Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Eleven Twenty Five

Now that you understand how freely the blood flows when someone's carotid is severed, you are in a better position to understand that Shandra Charles did not live long after someone severed her carotid in that dark overgrown field. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, you can catch up quickly by reviewing summaries of the previous posts which I've collected at the Preston Hughes Table of Contents. The rest of you can buckle up now. Here we go.

Let's begin by establishing the nature of Shandra's wounds. For that, I'll turn to the testimony of a medical examiner who testified during the trial of Preston Hughes. I would prefer to say the medical examiner, meaning specifically the one who conducted the autopsy. Instead, I say a medical examiner, meaning the one who bothered to read the autopsy notes for the first time on the morning of his testimony, while in his car. I'll discuss this prosecution-friendly witness later. For now, I'll simply accept the description of the wounds provided by the person who performed the autopsy, as related by his autopsy report, as retold by a last minute fill-in medical examiner, as transcribed by a court reporter, as relayed to me by Barbara Lunsford of Mystery Crime Scene fame. It's straight from the horse's mouth, though its gastrointestinal tract, to your ears eyes.
Q. Doctor, moving along to the autopsy report, prepared on the body of the young woman in this case, Shandra Charles. having reviewed that report, do you have a medical opinion as to the cause of death of Shandra Charles? 
A. Yes, sir. 
Q. What is that? 
A. LaShandra Charles died as a result of a stab wound to the neck.
Q. Could you describe more specifically that stab wound to the neck? 
A. Yes, sir. There was a stab wound to the left side of the neck located 2 inches to the left of the midline and 1 inches below the top of the head. The instrument perforated the left jugular vein and the left common carotid artery, two of the large vessels in the neck. 
Q. Is this injury similar to the injury that the child, Marcell Taylor, received? 
A. That is correct. 
Q. In fact the arteries and veins were severed the same as on the child, Marcell Taylor? 
A, That is correct. 
Q. Did you note any other stabbing injuries or wounds on Shandra Chrarles? 
A. There was a stab wound to the chest. 
Q. Could you describe that more specifically to the jury? 
A. Yes, sir. The instrument penetrated the left side of the chest, 1 1/2 inches to the left of the midline and 4 inches below the external notch, which is where the collarbones come together, went into the chest and ended at approximately 4 inches below the entrance; in other words, the instrument penetrated to a depth of 4 inches. 
Q. Does the report indicate the approximate width of the stabbing wound? 
A. Yes, sir. 
Q. What was that? 
A. The wound gaped up to approximately 1/2 an inch in width. 
Q. Does the report indicate a length of the wound? 
A. Yes, sir. Wound measured 1 inch in length. 
Q. And when we say “gaped up to” I believe you said 1/2 inch? 
A. That is correct. 
Q. Does that mean the wound is an inch long but is open, sort of being pushed open an eighth of an inch? I'm sorry? Half an inch or eighth of an inch? 
A. Gaped 1/2 an inch. 
Q. 1/2 inch? 
A. When a sharp instrument enters the skin and subcutaneous tissues, the edges are pulled apart by the little muscular fibers and collagen fibers in the skin. So, it gapes open. 
Q. Did you note any other injuries on -- not you. Did your report note any other injuries on Shandra Charles? 
A. No sir.
As a juror, that is what you would get on this subject. You would hear it once, quickly, and you would be expected to remember the details, along with all the other details of days of testimony. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to take notes. They're afraid it will cause you not to pay attention to the testimony. You also could not, must not, research the subject yourself while acting as a juror. You must rely simply on the testimony, or that portion you can remember, or those portions you mis-remember.

This is one reason, a big reason, why jurors frequently rely heavily on gut feel. The details are too numerous, too convoluted in their delivery, too contradictory, and too far back in time. Screw the details; he's guilty.

I'll give you a much better chance than the Preston Hughes jurors had. I'll summarize the injuries and give you some additional insight from my research.

Shandra suffered two stab wounds: one to the left side of her neck and one to the left side of her chest. The stab wound to the neck severed both her common carotid artery and her jugular vein. The state's expert did not mention what damage the stab wound to the chest inflicted, but it sounds to me as if it must have punctured her left lung.

There are actually three carotid arteries in each side of the neck region. Most of the neck is transversed by the common carotid artery, and that is the one that was severed in Shandra's neck. A little higher up, the common carotid splits in two, into the internal and external carotids. If you recall, Richard Zednik had his external carotid severed by an ice skate.

A severed artery is much more serious than a severed vein. Arteries provide blood from the heart. Veins return blood to the heart. Arteries are on the supply side of the world's most amazing pump, and therefore operate under substantially higher pressure than do veins. When severed, arteries spurt and gush. We'll be talking about the significance of blood spurts in an upcoming post. I'm sure you can hardly wait.

Because the common carotid artery carries all the blood carried by both the internal and external carotid artery, a severed common carotid artery is going to spill at even a higher rate than a severed internal or external carotid. In other words, it is reasonable to expect that Shandra spilled her blood even faster than Richard Zednik spilled his.


On to the jugular. There are actually two jugular veins on each side of the neck: external and internal. The larger of the two is the external jugular vein. When people talk about the jugular, they are typically speaking of the external jugular. The external jugular vein and the common carotid artery travel pretty much alongside one another up the side of the neck. It is not unusual for someone suffering a severed carotid to suffer a severed jugular as well, and vice versa.  In Shandra's case, both her common carotid artery and her (probably external) jugular vein were severed, if we are to accept the testimony at face value.

Once again, by way of comparison, Richard Zednik had only his external carotid artery severed. As a reminder, here's the blood trail he left on the ice as he skated towards his trainer, as he skated for his life.

That blood poured out even thought Zednik was attempting to apply pressure with his own hands. That happened in just a few seconds. Because someone severed Shandra's common carotid artery and her external jugular, she would have been losing blood even more rapidly. She also had been stabbed in the chest.


Shandra Charles could not have lived very long without emergency care, and the first responders (as we are now apt to refer to them) offered her none. Let's see how long the prosecution-friendly fill-in medical examiner testified about how long Shandra might have lived.
Q. The injuries sustained by Shandra Charles, is it possible to determine, just from an autopsy report or from performing an autopsy at specifically what time that injury occurred? 
A. Within broad limits, yes. 
Q. Okay. Assuming that the deceased, Shandra Charles, was found at approximately between 11:00 and 11:30, let's say 11:15 in the evening, by the nature of the injuries she had sustained which you have reviewed in your autopsy report, can you make a determination as to approximately how far back from that time she had sustained those injuries if she was conscious at about 11:15 or 11:30 or died shortly thereafter? 
A. Within limits, yes sir. 
Q. Do you know what tine she died? 
A. No sir. The record states that she was pronounced dead. 
Q. Do you know what tine she was pronounced dead? 
A. At 12:58 a.m., on September 27, 1988. 
Q. Does the record indicate she had been transferred from another hospital to Ben Taub? 
A. According to the record, decedent was picked up by ambulance at the scene and taken to Ben Taub General Hospital. 
Q. Okay. Can you make any determination from the information you have available to you in your report and if you assume the facts that the deceased was seen alive at approximately 9:30 or 10:00 without any injuries and was found with the injuries at about, 11:15 or 11:30 and died at that time, is there any way you can determine where in there she was actually stabbed? 
A. No, sir. ... 
Q. Let me ask you this, Doctor. Would it have been possible, based on her injuries, to have been stabbed as early as 8:30 in the evening on September 26th of 1988, if she died of these injuries at 12:58, I believe you said, in the a.m. on the following day? … Can you tell? 
A. Not with any certainty. 
Q. Okay. Is it difficult to pinpoint times of injuries and times of death when cutting and stabbing injuries are involved? 
A.  Yes, sir. 
Q.  Is that because, why is that? 
A.  The determination of the time of death is difficult, at best. With cutting and stabbing injuries it is even more difficult because one has to consider the loss of blood and people bleed at different rates from different sharp trauma wounds. One cannot be sure either of the amount of medical support the decedent received in the interval from injury to death. 
Q.  Would it be possible to give an expert medical opinion in this particular case as to either the time the injury occurred without being there personally at the exact time of death? 
A.  No, sir.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have just been screwed by the people and state of Texas.

The prosecution wants the time of the attack to be as early as 8:30 PM, for reasons we'll discuss later. They  certainly don't want it to be soon before Shandra was found, for reasons we'll discuss later. So they hand-pick a compliant medical examiner to substitute for the person who actually performed the autopsy, because the proper witness happens to be conveniently out of town. (This is also a major issue to be discussed later.) The compliant medical examiner then, after a few leading questions, carefully phrases each answer such that it would be defensible later, but such that the jury is left to believe something that is not so. By the time the compliant, technically honest, but effectively dishonest doctor is done, the jury is left to believe that there is no way any medical expert could narrow the time of the attack any further than somewhere between 8:30 PM and 12:58 AM the next day. That's a 4 hour and 28 minute window.

I have found more than twenty medical experts who will state otherwise. Since I'm certainly not able to pay such experts $400 (or more) per hour, I'll take my chances with the free ones. I found then on Google Scholar. They weren't testifying about Shandra's case in particular. They were testifying about other cases in which a person's carotid had been severed. They were perfectly willing to give an expert medical opinion about how long someone might live after having a carotid severed. Some of them were also willing to give an expert medical opinion about how long someone might remain conscious after having a carotid severed.

Get ready for the money shot of this post.

I'm pretty proud of that plot. I spent 12 hours or so pouring through Google Scholar for the data, and another couple hours organizing the data into a hopefully understandable plot, and I'm several hours into writing this post before I get to insert the plot, so I'm pretty proud of that plot. Allow me to explain it a bit.

The red line plots time before death due to an untreated, severed carotid against the percentage of experts who testified that a person can live no longer. According to my summary of the data, eighty percent of the experts testified that such an injured person could survive sometime equal to or less than 14 minutes. Sixty  percent of of the experts gave a maximum survival time equal to or less than 6 minutes. Forty percent gave a time less than or equal 4 minutes.

In two cases, the victim somehow survived. I don't know if the carotid was barely nicked, or if they received some timely emergency care. There is simply insufficient information in the appellate decision to know. Nonetheless, I found two cases in which the victim survived for some unexplained reason. Those two cases cause the red line to extend all the way to the right rather than top out at 100% somewhere on the plot.

Frequently, but not always, the experts were somewhat vague in their time estimate. While some would say no more than 5 minutes, others would say "several minutes" or "within minutes."  I converted those clearly brief but generalized times into specific times so I could plot them. I plotted "couple minutes" as 2 minutes, and most other brief generalizations as 5 minutes. The single data point at 5 minutes actually represents 9 experts testifying to either 5 minutes explicitly or "several minutes" or something similar.

In summary, I found twenty cases in which an expert was willing to testify as to how long a victim might have lived after having one carotid artery cut. Only one of those was willing to testify that the person could live as long as forty minutes. One was willing to claim thirty minutes. One was willing to claim twenty minutes. The rest testified that a person could survive untreated for no more than 10 minutes, or for only several minutes, or for only a couple minutes.

Now we can estimate when Shandra Charles had her carotid severed. The paramedics arrived at 11:55 PM. I've found no medical expert willing to testify that she could have survived longer than 40 minutes without emergency treatment. That means the attack must have occurred no later than 11:15 PM, but much more likely later. The first police officers arrived sometime shortly after 11:30. The third police officer heard about their discovery at 11:40 and arrived at 11:43. Shandra must have been attacked sometime between 11:15 PM and 11:35 PM.

For convenience, I'll split the difference and call it eleven twenty five.

The End

But wait ... there's more.

My superduper plot also provides a curve of how long someone might remain conscious after having one carotid artery severed. 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. None of them, I repeat NONE of them, ever mentioned that once someone passed into unconsciousness, they would awaken after bleeding out even more unless they received intensive 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!

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Anonymous said...

Sorry, missed this post before responding to the other one. I agree with you on this post where the stabbing had to be very shortly before they arrived. But I think it counteracts your belief that the police did nothing. As you said she wouldn't have survived that long with the cuts she had without them trying to stop the blood loss. So give 5-15 minutes before they got there she may have even loss enough blood by then to even have lived. I wait for your next report.


tsj said...

I'm going to provide links to all the cases I used for my plot.

Once again you seem reluctant to accept the officers did nothing to save her. You are convinced they must have done something, though they say otherwise in their reports.

In this case, I understand your confusion. Few experts testified that someone untreated for a severed carotid could live more than 10 minutes. Either Shandra was an exception, or she was treated well enough to survive, or she was dead when Sgt. Hamilton got there. I admit that I too am confused. The first three officers make it clear in their reports they did not help. The paramedics must have found her alive or they would have left her for the medical examiner, as they left Marcell. Perhaps she was the exception.

What's clear to me is that much about this case was intentionally obfuscated. Hopefully we will be able to peer at least a bit behind the cloud of confusion they left behind.

Anonymous said...

I don't think cops are thinking...I got to write my reports so that 25 years from now websites that will discuss every minutiae that I better make sure I write every single thing that happened and that they did. As you said she was still alive for the paramedics and I don't believe that she survived 30 minutes without any attempt at stopping the blood loss. And I don't think there was anything the cops could do at that time. She first needed an attempt to stop the bleeding but by that time she would have needed several pints of bloodd quickly and someone to stitch the wounds and together those wounds were very bad. Trying to find out every single detail that someone did the day after is hard enough, but doing it after several decades it much harder.


tsj said...

What is the purpose of a police report if not to preserve the facts and details of that officer's involvement and knowledge of the case?

Of course they are not doing it for a blogger 25 years downstream. Hopefully, however, they are preparing reasonably comprehensive and accurate reports so for people who will join the case later that day, or later that week, or people who will prosecute a potential culprit later that year.

The first two officers said in their report that they applied CPR to Marcell Taylor. Why would they not say they applied first aid to Shandra if they in fact did so.

The third officer said he talked to her when she was face down, that he turned her over, that he interviewed her, and that he then sat beside her until the ambulance arrived. If he applied first aid, why did he not mention that? Why did he say he sat beside her, suggesting passive behavior, rather than say he applied pressure to the wound until the ambulance arrived?

You're on the verge of inventing data to support a pre-conceived notion of how police do or should behave.

And I agree with you that trying to find out what happened several decades later is difficult.

Anonymous said...

@#%&*/____ Its the eve after Valentine's 2014. I think about this case very often since 1988. I want you and everyone who reads your blog about this case against Preston Hughes to be at peace with his guilt. I know this entire story like the back of my hand, to include how it all took place, why, and how Shandra and her young 3yr old cousin, whom she was babysitting at the time, ended up in the field to begin with. It was all premeditated by Preston and it happened exactly the way he planned accept one thing. Shandra's death wasn'nt instant.
I havent read all of your blog about this yet and i dont intend to just yet. Not sure what caused my brainstorm to look up Preston Hughes once again after so many past attemps, but... I cant help but almost become infuriated at the thought that anyone in their right mind would begin to think that this could be an innocent man. I was on youtube tonight when my mind said search Preston Hughes' name and see what pops up. I heard an interview you had done on 90.1 and then came here, to your site, as suggested. I have read just a little bit and heard all I needed to hear to decide that its obvious that you sir, do not have all the facts and being that your story is only based on some of the evidence and your opinion, that that would be the reason you would be the skeptic juror. There's a problem though. You were not a juror in this case. So how can you write so much and publish so much based only on a few facts and a gut feeling? I have waited for years to find out what became of this case, to now find out that he was indeed put to death. I am not in favor of the death penalty, however i am glad this man will never kill again.
I've shared this story with many people over the years to include my own kids, so they will learn (almost 1st hand) how you cannot trust everyone that you know.
_____People, Preston Hughes was guilty and he admitted to his guilt just before he was arrested. There was also much evidence to prove his crime and the miracle of Shandra's life to lead authorities to her cold blooded inexperienced killer!______

I want to share this entire story so that everyone has a much more clear picture of what took place that night, why and how two innocent lives were taken from this earth. But first, I would like a reply back in feed and be assured that my story will not be deleted. For obvious reasons I do not want to mention my name but i can give you the details of how I am certain that what I speak of is true.
[The dog you mentioned must have been referring to Preston's dog. A neglected and abused Dalmation which was left behind at the time of his arrest. This poor dog lived in udder filth, using the apartment patio for his pee, poop and bed. The dog would bark for hours and Preston would later hit the dog causing her to cry and whine. She was very skinny with worms and a very timid shy dog, but sweet as could be just starving for attention. I would know, because I gave this dog my home the night following his arrest. Her new name was Bailey and she was loved!]

Anonymous said...

@#%%&*/____By the way Mike, my eleven year old son was just curious of what i was reading here and he has the answer to your doubted question of why the officer didn't apply pressure to her wound and sat in a passive manner. He read everything here and said "The answer here is simple.. The officer was smart for two reasons. One, if he applied pressure then it would cause a clot in the carotid which would result in a faster death by her choaking in her own blood. It takes less than 30 minutes for a person to bleed out when a major artery is severed, so what he did makes sense and that is wait calmly by her side for paramedics to arrive with proper equipment and to keep her concious by talking to her. If the officer was anything but passive, then the girl might have learned that she was worse off than she probably felt which would have meant anxiety, then to bleed out faster anyway from having a faster heart beat! No doubt that he did the right thing and its obvious the girl lived longer because her angel made sure that she did!"
- - Now, all that was from my 6th grader who, mind you, has no medical degree just common sense and it sounds like he's got a point. If anyone would like to object or comment then please do, but it sounds like this overcomes your doubt of our HPD force.

Mike, he also said that if you enjoy trying to piece these puzzles together to make sense of them, then you should have studied to be a homicide investigator instead of a writer. At least then you could have been an active part of saving these so called innocent people before convicted.
~Anonymous & Son~

ps.. The incident did not take place anytime near 8:30pm.

tsj said...


I await your further comments. Assuming you stick to the case and avoid invective, your comments will not be deleted. You might want to better inform yourself of all the posts I've written on Preston Hughes, but that is your option.

You are already confused on some issues. You address Mike as if he is the one defending Preston, as if he is the one that explains Shandra could have lived only minutes. I am responsible for the posts in my blog. You may refer to me as TSJ if you wish.

The second comment, the one in which you rely on a 6th grader to contradict scientific studies and scores of medical experts, suggests that you are careless with your evidence, your reasoning, and your arguments.

You seem oblivious to the undisputed fact that Shandra's carotid artery had been severed. That means cut through all the way. No blood could make it to the brain through that artery because it was severed. The blood was instead pumped directly through the wound, onto the ground, and onto her clothes, and onto the clothes of the killer. That's why she would die so quickly. That's why compression was essential.

It someone had successfully compressed the heart side of the carotid very soon after it was severed, she could have survived. The brain would have been supplied blood by the other carotid on the other side of her neck. It wasn't that her brain couldn't get enough blood, assuming her body had enough blood. The problem was that she ran out of blood, and that happened within a couple minutes.

I welcome your comments. I encourage you to be more careful.

Anonymous said...

@#%&*/_____TSJ, For starters, I do apologize for not paying attention to the names as I dhould have before addressing you. My bad for that mistake. However, there is one fact that i would like to remind you of. You continue to mention that the HPD officer "could have" saved Shandra with your explanations as to how, but I find it hard to believe that anyone, except someone medically qualified, would have knowledge of which arteries or veins were stabbed or the severity of the wounds, much less exact proper care. If it had not been for the autopsy report, then we also would not know. So how could you expect a police officer to know unless he has been asked? I would assume that any PD is not experienced enough to know this.
Now, as far as having to read all you've written to know whats going on, well I already know what happened in 1988. Criminals do tell what happened. You see, Preston made some phone calls while he was at the police station that were not monitored. Those are the true confessions of what happened (exactly) and WHY it happened, to include HOW he did it. The fresh story was repeated to me on that Monday following his arrest. So, knowing what i do and then reading all that you've written, tells me that this "rumor" that I have carried with me all these years is absolutely true. Preston did tell the truth to someone and it was not the police. It was probably his way of feeling free of his crime at the time.
.....((continued next post)).....

Anonymous said...

@#%&*/__(part 2)___If two years ago, I had known all that has been made public about Mr Preston Hughes, your writings etc, I would've visited him in prison to remind him of who i am. Repeat to him the exact story (which makes total sense and fills in the blanks) which I was told about his crime and see him tell me it was not true. There is no way he could deny to himself it happened the way he said it did. A killer does want someone to know his crime. In his case, this someone is still keeping their silence today. They carried that silence to Preston's grave and no one may ever know now what he did. My story is only a story unless its admitted to by him. I regret not knowing of all of this until now. It bothers me that i wanted so badly to meet him in person, once again, to shamefully let his mind rest with the idea that his secret was not left with one person. If the right persons had been called as witnesses like they should have been, and the case investigated more thoroughly, then there would be absolutely no doubt that Preston C Hughes III was guilty as charged.
What I can do is answer some of your questions though. For example: Wasn't there a question of how there was no blood on his clothes, right? One would believe that if Preston Hughes killed them then there should have been blood on the front of his clothes. So, that is not the case here. (Would you like to know why?_______
Next- What about the question of Why there was no struggle? Or reported screams from the Fudruckers employee/s? (Would you like to know why?_______
Then- Wouldn't you like to know WHEN the alleged "tempted rape" would have taken place?______
His motive to kill her?_______
Hasn't anyone even questioned WHY Shandra & Marcell (young kids) were out walking alone at that hour and WHERE were their parents?_______
:-\ I mean seriously, there is so much more to this that would just make total sense and even more prove guilt, but it seems that "glasses" and "carotid" are more important questions here. Just Crazy!
By the way...It is possible that coroners reports were a little "Off" as well. And didnt you write in your findings that conveniently there was a different coroner on the stand for the trial? I might be confused but i think that what i remembered. Anyhow, miracles do happen.. AND it would be just too hard for police to conveniently frame Preston with Shandra's murder. And why would they want to when half of the residents who lived there had criminal history and felonies? Lakehurst was over 600 apartments with round the clock domestic violence, robberies and drugs to keep HPD busy. So why pick on just him when there are plenty of others with much longer rap sheets? I read what you wrote about his then recent 1985 ordeal, and it's possible that he could have been framed (because anything is possible- just like the victim living to give a name) but honestly I do not see where that would be a more likely story to believe than the idea that Preston was her murderer, at least not for me.

**Your reply?

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