Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Big Sleep

No one wrote better than Raymond Chandler. No one.

From the conclusion of Chandler's The Big Sleep
Outside, the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though small wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in its light. I got into my car and drove off down the hill. 
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.
I'm part of the nastiness now. For Marlowe, it was Rusty Regan lying at the bottom of an oil sump. For me it is a suicidal young woman lying in a lonely graveyard, a bullet hole in her face. It is a one-year-old boy, lying in his crib, asphyxiated by an electrical fire. It is a fifteen-year-old girl and her three-year-old cousin with stab wounds in their necks, bleeding out in a dark, overgrown field.

The Big Tension in the case of Preston Hughes is Shandra's time-of-death. Having learned from her autopsy report that her left carotid artery and left jugular vein had been transected, it seems impossible she survived her neck wound for more than a couple minutes, much less remained conscious long enough to provide a dying declaration. On the other hand, it is painful to accept that the police would actually frame someone for capital murder.

The implications associated with Shandra's neck wound are therefore numerous, startling, and ugly.

The Wound
From Shandra's autopsy report (Brain Teaser #2):
The stab wound track perforated the soft tissues and muscles of the neck, transected the left jugular vein and the left common carotid artery and the track ended in the soft tissues and muscles of the neck with an approximate depth of penetration of 3-1/2 inches.
Ice hockey goalie Cling Malarchuk survived a nearly severed carotid. (Pools of Blood) Malarchuk survived, however, only because someone stuck their fingers into his neck wound and pinched the artery.
Malarchuk's life was saved by the team's trainer, Jim Pizutelli, a former Army medic who had served in Vietnam. He reached into Malarchuk's neck and pinched off the bleeding, not letting go until doctors arrived to begin suturing the wound. ... It is estimated that if the skate had hit 1/8 in (3mm) higher on Malarchuk's carotid, he would have been dead within two minutes.
The brain needs a constant supply of freshly oxygenated blood. Judoka have known this for more than a century. They know they can render an opponent unconscious within 14 seconds by restricting the flow of blood through both carotids. (Shime-Waza)

If only one carotid is blocked, the other carotid can still provide blood to the brain via the Circle of Willis. (Where's Willis?) The problem with a severed (rather than a blocked) carotoid is the rapid blood loss: the remaining carotid will have insufficient blood (and blood pressure) to supply the Circle of Willis.

As an aid to understanding how long a human might survive severed carotids, sheep provide a valuable analog. They have nearly the same blood volume and cardiac output as humans, they are routinely slaughtered by severing one or both of the carotids, and people have studied how long the sheep maintain brain function after their neck injuries. (Where's Willis?)

If both carotids (and jugulars) are severed, sheep will maintain brain function for 14 seconds. That is the same amount of time a judoka can remain conscious while being properly choked. If the carotid and jugular are severed on one side only, sheep lose brain function in 70 seconds. (Silence of the Lambs)

If we assume sheep are as good an analog for a single, non-functioning carotid as they are for two, then it is exceptionally unlikely that Shandra Charles survived more than 90 seconds after her carotid was completely severed.

The majority of medical expert witnesses recognize that humans cannot survive severed carotid for more than a few minutes. I base that on my survey of expert witness testimony from murder trials involving severed carotids, one side only. (Cases Involving Carotid Arteries)  In the summary chart below, the label "Several" represents several minutes, a couple of minutes, and within minutes.

Fifty percent of the medical expert witnesses put the maximum survival time as no more than several minutes, or a few minutes. Seventy-five percent of the experts place the survival time as no more than five minutes.

For what it is worth, the prosecution-friendly, fill-in medical examiner testified during Hughes' trial that he could not rule out the possibility Shandra was stabbed as early as 8:30 PM and died as late as 12:58 AM. In other words, he left open the possibility that Shandra might have lived for 268 minutes after having her carotid separated. That would make him a serious outlier.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense bothered to ask how long Shandra might have remained conscious after having her carotid severed. Once again, the experts agree it couldn't have been very long. (Cases Involving Carotid Arteries)

Not a single expert believed someone could remain conscious for more than three minutes after suffering a severed carotid. No one any where at any time, as far as I know, has suggested that someone with a severed carotid could regain consciousness without medical treatment, without at least first aid.

While the time-of-death summary might provide a minuscule glimmer of hope for those who really, really, really want to trust the HPD, the time-of-consciousness summary must shatter any thought that Shandra Charles could have been conscious when she allegedly named "Preston" as her attacker.

Stand by for precautionary statements.

IF Shandra Charles' left carotid artery was in fact transected, as per the autopsy report, AND

IF by "transected" the autopsy report means "severed" as I have so frequently used the word, AND

IF someone who suffers a severed carotid will lose (and not regain) consciousness within three minutes and/or dies within five minutes unless provided medical care, AND

IF that person is not provided medical care within such five minutes, AND

IF Shandra Charles was not exceptional with respect to succumbing to a severed carotid, AND

IF the HPD reports which I have frequently referenced are accurate representations of the actual HPD reports in this case, AND

IF the first officers on the scene did not arrive within five minutes of Shandra having her carotid severed,

THEN ...

HPD Officers Cook and Baker ...
knowingly or unwittingly filed a false police report. Shandra Charles could not have been alive and breathing deeply when they discovered her on the trail. This would explain why they did not bother to apply first aid to Shandra, though they applied CPR to Marcell, who they admitted was already dead.

If Cook and/or Baker testified similarly at a preliminary hearing or at trial or anywhere under oath (and I do not know that they did), then they knowingly or unwittingly provided false testimony. ... AND

HPD Sgt. D. Hamilton ...
knowingly filed a false police report. Shandra Charles could not have been alive, much less conscious, when he arrived on the scene. Shandra Charles could not, therefore, have provided a dying declaration. Shandra Charles could not have identified Preston as her attacker. This would explain why Sgt. Hamilton did not apply first aid to Shandra. It would also explain why Sgt. Hamilton strangely sat with Shandra all by himself, as Cook and Becker stood watching from Marcell's body.

If Hamilton testified similarly at a preliminary hearing or at trial or anywhere under oath (and I do not know that he did), then Sgt. Hamilton perjured himself. ... AND

HFD Ambulance Driver M.S. Miller and HFD Paramedic M. Atkinson ...
knowingly or wittingly transported a dead person while leaving a second dead person at the scene. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Shandra Charles died not long before she was discovered, that she was not displaying incontrovertible signs of being dead for a lengthy period, and that Sgt. Hamilton informed them she had spoken with him just recently. ... AND

HFD Ambulance Driver M.S. Miller and HFD Paramedic M. Atkinson ...
knowingly or wittingly delivered a dead person to the emergency room of West Houston Medical Center. This might help explain why the hospital refused to accept Shandra Charles. It's certainly less odious than turning away someone bleeding out from a neck wound. ... AND

HFD Ambulance Driver M.S. Miller and/or HFD Paramedic M. Atkinson ...
lied about Shandra being alive when they arrived on the scene and lied about Shandra saying something about her cousin, ASSUMING HPD Officer J.L. Waltmon was accurate when reporting what they told him. ... AND

HPD Officer J.L. Waltmon
filed a false police report when he claimed that Miller and/or Atkinson told him Shandra was alive when they arrived on scene and that she said something about her cousin, ASSUMING Miller and Atkinson never said any such thing.

If Miller and/or Atkinson did not say such thing, and if Waltmon testified under oath that they did (and I do not know that he did) then Officer Waltmon perjured himself. ... AND

HPD Sergeants Gafford and Bloyd
may have filed a false police report when they reported that they located Preston Hughes because Shandra told Hamilton that she had been attacked by someone named Preston, and that Preston lived in the Lakeside Apartments.

Even given all the qualifications I have already made abundantly clear, it is possible that Hamilton deceived Gafford and Bloyd about Shandra's dying declaration. That would leave unexplained, however, why the three began their search in the Lakehurst apartments, though Shandra allegedly told Hamilton her attacker lived at Lakeside. It would leave unexplained, also, why the three called off their search for the Preston who lived at Lakeside without searching for a Preston who lived at the Lakeside Green apartment complex, located just north of the lot where Shandra was found murdered. It would leave unexplained also why the three did not search for any Preston living in the Lakewood Village apartment complex, easily visible from Preston Hughes' bedroom widow.

Someone seemed familiar with the names of the apartment complexes in the area. Though Shandra allegedly said Lakeside, the three searched Lakehurst and only Lakehurst.

If Sergeants Gafford and/or Bloyd were aware that Shandra Charles did not provide a dying declaration, and if they testified at a preliminary hearing or at trial or anywhere under oath as per their police report, then Sergeants Gafford and/or Bloyd perjured themselves.

Why Preston Hughes?
The 64 Thousand Dollar Question becomes: Why did the HPD so quickly home in on Preston Hughes if Shandra did not identify him in a dying declaration. You need look no further than Sgt. Gafford's views of the Hartleys to understand why. I offer this reminder.
The uniformed patrol officers had detained a male, and knew the location of the males [sic] wife, who had called the police a short time before the compls were discovered. These witnesses are known in the area from past incidents,and are known by the area officers to be somewhat unstable, a condition which Sgt observed this date as well. The information provided by these witnesses does not appear relevant to this case.
Many police have little use for people they consider to be low-lifes, unless of course they need to purchase accomplice or snitch testimony. Drew Hartley and Barbara Szekely were on the HPD list of low-lifes, and so was Preston Hughes.

Recall this segment from Guest Blogger Al's introductory posts to this series:
This is a difficult matter. Hughes states that he ‘plead out’ this charge even though he was innocent of the crime. Do we believe this, especially considering the assault of Shandra Charles would be the second time this charge had been leveled at Hughes within a three year period?

Putting myself in place of a juror, I would be inclined to at least maintain some doubt about the conviction, and side with Hughes. First reason, Hughes serves no jail time, but is released on probation for sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl and then of threatening her with a gun after she filed a complaint with the police. In a law and order state like Texas, I don’t believe the state would release a violent criminal unless the prosecution’s case was exceptionally weak. Second, Hughes was 20 at the time, so the possibility that the relationship with his accuser was consensual is plausible. Lastly, as a young man without the resources to defend himself, it’s highly probable that he would take a plea deal like to this since it involved no jail time rather than risk a trial.
Now from Hughes v. Quarterman (2008)
At the punishment phase, the State called Tracy Heggar. She testified that Hughes had raped her in 1985, when she was thirteen years old. She testified further that Hughes had threatened her with a gun in an attempt to prevent her from testifying against him about the rape. The State also presented evidence that, at the time of the murders, Hughes was serving two ten-year probated terms for the aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault of Heggar.
My hypothesis (and it is only that) follows immediately.

The HPD considered Hughes a child molester, the lowest of the low-lifes. They believed also that he had threatened his victim with a gun, yet he walked around free. (The evidence against him must have indeed been weak.) Hamilton arrives on the scene and finds a girl about the age of Tracy Heggar dead on the trail, her pants pulled part way down her hips. He knows Preston Hughes lives in the apartment nearby, but mis-remembers the name as Lakeside. (There were three complexes in the immediate area with "Lake" in their names.)

Shandra is dead, but not yet showing incontrovertible signs of being dead. He turns her over and sits alone beside her, instructing others to perform such tasks as keep watch over Marcell or run back to the Stop N Go to round up Drew Hartley.

When the paramedics arrive, he tells them that the boy is dead but the girl just spoke to him. They begin medical treatment by applying pressure to her neck wound, inserting an airway, and forcing blood into Shandra's right carotid artery.

They begin CPR. Once they begin, they cannot stop until their patient is declared dead.

They rush her to West Houston Memorial, just a mile away, and they roll her into the critical care unit. West Memorial, however, realizes that Shandra Charles is sleeping the big sleep, and they refuse to admit her. A quarrel ensues. That quarrel accounts for the missing 13 minutes in the paramedics' futile search for a hospital. Even as they arrive so late at Ben Taub, they continue to apply CPR.

HFD Ambulance Driver M.S. Miller and HFD Paramedic M. Atkinson stand out as the only players in this nasty, ugly case to perform their jobs professionally and heroically.

While Miller and Atkinson relentlessly try to save Shandra's life, Hamilton, Gafford, and Bloyd home in on Preston. They go through the motions of checking the resident list at Lakehurst, but they make no effort to check the resident lists at Lakewood Village or Lakeside Green. They knock on Preston's door then take him in for questioning.

Gafford makes it a point to note in his report that Hughes was the last person to leave his apartment and that Hughes locked the door with his keys. Nice touch. Gafford does not anticipate that the complex manager Joseph Casler will testify that at around 1:00 AM, he gave Gafford a set of master keys and pointed out three that would open Hughes' apartment door.

While Hughes is being transported to the station, or while Hughes is cooling his heels at the station, Gafford and/or Hamilton and/or Bloyd and/or Hale and/or others return to Preston's apartment and search it. They find a bloody knife in Preston's closet. The figure they have the right man. They don't realize that Preston's knife cannot be the murder weapon. They plant a pair of glasses in his couch, collect some evidence and have Officer F.L. Hale come in, take photographs, and collect the evidence.

Hale is not completely clued into what is going on. He takes a photograph of Preston's entry. That photo reveals he was there at night.

Hale records most, but not all of the evidence collected and turns it into the property room.  Property Officer  F.L. Martin puts Hale's typewritten property invoice into his own typewriter, enters a time of 2:58am and types his name. His typewriter has a fresher ribbon than does Hale's and the 2:58am stands out like a sore thumb. His typewritten text does not line up with Hale's typewritten text. Officer Martin signs his name to the invoice, as did Officer Hale.

Believing that they have the murder weapon in hand, Gafford and Bloyd begin their interview with Hughes at 4:10 AM. Preston acknowledges that he knows Evelyn Brown, Shandra's friend. Strangely, Gafford claims that acknowledgment convinced them to arrest Hughes.
Sgts then asked Hughes if he knew a female by the name of Shawn. Hughes stated that he knew one girl name Shawn ... that he last saw her when she came by his apartment about two months ago with a girlfriend named Evelyn. ...

It now became clear to Sgts that, due to: the naming of "Preston" by the #1 compl as the suspect, the close proximity of Preston Hughes residence to the murder scene, and the fact that Preston Hughes does know both the compl and Evelyn, Sgt. Gafford now arrested Preston Hughes as a suspect in this case.
I suggest they did not arrest Hughes because he acknowledged meeting Evelyn Brown two months earlier. I suggest instead that they arrested him because they found what they believed to be the murder weapon during a surreptitious, illegal search of his apartment.

The police type out their police reports after Hughes has confessed twice. They know names of the victims and know of their relationship. They incorporate that information into their story that Shandra as concerned about her cousin Marcell.

Shandra, however, could not have told them such a thing because she lapsed into unconsciousness within minutes of having her carotid severed, and she died soon thereafter. That means also that the paramedics could not have heard her say anything about her cousin. According to this hypothesis, because it is still a working hypothesis, Officer Waltmon joined in the conspiracy to frame Preston Hughes by reporting that the paramedics told him that Shandra Charles mentioned her cousin.

Not surprisingly, the HPD did not take a signed statement from the either ambulance drive D.S. Miller or paramedic M. Atkinson.

Gafford and others would also file a false police report (and possibly perjure themselves) when they wrote (or swore under oath) that they searched Preston's apartment only after securing a Voluntary Consent for Search and Seizure form around 5:30 AM. That form was pretty clearly manufactured.


The HPD decided Preston Hughes should die. Now the State and people of Texas want to see him sleep the big sleep.

And now they are part of that nastiness.

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Andy said...

Seems like a very plausible theory. I have been trying to get my mind around this part of things for months. I had come to some of the same conclusions.

Anonymous said...

At about 11:00am CST on July 18, 2012 Texas District Judge Ruben Guerrero set a November 15, 2012 execution date for Preston Hughes, III.

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