Monday, March 5, 2012

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

For those of you new to this series, give up now unless you are willing to come up to speed by reading Guest Blogger Al's initial two-part series and my subsequent post about the crime scene geography. For the stubborn among you (and I actually hope, for other reasons, that there be many of you), I offer this Super Condensed Reader's Digested to the Max version of events.

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.

Despite the seemingly incontrovertible case against him, Guest Blogger Al and I choose to controvert. In the previous post, the one in which I described the geography, I left the readers to ponder why young Shandra Charles was in the overgrown, unlit field that night.

In this post, I'll reveal my thoughts on the matter. To prepare you for the reveal (as they nounify the verb on HGTV), I must first describe the events of Shandra's final day preceding her murder. Much of the information I am about to discuss came from the police reports. For those of you interested in pouring over those reports yourself, you can find them here, nicely bundled into a single 41-page PDF.

The reports consist of an initial summary of the case that includes only basics such as information about the victim, a list of evidence collected at the scene, and information about the suspect. After the initial summary come the case narrative and a series of supplemental reports.

The pages are numbered sequentially. As each officer added to the narrative, that officer numbered his narrative so that the numbering was always monotonically increasing, with no page numbers missing. The page numbers thereby progressed from 001 to 041, preceded by a 1 (for the initial summary) or a 2 (for the narrative and supplemental reports).

I detail the page numbering for a reason. The report presents itself as being a complete collection of the police reports associated with this case. The final supplemental report, for example, discusses the 2007 the retagging of the physical evidence. Therefore, if an item or event or issue is not discussed in the 41-page compilation of reports, then it seems never to have been in an official report. If something significant is missing from the 41-page PDF file, it is indicative of the police failing to pursue leads or the police withholding evidence.

As you may suspect, given the trouble I've gone to describe the page numbering, I will take note of information that seemingly should be in the reports, but is not.

I'm now ready to summarize the final day of Shandra Charles' life. I concede that I am limited in my ability to do so by the quality of the police investigation and the thoroughness of their reports.

Evelyn Brown
Evelyn Brown claimed she spent most of the day with Shandra Charles. She is therefore of considerable interest to us here. I will describe the police reporting of her claims without qualifying each of them as a claim. That does not mean, however, that I necessary accept each of her claims as true or accurate. Nor does it mean I accept the police reports as accurate or complete.

Evelyn Brown knew Shandra Charles for approximately one and a half years. She knew Preston Hughes for approximately one year. She liked Shandra. She definitely did not like Preston.

Evelyn spent most of September 26, 1988 with one of the victims (Shandra Charles) and part of the day with the other victim (Marcell Brown).

After spending most of the day together, Evelyn Brown and Shandra Charles returned (from some unspecified location) to Evelyn's apartment. Evelyn lived in an apartment complex located at 9235 Westheimer.

I include a Bing Bird's Eye view of the apartment complex below.

It is of only passing interest, I suppose, that Bing constructs its Bird's Eye view from multiple satellite shots taken at different times from different angles. That allows the fine folks at Microsoft to show us partial front views of structures, such as the apartment complex at 9235 Westheimer.

I mention this because it is mildly relevant to our discussion. When I checked Google's overhead view of the apartment complex at 9235 Westheimer, I found only a vacant lot. I didn't know then if the street number in the police report was wrong or if the apartment complex had been torn down. When I checked Bing Bird's Eye, however, I could clearly see the apartment complex, with one exception. (This is where it captured my attention.) From one specific angle and one specific magnification, I could not see the apartment complex. I could only see a vacant lot.  I present that view below.

Same location shot from a different angle, at a different time, enlarged to a different magnification. You can see where the three quads were located. You can see also that the street traffic is entirely different. I had stumbled across a fluke in Bing Bird's Eye that helped answer a question. No, the police report did not state the address in error. Yes, the apartment complex has been torn down since 1988, quite recently as it turns out.

For now at least, Bing preserves an image of Evelyn Brown's apartment complex as it used to be. The apartment complex seemed to be as clean and well maintained as the others we have looked at. Other than making that point, I have wandered too far afield. I shall now return to Evelyn's version of events for the day of the murder.

After staying at Evelyn's apartment for a short while, Evelyn and Shandra took the bus to the Lakehurst Apartments, which (as I"m sure you recall) were (and still are) located at 2310 Crescent Park Drive. That is 3.9 miles west of Evelyn's apartment complex. That is also the same apartment complex in which Preston Hughes then lived.

Google lists the travel time by bus as 21 minutes. That includes, a 4-minute walk to the originating bus stop, a 15-minute bus ride (with 18 stops), and a 1-minute walk from the terminating bus stop. That means that Evelyn and Shandra arrived at the Lakehurst Apartments no earlier than 5:21 PM. Assuming they spent somewhat more than an hour at Evelyn's home, they arrived at the Lakehurst Apartment complex around 6:30 PM.

While at the Lakehurst Apartments, they visited some friends. The police seem incurious about the friends. None of the friends are identified by name in the police reports. The police reports do not indicate that the police asked Evelyn the names of those friends. There is no indication that the police interviewed any them, though the unidentified friends were perhaps the last people to see Shandra Charles before she was murdered.

Evelyn and Shandra didn't stay long at the Lakehurst Apartments. They left around 7:30 PM. They walked to Shandra Charles apartment at 2301 Hayes Road. Because Google does not offer a street view, I provide a Bing Bird's Eye view of the complex instead.

Seems like a nice enough place.

According to Google, the distance between the Lakehurst Apartments and Shandra's apartment complex is 0.8 miles. The walking time is 15 minutes.

If you click on any of the images, it will enlarge and allow you to better see the details. The Lakehurst Apartment complex is indicated by the letter A. The apartment complex where Shandra lived is indicated by the letter B. Someone walking from one letter to the other could probably shorten the Google distance by cutting through one of the intervening apartment complexes.

At the left of the image, you can see the Fuddrucker's located on South Kirkwood. You can see also the elongated column of storage buildings that now covers the overgrown vacant lot where Shandra and Marcell were murdered. To the right of the image was Evelyn's apartment complex, a 15-minute 18-stop bus ride along Westheimer.

Because Evelyn and Shandra left the Lakehurst Apartments around 7:30 PM, they probably arrived at Shandra's apartment complex around 7:45 PM. They found that Shandra's mother, Cynthia Charles, was not at home. Evelyn and Shandra located Shandra's mother at the apartment of an unnamed friend. (Once again, the police seemed uninterested in identifying or interviewing any such friend.)

Three-year-old Marcell Taylor was with Shandra's mother. Since Marcell Taylor was Shandra Charles' cousin, he was presumably Cynthia Charles' nephew. Cynthia Charles was apparently caring for Marcell, either briefly or for an extended period.

The police reports listed Marcell's home address as 2607 Riverside. That is 15.2 miles east of where Marcell was then staying, briefly or otherwise. It was not particularly cheap or easy to travel from Shandra's home to Marcell's home. According to Goggle, the trip is 23 minutes one-way if you take the toll road. If you avoid the toll road, the trip is 40 minutes one way. It could take an hour to an hour and a half (and some pocket change) to pick up Marcell from his home, or drop him off there.

For some unexplained reason, Marcell did not return to his home that night. Instead, Evelyn and Shandra took him with them when they left once again for the Lakehurst apartments around 8:30 PM. As you must suspect by now, the police seemed incurious about why Evelyn and Shandra took Marcell with them. I'm guessing that the two teenage girls were not particularly excited about having a 3-year-old cousin tag along as they visited their friends living at an apartment a mile distant.

Given that the three left Shandra's apartment complex around 8:30 PM, they arrived once again at their friend's apartment (or some other friend's apartment) around 8:45 PM, assuming they walked as per the Google norm.

Evelyn stayed only 45 minutes before securing a ride home with one of her friends. Before leaving, she warned Shandra to stay away from Preston Hughes, since Preston lived just behind the apartment of their friends. (That would place their friends' apartment somewhere along the second most southern row in the complex.) Shandra promised to call later that night. She never did.

At 9:30 PM, Evelyn Brown left Shandra Charles and Marcell Brown behind at the Lakehurst Apartments. She never saw either of them alive again.

Presumably, Evelyn's friend would have been willing to drive Shandra and Marcell to Shandra's apartment while driving Evelyn to hers. Shandra's apartment was barely out of the way. The diversion would take just a couple minutes. It was, after all, a school night, so staying out late might not be a great idea. Nor would it be a good idea to keep 3-year-old Marcell up to all hours of the morning. Nonetheless, Shandra and Marcell remained behind at the Lakehurst Apartments when Evelyn caught her ride home.

Shandra was apparently hanging out with a somewhat older crowd. Sandra, as I'm certain you recall, was 15 years old. She went to Paul Revere Middle School. Evelyn was 18 years old. She went to Lee high school. At least one of their unnamed friends was old enough to drive. At least one of their unnamed friends had access to a car.

I don't know what happened to Shandra and Marcell between the time Evelyn left them at the Lakehurst Apartments and the time they were murdered. It seems as if the police don't know either. I'm darned curious as to what happened during that period. It seems as if the police are not.

Lee High School
Given their age difference, the distance between their homes, and the fact that they went to different schools, I wondered how Shandra and Evelyn came to be such good friends that they would spend all day together. That is particularly curious since 26 September 1988 was a Monday and presumably a school day.

I decided to see what I could learn about each of their schools. Lee High School is shown in the images below.

The school seems to have plenty of facilities and to be well-maintained. It isn't particularly welcoming though. It has a distinct institutional feel about it. The architectural theme seems to be one of control.

There are five reviews of the school on Google, giving an average rating of 3 out of 5 stars.  I'll relay two of them, one unfavorable and one favorable, just to be fair.

Rex155 gives the school one star and writes: "This school sucks balls."

verysmart gives the school five stars and writes: "AT Lee high School they care about you, the techers are very comited to your succes, they also encourage this young generation to attend college, they provide alot of financial help to attend programs outside of school that help students develop new skill that will help them in their life, they also have the biggest college center in the district, if you want to, you can succed at Lee, AP classes are the smart choice, in there you find students who are actioly trying to be somebody in life, not to mention the electives which include Welding and Woodshop. with welding you can earn From $ 10.00 to $ 25.00 an hour right after high school. alot of people only judge our low scores and our high Gang bangin rate, instead they should watch what the school does for the students."

I'm not sure verysmart provides Lee High School with much of an endorsement. His (or her) grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling are horrendous. Nonetheless, verysmart does provide the first indication that there may be some trouble right here in River City. Trouble with a capital C, and that rhymes with G, and that stands for Gang. (My apologies to The Music Man.)  "alot of people only judge our low scores and our high Gang bangin rate ..."

The reviews are current as of 2010 and 2011, and the high Gang bangin rate may not be indicative of conditions at the school in 1988. Also, to be absolutely clear, I'm not accusing Evelyn Brown or Shandra Charles of being in a gang. I'm simply looking for clues that might help explain why Shandra Charles was in the dark, overgrown field that night.

Paul Revere Middle School
Paul Revere Middle School is 1.6 miles northeast of Shandra Charles' home. It is 5.2 miles from Lee High School. Shandra was unlikely to have known Evelyn Brown because the two crossed paths attending or traveling to school. Perhaps the two of them met because of their common friend or friends at the Lakehurst Apartments.

I present images of Paul Revere Middle School below.

The school is located in a seemingly nice neighborhood, surrounded by high-rise office buildings, middle class single-family homes, and middle-class apartment complexes. The reviews on Google, on the other hand, paint a different picture. I'll present two, one good, one bad, each damning in its own way.

Lol gave it five stars: "Good Skool"

Robert gave it one star: "If you truly love your child,..........don't consider this school. Well to start off I attended this during 2009-2010.I had recently moved to the state of Texas from Miami,Florida. When I first came to this school I was picked on(normal on at school)but picked on FURIOUSLY.Some teachers here try to give students an excellent education but that is "Ant in an Ocean"i didn't realize Florida's education was soo superior.Most students STRUGGLE at the very basic things I was taught in 6th grade! :O The principal Ms. ________ had try to make this school better but her efforts were in vain.Most teachers HATE teaching at this establishment and come stressed and bummed. The lunch is TERRIBLE.I've had cold pizza many a day. When you want to negotiate something with the administration they are VERY VERY VERY rude.This includes Secretary,&Staff. Students here bland,dirty,un-educated,and GHETTO. Their a few a dozen students who have the capabality and the drive of true future citizen. This school is a free MMA fights occur almost everysingle day,students are very rowdy and tik each other off.There were all ready 2 attempts from students to burn the school down.The 1st attempt proving very successful. This school in terms of demographics is mostly Black&Mexican students.In the ENTIRE school there were about 5 white students.Lets be truthful&honest now.White children go where the QUALITY EDUCATION IS. the true teachers who give this school and my self a little love are most DEFINITELY Ms.____ who teaches 8th grade American History.Sh is NO games but is a SWEET old school American teacher. I passed this shool with the BEST grades of my LIFE because of the easy curriculum. Words cannot describe my excitement of leaving&graduating this school.Because it was a struggle and hassle for me to wake in the morning knowing this is the school I go to. If you are a concerned,involved parent in your childs edu cation don't you EVEN DARE THINK,FATHOM,WONDER,CONSPIRE,IDEALIZE your child to go to this school. YOU HAVE BEEEENNNN WARNEDDDDDD!!!!!!!

Once again, all of the unique spacing, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and extended ellipses are in the original. I replaced the teacher names with underscores.

An anonymous commentor claimed he (or she) attended in 1980 and the school was then a good school. I can't interpolate the dated comments to define the condition of the school as it may have been in 1988, but there's reason to suspect that it was having at least some problems even then.

Cynthia Charles
In the early morning hours of 27 September, after the police took Preston Hughes into custody, before the police ever heard of Evelyn Brown, Cynthia Charles showed up at the manager's office of the Lakehurst apartments. She was hunting for Shandra and Marcell, not knowing they had been murdered hours earlier. She explained that she was hunting for them at the Lakehurst Apartment complex because they had traveled there with a girl named Evelyn.

This is an important piece of information. It tells us that Shandra and Marcell did not go back to Shandra's home after Evelyn left in the car of a friend. Cynthia would not have then described their last departure as being in Evelyn's company.

The anecdote tells us also that Cynthia did not now the names of the friends at Lakehurst apartments, or their apartment number, or their phone number. Cynthia would have instead given the manager the name, apartment number, or phone number of the friends. Instead, Cynthia Charles could only offer that they had traveled to the apartments in the company of someone named Evelyn, though that person did not live within the apartment complex.

The manager was aware that two victims had been found on the nearby trail and that one of the Lakehurst residents had been taken to the police station. The manager, however, did not share this information with Cynthia. Instead, after Cynthia left, the manager called the police to inform them that a woman had came by looking for the apparent victims and referred to them as Shandra and Marcell.

The police informed the manager that if the woman were to return, the manager should detain her if possible and call them immediately.

A few hours later, Cynthia did return to the manager's office, this time in the company of both Marcell Taylor's mother and a family friend. the police reports do not inform us of her name. Instead, we find only this.
The compl [complainants, i.e. the victims] were identified from Polaroids photos [sic] by a friend of the family, Clifford Childress. When the compls didn't come home, the mothers and Mr. Childress went to the managers [sic] office at Lakehurst apartments. They had known that the compls had been going to the complex with their friend Evelyn. At the managers [sic] office, the security guard had them contact sgts in the homicide division. Sgts Ross and Murray then went and picked the three of them up and brought them to the homicide division. There Mr. Clifford was shown the Polaroids of the two compls and he identified them as Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor.
It is now even more clear that Shandra Charles did not return home after Evelyn left her at their friend's apartment in the Lakehurst complex: "When the compls didn't come home ..."

It is also clear that the police interviewed Cynthia Charles, Clifford Childress, and the unnamed mother of Marcell Taylor. The interesting part of those interviews is that we do not know the interesting part of those interviews. No further mention of those interviews in included anywhere in the 41 pages of police reports.

Now you understand why I earlier troubled you with a harangue regarding the page numbering of the compiled police reports. Since the compilation seems to be missing no pages, and since the compilation addresses issues from the initial phone call in 1988 to the retagging of the evidence in 2007, I conclude that the compilation is as complete as the police decided to make it.

Furthermore, since the police included at least a description of every other interview they mentioned in the compilation, I conclude that the police consciously elected to exclude any discussion of their interviews with Cynthia Charles, Clifford Childress, and the unnamed mother of Marcell Taylor.

Finally, since the police elected not to describe the details of those three interviews, I am forced to speculate about what Cynthia Charles, Clifford Childress, and the unnamed mother of Marcell Taylor told the police. I suspect that one or more of those interviewees revealed information that would have been damaging to the police case against Preston Hughes. In other words, I suspect the police intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence from Preston Hughes and his defense team, as well as from the people of Texas.

More specifically, I suspect that one of those three interviewees, probably Cynthia Charles, provided information about what Shandra might have been doing in the field that night. Alternatively, I suspect that Cynthia Charles was unable to provide any information about what Shandra Charles was doing in the field that night. In either case, her interview would open up a possibility that the police did not want opened up.

The possibility: Shandra Charles may have been in that field to meet someone, and that person may have killed her and her 3-year-old cousin.

Houston Chronicle
The only contemporaneous news article of the crime that I find online is from the archives of Houston Chronicle. The story was printed on 28 September 1988, two days after the murders. It was located in Section A on page 21. I quote extensively from that article below. Read on through the last sentence. It's a zinger.

One of Shandra Charles' last acts was to utter the name of the man who later admitted stabbing her and her 3-year-old cousin to death, police said Tuesday. 
Preston Hughes III, 22, of 2310 Crescent Park, was arrested early Tuesday and later told police he had stabbed Charles and Marcell Taylor out of "fear for his life," homicide Sgt. D.J. Gafford said. 
Hughes, on probation for a 1985 conviction for aggravated sexual assault of child, was charged with capital murder and held without bond. 
A fast-food restaurant employee on his way home from work happened upon Charles, wounded but still alive, about 11:40 p.m. Monday along a path in a field in the 2300 block of South Kirkwood in far west Houston. 
The field lies between a Fuddrucker's restaurant and Hughes' apartment complex, which is about 150 yards from the spot where the girl and the child were found. 
The employee returned to the restaurant and contacted police, who arrived to find the child's body several yards from where Charles was lying, Gafford said. 
The boy, who lived at 2607 Riverside, was pronounced dead at the scene. Charles, an eighth-grade student at Paul Revere Middle School, was taken to West Houston Hospital and transferred to Ben Taub Hospital, where she died shortly after arriving, police said. 
Investigators said Marcell was stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back of the head. Charles of 2301 Hayes Road was stabbed three times in the chest and once in the neck. 
While Charles was still at the scene, Gafford said, a patrol sergeant obtained the name "Preston" from the dying girl. Surmising that the killer might live in the nearby Lakehurst Apartment Complex, investigators obtained a list of the complex's residents, Gafford said. 
"He (the sergeant) was just trying to get as much information as he could from the girl and he got the name of Preston," Gafford said. 
"We did find a person with the name Preston and went to talk to him and from there asked him to accompany us down to the homicide division," Gafford said. 
Charles' mother, Cynthia Charles, was not surprised that her dying daughter had supplied police with the name of her alleged attacker. 
"At least she got a chance" to say the suspect's name, said Cynthia Charles. "She would fight for her life." ... Cynthia Charles said her daughter and Marcell were returning from the store when they were attacked.
Whoa! That's certainly from out of the blue. Perhaps I've simply been making a big deal out of nothing. Perhaps Shandra Charles was in the field that night simply because she as returning from the store. Perhaps I'm only being stubborn when I refuse to accept such an innocent explanation.


Still, I find the "returning from the store" explanation to be more full of holes than the Albert Hall. Let's count the holes together.

Hole #1: The police never mentioned any such trip to the store in their reports.

Hole #2: No groceries, shopping bags, receipts or items consistent with shopping were found at the crime scene.

Hole #3: Though Shandra had some money in her pocket, she had no loose change. It's unlikely she purchased items for an even dollar amount.

Hole #4. If Shandra were walking to or from the Shop N Go on South Kirkland, she was adding considerably to the length of her walk home. Also, a more likely shortcut through the field would have been one of the more northern trails.

Hole #5. There's an H.E.B Food and Drug store located to the south, across Westheimer. The store is currently open until midnight. Shandra could have walked there on surface streets, though the distance may have been somewhat further.

Hole #6: Shandra could have walked to the H.E.B. through the field just as easily as she walked to the Stop N Go through the field. She would have, however, more likely used one of the southern trails.

Hole #7: There's a gas station / convenience store on the corner of Crescent Park Drive and Westheimer. Assuming it was there in 1988, it would have been the most convenient store to shop at, and Shandra would not have had to walk (with her 3-year-old cousin in tow) through an overgrown lot late at night.

Hole #8: There's a CVS pharmacy located at the corner of Westheimer and Woodland Park Drive. CVS pharmacies carry food and dairy products and stay open late at night. If Shandra walked home along Westheimer, and if the CVS pharmacy was there in 1988, the CVS would have been near the half way point of Shandra's walk home.

Hole #9: There's a gas station / food mart located on the corner of Westheimer and Hayes Road. Recall that Shandra's home address was 2301 Hayes Road. The food mart is only located only two blocks from Shandra's home.

Hole #10: This is a deep hole. How would Cynthia Charles know that Shandra was coming from (or going to) a store when she was murdered? Cynthia told the apartment manager and the security guard that she last saw Shandra when Shandra and Marcell left in the company of Evelyn to return to the Lakehurst Apartments. Did Evelyn Charles tell her daughter to make a late night run to the store (with her 3-year-old cousin in tow) after visiting her friends.

Hole #11: As far as we are allowed to know, Cynthia Charles did not search for her missing daughter and nephew at any of the various stores around the neighborhood.

Hole #12: Assuming Cynthia Charles had instructed Shandra to shop after visiting her friends at the Lakehurst Apartments, why would Shandra not ask for a ride from her friend who had a car to take her at least to a local store, and more reasonably all the way home?  As Evelyn informed the police, one of their friends as willing to drive Evelyn home, and Evelyn's home as substantially further away.

In summary, it makes no sense that Shandra walked further away from her home to do some late night shopping before walking home, making two passes through an unlit, overgrown field, late at night, all the time with her 3-year-old cousin in tow.

The walking-to/from-a-store story sounds exactly like that: a story. Did Cynthia Charles devise the story on her own to explain away discomforting questions about why her daughter was in an unlit, overgrown field so late at night? Did the police suggest to her that Shandra was probably just returning from a store? Since the police chose to withhold the details of the interview, we will probably never know.

The Note
Shandra was not yet dead when discovered in the field. She was alive when placed in the ambulance but dead upon arrival at the hospital. The hospital personal turned her clothes and personal items over to the police when the police arrived at the hospital. In Shanda's pants pockets were five one-dollar bills, one five-dollar bill, and one note.

The note was on a torn piece of paper. The note contained only what appeared to be a name and what appeared to be a phone number. The apparent name was "Dog." The apparent phone number was a seven digit number. Since the apparent phone number did not consist of ten digits (which would allow for an area code), I presume the phone number was local.

There is no suggestion in the police reports that the police attempted to lift fingerprints off the paper money.

There is no suggestion in the police reports that the police attempted to lift fingerprints off the paper note.

There is no suggestion in the police reports that the police attempted to determine if the handwriting on the note did or did not match Shandra's handwriting.

There is no suggestion in the police reports that the police attempted to identify the person known to Shandra Charles as Dog.

There is no suggestion in the police reports that the police even bothered to pick up a telephone and dial the number.

So now, after this extended dithyramb regarding Shandra's last day, I leave you with not just one, but two questions to ponder.

Question #1: Why was Shandra in that unlit, overgrown field so late at night?

Question #2: Why were the police so uninterested in following leads that night?

I will have more to say in a few days. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

ADDENDUM (25 Sep 2012)
I have received an email from reader Jason who is clearly more knowledgeable of the Houston area (and how it was in 1988) than I am. He corrects me on several points.  I sincerely appreciate such input from readers.  With his permission, I present his email in its entirety, excluding only his last name.

Hi there, 

I stumbled across your site and I am enjoying reading through some of the content you have there.I am currently reading through some of the items on Preston Hughes III. I am a native Texan and I was living in North Houston at the time. I do not remember this particular case, but there are a few things I would like to bring to your attention. I hope you don't take this as a critique. None of this will actually change your theory, but it could make a difference in how someone from that area at the time may interpret this information. 

These are some items I would like to point out in the write up of Shandra's Final Day  

1. Westpark Tollway wasn't built at the time, so I don't think, that would have affected drive time. Construction didn't begin on that until '01, I believe. In '88, the only toll road in the Houston area that I am aware of was the Hardy Toll Road in northern Houston. Another tollroad (now) was Beltway 8. It was under construction and parts were open, but they weren't charging tolls yet.

2. H.E.B. - HEB wasn't prevalent in Houston in '88. I honestly do not know if that HEB was there in '88, but Houston was dominated by Kroger, Randalls and Fiesta grocery stores. HEB was a more central and northern texas grocery store. I do not recall ever seeing an HEB in the Houston area at that time, however, there was one in the Hill country in central Texas near my Grandmothers house at the time. 

3. As far as I know, CVS didn't exist in Texas in '88. I would have probably been an Eckards Drugs. CVS bought out Eckards in 2004.

Anyway, Thanks for doing this. I have enjoyed reading this and it has honestly made me think about my views on the Death Penalty.

 <-- Previous                          Table of Contents                               Next --> 


Anonymous said...

From the police perspective they got a name of the murdered from the victim and he was located at the building that she came from and knew the victim at one time and at the time was thought to have problems with women and then he confesses. The police wouldn't spend too many resources after that trying to find any other leads. And if by the time their case falls apart it would be difficult to go back.

While it's not supposed to be necessary, the defense really needs to prove their case on someone else that could commit the crime. Sometimes it needs to go just beyond proving their client might be innocent to saying it really was Y who did it. So the questions you brought up would be the defense's responsibility to dive into.


tsj said...

I agree that the police decided Hughes was guilty and therefore did not follow other leads. There's a more subtle point I'm hunting for, however.

At what point did the police decide Hughes was guilty? At what point, in other words, did the police stop considering other leads? At what point did the police begin to distort the evidence to fit their preconceived notion?

You suggest the police concluded Hughes was guilty only after he confessed. There is evidence before you already that this was not the case. I will summarize this evidence, and additional evidence, somewhat later.

For now, I add this thought as a general tip to those investigating possible wrongful convictions. Determine the point at which the police decided the potentially wrongfully convicted person was guilty.

Anonymous said...

When did the police decide he was guilty -good question!

My guess is they decided he was guilty soon after reviewing the list of residents at Lakewood.

Per Detective Gafford's report, he spotted the name 'Preston Hughes III' on the list hence he now had a complete name. He also states from the apartment complex's files he was able to gather Hughes', date-of-birth, and social security number. If it were me, I would have picked up the phone and called the station, with a Full name , DOB, and SS# it couldn't taken much time to search a criminal database. The computer returns Hughes' recent conviction for the sexual and aggravated assault of a 13 year girl, and bingo, Gafford makes the call right there.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Al that when they find out previous events of Preston along with the name from Shandra he became the prime suspect. From the timeline they didn't talk to other people until later in the morning and they didn't have much information for a new suspect. so they question him and he breaks, signs a confession. They have the clothes, a knife with blood, and a signed confession. They aren't going to spend a lot of time looking elsewhere at that point. The only place the case broke would have been when the blood didn't turn out to be human. But by then it was the defense's case to prove innocence with the confession.


Anonymous said...

The police and prosecution still have a responsibility to investigate the case completely which I don't believe they based on the police reports. We can't say the defense needed to raise these issues, legal process was followed, therefore we must let the decision stand. It's not moral.

The police department's failure to investigate other leads given their availability is incredible as is their failure to reconcile the two conflicting confessions and last but most important, produce convincing forensic evidence from a double stabbing.

I believe Preston's previous conviction was bogus as well, a plea to avoid jail time based on accusations by a girlfriend. In hindsight, what a terrible decision he likely made in this plea deal, since it was probably this that lead the police to sleepwalk through the investigation of Shandra and Marcell's murder.


tsj said...

I like your description of the police sleepwalking through the investigation. I may steal that.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think the confessions were conflicting, one was saying he did it in self defense and the other he did it because she refused his advances.

So they had the name from the victim, testimony from her friend that the suspect was notorious for sexual advances, an oral and signed confession, I've heard about bloody clothes found at the apartment, and then a knife that the suspect described along with blood on it. To the police it was a shut case. The problem came when the knife was tested and it was done at the trial. How would the police know that the blood was wrong? And from reading out there, the guy who did the testing had problems with competencies. The knife should have been tested before trial and then maybe they could have looked at alternatives.


Post a Comment