Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Searchers Part 2

Having considered the absence of any visible blood (and the likely absence of any blood whatsoever) on the clothing taken from Preston Hughes' apartment, it is now time to consider the eyeglasses discovered (or planted) between the cushions of his couch. The first step is to have a look at them. Here's the remote shot.

You can see them if you look hard, if you squint. There they are between the center seat cushion and the one beside it, the one rightmost in the image.

Here's the second shot, presumably the one the HPD would consider to be a closeup.

There you go. You can barely see the glasses unless you click on the image to enlarge it. So I've cropped the glasses, enlarged them, and rotated them for easier viewing. Here they are now, the best look at them so far.

For simplicity, I'll refer to these glasses as Shandra's glasses, though I do not know with certainty that they are.

Shandra's glasses do not appear to me as if they simply fell there. They are not laying either in between or on top of the cushions. They are wedged between the cushions. The upper rims have somehow been forced into the side of the upper cushion. (For convenience, I'll refer to the two cushions as the upper and lower cushions.)

The arrangement seems odd to me, so let me tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to conduct a test. I'm going to repeatedly drop my cheap, well-used reading glasses between the cushions of my couch, take some photos, and report my results. Hang on. I'll be right back.

[removing smudges from lenses]

[dropping glasses repeatedly]

[taking crappy photos of glasses where they fell]

[importing images to my computer]

[using GIMP to select images and crop them to appropriate size]

Okay. I'm back. Here we go.

Most of the times I dropped my cheap, well-used, temporarily smudge-free reading glasses near the seams between the cushions, my glasses didn't actually fall into the seam. My glasses most frequently straddled the seam. My glasses did, however, fall between the seams with sufficient frequency that I have no difficulty believing eyeglasses can fall between couch cushions if dropped or placed nearby. Here's a picture of one instance in which my reading glasses fell between the cushions.

When my glasses actually landed between the cushions, they usually (almost always) ended up with the lenses nearly vertical. This is different than Shandra's glasses. Her glasses ended up with the lenses nearly horizontal.

Sometimes (not very often) my glasses end up with the lenses horizontal, just as Shandra's had.

(Try to ignore the differential lighting among the images I present. The differential is merely a reflection of my photography skills.)

While my glasses would sometimes land with lenses horizontal, they always ended up on top of the cushions. They never managed to wedge themselves in between, as Shandra's were. I did not expect that they would wedge themselves in. They're eyeglasses, not anvils.

I  did wonder, however, if they might wedge their way in between the cushions if people sat on one or both of the cushions. So I tried repeatedly to cause my glasses to wedge themselves into a position similar to Shandra's glasses. I positioned the glasses in many different positions, and I pressed on one cushion, then the other, then both. No luck. No matter what I tried, I could not give my glasses a couch cushion wedgie.

I came close a couple times. Consider the following image.

Here I managed (by pressing on the lower cushion) to get the upper rims pressing into the edge of the upper cushion. However, when I relaxed pressure on the lower cushion, my glasses rotated such that the lenses ended up in the vertical position.

Finally, I forced my glasses between the cushions to see if I could get them to remain there, between the cushions rather than on top of them, lenses horizontal rather than vertical.

TA myopia DA! Though it's somewhat difficult to see, the glasses are wedged between the sides of the two cushions. It's not quite like the arrangement of Shandra's glasses. But it's as close as I could get, given that my couch cushions are not quite as worn and soft as Preston's seem to have been.

For what it's worth, I consider my testing to be suggestive but not compelling. I accept that it is possible (but to me unlikely) that Shandra's glasses could have innocently ended up oriented between the cushions as they appear in the photo. Possible, but unlikely. I suspect instead that a human was directly involved in the unnatural placement of Shandra's glasses.

In Part 3 of The Searchers, coming soon to a blog near you, I'll discuss why this beer can ...

... provides additional evidence that Shandra's glasses were planted by the HPD.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Impending Execution of Marvin Lee Wilson

Marvin Wilson sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 7 August 2012. Because his IQ is reported to be 61, I expect additional challenges to the execution date.

I summarize his case by extracting from the adverse appellate decision Marvin Lee Wilson v. State (1999). I have replaced each instance of the word appellant with Wilson's name.
In a trial beginning in January 1998, Wilson was convicted of capital murder for the kidnapping and murder of Jerry Williams. ... 
The evidence showed the following: On November 4, 1992, Officer Robert Roberts and other police officers entered Wilson's apartment pursuant to a search warrant. Jerry Williams was the confidential informant whose information enabled Roberts to obtain the warrant. Williams entered and left the apartment minutes before the police went in. Wilson, Vincent Webb, and a juvenile female were present in the apartment. Over 24 grams of cocaine were found, and Wilson and Webb were arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Wilson was subsequently released on bond, but Webb remained in jail. Sometime after the incident, Wilson told Terry Lewis that someone had "snitched" on Wilson, that the "snitch" was never going to have the chance to "to have someone else busted," and that Wilson "was going to get him." 
On November 9, 1992, several observers saw an incident take place in the parking lot in front of Mike's Grocery. Vanessa Zeno and Denise Ware were together in the parking lot. Caroline Robinson and her daughter Coretta Robinson were inside the store. Julius Lavergne was outside the store, but came in at some point to relay information to Caroline. The doors to Mike's Grocery were made of clear glass, and Coretta stood by the door and watched. Zeno, Ware, Coretta, and Lavergne watched the events unfold while Caroline called the police. These witnesses testified consistently although some witnesses noticed details not noticed by others. 
In the parking lot, Wilson stood over Williams and beat him. Wilson asked Williams, "What do you want to be a snitch for? Do you know what we do to a snitch? Do you want to die right here?" In response, Williams begged for his life. Andrew Lewis, Terry's husband, was pumping gasoline in his car at the time. Williams ran away from Wilson and across the street to a field. 
Wilson pursued Williams and caught him. Andrew drove the car to the field. While Williams struggled against them, Wilson and Andrew forced Williams into the car. At some point during this incident, either in front of Mike's Grocery, across the street, or at both places, Andrew participated in hitting Williams and Wilson asked Andrew: "Where's the gun?" Wilson told Andrew to get the gun and said that he (Wilson) wanted to kill Williams.They drove toward a Mobil refinery. Zeno and Ware drove back to their apartments, which were close by, and when they arrived, they heard what sounded like gunshots from the direction of the Mobil plant. 
Sometime after the incident, Wilson told his wife, in the presence of Terry Lewis and her husband, "Baby, you remember the nigger I told you I was going to get? I did it. I don't know if he dead or what, but I left him there to die." When Terry looked back at her husband, Wilson stated, "Don't be mad at Andrew because Andrew did not do it. I did it." 
On November 10, 1992, a bus driver noticed Williams' dead body on the side of a road.The autopsy report concluded that Williams died from close range gunshot wounds to the head and neck. 
Having known Wilson for 16 years, Zeno identified Wilson. Lavergne and Coretta recognized Williams but did not know Wilson or Andrew. Lavergne subsequently identified Andrew in a photo line-up. At that time, Lavergne told law enforcement authorities that the man he identified in the photo was the "helper," rather than the primary actor. The other man, who Lavergne described as having a "gerry curl," made the threats and conducted most of the beating of Williams. Under defense cross-examination at trial, Lavergne testified that the man in the photo (i.e. Andrew Lewis) was the man with the gerry curl and hence, the primary actor. But, upon redirect examination, Lavergne testified that his earlier testimony was in error, and that the man in the photo was not the one with the gerry curl. 
This contradiction led to questioning that explored an incident involving Lavergne, defense counsel, and Wilson. At one time, defense counsel and Wilson interviewed Lavergne together, while Lavergne was in jail for an offense unrelated to the present case. No representatives of the district attorney's office were present. Wilson asked Lavergne for his father's name, and Wilson asked if Lavergne had a new baby. These questions made Lavergne feel scared and intimidated, and he wondered how Wilson could have known about Lavergne's new baby. ... 
Our review of the record shows ample evidence to support the conviction. Williams was the informant who caused Wilson to be arrested for cocaine. Wilson could have inferred from Williams' presence at his apartment immediately before the police arrived that Williams had indeed "snitched" on Wilson. That sequence of events established a motive for the murder. Wilson's statements to Terry Lewis and his later statements to Williams show that Wilson intended to act upon that motive and kill Williams. Wilson assaulted and kidnapped Williams in front of several eyewitnesses, and later, Wilson bragged that he had left the "snitch" to die. The latter statement could have been reasonably interpreted as an admission that Wilson had in fact fulfilled his earlier threats to kill the victim. The short time frame in which these events occurred—a matter of several days—also supports the inference that these events were connected. And Wilson's references to Lavergne's father and new baby reasonably could have been interpreted as a veiled attempt to influence Lavergne's testimony. Such an attempt to tamper with a witness is evidence of "consciousness of guilt." ...
I oppose the execution of any person who may be innocent of the crime for which he are about to die. With respect to all other executions, I stand mute. I neither support them nor oppose them. In the case of Marvin Lee Wilson, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (8 August 2012)
Marvin Wilson was executed by the people of Texas on 7 August 2012.

The Stayed Execution of Michael Tisius

Michael Tisius sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Missouri. He was scheduled for execution on 3 August 2012. His execution has been stayed by the Supreme Court of Missouri due to a lack of drugs with which to conduct the execution.

I summarize the case by extracting from the adverse appellate decision in State v. Tisius (2002). I have replaced each instance of Appellate with Michael Tisius' name.
In early June of 2000, Michael Tisius and Roy Vance were cellmates at the Randolph County Jail in Huntsville, Missouri. Tisius's sentence lasted thirty days, and Vance told Tisius he would be in jail for some fifty years. As such, Tisius and Vance discussed various schemes where Tisius would return to jail to help Vance escape. In one of those plans, Tisius was to return to the jail with a firearm, force the guards into a cell, and give the gun to Vance, who would then take charge and release all of the inmates. 
The Randolph County Jail was a twostory brick building that had been converted from a house. The front door of the jail was kept locked, and the officers could remotely open the door when visitors rang a doorbell. Inside the front door was a small foyer, and to the right behind a counter was the dispatch area where the officers were stationed. A hall led from the dispatch area to the jail cells in the rear of the building. 
Tisius was released on June 13, 2000. Shortly after his release, Tisius contacted Vance's girlfriend, Tracie Bulington, who said that she wanted to go through with the escape plan. Four days later, Bulington drove from Macon to Columbia with a woman named Heather Douglas to pick up Tisius and drive him back to Macon; Tisius and Bulington stayed at Douglas' home for four or five days. During the ride to Columbia, Douglas heard the two discuss various ways of breaking Vance out of jail, including the idea of locking the jailers in a cell. They told Douglas they were joking. Douglas testified that over the days to follow, she heard Tisius and Bulington say that they were "on a mission," but they would not elaborate. Tisius and Bulington also described taking cigarettes to Vance at the jail and of having gotten information from a "stupid deputy." At other times they would stop talking when Douglas entered the room. Douglas also testified that Tisius and Bulington kept a stereo, clothing and camping gear in Bulington's car and that she also saw a pistol in Bulington's car. 
Beginning June 17, 2000, and continuing over several days, Tisius and Bulington visited the jail several times. At or around 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. one of those mornings, they were admitted in the front door and delivered a pack of cigarettes to an on-duty officer, requesting that it be given to Vance. A day or two later, Tisius and Bulington returned to the jail with a pair of socks for Vance and asked questions about his upcoming court date. 
Bulington testified that each delivery signified to Vance certain facts, such as that Tisius had made it to town or that the jail break would not occur the night of the delivery. During some of those visits, Tisius kept a .22 caliber pistol that Bulington had taken from her parents' home in the front of his pants. Tisius had tried to acquire a bigger gun than the one Bulington took. On the night of one of their visits, one officer testified that Tisius and Bulington were acting "real funny," nervous and erratic, such that he wrote a police report about the visit. 
Tisius tested the gun by firing it outside of Bulington's car window while the two were driving on country roads on June 21, 2000. Later that evening, Tisius and Bulington drove around listening to a song with the refrain "mo murda" (more murder) as they prepared to get Vance out of jail. Tisius rewound the cassette and played the "mo murda" song over and over. Tisius told Bulington "it was getting about time" and that "he was going to go in and just start shooting and that he had to do what he had to do." Tisius also said he would go "in with a blaze of glory." 
At 12:15 a.m. on June 22, Tisius and Bulington returned to the Randolph County Jail, rang the doorbell and were admitted. Tisius again carried the pistol in his pants. Tisius and Bulington told the officers they were delivering cigarettes to Vance. The two officers present were Leon Egley and Jason Acton. Tisius made small talk with one of the officers for about ten minutes, discussing what Tisius was planning to do with his life and how Tisius was doing. Bulington testified that at that point, she was about to tell Tisius she was ready to leave but froze as she noticed Tisius had the gun drawn beside his leg. Tisius then raised his arm with the pistol drawn and, from a distance of two to four feet, shot Acton in the forehead above his left eye, killing him instantly. Egley began to approach Tisius, and about ten seconds after he killed Acton, Tisius shot Egley one or more times from a distance of four or five feet, until Egley fell to the ground. Both officers were unarmed. 
Tisius then took some keys from the dispatch area and went to Vance's cell. Tisius could not open the cell, so he returned to the dispatch area to search for more keys. While Tisius was in the dispatch area, Egley grabbed Bulington's legs from where he was lying on the floor, and Tisius shot him several more times at a distance of two or three feet. Egley suffered five gunshot wounds, three to the forehead, a graze wound to the right cheek and a wound to the upper right shoulder. Not long afterwards, police found Egley gasping for air and a heard gurgling sound; he was surrounded by a pool of blood. Egley died shortly afterwards. 
Tisius and Bulington fled in her automobile. Tisius threw the keys from the dispatch area out of the car window on the way out of town. Bulington threw the pistol from the car window while crossing a bridge on Highway 36. After the two had passed through St. Joseph and crossed the Kansas state line, Bulington's car broke down. Later that day, the two were apprehended by the police, and the keys and gun were recovered. After having waived his Miranda rights, Tisius gave oral and written confessions to the murders. 
Tisius's theory at trial was that he was guilty at most of second-degree murder because although he admits that he shot and killed the two officers, he argues that he did so without deliberation. Further facts are set forth below as necessary.
I oppose the execution of anyone who might be innocent of the crime for which they are about to die. In all other cases, I stand mute. I neither support nor endorse the execution. In the case of Michael Tisius, I stand mute.

The Stayed Execution of Marcus Druery

Marcus Druery sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas. He was scheduled for execution on 1 August 2012. His execution was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to allow consideration of his claim the he is not mentally competent to be executed.

I summarize his case by extracting from the adverse opinion in Druery v. State (2007):
On October 30, 2002, Druery went to Skyyler Browne's apartment on the Texas State Technical College campus in Waco where both were students. Browne was commonly known by his nickname "Rome." Druery asked Rome to travel with him to Bryan; Rome hesitated but eventually agreed to go. Rome, who was known to have sold marijuana, took his cell phone, $400 to $500, his gun, and some marijuana. No one at the school ever saw him again. Druery later told a Texas Ranger that, after he and Rome had traveled from Waco to Bryan, they partied into the night, but Rome wanted to go home. Druery recounted to the Ranger that Rome called a girlfriend, and the girlfriend picked him up from the Contiki Club in an orange Cadillac. Law enforcement, however, was never able to locate an orange Cadillac. 
Joquisha Pitts and Marcus Harris told a different story. Pitts was Druery's former girlfriend, and Harris was Druery's younger friend who was still in high school. Pitts recounted at trial that she had known Rome for only a couple of days when she witnessed his murder. She accompanied Druery and Rome to the Contiki Club, and on the way, the group picked up Harris, as well as some ecstasy tablets and some embalming fluid, which is put on cigarettes and smoked to produce a high. Harris recounted at trial that this was his first meeting with Rome. Around 1:00 to 1:30 a.m., at Druery's suggestion, Druery, Rome, Pitts, and Harris left the Contiki Club to go to rural property owned by the Druery family. Pitts drove Druery's car as Druery navigated because she had never been there before. Neither Pitts nor Harris was aware of Druery's plans.
During the drive to the country, Druery claimed that someone was following them, and he repeatedly asked Rome for his gun so he could shoot whomever it was. Rome refused. Once at the property, Druery unlocked the gate and drove the group the rest of the way to a stock pond. Using the vehicle's headlights for illumination, each member of the group took turns shooting Rome's gun at bottles they had thrown into the water. At this time, Druery called Pitts to the car and told her he was going to kill Rome, saying he wanted Rome's "stuff." Pitts reminded Druery that Druery had a two-year-old son, and she ultimately believed that Druery was "just playing." 
After he shot the gun, Druery claimed that the ammunition had run out, and he returned to the driver's seat of the car. Pitts saw that Druery was taking bullets from the car's console, wiping them clean with a rag, and placing them in the pistol's magazine. Druery then called Harris to the vehicle, telling him that he planned to shoot Rome, but Harris believed that Druery was "tripping" on embalming fluid that he had smoked. Druery then ordered both Pitts and Harris to sit in the car. 
Standing near the pond, Rome pulled his jacket or a hood over his head to block the wind as he attempted to light a pipe or cigar filled with marijuana. Druery skulked toward Rome under the cover of darkness, held the gun within six inches of Rome's head, and fired. As Rome's body fell, Druery fired a second shot into Rome's neck, and then he fired a third shot into Rome's body as it lay on the ground. Pitts and Harris began to cry and scream, and both saw Druery kneel over Rome's body. Druery returned to the vehicle with Rome's cellular phone, money, marijuana, and gun. He attempted to calm his hysterical companions by giving each forty dollars. 
Soon thereafter, Druery obtained some gasoline (perhaps with Harris's assistance) and poured it on Rome's body. He set it ablaze, and the three left as the body 497*497 burned. During the drive, Druery instructed Pitts and Harris on how to respond to questions about Rome. He told them to say that Rome's girlfriend picked him up in an orange Cadillac to take him to get his sister in Washington D.C. and that they didn't see him again. The next day, Druery returned to the pond with Pitts and two others, burned the body a second time, and threw the body into the pond. Later, Harris assisted Druery in disposing of the murder weapon. 
Pitts eventually went to the police and told them that she was scared and wanted to get it off her chest. Harris told authorities that he thought he would die because he believed Druery would not want to leave any witnesses to the killing. ... 
Here, neither Pitts nor Harris was an accomplice as a matter of law or as a matter of fact. Neither witness was indicted for the capital murder or a lesser-included offense of the capital murder, and the evidence does not show that the witnesses could have been so charged. ... 
[T]heir testimony was corroborated. Appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to show the murder, and indeed, such a challenge would be laughable. He confessed to the murder to four friends and acquaintances: Chasiti Hall, Angela Minor, LaKeisha Green, and Charles Kennard. The victim's body was recovered on Druery property from a stock tank.
I oppose any execution in which the person to be executed may be innocent of the crime for which they are to die. In all other cases, I stand mute. I neither support nor oppose the execution. In the case of Marcus Druery, I stand mute.

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Brain Teaser #6

From Officer F.L. Hale's police report, we learn that he collected the following evidence from Preston Hughes' Apartment:
Evidence recovered inside Apartment 138A, ( suspect's apartment ) 
(1) Pair of silver rim percription [sic] eye glasses. These glasses were recovered from the three cushion couch, against the south wall of the livingroom [sic]. Laying between the cushion [sic]. The eyeglasses were recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until hand carried to the latent lab to be printed. 
(1) Pair of blue jeans: recovered off the southeast bedroom floor, approximately 5 feet south of the north wall and 2 feet east of the west wall, in front of the dresser. The blue jeans were recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Blue short sleeve shirt; recovered off the southeast bedroom floor,approximately 3 feet north of the south and 6 feet east of the west wall, in front of the chest of drawers. The shirt was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's carem [sic] control and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Short sleeve blue shirt; recovered on the floor in the southeast bedroom, near the closet. Approximately 3 feet south of the north wall and 5 feet west of the east wall. Inside the left front shirt pocket was a gold wrist watch. The band is broken. The watch is a Bulova, black face with (4) diamond, 12.3,6,9 The watch was left inside the shirt pocket. The shirt and watch was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) U.S. Army knife, with sheath: recovered from southwest bedroom closet recovered from southwest bedroom closet [sic regarding the repetition], inside cardboard box, found on floor. The knife and sheath were found seperated [sic] inside the cardboard box. At this time I recovered the knife and sheath, both were kept sererapted [sic] and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Maroon pullover shirt; recovered on the dining room table. The shirt was recovered and placed into a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Small clear plastic bag, containing a green leafy substance. Recovered on the dining room table in plain view. The plastic bag was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control and custody until tagged into the property room. 
No other evidence was found inside apartment 138A.
Now here's the property invoice for the material turned over by CSU Officer F.L. Hale to Property Officer F.L Martin. For clarity, the notations in red were on the document when I received it from Barbara Lunsford. Also for clarity, not all the items in the inventory were collected at Preston Hughes' apartment. The other items were collected from the crime scene, from either of two hospitals, or the morgue.

Be aware that this brain teaser has nothing to do with the marijuana found on Preston's desk. That would be too easy. It is clear from Hale's police report that he took possession of the marijuana while at Preston's apartment, and did not relinquish possession until he allegedly turned it over to the property room. It is equally clear from the property invoice that the marijuana (of which Hale claimed sole possession) did not make its way to the property room.

Be aware also that this brain teaser has nothing to do with the eyeglasses recovered by Officer Hale from Preston's apartment. We'll deal with those glasses in detail soon. For now it should be sufficient to note that Officer Hale did not claim to turn the glasses over to the property room. Instead, he claimed to have turned them over to the fingerprint unit. While I would like to see the receipt from the fingerprint unit, there is no reason to expect the eyeglasses would appear on an invoice intended for the property room.

Now you're all set up and ready to go for the brain teaser.

For 10 points, identify which items were taken from Preston's apartment but not mentioned in Hale's report or property invoice.

I suggest you review the photos in The Searchers.


ADDENDUM (31 July 2012):
Oscar Anon earns the 10 nugatory points for being first with the correct and obvious answer. If you look at the two photos in The Searchers that show Preston's fold out bed, you won't see any sheets or blankets. Preston claims on his blog that there was a sheet on the bed when he left, that he masturbated and the sheet was stained with his semen. He and others suggest the HPD intended to use that stain to plant his DNA in Shandra's rape kit.

I do not believe that is correct. While working on another case, just today, I was reminded that the first person ever exonerated by DNA was David Vasquez of Virginia, and that happened in 1989. The police searched Preston's apartment in 1988. I suspect they were not anticipating that DNA samples would soon be leading to exonerations.

I have no doubt that Preston used at least one bed sheet. The mattress does not appear as if it has been used unprotected. I also suspect that the HPD did indeed take the sheet and sent it directly to the crime lab for testing. That's why the sheet is not included in the invoice of evidence turned over to the property room at 2:58 AM.

I suspect the police were hoping that Shandra was a secretor. That means her blood type could be determined from her other bodily fluids. If they could identify Shandra's blood type on the sheets, and Preston was not a secretor and/or Preston did not have the same blood type as Shandra, then they would have been able to argue she must have been inside his apartment recently.

I suspect that Shandra turned out not to be a secretor. Most people are not. I suspect they then planted the glasses in Preston's apartment so that they could argue she had been in there recently, maybe the very night of her murder.

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The Case of Preston Hughes III: Brain Teaser #5

Here's a quick one for zero points:  What the hell did I do with Brain Teaser #3?

Now Brain Teaser #5, for 10 points.

In The Searchers, I state with confidence that there were no visible blood stains or droplets on any of Preston's clothing. None. I claim also that the police, the crime lab, and (possibly) the prosecutor knew that to be so.

You win the 10 nugatory Skeptical Juror points by being the first to provide a compelling explanation of either:

1. Why I am incorrect, or

2. Why I am correct.


ADDENDUM (29 July 2012):
Ten nugatory points to Oscar Anon. Allow me to summarize the points he made and add some of my own.

We can be confident that there was no visible blood on the clothing for the following reasons:

1. The jeans, shoes, and socks are either white or pale enough that any blood stain would be obvious. There is no blood visible in any of the photos. It would be statistically unlikely if in each case substantial blood was apparent only on the portions not visible in the photos.

2. The clothing was not tested until three days before the trial. If they State believed there was visible blood stains of any size on the clothing, they would have tested it sooner.

4. The HPD didn't (at least initially) test individual stains to unambiguously determine if they were blood. The HPD treated large areas of the clothing with a Luminol like substance. Luminol, and the similar substances, are used to detect blood that is otherwise invisible. The testing was designed to give them some idea which areas they might subject to definitive blood tests. Luminol type testing, at best, can indicate only possible areas of blood. The test returns false positives for many ingredients, and is therefore never to be used as the sole determinant for the presence of blood.

5. No blood was found during the subsequent, more definitive testing. The State attempted to leave the impression that the follow-on testing was unable to discriminate between between human blood and animal blood because there insufficient blood remaining to test after the initial Luminol type testing. That's a generous interpretation. The more straightforward interpretation is that there was no blood identified by the more definitive testing.

6. The State did not show the jury those portions of the clothing on which the testing was conducted. That would have made it clear to the jury that there were no visible blood stains on the clothing. Instead, the State showed the jury only those areas of the clothing where even they conceded were no visible signs of blood. They showed the clothing with the samples removed, but did not show the samples.

In summary, there was no visible signs of blood, nor was any detected during any non-ambiguous testing. The State nonetheless left the jury with the impression that substantial amounts of blood had been discovered on multiple areas of the jeans and shirt.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Searchers

My favorite John Wayne movie is The Searchers.
From Wikipedia:
The Searchers is a 1956 American Western film directed by John Ford ... set during the Texas-Indian Wars. The picture stars John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood) ...

The film was a commercial success, although it received no Academy Award nominations. It was named the Greatest American Western of all time by the American Film Institute in 2008, and placed 12th on the ... Institute's 2007 list of the Top 100 greatest movies of all time.
Wayne played a more complex, far less likable character than usual. His hatred of Indians played a significant role in the movie. Also, he was somewhat testy when one of his young co-searchers asked about the fate of one of the kidnapped girls.
What do you want me to do? Draw you a picture? Spell it out?
Don't ever ask me! Long as you live, don't ever ask me more.
As unpleasant as Searcher John Wayne was in the movie, he never went so far as to plant evidence in an effort to send someone to their death. On the other hand, one or more of those who searched Preston Hughes' apartment may have.

From the police report of Apartment Searcher F.L. Hale:
Upon entering the apartment Officer Hale was lead [sic] into the living room and shown a pair or precription [sic] silver rim glasses. These glasses were found between the cushions of a three cushion couch, against the south wall of the living room.
Officer Hale was then lead [sic] into the southeast bedroom and shown a pair of blue jean [sic], two blue shirt [sic] on the bedroom floor.
Inside the closet of the southwest bedroom Officer Hale was shown a large knife wedged inside a cardboard box, found on the floor, next to the knife was a sheath.
On the dining room table was a maroon pullover shirt, a clear plastic bag containing green leafy substance.

The Knife and its Sheath
Knife and Sheath (found in closet of southwest bedroom)
As you already know from On Being Blunt and Marcell's Neck, that knife could not have been the one that transected Shandra's carotid artery and perforated Marcell's. The knife in the image above has a single-edge blade. The knife that entered Shandra's neck and Marcell's neck had a double-edge blade. That knife in the image above has a 1" wide blade. The knife that ended the life of both Shandra and Marcell had a 5/8" wide blade, or thereabouts.

There is a small stain, possibly blood, on the tip of the blade. Hughes claims it is rabbit blood from months earlier. Though the knife shown above supposedly inflicted four stabbing wounds and two cutting wounds, and though it supposedly transected / perforated two carotid arteries and two jugular veins, and though it supposedly did so soon before the photo was taken, the apparent blood staining seems neither as copious nor as fresh as one might expect.

One might expect also that the sheath would have bloodstains (and possibly blood spatter) on it. It does not, at least based on the image above.

The state offered no evidence that the knife and/or sheath had been washed. The knife has a leather handle and the sheath loop is made of fabric. No one made any mention of the handle or loop being damp. The police did not report that any of the sinks or towels gave any indication of a recent blood cleanup. The police elected not to perform any Luminol testing to reveal any efforts to hide a bloody cleanup.

And, oh yeah, I almost forgot, the blood still has what appears to be some blood on its tip. If Hughes or anybody attempted to clean that knife of blood, he missed a rather obvious spot in plain view.

Given that the knife is not the murder weapon, I am not surprised that the prosecution was clearly uninterested in seeing it tested. It would be far better for them if they could just show the knife to the jury and tell them that it was the murder weapon and have the jury believe that. But the State needed expert witnesses to tell the jury that it was the murder weapon, so here is what they did and did not do.
  • The State did not attempt to fit the knife into Shandra's neck wound. It would not have fit.
  • The State did not test the blood on the knife until the same day their searcher of blood was to testify.
  • The State Blood Searcher (I"m reluctant to call him a forensic expert) did conduct a test for the presence of blood during the midst of the trial, while sitting in the witness box, while the jury was in recess.
  • The State Blood Searcher did declare that the knife tested positive for blood.
  • The State Blood Searcher did explain that he could not determine whether the blood was human or animal.
  • The medical examiner did not testify.
  • The State did rely on a last-moment, fill-in, medical examiner
  • The State did not ask about the neck wounds having no blunt edges.
  • The last-minute, fill-in, medical examiner did not volunteer that the neck wounds had no blunt edges.
  • The last-minute, fill-in, medical examiner did opine that Hughes' knife was consistent with the wounds, though it was not.
  • The State did repeatedly describe the knife to the jury as the murder weapon.
It is particularly egregious, in a case filled with egregiousness, that the State Blood Searcher conducted only a test that could not even discriminate between animal and human blood. In fact the test could not discriminate between blood and carrots, or beets, or radishes, or horseradish, or broccoli, or cauliflower, or apricots, or beans, or blackberries, or Jerusalem artichokes, or turnips, or cabbages, or even onions, potatoes, or apples. The test could not discriminate between blood and tobacco, or between blood and black tea. If improperly conducted, the test could fail to discriminate between copper and nickel salts, or other chemical oxidizers.

The test is more properly used to determine the absence of blood rather than its presence. if the test sample does not turn red, then you know the item has no blood on it. If the test sample does turn red, then you really don't know what you have. You certainly don't have enough to send a man to death row.

By testing the knife just before the State Blood Searcher testified, the State did not provide time for the defense to seek the opinion of an expert. The State also prevented any timely follow-on testing to determine whether the substance was human or animal blood, or turnips, or blackberries. To this pathetic and surprise forensic analysis, the defense objected. The judge, of course, overruled the objection, cleverly opining:
Apparently you've got something that many defense lawyers have always wanted; that is, you're seeing the actual testing right before your very eyes.
Holy Judicial Crap, Batman!

The Jeans
Here's a pretty good look at the jeans:

Jeans (found in master bedroom)
I've enlarged this image substantially on my computer and I can't see any drops of blood, much less any substantial blood spatter. Let's see how the State Blood Searcher described what he found on those jeans.
Q. And what did you do with the blue jeans?
A. I used a chemical reagent that would enhance and cause a fluorescence of any blood or possible blood that was detected or placed on that pair of blue jeans.
Q. Now, I note on these blue jeans there's some holes that appear to be cut out of the blue jeans. I'm holding the blue jeans up for the jury to see and for you to see, also. Do you know how these holes came to be in these jeans?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. How did they come to be there?
A. I put those in there myself.
Q. Why did you cut these holes out of these jeans?
A. Again, I was attempting to do secondary testing in those substances that I got a positive reaction for the chemical that I used.
Q. When you tested the jeans the first time, did you get any reaction?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What was that reaction?
A. I got a positive reaction for the presence of blood.
Q. Okay. Does the test that you use provide you with sufficient information to say what kind of blood that was?
A. No, sir.
Q. Could you even distinguish whether it was human blood or animal blood?
A. No, sir, I could not.
Q. The best you can say through the test is that there was some kind of blood on the jeans?
A. There was an indication that blood was present on these blue jeans.
Q. Did you attempt, by cutting out those little spots, to do further testing on it, to develop a blood type or something like that?
A. Yes, sir.
Q  Was there sufficient sample to develop a blood type?
A. No, sir, there was not.
So it's not surprising I can't see any blood on Hughes' Jeans. Neither the police nor the crime lab could see any either. (Stand by for a Brainteaser on how I know this.)

On the knife, the State Blood Searcher applied two chemicals that make some substances (including blood) turn turn the reagent red. On the clothes, the Blood Searcher applied a single chemical that makes some substances (including blood) glow in the dark. In each case, the problems are the same. The testing cannot discriminate between human and animal blood; the testing cannot even discriminate between blood and many items found around the house, such as vegetables, fruits, copper, and nickel. Those chemicals that make blood glow in the dark react even to bleach.

Shirt #1
The jeans appear in a second photo taken by Apartment Searcher F.L. Hale.

Jeans and Blue Shirt (found in master bedroom)
With respect to the jeans, the photo is not as helpful as the previous photo, since it was taken from further away. However, this longer shot provides the only image currently available for the blue shirt just beyond. You won't be seeing a close up of that shirt anywhere in this post.

The State Blood Searcher claims to have found blood on the knife, the jeans, and a blue shirt. I'm not sure which of the blue shirts he tested, but I will show both of them in this post. The observations about the quality of the blood testing apply regardless of which shirt was actually tested.

Whatever shirt was tested was subjected only to a non-definitive test, one that could not discriminate between human blood and animal blood; one that could not discriminate between blood and carrots, or beets, or potatoes, or tea, or bleach, ad nauseum.
Q. Did you do any similar testing on the blue shirt, which is here on the table before me and which is marked as State's Exhibit No. 19?A. Yes, sir.
Q. What test did you perform on this exhibit?
A. I again used the chemical reagent to react with the area that was positive or that gave an indication that blood was present.
Q. Okay. Now, on this blue shirt there appears to have been a magic marker or circle drawn or something on here. Do you know what that is?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What is that?
A. That is the area that I reacted my chemical with, that gave me a positive reaction for the presence of blood.
Q. And again, is that test sufficient for you to be able to give an opinion as to whether not that blood is human or animal blood?
A. No, sir, it is not.
Q. It merely tells you there was some blood on that shirt?
A. That's correct.
Q. Again, was there sufficient sample for you to do any further evaluation to determine blood type or something of that nature?
A. No, sir, there was not.
Shirt #2
Here at two shots of the second shirt. It may or may not be the one on which the State Blood Searcher allegedly found blood.

Blue Shirt (found in master bedroom)
Note also that the Blood Searcher searched for blood on a pair of shoes as well. He found none. I suspect the shoes may be those shown in the first of the two photos above. Take note of the shoe. They might help you in explaining how I know that no blood stains were apparent on any of the clothing.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention a third serious problem with the non-definitive testing used exclusively by the State Blood Searcher. It can't discriminate fresh blood from old blood, or fresh radish juice from old radish juice. From the cross examination of the State Blood Searcher.
Q. Now, is there anything about the tests you ran, either on the knife or on the clothing, that gives any indication how long the stains that
or the materials that you tested for had been on there?
A. No, sir.
Q. Could it have been for years?
A. I would imagine that's possible, yes, sir.
This post is long enough already. We will continue the search of Preston's apartment in later post in this series, after two brainteasers. In this post, we have discussed the three items subjected to (rather pathetic) blood testing. Those items were the knife, the jeans, and one of the two blue shirts.

The jury heard that the knife, the jeans, and the blue shirt each had blood on it. That's not my take-away from our search of Preston's apartment, from our hearing of the State Blood Searcher's testimony. My take-away is as follows.
There may have been blood on the knife. Preston claims it was rabbit blood, months old. Nothing the State Blood Searcher did contradicted that.

Whatever substance was on the knife, it was certainly not in copious amounts. One would have expected the murder weapon (and its sheath) to be pretty much covered in blood. Alternatively, one would have expected to see evidence of a clean up had Preston cleaned the knife recently.

The testing on the knife is, however, is of know consequence. The knife cannot be the murder weapon. The blade has one too many sharp edges and it is too wide by almost a factor of two.

Whatever the State Blood Searcher found on the jeans and shirt, assuming he found anything at all, was not there in copious amounts. In fact, the neither the police nor the crime lab nor the prosecutors office could see any blood at all.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Floor Plan

It's now time to turn our attention to Preston Hughes' apartment and the search thereof. I've prepared a floor plan of his apartment based on a sketch created by Officer F.L. Hale (and provided to me by Barbara Lunsfordand some dimensions provided by Officer Hale in his HPD report. Here's my source material, sketch first then text.

The front door to the apartment faces to the west and opens into a small foyer. To the north of the foyer is the kitchen. This kitchen is approximatley [sic] 7 feet 5 inches by 6 feet. On the north end of the kitchen is the dining room, which is approximately 7 feet 8 inches by 9 feet 9 inches. At the southwest corer of the dining room is an opening to the living room. The foyer also leads to the living room. The living room is approximately 12 feet 4 inches by 15 feet 6 inches. On the southwest corner of the living room is a hallway which lead [sic] to the two bedroom [sic] at the south end of apartment. Along the east wall of the hallway is a bath room, approximately 5 feet by 10 feet. In the southwest corner of the apartment is the master bedroom. This room is approximately 11 feet 8 inches by 14 feet 19 inches. The closet is in the at the [sic] northeast corner. The second beroom [sic] is in the southwest corner of the apartment an [sic] is approximatly [sic] 11 feet 4 inches by 14 feet 1 inch.
Officer Hale's dimensions are only approximatley approximatly approximately correct. I was not able to completely reconcile them with the 6 straight sides of the apartment perimeter. Based on Hale's dimensions, the outside walls of the rooms would not have lined up so nicely.

Here's the floor plan I put together based on Sgt. Hale's information.

Hopefully, the floor plan will help you orient yourself as we follow Officer Hale's footsteps when he photographed the items in the apartment.

The floor plan has already helped me narrow down which of the apartments Preston Hughes lived in. I know that his bedroom windows looked south at the Lakewood Village apartments. His apartment was somewhere along the southernmost row of the Lakehurst apartments. I therefore took the floor plan I created, scaled it, rotated it, modified the perspective, and overlaid it on a Google satellite view to see which of the apartments matched.

You must click to enlarge if you hope to have any decent chance of seeing my floor plan laying atop the two possible apartments. Note that the view is from the north, looking south.

There are four upper and four lower units on the second building from the left, just beneath the fence. Either one of two of those upper units could have been (and must have been) Preston's apartment. I provide an enlargement of that building to make my point (and my floor plan) more apparent.

To help you better orient yourselves, I turn once again to Frankenmap.

I added the oval to show which building Preston lived in. Note that in this view, north is to the top of the screen.

As I understand it, there was a bus stop at the corner of Westheimer Boulevard (southernmost road in Frankenmap) and Crescent Park Drive (easternmost road in Frankenmap). Preston, when coming home from work, normally got off the bus at Westheimer and Crescent Park. In other words, he got off at the lower right corner of Frankenmap. He then walked up Crescent Park Drive to his apartment. He did not cut through the field. It would have been well out of the way.

On the night of the murder, he slept through his stop then caught a cab ride to the parking lot of his apartment complex. Once again, there was no need for him to cut through the field.

In the next post in this series, we will begin exploring the interior of his apartment, and view the evidence as the HPD claims to have found it.

ADDENDUM (26 July 2012):
Reader anonymous comments by asking multiple pointed questions.
Tsj,The argument you have presented this far is compelling. Why hasn't or wont an innocence project pick up this case? 
Is it because there was evidence that Shandra was raped and PH had been accused of rape twice before? 
Also, why did Preston say on the stand that he walked through that path that night? 
Is your arguement that he is legally innocent but not actually innocent?
I provide my somewhat lengthy response in this addendum rather than in the comments.

Most people gave not a passing thought that Preston might actually be innocent until Barbara Lunsford began researching and writing about his case. The evidence is seemingly overwhelming. Someone had to first see through that. That person was Barbara Lunsford. I became interested in the case because of her writing. 
As far as I know, Preston had been accused of rape once before, not twice. He pled guilty, he argues to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. I suspect, as I explained in The Big Sleep, that is why the police homed in on him so quickly. 
Regarding Preston being in the field that night, you anticipate what I will be writing of when I get around to discussing his confessions. Preston was in the field that night. I have argued only that he did not walk through the field on his way home from work, as some readers suggested he may have. 
Careful readers of my blog, Preston's blog, and Barbara's Mystery Crime Scene know that Preston explains that after he arrived home, he took his dog for a walk in that field. I will have additional details about his walk in that field later in the series, when I talk about his confession.
I accept that Preston is legally guilty. That's why he's on death row. He was found guilty by a jury, and his trial has been ruled constitutionally acceptable by all appellate courts so far. 
I believe that Preston is actually innocent. 
I write all the time about people who are legally guilty but actually innocent. 
So that you are aware, I do not throw myself so thoroughly into cases where I do not believe the person to be actually innocent. I am deeply involved in two other cases where I have committed myself to seeing someone freed. Those two cases already demand much of my time. I didn't realize when I started writing about Hughes that I would be so thoroughly drawn in. Now I overwhelmed.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Exceptional

In The Big Sleep, I listed a number of precautionary statements (i.e. assumptions) before I listed the implications associated with Shandra dying soon after having her carotid was severed. One of these assumptions was that Shandra was not exceptional in her ability to survive a severed carotid.

Since that post, I learned from a professional pathologist that some people do, rarely, survive a severed carotid without immediate medical intervention. The pathologist cited this case summary from the April 1988 issue of Journal of Laryngology and Otology. I must have missed it when I scanned my home delivered copy.
The Case of the Missing Carotid -- A Well Aimed Knife 
A 20-year-old male presented with a small stab wound to the neck and with haemodynamic signs of significant haemorrhage, but no signs of local bleeding. On exploration, an intact vagus nerve and internal jugular vein were found, but the common carotid artery was not immediately apparent. Careful dissection confirmed a completely transected common carotid artery with the two ends contracted and retracted. A primary repair was performed and post-operatively the patient recovered completely and had no neurological deficit.
Carotid arteries are under tension in their normal state. When completely severed, the now exposed ends of the carotid retract. The lower portion pulls down towards the torso and it can be difficult to find. Through some combination of pressure from surrounding tissues, swelling, pseudoaneuysm, clotting, and other phenomenon of which I am clueless, the carotid may rarely self-seal, the patient may rarely not bleed out, and the patient may rarely survive without prompt medical intervention.

The point is that survival of a severed carotid is not an impossibility. It is a rare event, but it has happened. I don't know how frequently it happens, but I accept it happened at least in the one instance just cited.

To be thorough in our investigation of the case of Preston Hughes III, we must therefore consider whether or not Shandra Charles was one of those exceptional people who survived a severed carotid without immediate medical intervention.

The first characteristic of the exceptional person described above is that the person survived. Shandra did not. Still this does not completely rule out Shandra as being an exceptional case. She could have been even more exceptional. She could have been one of those cases not yet identified (as far as I know) whose carotid self-sealed long enough for her to make a dying declaration but then self-ruptured before receiving medical care.

A second characteristic of the exceptional person described above is that the physician found the self-sealing carotid so remarkable that he made note of it. The autopsy report made no note of Shandra's severed carotid being in any way unique or remarkable.

A third characteristic of the exceptional person described above is that he exhibited no external signs of local bleeding. Shandra not only had external signs of local bleeding, she spilled copious amounts of blood onto the dirt pathway. From Cook and Becker's report. The emphasis is mine.
Officers walked east along the path that Hunter eluded to and walked approx 30 yards when observing a black female laying face down in the path. She was positioned face west and feet east. There was blood along the neckline and she was breathing deep but was unconscious. Officers notified the west side dispatcher of the find. The blood appeared to be fresh ...
Here's some of that fresh blood.

There's no telling how deeply that blood soaked into the ground. It is obvious, though, that the stain did not form from blood merely dripping or oozing out of her neck. The blood spurted from her neck in an amount sufficiently copious to make that dark, elongated stain. That stain spans the trail and extends into the grass and weeds on each side.

That stain is compelling evidence of a severed carotid artery that did not self-seal.

There is no evidence that Shandra responded to a severed carotid in any exceptional fashion. Instead of surviving with no external evidence of a severed carotid, she spurted blood onto the trail, lost consciousness, and died.

Shandra was not exceptional, at least when it came to surviving a severed carotid artery.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Stayed Execution of Darien Houser

Darien Houser was scheduled to be executed by the people of Pennsylvania on 24 July 2012. His execution, however, has been stayed to allow him to file appeals in the federal courts.

I provide the following summary of his case from the adverse decision in Commonwealth v. Houser (2011):
A warrant was issued for appellant after he failed to appear for a rape trial. Sergeant Vincent DeSandro of the First Judicial District Warrant Unit was assigned the warrant and learned appellant was likely residing in Apartment 336 of a complex known as Fisher's Crossing at 4901 Old Stenton Avenue, Philadelphia. Sergeant DeSandro requested his partner Officer Eric Jones, Sergeant LeClaire, and Officer Carlo Del Borrello to assist him in executing the warrant. Sergeant LeClaire and Officer Del Borrello wore the required Warrant Unit uniform, which consisted of cargo pants, a shirt identifying them as officers in the Warrant Unit, a ballistics vest and cover containing the phrase "Warrant Unit" on both the front and back, and a baseball hat or wool cap with the phrase "Warrant Unit" on it. Sergeant DeSandro and Officer Jones, assigned to the FBI Fugitive Task Force, wore civilian clothing with ballistics vests with "Warrant Unit" on the front and back, along with their badges. 
The officers met near the apartment complex shortly before 2:00 a.m. on March 19, 2004. Philadelphia Police were called to assist and positioned themselves at the rear of the complex. As the Warrant Unit approached Apartment 336, they heard movement inside. After an initial knock on the door, the noise stopped. One of the officers covered the peephole, and the police pounded on the door, identifying themselves and their purpose. 
Appellant and his girlfriend, Naki Hutchinson, were inside the apartment, Hutchinson in the kitchen and appellant in the bedroom. Hutchinson told appellant someone was at the door, telling him it was either the police due to a noise complaint or an acquaintance playing a joke on them. Appellant instructed her not to open the door because it was the police. Nevertheless, Hutchinson heard the officers identify themselves and opened the door. 
Sergeant LeClaire entered first and informed Hutchinson he had a warrant for appellant. Sergeant DeSandro was directly behind him, followed by Officers Del Borrello and Jones. Inside the apartment, the kitchenette light was on, as well as a television and an aquarium light. Light from the exterior hallway also entered the apartment as Officer Del Borrello held the door open. The officers were only a few feet inside the door and approximately 14 to 15 feet from the bedroom when Sergeant LeClaire was heard to tell appellant to drop his weapon. At the same time, Sergeant DeSandro saw a barrel flash in the bedroom and sustained a gun shot wound to his left wrist. Sergeant LeClaire returned fire. Officer Del Borrello, at the threshold of the apartment, heard Sergeant LeClaire repeatedly direct appellant to put his gun down; he also heard him call for help, saying he was hit and "officer down." 
Officers Del Borrello and Evans removed Sergeant DeSandro to the exterior hallway. Officer Del Borrello later heard appellant reloading bullets into a magazine; appellant then attempted to run out the front door. As appellant neared the front door, he shot Officer Del Borrello in the abdomen. Officer Del Borrello returned fire as he ran past the front door on his way to seek cover and assistance down the hallway. As appellant extended his arm and gun into the hallway, Officer Jones began to fire, causing appellant to return into the apartment. At least one more shot was heard coming from inside the apartment. 
Philadelphia Police began arriving on the scene, including the two officers who were assigned to the rear of the apartment complex. Sergeant Frank Hayes arrived while gunfire was still being exchanged and positioned himself outside the apartment. After a lull in the gunfire, Sergeant Hayes entered the apartment; he found a living room window was open with its security bars wrenched from the wall. He also saw Sergeant LeClaire on his knees at the end of a sofa with a large blood spot on the left side of his head. Sergeant Hayes proceeded to search the apartment for appellant, while other officers attended to Sergeant LeClaire. Appellant was not found in the apartment. Another officer searched the alley below the open apartment window. He observed blood in the snow, which he was able to track to an apartment on the first floor. He radioed for the SWAT team, which subsequently entered the apartment and arrested appellant. 
Sergeant LeClaire sustained two gunshot wounds, each from a .45 caliber bullet. The first shot was to his abdomen, striking his external iliac artery. Without immediate medical attention, this wound was fatal; however, Sergeant LeClaire would have been able to speak and fire his weapon for several minutes before sustaining fatal blood loss. The second wound was also fatal; it penetrated the left side of Sergeant LeClaire's forehead, passing through the left side of his brain and lodging between his scalp and skull. 
Despite an extensive search of the area the day of the shooting, the gun used to kill Sergeant LeClaire was not found. Police attempted to search a drain near where appellant entered the lower-level apartment, but the magnet used to recover evidence stuck to the sides of the drain, rendering it ineffective. Police returned over a year later and lowered a camera into the drain, revealing what appeared to be a gun inside. The drain was cut, and a gun was recovered with the magazine still inside, the hammer cocked, and one bullet in the chamber. Due to corrosion, the Commonwealth's ballistics expert could not say conclusively that it was the gun used to kill Sergeant LeClaire, although it was a.45 caliber with a seven-round magazine and matched Hutchinson's description of a gun owned by appellant. A loaded .32 caliber revolver, 19 spent .45 caliber casings and 18 unfired .45 caliber bullets were recovered in the apartment. Blood found on a .45 caliber ammunition box located on the sofa near Sergeant LeClaire's location was matched to appellant through DNA analysis. 
The Commonwealth charged appellant with murder, three counts of aggravated assault, and related crimes. A jury convicted him of three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; the jury could not reach a verdict on the murder charge. As a third-strike offender, appellant received two life sentences for two of the aggravated assault charges, 25 to 50 years imprisonment on the third aggravated assault charge, and five to 10 years imprisonment on the firearms violation. Retrial on the murder charge resulted in a conviction of first degree murder. ... 
We find the Commonwealth provided sufficient evidence to prove each element of first degree murder. Appellant opened fire on the Warrant Unit when they were only a few feet inside the door. Appellant shot Sergeant LeClaire twice in a vital part of the body. Two other officers were shot before retreating from the apartment. Despite the fatal wound to his abdomen, Sergeant LeClaire was able to call for help and yell "officer down" for a period of time; appellant reloaded his gun, and shot Sergeant LeClaire in the forehead. Appellant's blood was found in several locations in the apartment, including on a box of ammunition on the couch near where Sergeant LeClaire was found. 
To show motive for firing upon the officers, the Commonwealth introduced a letter appellant wrote to his wife while incarcerated in 2002. The letter stated, in relevant part, "I don't know where my road is going to lead to ... for I see my future on the run.... I don't believe I can do a long period of time in jail. ... I believe that the police will have to kill me before I come back to jail." ... 
Despite shooting Sergeant LeClaire twice, appellant argues the Commonwealth did not prove he acted with malice because his use of force was justified. Appellant maintains he fired upon the officers in self-defense, or at the least, imperfect self-defense. He claims he was in the bedroom counting money when he heard someone at the door. He asserts he did not know they were officers as they did not identify themselves as such. Additionally, citing the time of night, the low lighting conditions, and the fact that not all of the officers were in uniform or were in dark uniform, he claims he only saw shadowy figures enter his home. He also claims he saw someone place their arm around Hutchinson's neck and put a gun to her head. Appellant alleges these circumstances caused him to believe he was the victim of a home invasion. He claims, as he began moving to confront the shadowy figures, he was shot in the arm, then in the knee. The shot to the knee caused him to fall to the floor, where he happened to find a loaded gun, and returned fire. He tried to follow Hutchinson out the front door, but when he got to the doorway, two people on opposite sides of the hallway started shooting at him. He then heard one person say to the other, "You hit me, man," to which the other replied, "No, you shot me, man." At that point, he returned inside the apartment, shot the lock off the window, pulled the security bars off, and escaped to the ground below. ... 
Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, we find the Commonwealth disproved appellant's claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The Warrant Unit knocked on the door, identified themselves, and announced their purpose for over a minute. All of the officers wore ballistics vests identifying who they were on both the front and the back. They were finally let in by Hutchinson, who stated she knew they were officers. Hutchinson also stated the officers never threatened her. Although there were only a few sources of light in the apartment at that time, the officers were able to see well enough without their flashlights. When the officers were only a few feet into the apartment, appellant opened fire on them, immediately wounding Sergeant LeClaire. The other officers retreated to find cover, and more shots were exchanged. Hutchinson testified that while she was still in the apartment she could hear Sergeant LeClaire yell "officer down." Appellant also refused to obey the officers' commands to drop his weapon. At some point, appellant reloaded his gun and continued firing, eventually shooting Sergeant LeClaire in the head. As appellant was the aggressor, he was not justified in using deadly force; accordingly, his self-defense and imperfect self-defense claims fail. 
Appellant claims the verdict was against the weight of the evidence because the evidence presented at trial demonstrated, at worst, he mistakenly believed his home was being invaded, causing him to use deadly force. He relies on the same facts discussed in his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence: he claims he and Hutchinson were not aware it was the police knocking on the door; the lighting conditions made it difficult for him to ascertain who entered his home; and, due to the early morning hour and the fact that he was counting money in the bedroom, he believed he was the victim of a home invasion. Appellant argues his belief that his home was being invaded was reasonable and should negate the inference of malice used to convict him.
I oppose any execution in which the person scheduled to die might be innocent of the crime for which they are to die. In all other executions, I stand mute: I neither oppose nor support the execution. In the case of Darien Houser, I stand mute.