and aggravated assaults.)

03/02/2012:  Geography -- In which I describe the geography of the crime scene. (When murdered, Shandra and Marcell were walking through an overgrown vacant lot late at night. I question what she was doing there.) [Post 1; 2074 words]

03/05/2012:  Shandra's Final Day -- In which I describe the events of Shandra's final day on this earth. (Shandra had been with her friend Evelyn most of the day. In the evening, they walked from Shandra's home, with young Marcell now in tow, to the residence of some unidentified friends in the same complex where Preston Hughes lived. Though Evelyn received a ride home from one of their friends at 9:30 PM, Shandra stayed behind. Shandra and Marcell later walked through the dark and overgrown vacant lot, destination or purpose unknown.) [Post 2; 5214 words; 7288 words cumulative]

03/10/2012:  Weed -- In which I hypothesize that Shandra may have been in the vacant lot to sell marijuana. (A small bag of marijuana was found in Preston's apartment. Preston claims it was planted there. Preston claims also that the police told him that they had found marijuana both in his apartment and on Shandra's person.) [Post 3; 1726 words; 9014 words cumulative]

03/22/2012:  Shandra's Final Hour -- In which readers learn of the pathetic efforts to save Shandra's life. (No one provided even minimal first aid at the scene. There was an unexplained lag between the time the dispatcher was informed of the need for an ambulance and the time the ambulance was notified of that need. Though they took Shandra first to West Houston Medical Center, which was but a mile away, they then sent her to Ben Taub Medical Center, 15 miles away. She was declared DOA at Ben Taub an hour and fourteen minutes after the dispatcher was first notified of her plight.) [Post 4; 4041 words; 13,055 words cumulative]

03/31/2012:  Table of Contents -- In which I first posted this Table of Contents.

03/31/2012:  Barbara Lunsford -- In which I credit Barbara Lunsford for her efforts to bring the case of Preston Hughes III into the public forum. ("Without the initiative, hours, and dimes of Barbara Lunsford, I would have learned nothing substantive about Preston's case. Based mostly on what she presented on her blog, I am reasonably confident that Preston Hughes is wrongfully convicted.") [Post 5; 1021 words; 14,076 words cumulative]

4/01/2012: Shandra's Trail -- In which we walk along the trail on which Shandra and Marcell were killed. The mystery deepens as to why Shandra was out there that night. [
Post 6; 2387 words; 16463 words cumulative]

4/03/2012: Pools of Blood -- In which readers learn how one might survive, or how quickly one might succumb to a severed carotid artery. [Post 7; 968 words; 17,431 words cumulative]

4/07/2012: Eleven Twenty Five -- In which readers learn how long one might remain conscious and alive with a severed carotid artery, based on expert testimony from various trials. ("Of the seven cases I found where experts testified to such times, none of them, I repeat NONE of them testified anyone could remain conscious longer than 5 minutes without medical intervention. ... So the first two officers arrive sometime after 11:30 PM and find Shandra unconscious. No surprise there. Then the third officer arrives five or so minutes later, after Shandra has bled out even more, and he finds her not only conscious, but sufficiently alert to interview. And with what remains of her blood still flowing from within, she identifies Preston Hughes as her killer. ... Houston, we have a problem!") [Post 8; 2702 words; 20,133 words cumulative]

4/8/2012: Cases Involving Severed Carotid Arteries -- In which I provide a link and a quick summary for each case I used in constructing the plot I presented in Eleven Twenty Five. [Post 9; 3739 words; 23,872 words cumulative]

4/10/2012: Lakeside -- In which readers learn of the existence of Lakeside Green Condominiums within 6 minutes walking distance of the crime scene. ("So there you have it. It is exceptionally unlikely that Shandra Charles could have been conscious when Sgt. Hamilton arrived at the scene. If one nonetheless accepts his report at face value, then Shandra Charles did not identify Preston Hughes as her attacker. She identified someone who lived at Lakeside. That is Lakeside. Not Lakewood. Not Lakehurst. Lakeside, exactly as Sgt. Hamilton claims he heard. Lakeside.) [Post 10; 2462 words; 26,344 words cumulative]

4/19/2012: Shandra's Neck -- In which I investigate possible paths for Shandra's neck wound. [Post 11; 1928 words, 28,262 words cumulative]

4/23/2012: Brain Teaser #1 -- In readers have an opportunity to identify which of three police documents is egregiously faked, and which is merely somewhat tampered. [Post 12; 493 words; 28,755 words]

4/28/2012: Documents Gone Wild -- In which I present my solution to Brain Teaser #1. In which also the integrity of the HPD investigation becomes more clearly suspect. [Post 13; 1069 words; 29,824 words cumulative]

5/1/2012: The 99 Cent Coin -- In which readers learn that Shandra had no coins in her pockets. She instead had five one-dollar bills and one five-dollar bill. The money she had in her pocket is inconsistent with her returning from Fuddrucker's. It is, however, consistent with reports that she was in the field that night to purchase drugs as I suggested earlier in Weed. [Post 14; 939 words; 30763 words cumulative]

5/8/2012: Stabbings Well Done -- In which readers can contrast the stabbings as described in Preston Hughes' confessions with the stab wounds as described by the fill-in medical examiner during Preston Hughes' trial. [Post 15; 1821 words; 32,584 words cumulative]

5/13/2012: Stabbings Redeaux -- In which I discuss the inconsistencies between Preston Hughes' confession and the medical testimony at his trial. [Post 16; 1938 words; 34,522 words cumulative]

5/18/2012: Brain Teaser #2 -- In which readers are challenged to offer insightful observations regarding the neck wounds as described in the autopsy reports, recently provided by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science. [Post 17, 512 words; 35034 words cumulative]

5/23/2012: Dark -- I which readers learn from Shandra's autopsy report that she had multiple, fresh needle marks in the pits of her elbows. This finding further reinforces the hypothesis that Shandra was in the dark, overgrown field that night for a drug transaction, as I suggested in  Weed and  The 99 Cent Coin. [Post 18; 448 words; 35,482 words cumulative]

5/29/2012: Back -- In which I announce that I will post of no subject other than Preston Hughes (and impending executions) until I have completed my series on Preston Hughes. [Post 19; 207 words; 35689 words cumulative]

5/29/2012: On Being Blunt -- In which readers learn from the autopsy reports that none of the stab wounds had a blunt end. This finding excludes the Preston Hughes' knife as the murder weapon. [Post 20; 1182 wors; 36871 words cumulative]

5/31/2012: Exsanguination -- In which readers learn that the autopsy reports make clear that Shandra's carotid and jugular were "transected" (completely severed) while Marcell's carotid and jugular were "perforated" (not completely severed). This suggests that Shandra must have bled out more quickly than Marcell. Given that Marcell apparently died just as the first officers to the scene discovered his body, this suggests that Shandra died before the police alive. She could therefore not have provided a dying declaration (naming Preston as her assailant) to Sgt. Hamilton as Sgt. Hamilton claimed in his police report. [Post 21; 826 words; 37694 words cumulative]

5/31/2012: Silence of the Lambs -- In which readers learn that sheep are slaughtered by the severing of their carotid and jugular on one or both sides. When the carotid and jugular are severed on one side only, brain death occurs in 70 seconds. [Post 22; 424 words; 38,121 words cumulative]

6/3/2012:  Where's Willis -- In which readers learn that sheep are good analogues for humans, at least when it comes to studying how long one might live with one or two severed carotid arteries. [Post 23; 1149 words; 39270 words cumulative]

6/4/2012: Shime-Waza -- In which readers learn that properly applied judo choke holds can render a human unconscious in approximately 10 seconds. This information directly supports the body of evidence previously presented that humans will lose brain function in 14 seconds or so if both carotids are severed. The choke hold information supports indirectly the body of evidence that humans will lose brain function is 70 seconds or so if just a single carotid is severed. The choke hold information thereby casts further doubt on the police claim that Shandra Charles provided them a dying declaration on the night of her murder. [Post 24; 492 words; 39,762 words cumulative]

6/9/2012: Right Tool for the Job -- In which readers learn that a dagger was more likely the type of weapon used to kill Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor.  Specific types of daggers, referred to as sticking knives, have long been used to sever the carotid arteries of livestock during slaughter. [Post 25; 807 words; 40,569 words cumulative]

6/12/2012: Marcell's Neck -- In which I insert Preston's knife into Marcell's neck and learn that the knife blade was too wide to have created Marcell's neck wound. In which I learned also that Preston's knife blade was too wide to have created Shandra's neck wound.  Preston's knife could not be the murder weapon for two reasons. First it is too wide. Second, as explained in On Being Blunt, it is single-edged where the murder weapon was double-edged. [Post 26; 1462 words; 42,031 words cumulative]

6/15/2012: Witness To Murder -- In which the reader learns of Drew Hartley and Barbara Szekely, husband and wife, who were walking through the dark, overgrown field that night and may have witnessed the prelude to the murder of Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor. [Post 27; 2587 words; 44618 words cumulative]

6/22/2012: Meet the Hartleys -- In which the reader learns of the criminal record of Drew Hartley. [Post 28; 1562 words; 46,180 words cumulative]

6/23/2012: Frankenmap -- In which I introduce to the world my creation: an overhead view of the crime scene as it may have existed on the day of the murders. [Post 29; 324 words; 46,504 words cumulative]

6/25/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act I -- In which the Hartleys ran in fear from the field where Shandra's body was later found. They thought thought they were being stalked by shadowy figures, reported such to the employees at the Stop N Go, who then called police. [Post 30; 2233 words; 48,737 words cumulative]

6/27/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act II -- I which the Hartleys become separated be talking to the police who had been summoned to the scene. [Post 31; 1528 words; 48,737 words cumulative]

7/1/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act III -- In which Drew Hartley, while searching for his wife, heard a woman scream and may have witnessed Shandra Charles being dragged into the overgrown field where she was later discovered, stabbed in the neck. I estimate the time when Drew heard the scream and possibly witnessed Shandra abducted. [Post 32; 2531 words; 51,268 words cumulative]

7/4/2012: Independence Day 2012 -- In which we learn that Preston Hughes may be scheduled for execution in November. [Post 33; 1792 words; 53,060 words cumulative]

7/9/2012: Summary -- In which I provide an occasionally updated summary of the case of Preston Hughes III. [Post 34; 2566 words; 55,626 words cumulative]

7/10/2012: Brain Teaser #4 -- In which readers realize that of two photos allegedly showing the exterior of Preston's apartment, one actually shows a different building. In which also, one reader identifies the actual building mysteriously included the photos associated with the case of Preston Hughes. [Post 35; 1280 words; 56906 words cumulative]

7/15/2012: Miscellany -- In which we learn that Preston did not wear his hair in an afro, as did the person who allegedly frightened Barbara Szekely from the dark overgrown field. In which we also learn that Preston did not walk through that field during while returning home from work. In which readers are reminded that, since Shandra Charles entered the field from the Lakewood Village apartments, she would have had to go out of her way to be on the more northern of the two trails. [Post 36; 1291 words; 58,197 words cumulative]

7/17/2012: The Big Sleep -- In which I outline the shocking implications of Shandra Charles dying soon after having her carotid severed. In which I also present my hypothesis regarding how the police quickly homed in on Preston Hughes, since Shandra's rapid death precluded the possibility of her naming Preston in a dying declaration. [Post 37; 3264 words; 61,461 words cumulative]

7/18/2012: Madness! --  In which the State and people of Texas schedule Preston Hughes to die sometime after 6 PM on 15 November 2012. [Post 38; 54 words; 61,461 words cumulative]

7/21/2012: Exceptional -- In which I describe a rare situation in which someone might survive a severed carotid without receiving prompt medical care. In which I also why Shandra Charles was not exceptional in that regard. [Post 39; 702 words; 62,163 words cumulative]

7/24/2012: Floor Plan -- In which I present the layout of Preston's apartment, and identify which of two apartment units must have been Preston's. [Post 40; 1101 words; 63,264 words cumulative]

7/26/2012: The Searchers -- In which readers can move from room to room in Preston's apartment, seeing the evidence collected from the various rooms. In which also I state with confidence that none of Preston's clothes had any visible trace of blood on them. [Post 41; 2463 words; 65,727 words cumulative]

7/27/2012: Brain Teaser #5 -- In which I ask: What the hell happened to brain teaser #3." In which I also challenge the readers to explain why I am right or why I am wrong when I claim that none of Preston's clothes had any visible trace of blood on them. [Post 42; 500 words; 66,227 words cumulative]

7/27/2012: Brain Teaser #6 -- In which I challenge readers to identify which, if any, items were removed from Preston's apartment but not included in the inventory of evidence collected. [Post 43; 1072 words; 67299 words cumulative]

7/29/2012: The Searchers Part 2 -- In which I test my eyeglasses on my couch to see if Shandra's eyeglasses could have fallen or slid in between the cushions of Preston Hughes' couch. [Post 44; 813 words; 68,112 words cumulative]

8/1/2012: The Searchers Part 3 -- In which I contrast Officer Hale's interest in carefully testing the eyeglasses for prints with his lackluster effort to find prints on the Busch beer can found at the crime scene. [Post 45; 1044 words; 69,156 words cumulative]

8/3/2012: The Searchers Part 4 -- In which I fail miserably to account for all the 35mm pictures Officer Hale may have taken. [Post 46; 2355 words; 71,511 words cumulative]

8/4/2012: The Searchers Part 5 -- In which I finally finish this overly long mini series within a series by talking briefly of the maroon shirt and marijuana found on Preston's dining room table. [Post 47; 379 words; 71,890 words cumulative]

8/12/2012: Singularity -- In which the reader is challenged to find a subtle but significant clue in a single photograph. In which the reader realizes that the police have illegally searched Preston's apartment not just once, but twice. [Post 48; 731 words; 72,621 words cumulative]

8/12/2012: Down the Rabbit Hole -- In which I speculate on the events that surrounded the two searches of Preston's apartment. [Post 49; 2600 words; 75,221 words cumulative]

8/14/2012: Opus 50 -- I which I direct the readers to David Protess' article regarding my exploration of Preston's case. [Post 50; 249 words; 75,470 words cumulative]

8/23/2012: KPFT Interview -- A YouTube clip of my 6 minute interview by KPFT radio regardings Preston's case. [Post 51; 17 words; 75487 words cumulative]

8/24/2012: 20G40 -- In which we consider more carefully Sgt. Hamilton's insertion of himself into this case. [Post 52; 1326 words; 76,813 words cumulative]

8/29/2012: Confession #1 -- I which I provide Preston's first confession, in its entirety, along with the circumstances surrounding that confession. In which I ask the readers whether they believe Preston's first confession to be true or false. In which I ask the readers to defend their thinking. [Post 53; 3958 words; 80,771 words cumulative]

9/2/2012: A Blogger's Cruelty -- I which confess to the cruelty of insisting that people defend their beliefs about Preston's first confession in particular, and our justice system in general.. [Post 54; 667 words; 81,438 words cumulative]

9/4/2012: 14244 -- In which I make the case that the words found in Preston's first written confession are more likely Sgt. Gafford's words than Preston's words. Assuming I am correct, Sgt. Gafford unwittingly provided guilty knowledge of his earlier, illegal search  of Preston's apartment. [Post 55; 1190 words; 82628 words cumulative]

9/7/2012: The Big Why -- In which I explain that Preston Hughes confessed because he was told he would be allowed to go home if he did so. [Post 56; 710 words; 83,338 words cumulative]

9/9/2012: The Big How -- In which I explain how to extract a confession from a suspect, whether or not that suspect is guilty. [Post 57; 3520 words; 86,858 words cumulative]

9/13/2012: Easy Peasy -- In which I explain why it was particularly easy to extract a confession from Preston Hughes III. [Post 58; 757 words; 87,614 words cumulative]

9/17/2012: The Gingerbread Man -- In which the children's story of The Gingerbread Man becomes a parable for Preston's reason for signing the second confession. [Post 59; 1320 words; 88,935 words cumulative.]

9/22/2012: Confession #2 -- In which I conclude this series by describing why Preston Hughes signed the second confession. [Post 60; 1625 words; 90,560 words cumulative.] 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Impending (But Stayed) Execution of Tommy Arthur

Tommy Arthur sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Alabama. The execution, recently scheduled for Thursday 29 March, has been stayed (possibly only briefly) as the parties argue over Alabama's execution protocol.

Arthur's case is complicated by multiple trials, ever moving execution dates, unstable accomplice testimony, favorable and unfavorable inmate testimony, last moment eyewitnesses, possible witness intimidation, a last moment confession from the alleged real killer, an offer to recant the confession in exchange for visitation privileges, legal tussles over DNA testing, lost and destroyed DNA evidence, inconclusive DNA test results, and less than accurate court documents provided by both the State and Arthur's defense team. This case is, in summary, a confusing morass of claims and counterclaims.

I will attempt to clarify all in this modest post, but I doubt I will succeed. In any case, at the end of this post, I will either oppose the execution or stand mute regarding it's propriety. I will do so based on whether or not I believe there is any reasonable chance of Tommy Arthur's factual innocence.

I begin by presenting the best summary of the case I was able to find. It is from a the adverse appellate decision of Arthur v. State (1996). I have changed the format of the presentation slightly to improve readability. I include my observations in brackets.
Thirteen witnesses testified for the state, the state's case being bottomed on the testimony of accomplice Judy Wicker, Wicker having been indicted and convicted by a jury verdict for the intentional murder of her husband, Troy Wicker. 
Wicker's conviction and life sentence were affirmed in May, 1983 at Mary Jewel Wicker v. State. Wicker was in state custody when she testified on Wednesday of the trial week. [Before her testimony, Wicker was serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband. After her testimony she was released on parole. Arthur's prosecutor had previously been Wicker's defense attorney.
Proceeding Wicker's testimony: 
Eddie Lang, sergeant with Muscle Shoals Police Department, testified about observations of Ms. Wicker's movements on the morning of the killing, February 1, 1982, and his observations of the house where the deceased was murdered. 
Joseph Gary Wallace of the Department of Forensic Sciences, lab director in Florence in 1982, testified about his observations at the scene, the gathering and transfer of physical items from a certain Buick Riviera vehicle 
Brent Wheeler and John Kilbourne of the Huntsville forensic lab testified about lab procedure. 
Joel Reagan, who ran a mobile home sales lot testified about the defendant's employment at his place of business. 
Talmadge Sterling, correctional officer at the Decatur Work Release Center, testified about defendant's residency at the center as did Pat Halliday, employed at the center, who testified about a discrepancy in the defendant's payroll records. [The summary seems to leave out a critical piece of inculpatory evidence. Because of discrepancies in Arthur's records, Arthur's clothing was searched. Twenty $100 bills were found in his pockets. Such a substantial sum would require some explanation from someone having such limited financial resources as did Arthur. More on this issue during the discussion of the defense witnesses.]
Pat Yarbrough Green, who testified that she became acquainted with defendant at Cher's Lounge (Ms. Green was employed at Cher's Lounge in "parole" status, having suffered several felony convictions); that defendant wanted to talk privately at the lounge; that in the kitchen he asked the witness, "Can you get me some bullets? Has to be .22 caliber mini mag long rifles."; that she enlisted the services of a third person to go across the street to buy the bullets; that the defendant gave her $10.00 for the bullets; that while waiting on the delivery of the bullets the defendant stated, "Someone will be killed in Tennessee. Don't worry, it won't be traced to us."; also, that defendant asked witness if she had access to "jars" or knockout pills and asked if she knew where defendant could get some jars/pills; that she gave the .22 bullets to the defendant. [I distrust this testimony because (1) it is snitch testimony, (2) possibly purchased by the State by threat or promise of favor, (3) uncorroborated though it could be corroborated by the third person who provided the .22 caliber rounds, and (4) the third person seemingly was not even identified, much less forced or allowed to testify.]
Debra Lynn Phillips Tynes, manager of Cher's Lounge and defendant's paramour, states that on the day of the killing the defendant was late for a lunch date, that ultimately defendant and she went for a car ride across the Tennessee River Bridge; that defendant stopped the car and threw into the river a "plain black garbage bag" wrapped in a sheet, stating that "I want to get rid of some old memories." [Being late for lunch is hardly evidence of committing murder early in the morning. On the other hand, the testimony about throwing the garbage bag into the river seems quite inculpatory.]
Dr. Pirl, toxicologist, stated that there was no ethanol in the deceased's body nor could he detect any narcotics. 
Dr. Aquilar testified as to cause of death; that deceased was shot at close range through the closed right eye.
James Otis Garrard, clerk of the circuit court of Marion County testified regarding ... court documentation reflective of defendant's prior conviction for second degree murder. 
Judy Wicker, who at the time of her testimony in the latest trial resided at a work release center in WetumpkaTidwell Homes; that she and Teresa discussed killing Troy in early 1981; that several conversations occurred between she and Teresa regarding killing Troy; that there was $90,000 worth of life insurance on Troy's life; that the defendant Arthur called her by phone and stated "I'm hired to do a job -- kill your husband'; that about one week after the phone call she and Arthur met at Arthur's father's house or at Reagan's Mobile Homes; that there were sexual encounters between she and Arthur; that she knew the day of February 1 that this was the day her husband was to be killed; that the night preceding the killing she, her husband and Teresa had a drinking party at the Wicker home; that she dropped the children at school on February 1, met ... her sister, finally getting together with Teresa "out by the airport"; that Teresa was driving a Riviera; that defendant was with her, "made up" to look like a black man -- face blackened, wearing an Afro wig and gloves; that Arthur got out of Teresa's car and into her car; that she smelled alcohol on his breath; that he had a pistol plus a garbage bag; that en route to the Wicker home she asked Arthur not to "do it," "I'll give you money or whatever"; that Arthur stated "The SOB deserves to die"; that she had left her husband in bed asleep; that upon entering the house defendant began destroying things. "We went to the bedroom, I ran but I heard the shot. I ran to the utility room --"; further, that she ended up in the den, receiving a blow to the head "battering my head badly, knocking out some teeth, upper lip cut into my nose. I didn't have an upper lip."; that previously it had been established that she was to say that her and Troy's home was burglarized and she was assaulted by a black man; the first persons she saw on regaining consciousness were her sister and a detective; that after the killing she and Arthur continued to talk, go places together; that upon receipt of the insurance money witness paid Arthur $10,000, paid her sister, Teresa, $6,000 and Theron McKinney received some jewelry and a Trans Am automobile. [In her previous 7 sworn statements, including her own trial, Wicker swore under oath that she had been attacked and raped by the murderer, a black man, obviously not Arthur. Clearly, Wicker would lie under oath, either previously or during the Arthur trial(s), to save her skin. Her testimony, in my opinion, demands substantial corroboration. I find it disturbing also that neither her sister nor brother-in-law were charged for their role in the murder. If Wicker's testimony was true, it was her sister that orchestrated the murder. I find it suspicious that Arthur's prosecution used to be Wicker's defense attorney.
Witness Wicker was thoroughly cross-examined by defense counsel as to the prior contradictory statements she made to the police and under oath at her trial, as to what she expected to gain from testifying. [According to several sources, Arthur's court appointed attorney was, by Alabama state law, limited to no more than $2000 remuneration for a capital case.]
The defense case featured four witnesses: 
Officer Coan, a scene witness. 
Bruce Carrol, an inmate at St. Clair prison who stated he lost $6,500 to the defendant in a poker game. [I find this difficult to believe. I'm loath to rely on snitch testimony, whether or not the inmate hopes to benefit from either the state or the defense.]
Ronald Spears, an inmate at West Jefferson prison who stated that Patsy Yarbrough Green had previously stated to him "The cops told me to lie on Tommy regarding the .22 bullets". [Once again, it's always difficult to tell  which snitch might be telling the truth.]
Gene Moon, residing in Cullman County Jail, stated that "Inmate Murry gave me an envelope with $2,000 in it and I put it in Tommy's coat," thus accounting for the defendant's possession of an inordinate amount of currency at the work release center. [This seems inconsistent with the defense's earlier claim that the money was found in Arthur' clothing because he had won it in a poker game, with another inmate.
The defendant did not testify. [The defendant has a Constitutional right to not testify. The invocation of such a right is neither inculpatory nor exculpatory.]
This case is wafer thin on forensic evidence and profoundly thick with accomplice and snitch testimony. As a juror, I would be forced to decide it the State sufficiently corroborated Wicker's story by the testimony that Arthur, soon after the murder, threw a garbage bag in a river and that $2000 were found in his clothing. I would find the defense's conflicting arguments about the source of the money to be counterproductive to their case. Though I would need far more of the trial testimony and exhibits to reach a verdict, I can envision that I would have voted guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Three separate juries did find the evidence sufficient, though I argue frequently that juries tend to be too compliant and insufficiently skeptical.

Three substantial developments followed the three trials. The defense located two alibi witnesses who affirmed that Arthur was with them at the time of the murder; an inmate confessed to the murder of Troy Wicker; and DNA evidence from the crime scene tested negative for Arthur's DNA. I'll consider the developments in turn.

In 2002, the owner and an employee of Copper Mobile Homes each provided Arthur's defense team with an affidavit claiming that Arthur had been with them on the morning of the murder. Since their business was located 75 miles from the scene of the murder, their recollections, if honest and accurate, would exonerate Arthur. Their stories were strikingly similar in detail, though each claimed they had not spoken with the other prior to providing their affidavit.

Each person claimed that Arthur, in an effort to gain employment, offered to help them deliver a mobile home to Birmingham and help set it up. They declined. The next day, they each heard of the murder, but thought little of it. After Arthur was arrested for the murder, they talked about how he been with them on the morning of the murder. They did not mention to the police, or the prosecution, or the defense because no one asked. They agreed to sign the affidavit 20 years later only because Arthur' defense team had finally asked each of them (independently) to do so.

Not long thereafter, each affiant provided an additional affidavit, this time to the State, essentially recanting what they had said in their affidavits to Arthur's defense team. One person claimed he was heavily medicated. The other said that, upon further consideration, he cannot be sure of the date on which they spoke with Arthur at Copper Mobile Home.

Not long thereafter, the defense team provided affidavits strongly suggesting that the two witnesses had been intimidated by the state to recant. Of the three sets of affidavits, I find the last set most likely to be true. In other words, I suspect (but cannot prove) that the mobile home witnesses were incorrect (or untruthful) about being with Arthur that specific morning, and that the State improperly applied substantial pressure and threats to get them to recant.

In 2008, Bobby Ray Gilbert confessed to killing Troy Wicker. Gilbert's confession, if honest and accurate, would exonerate Tommy Arthur. Gilbert's confession nicely fit Judy Wicker's later version of the murder except that Gilbert, rather than Arthur, was the hired killer. Part of Gilbert's claim was that he and Judy Wicker engaged in unprotected sex after the murder. Gilbert, who was serving life without parole for another crime, confessed once he learned that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his age at the time of the crime.

In 2009, based in large measure on the confession of Gilbert, the DNA evidence still remaining from the crime was finally tested. No usable results were obtained from the wig. The only significant results came from small samples of semen located in Judy Wicker's jeans and underwear. That semen tested positive for Troy Wicker, negative for Tommy Arthur, and negative for Bobby Ray Gilbert. The DNA finding corroborates Judy Wicker's prior claim that she had sex with her husband soon before he was killed to provide evidence of a recent rape. She did not, of course, realize at the time that DNA testing would later prove or disproved her story.

After the DNA testing and an evidentiary hearing into Gilbert's confession, the Court found not only that Gilbert's confession was false, but found that Arthur had committed a fraud on the Court. The Court found that Arthur slowly fed details of the crime to Gilbert by passing him notes. The Court found that Gilbert was offered and anticipated several benefits in return for his confession. The Court found, substantially in my opinion, that Gilbert offered to recant his confession in return for increased visitation privileges.

I find reasonable the Court's detailed argument that Arthur perpetrated a fraud via Gilbert's confession. Coupled with the conflicting inmate testimony about the origin of the $2000 in Arthur's clothing, I suspect that Arthur also orchestrated the affidavits of the two post-conviction alibi witnesses.

Much of the information I've relied upon for this post comes from Tommy Arthur's web site. I refer you to that site for a more stout defense of his case. Based on my review of the evidence, however, I believe that Tommy Arthur did indeed murder Troy Wicker. With respect to the propriety of his execution, I therefore stand mute.

For other cases in which I study and reject superficially compelling claims of factual innocence, see my posts on Cleve Foster and Steven Woods.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Shandra's Final Hour

Fifteen-year-old Shandra Charles and her 3-year-old cousin Marcell Taylor were murdered late at night in a vacant lot in Houston, Texas. The police claim Shandra lived long enough to identify her attacker as "Preston". The police located Preston Hughes in a nearby apartment complex. Hughes confessed not just once, but twice. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He has been on death row for more than two decades.

As I find time here and there to work on this case, I become increasingly doubtful of Preston Hughes' guilt. My thoughts, however, are ahead of my writing. I'll try to close the gap somewhat with this sad post about the terrible treatment of victim Shandra Charles at the hands of the those sworn to protect her. 

First I offer my references. Guest Blogger Al's original report begins here. My follow up posts on the Geography of the crime scene, on the events of Shandra's Last Day, and on the possible role of Weed in the case are at the links. All excerpts from police reports in this post were taken from here.

That's it for the references, so prepare yourself. Here we go.

Officers J. L. Cook and D. J. Becker were the first officers on the scene, arriving sometime after 11:30 PM. They found Shandra unconscious but alive. They found Marcell dead. From their report:
Officers walked east along the path ... approx 30 yards when observing a black female laying face down in the path. ... There was blood along the neckline and she was breathing deep but was unconscious. Officers notified the west side dispatcher of the find. The blood appeared to be fresh so officers looked ... for possible susp(s).
Make a mental note: the officers found a victim, alive but unconscious. They notified the dispatcher, but did not initiate any first aid. Instead, the felt it important that both of them look for possible suspects. At this point, I do not offer that as a criticism, merely as an observation. Their report continues:
Approx 40 to 50 feet east of the female's location officers found a small boy laying in the brush face down approx 2 to 3 feet north of the path. ... The boy did not appear to be breathing nor have a pulse. ... Officers notified the dispatcher of the find and began emergency first aid. Officer cook observed the boy's left shoulder area still bleeding and turned him over to check for any sign of life. Both eyes, pupils were dilated and there was still no pulse or breathing. ... The boy did not respond to any resusitation [sic] attempts.
I find it strange that Marcell's left shoulder area would still be bleeding, much less upwards and obviously so. Marcell was apparently dead and his heart had apparently stopped beating. There was no pump to pressure the blood upwards, much less at a rate that would be obvious.

Even more curious is the officers' reported response to finding Marcell compared to their reported response to finding Shandra. Upon finding Marcell, they notified the dispatcher, as they did after finding Shandra. However, after notifying the dispatcher, they began emergency first aid.

They applied first aid to Marcell, though he appeared dead. They did not apply first aid to Shandra, though she was still alive and could more clearly have benefited from it. They made note of blood still being pumped from the Marcell's shoulder wound. They made no note of blood that must have still be coming from Shandra's neck wound.

They delayed providing first aid to Shandra, though she was alive, so that they could search for suspects. They did not delay providing first aid to Marcell, though he was apparently dead. While the need to search for suspects (or secure the area) was paramount upon finding Shandra, who was clinging to life, the need to search for subjects (or secure the area) became secondary after finding Marcell, though he was already dead. 

Their report continues:
Officer Becker continued to look in the immediate area for any susp(s) or evidence. Cook stayed at the scene and observed numerous officers attending the black female. Paramedics from HFD Unit 69 arrived on the scene, assessed the situation, and pronounced the boy dead. Cook maintained the situation, and scene until homicide sgt's arrived.
Several more curiosities here. Cook observed numerous officers attending Shandra. Sgt. Hamilton, as you will soon learn, described only himself as the person who tended Shandra. Within the entirety of the police reports, only one other officer (also a sergeant) is identified who might have tended Shandra. Why would Cook use the term numerous to describe one or two?

Cook also mentions the arrival and behavior of Houston Fire Department Unit 69, but only as it pertained to Marcell. He notes that they confirmed Marcell was dead, but does not note any efforts to aid Shandra or transport her to the hospital.

Shandra is somehow off limits, except to Patrol Sergeant D. Hamilton, who happened to hear Shandra accuse Preston of her murder. According to his report, Hamilton was the first person to respond to Cook and Becker's calls. For now, I'll excerpt from his excerpt only those portions relating to the emergency care (or lack thereof) for Shandra.
Sgt D. Hamilton ... heard Officers V. L. Cook and C. J. Becker ... call out on an assault victim ... Around 2340 hrs Sgt Hamilton checked by with Unit 20G40 and arrived on the scene at approx 2343 hrs. Upon arriving at the scene, Sgt Hamilton found the crime scene to be an open field. Sgt Hamilton noticed Officer Becker and Cook standing near a b/m juvenile in the field. While approaching officer Cook, Sgt Hamilton noticed a second compl a b/f, laying face down on the ground in a small pool of blood. ...
Marcell on the trail before he saw Shandra on the trail. When Cook and Becker entered the trail from the Fuddrucker's parking lot, they found Shandra first and Marcell second. That makes sense. Shandra was located west of Marcell by approximately 30 yards.

Perhaps Hamilton was engaging in some poetic license when he reported he could see Marcell's body from from a distance but couldn't see Shandra though she was 30 yards closer. Such poetic license would be inappropriate in what is supposed to be a factual police report.

Perhaps Hamilton instead entered the path from the east side, from the apartment complex rather than from the Fuddruker's parking lot. That would explain why he saw Marcell first and Shandra second. It would leave unexplained why he entered the path from the apartments.

Note also that Hamilton confirms Cook and Becker were tending to the already dead Marcell while ignoring the still living Shandra. His report continues:
Sgt Hamilton spoke with the compl [complainant] while she was laying face down on the ground. It appeared to Sgt. Hamilton that the compl was having a difficult time trying to breathe. At this point, Sgt. Hamilton asked the compl if she wanted to roll over on her back, the compl stated that she did. Sgt Hamilton rolled the compl over to her back.
I interrupt Sgt. Hamilton's report at this point since this is where he told of his two-way conversation with Shandra. I'll discuss that conversation in substantially greater detail in a later post. For now, note that Officers Cook and Becker claimed Shandra was unconscious. Given that neither of them provided any first aid, and given that Shandra had surely lost more blood by the time Hamilton arrived, I'm a bit surprised she recovered enough to speak. Completing Hamilton's report:
Sgt. sat by the compl until amb arrived. Compl was transported to West Houston Hospital. Sgt along with unit 20G40 and 20G51 secured the scene and held it until it as released to homicide Sgt's.
Unit 20G40 consisted of Officers Becker and Cook. Unit 20G51 seemed to consist of Sgt. J.H. Parham. Parham was described as being on the scene when the homicide sergeants arrived. He is mentioned only once in the reports. No other person is mentioned who might have been at the scene before Shandra was transported therefrom.

No one reports to providing or witnessing any first aid applied to Shandra Charles. Let's see what has to say about what the Houston Police might have done to treat Shandra's neck wound.
Severe bleeding of an open wound can usually be controlled by pressing with the palm of one hand on a compress of cloth over the entire area of the wound. A thick pad of sterile gauze is preferable, but any soft, clean cloth can be used in an emergency. Even unclean material can be used, but only if nothing better is immediately available. 
In an emergency, in the absence of compresses, the bare hand or fingers may be used, but only until a compress can he applied. ... The objective is to control the hemorrhage by compressing the bleeding vessels against something more solid, such as underlying bone or uninjured tissues. 
The reason for applying hand pressure directly is to prevent loss of blood from the body without interfering with normal blood circulation. ... Unless there is evidence of a fracture, a severely bleeding open wound of the head, neck, arm, or leg should be elevated -- that is, raised above the level of the victim's heart. Elevation uses the force of gravity to help reduce the blood pressure in the injured area and thus aids in slowing down the loss of blood through the wound opening. However, direct pressure on a thick pad over the wound must be continued.
Now let's see what has to say about how the Houston Police might have done to treat Shandra's penetrating chest wound.
A hole in the chest (gunshot wound, stabbing or other puncture wound) makes a new pathway for air to travel into the chest when it expands. That hole pulling air into the chest cavity is called a sucking chest wound. Sucking chest wounds are dangerous because they lead to collapsed lungs (pneumothorax). Treating a sucking chest wound requires two things: keeping air from going in while letting extra air out. 
It can be difficult to identify when a penetrating wound to the chest is sucking air or not, so it's best to assume any penetrating wound to the chest is a sucking chest wound. ... Seal the sucking chest wound. Put something plastic (preferably sterile or at least clean) over the hole and tape it down.
Apply pressure to a bleeding wound. Cover a chest wound to prevent a collapsed lung. These are not recently discovered life-saving procedures or technically demanding medical care. These are long known, widely recognized, basic first aid techniques. None of the responding officers attempted any such minimal first aid to save Shandra's life.

Cook and Becker applied CPR to Marcell's lifeless body. That's reasonable and professional if they thought there was some hope of reviving him. Perhaps one of them, however, should have applied pressure to Shandra's neck wound, or covered the hole in her chest.

It's possible, I suppose, that police procedures do not allow police officers to act as paramedics. That would not explain, however, Cook and Becker's efforts to save Marcell. Perhaps Houston Police can only give you first aid if they believe you are already dead.

Unlike Cook and Becker, Hamilton did not ignore Shandra. He interviewed her. At least he claimed he interviewed her. Perhaps the Houston PD allows its sergeants to interview victims of knife wounds, but does not allow them to cover chest wound or apply pressure to neck wounds.

We learn more disturbing information about Shandra's emergency care from the report of Sergeant J. L. Waltmon.
Sgt. J. L. Waltmon was requested by Lt. Neely to go to West Houston Hospital located at 12111 Richmond to check comps. condition and see if any other information could be obtained.
While driving to the hospital Sgt. was advised by Lt. Neely that the comp. had been transported out to Ben Taub Hospital. Sgt. then went to Ben Taub hospital to check on comp. Just as Sgt. arrived at the hospital HFD #69 arrived with the female comp. and was giving her CPR as they were taking her into the emergency room. 
A short time later Sgt. talked with HFD ambulance driver M. S. Miller and HFD parametic [sic] M. Atkinson on Unit #69 who stated that they had received the call 2347 and arrived on the scene at 2355. Atkinson stated that the small child [Marcell] was DOA from stab wounds and that the female as alive at that time. ... Atkinson stated that they had first taken the female by the West Houston Hospital and then transported her to Ben Taub. He stated that HPD officers were at the scene when they arrived. Atkinson stated he had no information on the comp. 
While talking to Adkinson it was learned that the female comp. [Shandra] was DOA and had been pronounced dead at 0054 hrs by Doctor Mark Bailey from what appeared to be two stab wounds.
The timing here is disturbing. Consider first that the paramedics received their call at 11:47 PM. The Houston Police are conveniently ambiguous about when the call for emergency services came in. The call was apparently before 11:40 PM. That's when Sgt. Hamilton claimed he contacted Officers Cook and Becker after overhearing their call.

There was, therefore, at least a seven-minute delay between the time the dispatcher received the emergency call from the s and the time the paramedics learned of it. That's seven minutes of Shandra bleeding needlessly from her neck and chest wounds. That's seven minutes of Shandra sucking air through her open chest wound. That's seven minutes of Cook and Becker ignoring her; seven minutes while Hamilton sat beside her waiting for an ambulance that had not been been promptly informed.

The ambulance delay, unfortunately, is not even the most disturbing part of this sad story. Not by a long shot. Shandra Charles was declared DOA at 12:54 AM. That's more than 1 hour and 14 minutes after the first officer's call for emergency medical assistance. Shandra was alive when they belatedly placed her in the ambulance. She was dead when she arrived at the hospital. She died somewhere along the way when she should have instead been in a trauma unit receiving professional medical care.

Let's try to account for that 1 hour and 14 minutes.

The doctors must have spent some time trying to revive her before declaring her dead at 12:54 AM. I don't know how long they spent, but I'll assume 15 minutes. I think that's generous. That leaves 59 minutes to account for.

We know already that there was at least 7 minutes wasted dispatching the ambulance. That leaves 52 minutes.

We know the ambulance took 8 minutes to respond. That leaves 44 minutes.

The paramedics must have spent some time on the scene checking Marcell, performing the most basic emergency procedures on Shandra, and getting her into the ambulance. I don't know how long they spent, but I'll again assume 15 minutes. Once again I think that's generous, particularly for someone in such imminent danger. That leaves 29 minutes to drive to the hospital.

So where the hell was the hospital? Why did it take 29 minutes, probably longer?

Sgt. Waltmon and Sgt. Hamilton both report that she was transported (at least initially) to West Houston Hospital. Sgt. Waltmon gave the address as 12111 Richmond. Below, I present a Bing bird's eye view of the West Houston Medical Center.

I don't know what it looked like in 1988, but today it certainly seems to be a substantial medical center. That circle with a white cross in it (just southwest of center) is a helipad. That indicates the medical center has an emergency trauma unit. That red vehicle in the curved driveway is a fire truck. The paramedics must have believed that medical services were available at West Houston Medical Center, even in 1988, since that's where they initially rushed Shandra Charles as they tried to save her life.

The distance from the Fuddrucker's parking lot to the emergency room door is 1.1 miles. If the ambulance averaged a mere 30 miles per hour, the trip would have taken but 2 minutes. They could have been at that door at 11:55 PM if they had been notified promptly (which they were not), if they responded in 8 minutes (as they did), if they had transported her within 5 minutes of their arrival (as they might have), and if they drove to the hospital at a leisurely 30 miles per hour (which I doubt they did).

We know that Shandra was still alive at 11:55 when she could have been at that emergency room door. Recall that the paramedics belatedly arrived at the crime scene at 11:55 PM, they spent some time on the scene before transporting her, and she was alive when they left.

But Shandra did not begin receiving professional medical care at West Houston Medical Center at 11:55 PM. She was instead pronounced DOA at Ben Taub hospital at 12:54 AM. What happened? How did it come to be that she died in the back of an ambulance when she should have been on an operating room table with some unknown but some chance of survival.

This sucks.

For some reason, the ambulance was redirected from West Houston Medical Center to Ben Taub Hospital. The map below shows what a disaster this was. Click to enlarge.

West Houston Medical Center is the green dot at the left. Ben Taub is the green dot on the right. Shandra's nearly lifeless body was found near the red dot, barely north and east of West Houston. I literally could have carried Shandra Charles from that empty field to West Houston in the time it took to get her to Ben Taub, and I could have done so with time to spare.

Let's continue our effort to account for the time. When I last digressed from the accounting, there was 29 minutes left to drive Shandra to the hospital. The distance between West Houston Medical Center and Ben Taub Hospital is 15.5 miles. If the ambulance averaged 70 mph, that's 13 minutes. We're still missing 16 minutes, at least. Where did that precious quarter hour go?

It seems that time was spent somewhere within the walls of West Houston Medical Center, but not within the confines of an operating room. It's not clear Shandra Charles made it past admittance. It seems that West Houston declined to treat Shandra. Shandra was presumably alive when she was dispatched from West Houston. She would have otherwise been transferred to the morgue. Shandra was certainly dead when she arrived at Ben Taub.

We know that Shandra was actually inside West Houston Medical Center from the report of Crime Scene Unit (CSU) Officer F.L. Hale. For what it's worth, I trust Officer Hale's reporting more than I trust the reporting of any other officer involved in this case. Officer Hale provided the most specific, most thorough report in the otherwise sorry collection of reports. Let's see what Officer Hale had to say about West Houston Medical Center. As usual, he refers to himself in the third person.
While at the scene Officer Hale learned that the female complainant had died. She had first been transported to the West Houston Hospital at 12111 Richmond. Then transported to Ben Taub. While the female was at West Houston Hospital her short [sic] and shoes were removed. Officer Hale was requested by Sergeant Gafford to go to the hospital and recover the clothing.
At this time I cleared the scene and went to West Houston Hospital. Inside the emergency Officer Hale met with the attanding [sic] nurse. She handed be [sic] a white plastic hospital bag. On the outside of the bag was written, Personal Belongings Name; Jane Doe, 5290857, with the date 9/27/88. Inside the plastic bag was [sic] the following items; 
(1) pair white shoes.
(1) pair of white shorts. Inside the front left pocket was a piece of torn paper with the name "Dog" and telephone number 884-1217.
(1) gold neck chain, with safety pin.
(5) one dollar bills. F 71495177 E, K 24739558 F, B 07807654 N,  C 10472969 D, L 72137012.
(1) five dollar bill, L 58976848 C. 
These articles were recovered and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room.
By comparison, Sgt. Waltmon (who saw Sandra as she arrived at Ben Taub hospital) described her clothing and personal effects as follows:
The comp. when brought in had a blue and white striped long sleve [sic] shirt and white braw [sic]. She had one silver ear ring on her left ear which was in the shape of a fan. She had a gold colored ring on the little finer of the left hand and silver ring on the ring finger of the lefet [sic] hand.
Sgt. Waltmon must have had a pretty good look at Shandra given his detailed description of her one ear ring and her to rings. He mentioned neither shorts nor shoes, however. He thereby reinforced Officer Hale's report that Shandra's shorts and shoes were handed to him in a plastic bag by the emergency room personnel at West Houston Medical Center.

Sgt. Waltmon did not mention the condition of Shandra's shirt and bra. He did mention details such as the color and the length of the shirt sleeves, but he did not note that either the shirt or bra were torn, or unfastened, or pulled away to expose the victim's chest. I presume he made no such note because the shirt and bra were being worn pretty much as expected.

Neither Hale nor Waltmon mentioned her panties. Elsewhere in the compilation of police reports, we learn that Sandra's green panties, her bra, and her shorts [?] were recovered from the morgue more than 8 months later.

We have a situation in which the people at West Houston removed Shandra's shorts and shoes, but did not remove her panties, shirt, or bra. It seems as if they did not even unfasten her shirt and bra. In other words, it doesn't seem as if they attempted to provide any serious emergency care for Shandra's penetrating chest wound. It sounds more as if they were searching only for identification, and perhaps insurance information or a lead thereto.

It's distressing that West Houston Medical Center may have, and I repeat, may have declined to treat Shandra Charles because she had no apparent means of paying them.

I consider it possible, as an alternative, that the emergency personnel at West Houston believed the surgeons at Ben Taub were better qualified to save her. I guess it is possible also that no surgeons were available to anywhere at West Houston to operate on Shandra, though that seems unlikely.

It had to be clear to everyone, though, that Shandra Charles was barely clinging to life. Even the most inexperienced nurse or doctor must have recognized that Shandra was in dire need of immediate, invasive care.

For what ever reason, Shandra did not receive the medical treatment she needed while she was within the emergency room at West Houston Medical Center. Instead, she died somewhere along the road running between WHMC and Ben Taub hospital.

I fear I have found the missing 13 minutes in my accounting of Shandra's final hour. She spent those 13 minutes lying on a gurney inside the West Houston Medical Center emergency room as those around her tried to decide what to do with her.

I don't know if Shandra could have been saved by a rapid, professional emergency response. I do know she fought hard enough for her life that she survived the lack of first aid by the Houston PD, the lethargic response of the emergency dispatching system, and the indecisiveness of the emergency personnel at West Houston Medical Center. She had too little life left in her, though, to survive all that plus the 15 mile journey to Ben Taub.

There is nothing about this case that is not heartbreaking sad.

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