Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Down the Rabbit Hole

"In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again."

In Singularity, I made my case that the police searched Preston's apartment twice: once prior to 2:58 AM and once after sunrise. In this post I will attempt to recreate the events that took place during the time surrounding those two searches.

Keep in mind that the following scenario is a hypothetical. It presumes two searches such as just described. It assumes police behavior that fits the evidence as I understand it. I do not present it as fact. I base some of the narrative on trial transcripts, which I have begun recently to receive. The names of the police officers have not been changed to protect the innocent.

Buckle up. Down the rabbit hole we go.

Officer F.L. Hale arrived at the crime scene as the CSU investigator. His job was to photograph the evidence, secure the evidence, and transport the evidence to the property locker for secure storage or to the lab for analysis.

Hale began by taking 21 color Polaroids. Copies of all 21 Polaroid images were provided to Barbara Lunsford in response to her open records request. None of the photographs referred to henceforth have anything to do with the Polaroids.

Hale would expose two rolls of 35 mm film. Assuming each role was good for at least 36 exposures, and assuming Hale exposed them all, then Barbara Lunsford should have received copies of at least 72 images from the crime scene, the apartment, and the morgue. She did not. She received 50 such images. (See my floundering effort to convince you that 22 images were withheld.)

Hale took at least 24 images of the crime scene. Those images included pictures of Marcell's body, the location where Shandra fell, the trail, the hole in the fence, and Fuddruckers. Those images did not include any pictures of Shandra, since she had been transported from the scene by the time Officer Hale arrived. If Officer Hale took one or more pictures of Shandra's eyeglasses at the crime scene, as some people have suggested, then he took more than 24 images of the crime scene.

From the crime scene, Officer Hale traveled one mile to West Houston Memorial Hospital. There he picked up some of Shandra's personal items, including her shoes, her shorts, her gold neck chain, a note with a phone number and the name "Dog", and just the right amount of money for a dime bag.

Though the hospital took everything belonging to Shandra except the shirt off her back (literally), they turned her away while she was bleeding out (or already dead) from a severed carotid artery and severed jugular vein. They sent her to Ben Taub, 15 miles away. If Shandra had by some miracle been alive, she had no chance to survive the ride to Ben Taub. There she was pronounced DOA, more than an hour after the arrival of the first police officer at the crime scene. Her treatment, or lack thereof, at West Houston was not only sad, it was unusual.
Singularity is almost invariably a clue.
While Officer Hale visited West Houston Memorial, Sergeants Gafford, Bloyd, and Hamilton made their way to Preston's apartment. They instructed Hale to meet them there.

At the apartment complex, Hale took at least one photograph of the apartment building at the northwest corner of the Lakewood Village complex, though Preston lived neither in the building nor anywhere in the complex.

HPD Photo

Google Satellite View
Google Satellite View
I have no idea why Hale took that picture.
Singularity is almost invariably a clue.
Officer Hale also took at least one photograph of Preston's apartment building,  a close up of the stairway landing and the front door.

HPD Photo
Officer Hale did not initially enter Preston's apartment with the three sergeants. The three knocked on Preston's door for 5 to 10 minutes before Preston answered. Preston was in his underwear. The police asked if they could speak with him. He agreed and invited him in.

The police asked Preston if he would talk with them downtown. Preston agreed. He went to his room to put on some clothes. Sgt. Hamilton went with him.

Sgt. Gafford would later testify that while waiting in the living room, he noticed the glasses between the cushions of the couch.

Sgt. Hamilton would later unwittingly testify that the lights were off in the apartment, that it was dark in there, that Sergeants Gafford and Bloyd waited in the living room in the dark. Sgt. Hamilton would offer this testimony under oath while being cross-examined about any effort to search the apartment by looking around. Sgt. Hamilton testified that the living room was always so dark that he could not have seen anything if he wanted to.

Sgt. Ferguson (who would conduct the second search and extract the second confession) unwittingly testified under oath that someone standing where Sgt. Gafford claimed he stood could not have seen the glasses even if they had been there, even if the living room was well lit. Sgt. Ferguson would offer this testimony under oath while being cross-examined about the positioning of the camera necessary to make the glasses visible in the photograph.

The three sergeants and Preston left the apartment. In the police reports and the trial testimony, several of the three make a point of noting that Preston left the apartment last and locked the door with his key.

Sgt. Gafford will testify later that he may have been given a master key to Preston's apartment by the complex manager. He simply can't remember. (It is my understanding that the complex manager testified that he did indeed give Sgt. Gafford a master key to Preston's apartment. I cannot yet confirm that.)

A patrol officer, or two, transported Preston to the police station in the back of a marked police car.

[Caution everyone. This is where it becomes more speculative. I'm writing of a possible scenario, not of established fact.]

Sergeants Gafford, Bloyd, Hamilton, and Officer F.L. Hale returned to Preston's apartment. They re-entered using the master key provided to Sgt. Gafford by the complex manager. They searched the apartment. Officer Hale took photographs. If he took just as many as he did during the later daylight search, he took at least 14 photographs. That would bring the photo count to at least 40 photos.

Sergeants Gafford and Bloyd returned to the police station.

CSU Officer Hale returned to the police station in a separate vehicle. He logged the items collected into the property locker. Property Officer F.L. Martin placed Hale's property invoice into his [Martin's] typewriter, typed the time "2:58am", typed his name, and initialed or signed by his name. The eyeglasses were not on the list of items that Hale turned into the property room, nor was the green leafy substance. The Busch beer can was.

Officer Hale traveled to the morgue where he claims to have photographed both Shandra and Marcell. Barbara Lunsford received three images of Shandra Charles at the morgue. Presuming Officer Hale took at least one photograph of Marcell that Barbara did not receive, that brings the photo count to at least 44.

After waiting for an extended time to be questioned by any of the sergeants who desperately wanted to speak with him at the station, Preston was interviewed by Sgt. Gafford. Things moved more quickly at that point. Without too much delay, Sgt. Gafford typed out a confession which Preston signed. Two witnesses entered the room and signed after the fact, after asking Preston if he had signed voluntarily. The witnesses signed at 7:15 AM.  (I will write more of this when I discuss Preston's confessions and more still when I discuss the trial.)

The nominal work shift for Gafford and Hale was 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM. They would work well into the day, however, finishing their reports on Hughes. The next shift of homicide detectives arrived just about the time Preston's first confession was being witnessed. Sgt. Gafford briefed incoming Sgt. Ferguson and Sgt. Yanchak on the Hughes case.

[Reminder: Some, perhaps all, of what follows may be a bit speculative.]

Ferguson and Yanchak realized that Gafford had screwed the pooch. Not only had he searched the apartment without a warrant, he had collected property from the apartment and turned it into the locker room. The only possible witnesses were dead and would not be testifying against Hughes. The clothes had no apparent blood on them, the knife had no apparent blood on it. There was not a spot of blood to be found in the apartment. The clothes and knife would be tossed in any case because they were collected without a warrant. The HPD had no physical evidence and no witness evidence tying Hughes to the crime. The only thing that they had was Hughes' confession, and that was crap. It made no mention of the little boy, and it did nothing to explain the girl being found with her pants pulled part way down her hips.

Ferguson and Yanchak set about to repair the damage.

[Remember, speculative.]

They orchestrated a tale about the girl naming Preston as her attacker. At least Hamilton had the good sense to sit with her alone so that no one would be able to overhear anything she did or did not say. (Hamilton did not offer her a whit of first aid, but he did sit with her, as she bled out, until the paramedics arrived. See Shandra's Final Hour.) Neither Ferguson nor Yanchak realized that Shandra's wound was fatal within three minutes. Neither realized that she could not have given a dying declaration to Hamilton or anyone other than the person who stabbed her. (See any one of many posts, perhaps Silence of the Lambs and its immediate successor Where's Willis?)

They decided to stage a second search of the house, one that would take place after the signing of a Voluntary Consent to Search form, one that would be photographed in the daytime.

A warrant would be particularly troublesome. It would require them to sign and swear to affidavits before a judge. Better they get a Voluntary Consent to Search form. For some reason still unclear, Preston would not sign it or they did not ask. Instead they manufactured a form by pasting the body of a consent form over Preston's signature from another form. The evidence of that composite form is quite obvious even to a casual observer.

Note the tape lines just above "VOLUNTARY CONSENT FOR SEARCH AND SEIZURE." Note the tape lines just above Preston's signature.

At trial, several of the officers already mentioned would testify that budget constraints caused them sometimes to Xerox forms. I assume any suspicion about the document could be resolved by simply introducing the original document as evidence at the trial. I cannot not yet confirm whether or not that was done.

Ferguson and/or Yanchak collected the evidence from the property room. They collected the eyeglasses from wherever the glasses had been. They traveled to Preston's apartment, and entered using Preston's now-surrendered key. They placed Preston's items according the sketch Sgt. Hale had made as part of the first search.

They instructed Officer Hale to meet them at the apartment. He arrived and shot additional pictures of the items in Preston's apartment. He shot a picture of the the glasses between the cushions of Preston' couch. That picture was shot in the daylight. The living room lights were off.

During his testimony, Sgt. Ferguson testified that, though it was daylight, Officer Hale turned on the living room lights and used a flash to take the pictures of the couch. Apparently, Sgt. Ferguson was recalling a photograph other than the one above.

Sgt. Ferguson or Yanchak transported the evidence from the second search and tagged it into the lab, presumably for testing. The chain of custody would not reflect that the evidence made an intermediate stop as it traveled from the property room to the lab for testing. If the chain of custody documents are properly time stamped, and if my hypothetical speculative scenario is somehow correct, then the time stamps will indicate that it took Ferguson and/or Yanchak hours to transport the evidence from the property room to the lab.

In retrospect, it is not at all clear why the police would pull the evidence from the property room and transport it to the lab, if not to use it for illicit purpose. As it turns out, the police had no interest in actually testing the evidence. Neither the clothing nor the knife was tested for blood for 213 days. The clothing would be subjected to a presumptive test for blood, a non definitive test, just 4 days before James Bolding would testify at trial. (Bolding was the supervisor of the serology section of the HPD crime lab.) The presumptive test would be positive for blood.

(Note that presumptive tests are usually conducted when no blood is visible to the naked eye. The presumptive test causes a host of materials, including blood, to react in noticeable fashion. The presumptive test helps the technician decide which areas should be subjected to definitive testing.)

That clothing would be subjected to a definitive test for blood just one day before Bolding testified. The clothing tested negative for blood. There was no blood on Preston's clothing.

(The testimony focused on whether or not the presumptive test could distinguish between human and animal blood, as if that were of significance. Almost nothing, literally almost nothing, was said of the definitive test or its results. Even a skeptical observer would have to read the transcripts several times over before noticing it.)

Though it seems impossible, the police were even less interested in testing the knife. The knife would not be tested for blood until Bolding was actually sitting in the witness box. He actually tested the knife while sitting in the witness box. He could perform only a presumptive test for blood on the knife, given the constraints of the exceptionally bizarre test environment. And, I suspect, that was the whole point. The presumptive test returned positive for blood.

(Persistent readers of this august blog know that the knife could not be the murder weapon. For those of you who have joined us more recently, I refer you to On Being Blunt and Marcell's Neck.)

While at the apartment for the daylight search, Officer Hale took at least 14 pictures. That brings the running total to at least 58.

Officer Hale traveled from the apartment back to the field to take some photos there in the daylight. There he took at least 7 photos in the daylight. That brings the running total to 65, seven short of the nominal 72 exposures for two rolls of 36 exposure film.

Seven photos are not a lot for a daylight photo session of a double murder crime scene. Perhaps Officer Hale ran out of film.

Assuming my accounting of the photos is correct, and assuming Officer Hale exposed two entire rolls of 36 exposure film without overshoots, then 22 photographs are missing from the collection sent to Barbara Lunsford in response to her open records request.

I presume at least one of them is a picture of Marcell Taylor at the morgue. I presume 14 of them are pictures from the first search of Preston's apartment. That leaves 7 unaccounted for.

Perhaps my accounting is incorrect. Perhaps Officer Hale did not expose two complete rolls.

Perhaps 7 photos found their way down a rabbit hole.

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1 comment:

Rick Bonin said...

The foresics work performed by the HPD in this case is absolutely abhorrent. This would have been laughed out of any fair-minded court. But this *is* Texas I guess.

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