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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Anonymous said...

Double homicide with a knife, cartoid arteries cut, and the state fails to find blood. If Hughes did it he must have been very smart about disposing and/or cleaning off his cloths, knife etc. But then of course if he did do it, he just left a murder weapon in his closet, invited the police in, and then voluntary took a ride to the police station. It doesn't add up.

Also, Hughes mother told the apartment had brand new carpet, light color, and there wasn't a stain visible when she visited the apartment.


Anonymous said...

Has the knife and clothing been the subject of any post-conviction testing? If the knife still exists, post-conviction testing might be able to conclusively determine whether the blood is rabbit's blood. Rabbit's blood on the knife + no blood on the clothes sounds to me like the start of a long-shot but viable motion for new trial or executive clemency.


Unknown said...


The blade has one too FEW sharp edges and it is too wide by almost a factor of two.

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