Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Right Tool for the Job

For more than two decades, the knife used to murder Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor has been misidentified as the hunting knife found in Preston Hughes' closet. We now know that the murder weapon did not look like this:

Preston's knife

Instead, the murder weapon looked more like this.

Or this:

The double-edged knives shown above are known as daggers. Wikipedia relies on a Missouri court case and a California penal code to define a dagger as "a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon."

Wikipedia then continues, as it is apt to do:
[O]ver the last hundred years or so, authorities have recognized that the dagger, in its contemporary or mature form, has come to incorporate certain definable characteristics, including a short blade with a sharply-tapered point, a central spine or fuller, and usually two cutting edges sharpened the full length of the blade, or nearly so. Most daggers also feature a full crossguard to keep the hand from riding forwards onto the sharpened blade edges. Another distinctive feature of the modern dagger is that it is designed to position the blade horizontally when using a conventional grip, enabling the user to slash right or left as well as thrust the blade between an opponent's ribs. The full-length edges enable the user to make broad slashes (cuts) using either a forehand or backhand arm movement, while the sharp, acutely-pointed tip makes the knife an effective thrusting or stabbing weapon.
Daggers are far less common than single-edged knives, for daggers have some significant disadvantages.

The first and most obvious disadvantage of a dagger is its double-edged blade. The lack of any blunt edge prevents the user from using palm, finger, or thumb to increase the cutting edge pressure. The lack of a blunt edge also complicates folding designs, making the dagger less convenient to carry and or conceal.

Another disadvantage is that a two-edged blade is less robust than is a single-edge blade. For a given blade width and maximum thickness, two sharp edges demands that more material be removed. On average, a double edge blade simply consists of less steel than does a single-edge blade. The problem becomes particularly acute near the sharpened tip. The tip is more likely to break if it hits an unexpectedly hard target, such as a shoulder blade.

Finally, daggers are not nearly as good as single-edged knives for slashing. That is because the dagger blades must thicken from nothing to maximum thickness in just one-half of the blade width. Their wedge angle is nominally twice that of a single edge blade.

A dagger, on the other hand, will penetrate much more easily than will a single-edge knife. Also, and significantly, its tip lies along the centerline of the blade. This alignment permits considerably more precision as one attempts to stab an opponent in a critical body part, such as a carotid artery.

Consider now the dagger-like agricultural tool below.

Though it has many characteristics of a dagger, it is called a sticking knife, at least according to Lehman's online store. You can find it under Home > Kitchen > Home Butchering > Butchering Supplies > Old Hickory Sticking Knife.

From Wikipedia:
A sticking knife is primarily an agricultural tool. Sticking knives resemble daggers in shape and function, but are made for the utilitarian purpose of "sticking" or bleeding out livestock in home butchering. In some cases the animal would die directly from blood loss, where in others the animal would be killed beforehand and hung by the hind legs to bleed out. 
A sticking knife usually consists of a double-edge pointed blade approximately six inches long. Blades are traditionally made of high carbon steel (such as 1095). Handles are simple, consisting usually of two hardwood scales riveted through the full, flat blade tang. Sticking knives generally lack any kind of guard. 
Few companies continue to produce sticking knives. Firearms have generally replaced the sticking knife in home livestock processing. Most slaughterhouses use humane killers, which project a steel rod through the skull of the animal. ... The Ontario cutlery company continues to produce traditional sticking knives in their "old hickory" knife line.
For a long time, when people needed to cut the carotid arteries of livestock, they relied on a double-edged sticking knife virtually indistinguishable from a dagger.

Always use the right tool for the job.

I suspect Shandra Charles was not killed during a spur-of-the-moment, out-of-control attack. I suspect instead that her killing was premeditated and well executed.

I don't believe it is a coincidence that her carotid artery and jugular vein, and those of her three-year-old cousin, were transected by a double-edge knife.

I suggest that whomever killed Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor knew enough about killing that they simply brought the right tool for the job.

  <-- Previous                           Table of Contents                              Next --> 


Anonymous said...

This is your strongest and I think only real argument that can get him off. However I think you would have to review the trial transcript to see if the defense questioned the expert witness as to why the the wounds appear to come from a double edged knife.


tsj said...

I've read through the testimony of the forensic expert (the one who tested the knife in the courtroom) and the substitute ME. Neither mentioned anything about the wounds having no blunt end. The fill-in ME testified that the wounds were consistent with Preston's knife, though you now know that is not true. The ME did not mention that all of the wounds had no blunt end. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney bothered to ask.

tsj said...

For clarification, the only testimony I have managed to secure so far is that of the forensic expert and the fill-in ME.

Anonymous said...

@Mike, the knife analysis is compelling but I believe there may be stronger evidence of an alternate suspect & DNA is probably the only path to proving PHIII did not commit these crimes. TSJ is turning up some good stuff, though here, am I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with.


Anonymous said...

Except Al with the stage that Preston is in, he needs to prove his innocence, not prove doubt. He might have gotten off if TSJ was his lawyer at the trial, but the courts have said he needs to prove his innocence. His options are to find the person who did and have them confess or show that there is no way that he could have done it. The knife might be the only way. Unless you can go back and fingerprint the bud can and get somebody else's prints, he's going to have an a very big uphill case ahead of him.


Anonymous said...


I admittedly do not know the intricacies of the legal system; however, I like to believe that the falsification of official police documents including a Search and Seizure Consent and a Confession of murder would/should be grounds for a new trial.

- Lando

Anonymous said...

While I'm not a legal expert, I would say yes and no. The question for that would be if the information was available at the trial and how did the defense handle it. The proper procedure would have been that when the state introduced it they objected and said it was falsified and here is an expert on falsified documents. The other option that Preston had initially was that his lawyer was incompetent for not objecting to his confession. However as far as I read, at the time the defense was arguing the confession was coerced and there was argument before the court about whether or not he was coerced.


tsj said...

All things in due time. Right now, I'm working to finish my analysis of the evidence. When done I will turn to an analysis of the legal basis for relief. I will suggest options that have not yet been mentioned.

The sequence matters. The outcome of the evidentiary analysis (which continues to surprise me as I work on it) will help determine the potential legal attacks on his conviction.

Post a Comment