Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Stabbings Well Done

I now return to the Case of Preston Hughes III. For those unfamiliar with the case, I refer you to the Table of Contents. For those lacking the time or inclination to read the previous posts, I offer this brief overview of the case: Shandra Charles and her cousin Marcell Taylor were stabbed to death in a dark, overgrown field. She allegedly identified Preston Hughes as her attacker in a dying declaration. Preston Hughes confessed not just once, but twice to the crime. He nonetheless claims he is innocent. As he sits on Texas death row, I am working my way bit by bit through the evidence to determine if he may indeed be innocent.

In this post I present Preston Hughes' description of the stabbings as per his two confessions. I present as well the trial testimony of  the prosecution-friendly, fill-in medical examiner, at least those portions related to the wounds.

I include images of all the wounds except Marcell's neck wound. I have no image showing that. I have cropped the images so as to not unnecessarily intrude on the privacy of Shandra and Marcell. I made a two-image composite of Marcell's wounds to show the relationship of the stab entry and exit wounds.

Buckle up. Here we go.

From Hughes Confession #1:
As I got into the field walking along the path someone came up behind me. Nobody said anything and I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I have been carrying a knife ever since these guys have been talking about ryting to kill me. The knife is an army knive with brown handles and a rusty blade that is about 5 or 6 inches long. I carry it in a grey sheath on the right side of my belt. When I felt someone touch me, I turned to my left and threw a blodk with my left arm and just started sticking with the knife. It was dark and I couldn't tell who was there. When I swung the first times it hit, but I didn't know it went in or nothing. After I stuck the first two times, I saw that it was Shawn [Shandra]. I fucked up and I just got scared and kept sticking. I swung the knife 6, 8, probably 10 times then took off running toward my apartment.
From Hughes Confession #2:
Everything in the first statement is correct except what happened when I met Shawn on the trail between Fuddruckers and the apt. complex. Shawn did not come up behind me and tap me on the shoulder. I was walking with my dog from from the Lakehurst Apts. toward Fuddruckers on the trail. As I was walking down the trail I saw Shawn walking down the trail from Fuddruckers toward the apt. complex. She was walking with a little boy. I did not know who he was. We then met in the middle of the trail. Shawn spoke first and she told me that she was on the way to my house. I then asked her what for. She told me that she was coming to use my contacts. I told her that she was a damn fool, that she was not wearing my contacts. She then gave me a kiss. She then started rubbing by crotch. She then un-buttoned my jeans. She then pulled her zipper down on her shorts. Shawn then placed my penis in the slit of her vagina. We call that "grinding" if you don't put it in the hole. We did that for about 30 seconds. While we were "grinding" the zipper on her shorts rubbed against the sore on my penis. I then pulled away and buttoned up my jeans. The little boy that was with her was standing next to us. 
I then said, "Fuck this shit", because I hurt the sore. She then asked me if I had some money. I told her I keeps money. She then asked me for $50.00 and I told her no. She then started telling me that she was going to have me arrested for rape. I told her that I never forced her to do nothing with me. She then raised her hand and hit me. I then blocked her with my left hand. I hit her in the throat. She then came back at me with her hand open. She was coming at my face. I had my knife in a sheath on the right side of my pants on my belt. I then pulled my knife and stabbed at her six or eight or ten times. I'm not sure, I just started stabbing. I'm not sure how many times I stabbed her. As I was stabbing her the little boy looked up at me and started crying. He then ran in between us and I stabbed him. I don't know how many times I stabbed him. I stopped and looked at Shawn and she was looking at me. I then put the knife in my sheath and ran home.
Trial Testimony Summarizing Marcell's Wounds:
Q. What was the cause of death of Marcell Taylor? 
A. The cause of death of Marcell Lee Taylor was a result of a stab wound to the neck through and through. 
Q. Does the report reflect if any other injuries were sustained by Marcell Taylor? 
A, Yes, sir. 
Q. What other injuries does the report reflect? 
A. In addition to the stab wound to the neck, there was a stab wound to the chest, which was also through and through, a cutting wound to the chest and a cutting wound to the left arm. 
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Marcell's Neck:
Q. Does the report indicate the nature of the cutting wound to the neck, the damage caused by that cut? 
A. There was a stab wound of the neck.
Q. Stab wound, I'm sorry. 
A. And Dr. Parungao described that the wound was caused by an instrument which traveled completely through the neck in a direction of front to back, slightly upwards and slightly to the left. The instrument perforated the common carotid artery, which is a large blood vessel in the neck, and the jugular vein. 
Q. Does the report indicate an exit wound for that stab wound? 
A. It does. 
Q. Where is the exit wound of the stab wound? 
A. The exit wound of the instrument was located on the back of the neck in line with the entrance wound.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Marcell's Chest:
Q. Does the report describe what if any injuries were sustained by the stab wound to the chest? 
A. Yes, sir. ... The instrument, again, went entirely through the body, did not enter the chest cavity, and came out the back. 
Q. Does the track of that stab wound to the chest indicate that the instrument that caused the injury passed through any cartilage or bone? 
A. Yes, sir. ... On coming out of the back, the instrument penetrated the scapula, which is the large flat bone exposing part of the shoulder. ... The shoulder blade originally is composed of cartilage, but as one ages, it becomes calcified, ossified, forming true bone, which is much tougher than cartilage. ... Medically, the ossification centers of the scapula usually mature faster in the midpoint than they do peripherally so that the scapula of the 3-year-old child demonstrates some ossification and calcification in the central portion. ... [C]artilage is relatively soft compared to bone. Bone is very hard. ... Cartilage has the consistency of a thick sheet of cardboard, such as found in large boxes, packing boxes.
Q. As a person ages, that becomes harder, is that correct?
A. That is correct.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Cutting Wounds to Marcell's Chest and Arm:
Q. As to the injuries sustained by Marcell Taylor, does the report indicate any other injuries besides those two stab wounds? 
A. Yes, sir. ... There was a cutting wound to the chest which is described in the external examination located on the left upper side measuring 1 inch in length and gaping to a width of 5/16  of an inch. In addition, there was a cutting wound to the left arm which measured one quarter of an inch in length and gaped 3 /16 of an inch. The difference between a cutting wound and a stab wound is that cutting wounds are longer than they are deep and stab wounds are deeper than they are long.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Shandra's Neck:
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. ... 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 1eft side of the neck located 2 inches to the left of the midline and 1 inch 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.

Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Shandra's Chest:
Q. Did you note any other stabbing iniuries or wounds on Shandra Charles? 
A. There was a stab wound to the chest. ... 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. ... The wound gaped up to approximalely 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. ... 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.

I will withhold my observations until my next post regarding this case. I do so because I hope you will develop your own thoughts on how the confession and the testimony combine to prove or disprove Preston's guilt or innocence. Feel free to use the comments to express your thoughts.

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Anonymous said...

The confessions are a lie. If Preston did kill Shandra and Marcell, he didn't do it the way he claimed.

(a) He claimed he stabbed at Shandra 6 or 8 or 10 times, but Shandra was stabbed just twice.

(b) Marcell's wounds are very similar to Shandra's. One to the left side of the chest, one to the left side of the neck. This would be an incredible coincidence if Preston were really just blindly stabbing.

(c) The wound on Marcell's neck was from an instrument that travelled "slightly upwards". Unless the attacker was REALLY short, Marcell probably wasn't standing when he was stabbed in the neck (contrary to Preston's confession).

I know nothing about stab wounds, but the confessions seem to describe a passionate, angry attack, and it looks to me like this attack was very deliberate. (Maybe a stab wound to the chest to disable each victim and then a stab wound to the neck to kill them?)

tsj said...

Wow! I couldn't have said it more succinctly myself. You hit four of the major points I was going to make.

I'll use your comment for a template on my follow up post.

Nice job Anon. Please consider using a distinctive pseudonym. Had you done so this time, I would have awarded 10 completely worthless Skeptical Juror Points, even though I did not label this post a brainteaser.

You would have been tied with Lando, who has a pretty cool pseudonym.

I hope your comment (and my enthusiastic response) does end the discussion here. There are a few points left to be made, and some inferences drawn.

Anonymous said...

When I suggest readers use a pseudonym in their comments, I'm not suggesting they open a Google account, or LiveJournal, or WordPress or any of the others. Feel to comment as Anonymous then add the pseudonym of your choice as I do thus.
-- tsj

Anonymous said...

To a jury it's not going to matter too much. They are going to first look at it as Preston hedging his punishment. The first story was "hey it was self defense" with the hope of just getting parole. The second time was "hey I was just acting irrationally" a 20-40 year sentence, but if he had said, "I stabbed them execution style" he's going to get life at best or a visit to sparky.

But I did have a question. Do you have what he said on the stand?


tsj said...

I do not know what he said on the stand, or much of what anyone else said on the stand. I do not have the trial transcripts. Transcripts are difficult to obtain.

Transcripts for a case of this sort run from 5 to 15 thousand pages. Ordered from the court, they cost around $1.50 per page. That's $7500 to $22,500.

Even if I found someone who already had the transcripts, and even assuming they would copy them for me, and even assuming they would charge no more than the going rate of $0.11 per page, that would be $550 to $1650. That still does not include any labor cost for the hours spent at the copying machine, and it does not include any postage.

Anonymous said...

I thought maybe the one person had maybe scanned them. I had heard third hand that on the stand Preston stuck with the initial story that he just randomly stabbed and not even sure he stabbed someone, but that was third hand. I was just trying to find out.


tsj said...

I seriously doubt that. The appellate decision for his case makes no mention of Hughes testifying to a claim of self-defense or accidental stabbing. The certainly would have since Hughes appealed in part on a claim that his confessions should have been suppressed. Also, Hughes has long maintained the confessions were coerced under threat of bodily harm, even death.

I'll find out before way too long. I'll begin writing Hughes within the month. I'll ask him. I'll also ask if I can somehow get a copy of the trial transcripts. His appellate attorneys must have a copy.

tsj said...

I now find this in a later appeal, Hughes v. Quarterman (2008):

"At the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, Hughes took the stand in his own defense. He denied that he killed the victims, claimed that he was framed by the police, and testified that he confessed to the crimes only because the police officers struck him and threatened him, causing him to fear for his life. The jury found him guilty of capital murder."

Anonymous said...

Here is an article from the paper about the case. In the middle it says that while on the stand he said he was "attacked from behind and stabbed out" So I'm curious where that reporter got that or if it was a misunderstanding.



tsj said...

Don't know what to tell you. The article also says that Shandra was raped, and I'm pretty sure that is incorrect as well.

I just got an email today that they have released the autopsy reports as per my request and they will send them to me once I send the money, which in this case is a pittance.

I'll see if I can get hold of Preston's testimony.

Anonymous said...


Good stuff here, especially the observation that Marcell was probably lying down when stabbed which makes PHIII's confession even more improbable.

The symmetry between the two victim's knife wounds and their efficiency suggested to me when I was researching the case that the killer was likely trained in this dark art,probably ex-military. I looked through a training manual or two online, but couldn't find enough detail to match up this attack against some well defined protoccol.

Still, my gut tells me that the killer knew what he was doing, this wasn't the impulsive act PHIII describes in his confession.

I was curious if Hughes was ever a member of the military which would make it much more probable he had been trained in knife fighting. I know for a fact he was never a member of any branch of the military.


tsj said...

Good to hear from you.

As I will explain in my next post on the subject, I think Shandra was also lying down, at least when she was stabbed in the neck.

Review the crime scene photos I displayed in Shandra's Trail to see why I think that.

Anonymous said...

Her lying down would actually be consistent with attempted rape. I also saw the cuts being amateurish because trying to stab the heart is really hard to do, which we saw that it failed and then the perp went for the neck. The military would teach to slice the neck.

Also you can't take his confession on face value.


tsj said...

I'm curious about your knowledge of what the military would teach. Were you in the military? Did they teach you to slice the neck?

As it turns out, I was in the military, and I did receive one session on killing with a knife. It certainly didn't involve an effort to slice the neck.

But results may vary.

Anonymous said...

So the military training for attacking a defenseless and unarmed person is to try and stab them in the left lung followed by a straight stab into the neck which may not fatal immediately and possibly allow the victim to talk afterward? The gut or neck are better places to attempt wounds then the attempt at the chest. But I look forward to your next piece.


Anonymous said...

@#%&*/____ OMGosh.. yes to Anonymous here! Both WERE stabbed from behind. I wish Anon was around to chat about this with me.

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