Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Trial of Preston Hughes: Opening Statement - Defense

After the opening statement by the prosecution, the jury was certain to vote guilty. Preston's judicial fate had been signed, sealed, and delivered.

The prosecution's opening statement wasn't long winded; it was actually quite brief. Nor was the prosecution's opening statement particularly outrageous. It engaged in some poetic license, to be sure. Shandra Charles was not a little girl, for example. She was certainly young, but she wasn't particularly little. Nor did Sergeant Hamilton actually cradle her in his arms. He claimed only to have helped her turn over. But overall, the opening statement was concise, proper, and businesslike.

The State's opening statement shouldn't have been sufficient to convince the jury that Preston must be guilty. But it was.

The problem, at least from Preston's perspective, wasn't with the prosecution's opening statement. The problem was with the defense's opening statement. More specifically, the problem was that the defense gave no opening statement.


Not a word.

The defense had three choices. First, it could present its opening statement immediately after the prosecution presented its opening statement. Second, the defense could present its opening statement after the prosecution closed its case in chief, before the defense presented its first witness. Third, the defense could present no opening statement whatsoever.

There is only one correct answer, and it definitely is not the one behind door #3.

While jurors are instructed not to form any opinion of guilt or innocence until they have had an opportunity to deliberate as a group, that instruction is merely another convenient judicial myth. Jurors are people. It is impossible for them to not think of white elephants when instructed not to. They cannot help but form thoughts of guilt or innocence as the trial unfolds before them.

In the trial of Preston Hughes, the State's opening statement was completely unrebutted by the defense. The next thing the jury would hear would be a long string of State witnesses presenting evidence of Preston's guilt. Those witness were barely challenged by Preston's attorney.

The defense didn't begin to explain why Preston might perhaps be innocent until what turned out to be page 542 of 852 pages of testimony. The testimony was 63% complete before the jury heard just one word from any witness who said anything that might have anything to do with Preston's innocence. By that time, Preston was already cooked.

For me, there was a specific trial that transformed me from a skeptical juror into The Skeptical Juror. I was a juror on that trial. After six days of testimony, I was shocked to realize at the beginning of our jury deliberations that the jury was leaning 11-1 "guilty."

I guess that was only fair. The other jurors were shocked to learn that I was leaning "not guilty." They had recently chosen me as the foreperson.

I ran us all through through the wringer.

After eight days of deliberation, the jury was voting consistently 10-2 "not guilty." Two jurors would never, ever in a billion years change their vote. The judge intervened and declared a mistrial.

I was distraught. I was confident the defendant was absolutely innocent. I was confident he would be retried. I was confident he would be found guilty. I had accomplished nothing.

It was a multiple victim, multiple count child molestation case. It was the McMartin child abuse case done small. It was a modern, prettied up version of the Salem witch trialswithout the hangings or pressings.

I had not saved a man from wrongful conviction. I had merely added to the crushing financial burden he and his family would face before he was carted off to prison, effectively for life.

As soon as I was released from my jury service, I approached the defendant's attorney in the hallway. He was on the phone, bragging that he had avoided a guilty verdict in a multiple victim, multiple count child abuse case. As it turns out, it would be something to brag of, had he been responsible. Such cases almost always result in guilty verdicts and harsh, harsh sentences.

I told him his client had come within a hair's breadth of being convicted. I assured him that his client would be retried. I assured him further that his client would be convicted if he, the attorney, presented the same defense.

That was the beginning of some 300 to 400 hours of working together to prepare for the next trial. The attorney was slow to accept my description of juror behavior as I had experienced it. He was even slower to accept what I told him he had to do to save his client.

I told him that defending an innocent client demands an entirely different strategy than defending a guilty client. Since defense attorneys spend almost all their time defending someone who is in some way guilty, most defense attorneys are notoriously bad at defending someone who is actually innocent.

I told him he had to give up on the belief that the jury would presume his client innocent. I told him he had to prove his client innocent, or at least prove his client not guilty. He had to confront every suggestion of guilt offered up by the state, and he had to confront it immediately and forcefully. He had to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the case on the tip of his tongue so that he could catch and pounce on any error by the state. He had to do all that without looking mean or aggressive. He had to be nice as he demolished them.

As the second trial approached, I challenged him to opening statements. He gave his opening statement for the defense. I gave the opening statement for the State. He conceded that I clobbered him. I told him again to give up on all that presumption of innocence crappola, all the silliness that the state had to present proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

I told him that the first words out of his mouth should be "This man is innocent." I told him to stop burying his lead. I told him to make his very best case that his client is innocent as soon as he was allowed to do so. He should absolutely not save his best for closing argument.

He must better the State during opening statements. He must at least break even with each State witness. He must win decisively with each defense witness. He must, in his summation, bring it all together in incontrovertible, visual fashion.

When the time came, the first words out of his mouth were in fact: "This man is innocent."

His client walked free.

Never, never, never take a pass on your first opportunity to convince the jury your innocent client is  innocent.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Impending Execution of Jonathan Green

Jonathan Marcus Green sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 10 October 2012. I have been unable to find an appellate decision that summarizes the facts of the case. I did find a description on the Pro Death Penalty site. I have reformatted that summary somewhat for readability.
In June 2000, Victor Neal, who was separated from his wife Laura, lived in the small community of Dobbin with his three daughters:
sixteen-year-old Victoria,
fifteen-year-old Jennifer, and
twelve-year-old Christina, the victim.   

The next morning, Victor saw Jennifer and Victoria sleeping on the couch. He also noticed that the door to the girls' bedroom was closed. Assuming Christina was asleep in the bedroom, Victor left for work. When he got home about 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., Jennifer and Victoria told him that Christina had never returned home the night before. Victor asked the girls to go to Maria's house and tell Christina to come home. They found that Christina was not at Maria's house. 

After learning about the argument between Christina and Victoria the night before, Victor concluded that Christina had spent the night at another friend's house, and the family began searching the neighborhood. Along the road near the Neal home, Victoria and Maria found Christina's glasses. The glasses were "smashed and broken," but Victoria testified that Christina had a habit of destroying her glasses when she got mad. Victor stopped looking for Christina around 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. 
The next morning, Victor asked his sister, Tereza Goodwin, to look for Christina while he was at work. Christina had run away before, so Victor told Tereza to report her as a runaway if she could not find her. Later that day, having failed to locate Christina, Tereza reported her missing to a Montgomery County Sheriff's deputy. Local law-enforcement officers then joined the family in searching for Christina. 
On June 26, the FBI joined the search. On that same day, Jennifer and her mother found what appeared to be Christina's panties at the edge of the woods across from the Neal home. Also around this time, Victoria found Christina's bracelet and necklace along a pathway in the woods. The search continued. 
On June 28, investigators spoke with Jonathan Marcus Green, who lived in Dobbin. He said he had no information concerning Christina's disappearance, and that he was either at home or at his neighbor's house on the night she disappeared. He gave the investigators permission to search his home and property, with the condition that he be present. Investigators performed a cursory search of the house and property, but they noticed nothing significant. 
A few days later, investigators again asked Green his whereabouts on the night of Christina's disappearance. Again, Green claimed to have been at home or at his neighbor's house. 
On July 19, Manuel Jimenez, who lived on the property behind Green's, told investigators that Green had an unusually large fire in his burn pile the day after Christina disappeared. A few days later, investigators went to Green's home and asked if they could search his property again, including his burn pile. Green again consented, but insisted that he be present during the search. 
FBI agents Sue Hillard and Mark Young walked around the burn pile with Green. Young pushed a metal probe into the ground to vent the soil and check for any disturbances. When the probe sank three feet into the ground at one location, Young determined that the ground had been disturbed or dug up in that area; he concluded that the disturbed section covered a very large area. He also smelled a distinct odor emanating from the disturbed section of ground which he identified as "some sort of decaying body." The investigation team then began to dig up the disturbed area. Green, who had been cooperative up to that point, became angry and told the officers to get off his property. 
The investigative team returned to Green's property later that night with a search warrant. They discovered that part of the burn pile had been excavated, leaving what appeared to be a shallow grave. They also smelled the "extremely foul, fetid odor" of a "dead body in a decaying state." When investigators asked Green what had happened at the burn pile, Green said that he had dug the pit to show authorities that "there was no dead body in there." 
An officer then arrived with a "cadaver dog," trained to detect human remains. As the dog was walking to the burn pile, it alerted to the house. Upon entering the house, the dog repeatedly went to the side of a recliner that was wedged into a corner of the room. Agent Hillard looked behind the recliner and saw "a foot sticking out of the top of [a blue] bag" and what appeared to be human remains. Before the discovery was announced, Green was overheard to say, "Those Mexicans are setting me up" and "put a body in my house." 
The remains were identified as Christina's. The medical examiner, Dr. Joye Carter, concluded from a ligature mark around Christina's neck that Christina was strangled. She also determined that Christina's arms had been tied behind her back and that Christina had been sexually assaulted before she died. She testified that the body had been wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a blue bag. 
During the course of the autopsy, various materials were recovered from Christina's body. Two black hairs that did not appear to be Christina's were found in her pubic area. Based on the way Christina was positioned within the blanket, Carter determined that the hairs must have been present before her body was wrapped in the blanket, and could not have been transferred there afterward. Mitochondrial-DNA testing excluded 99.7% of the African-American population as a source of the hair. Green, an African-American, could not be excluded from the remaining 0.3%. 
Carter also recovered a black cotton cloth from Christina's mouth. The cloth was positioned in such a way that Carter determined, to a medical certainty, that the cloth did not cause Christina's death. 
Criminalist Bradley Mullins from the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab testified that many of the fibers recovered from Christina's body matched fiber samples seized from Green's property and residence. On the panties that were recovered near the Neal home five days after Christina had disappeared and nearly a month before her body was found, Mullins found a fiber that had characteristics identical to carpet in Green's residence.
The damning evidence is the discovery of the body on his property: burned, buried, and relocated. The evidence of medical examiner Joye Carter and the fiber analysis of Bradley Mullins is worthless. The fiber analysis is worthless simply because most fiber analysis is speculative. Any testimony from Joy Carter is worthless because she demonstrated in the case of Larry Swearingen that she acted as a pawn of the state.

The argument over whether or not Jonathan Green should be executed has hinged around his mental capacity or incapacity.

I oppose the execution of any person who has a substantial case of actual innocence. In all other cases, I stand mute. In the case of Jonathan Green, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (11 October 2012):
Jonathan Green was executed by the people of Texas on 10 October 2012.

The Trial of Preston Hughes: Opening Statement - Prosecution

Testimony in the trial of Preston Hughes III began in the morning of May 1, 1989. That would be 6 months after the murders that took the life of 15-year-old Shandra Charles and her 3-year-old cousin Marcell Taylor.

The trial took place in the 174th District Court of Harris County, Texas. Judge George H. Godwin presided. 

The 174th District Court is now located on the 19th floor of 1201 Franklin, Houston, TX 77022. I don't know if it was at the same location in May of 1989 when Preston Hughes stood trial. For whatever it may be worth, the current building is presented in the two images below. It is the tallest of the buildings shown.

The State and people of Texas were represented by Chuck Noll, Assistant District Attorney of Harris County. Preston Hughes was represented by attorneys Ellis McCullough and Al Thomas. Mr. McCullough conducted almost all of the questioning for the defense.

As I present the trial of Preston Hughes, I will not normally present the entirety of a witness's testimony. I will generally summarize and analyze the testimony. In each case, however, I will refer you to the appropriate link at my Skeptical Juror Docs site for the complete testimony.  You can, for example, now find Mr. Noll's opening statement, and the surrounding court discussion, here.

The State's opening statement is so brief, however, that I present it in its entirety, without comment.

We now begin the trial of Preston Hughes III.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. On September 26th, 1988, about 10:30 or 11:00 o'clock at night, in a field between the Fuddrucker's on Kirkwood on the west side of town at an apartment complex, a 15-year-old girl and her 3-year-old cousin were attacked and stabbed to death. I think the evidence will show you the little girl was sexually assaulted in addition to being stabbed. An employee found the little girl. 
I think the evidence will show you the path the children were on is frequently used by tenants of the apartment complex as they go back and forth from their apartment complex to stores located on the other side of Kirkwood. The children were found; a police officer, as he cradled Shandra Charles in his arms, asked her what had happened --
Objection, Your Honor, going to be hearsay conversation. I intend to have it excluded in the trial.
That will be overruled.
Testimony will show you that Sergeant Hamilton of the west side station will tell you that child told him, "He tried to rape me. Sergeant Hamilton said, "Who?" She said, "Preston tried to rape me." 
I expect the evidence to show you that Houston Police sergeants from the homicide division investigated the case, came out to the scene, talked to Sergeant Hamilton, and just using plain old fashioned footwork, went to the apartments that were right next door to the vacant field, asked the people there, "Do you have anybody named Preston that lives here?" 
Evidence will show you they learned that Preston Hughes, III, lived in the Lakehurst apartments, not even 200 feet from the spot where that dead baby was found. The evidence is going to show you that they asked Preston -- at this point they didn't have enough to think he did it or know he did it. So, they asked him to come downtown and answer some questions. 
The evidence is going to show you that Preston Hughes went with these officers downtown and voluntarily gave a statement. He gave them two. First statement, he admitted stabbing the little girl. Didn't say anything about the sexual assault, didn't say anything about the little boy. Then the same morning, later that morning, the evidence is going to show you again a second statement, where he admits that he sexually assaulted that little girl and then stabbed her to death and then stabbed that 3-year-old child to death, and then went back to his apartment to get the scores on the Monday night football game. 
I think the evidence and the facts in this case are then going to show you that this confession does match up with the known physical facts. 
After you hear the evidence in this case, there is going to be absolutely no doubt at all in your mind as to the guilt of Preston Hughes, III, for the murder of Shandra Charles and her 3-year-old cousin, Marcell Taylor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hughes News: Motion to Replace

Last Tuesday, Preston Hughes mailed a motion to federal court requesting that his current attorney, Patrick McCann, be replaced. Preston filed the motion pro se, meaning he did so on his own, without an attorney.

On Friday, the court filed the motion, officially making it part of Preston's legal case. The basis for motion is that McCann has failed to submit any appeal based on Preston's actual innocence. The motion is available at my new SkepticalJurorDocs site. The first page is included below. Click on that page to see the entire document.

On Monday, 24 September, the court ordered Patrick McCann to file a brief responding to Preston's motion that McCann be replaced. The court ordered McCann to respond by 5 October. The court gave him the option of filing his reply under seal. I presume that option is generally made available to allow the attorney to respond without violating attorney-client privilege.

The order to respond is short, less than a page. I've included an image below. Click on the image for a pdf copy of the document.

In considering Preston's motion, Judge Hoyt is required by the Supreme Court, as of March 2012, to base his decision on an "interests of justice" standard. The Supreme Court set that standard in Martel v. Clair. The opinion was delivered by Justice Kagan.

It's difficult for me to understand how it is not in the "interests of justice" to have a substantial claim of actual innocence be heard by a court heard at least once prior to executing a person for a crime he may not have committed.

The standard vehicle for such an appeal based on actual innocence is a petition for habeas corpus. From Wikipedia:
Habeas corpus ["you must present the person in court"] is a writ (legal action) which requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. This ensures that a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention, in other words, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to the prisoner's aid. The legal right to apply for a habeas corpus is also called by the same name. This right originated in the English legal system, and is now available in many nations. It has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action.
Since the Constitution grants the people (in their role as jurors) the right and obligation to determine guilt or innocence, courts can overturn jury verdicts only under limited and specific conditions. One of those conditions is that new evidence has been discovered since the trial that if known during the trial would have resulted in a new trial. While there is considerable dispute over what constitutes new evidence, and over the standard of determining how a jury might have responded to the "new" evidence, no one disputes the fundamental principle.

We'll be discussing such issues before long, particularly since we do not have long before Preston Hughes is scheduled to die. Patrick McCann has until 5 October to explain himself to the court. On 5 October, Preston Hughes will have but 41 days to live.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hughes News: Not Representing Preston Hughes

If Preston Hughes is executed on 15 November, it will be because none of his appellate attorneys has ever filed an appeal based on his actual innocence.

Typically, a death row inmate with an execution date and a substantial claim to actual innocence has a talented legal team presenting a case of actual innocence. That legal team is typically supported by a talented team of investigators. Hank Skinner's team of eminently qualified professionals serves as but one example.

Even with a well-staffed well-funded team of professionals, scheduled executions are astoundingly difficult to stop. Once again, Skinner serves as an example. Even with his high-powered team of professionals, he came within 40 minutes of being executed.

Preston Hughes, on the other hand, has never had a single appellate attorney, much less a legal team, argue that he is factually innocent. Instead, Preston must now depend on two lay people, neither of whom is an attorney, neither of whom is a licensed investigator.

It should not come to this.

The administration of capital punishment in this county should certainly not come to this. 

I have for several months been working closely with Ward Larkin to save Preston Hughes from a wrongful needle. Ward Larkin is a sincere and dedicated abolitionist who supports his core belief with substantial amounts of his time. Working directly with death row inmates, he has filed clemency petitions for nine of them, one of them being Hank Skinner.

Note that anyone can prepare a clemency petition for any inmate, presuming the inmate so desires. It is a task not reserved for attorneys. I have myself prepared a clemency petition in the case of Michael Ledford.

It is not surprising that each of Ward's petitions have failed. All clemency petitions in Texas death row cases do fail. What is surprising is depth of Ward's commitment and the quality of his work.

Though neither of us are allowed to act as attorneys or private investigators, neither of us plan to go quietly into the night. Neither of us plan to see Preston Hughes executed without having his substantial case of actual innocence presented to the Texas and/or federal court system.

I suggest you stayed tuned.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Summary (Video)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Confession #2

This will be my last post in this long, long series. I have been writing about this case for six months now. This post will be post #60. It will carry the total word count for the series beyond 90,000 words.

I write this post without enthusiasm, without passion. I will write it in perfunctory style. It's time for this series to come to an end.

This post, however, will not be the end of my effort to save Preston Hughes. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, I will begin another series of posts, and then another. One will be the The News of Preston Hughes III. The other will be the Trial of Preston Hughes III.

But right now, I have this series to finish.

After Preston Hughes signed the first confession under the pretense that he would be allowed to go home if he did, he was locked up rather than released. When the first shift of homicide officers came in to work after 7:00 AM, they were briefed on the case and Preston's first confession. They claim they simply asked Preston if he would be willing to sign a second confession describing how he stabbed Marcell. From the report of Sgt. D.A. Ferguson:
Sgt.'s re-viewed the suspect's written statement that was obtained by Sgt. Gafford. In the statement the suspect did not describe how the #2 compl. (boy) was stabbed. Sgt.'s then decided to reinterview the suspect about the stabbing of the #2 compl. Sgt. Ferguson went to the 5th floor men's jail and checked the suspect out ... Sgt.'s informed the suspect that he did not relate in his first statement about the stabbing of the #2 compl. Sgt.'s then asked the suspect if he would be willing to give a second statement de-scribing the stabbing of the stabbing the #2 compl. The suspect then agreed to give a second statement about the stabbing of the #2 compl.
Once again, the HPD reports seem to be pretty much full of crap. Preston Hughes wasn't asked if he would be willing to sign a second confession. He was told he had to sign a second confession. I will prove that assertion just as I proved my assertion that Preston signed the first confession because they told him he could go home if he did.

Once Preston was jailed rather than released, he no longer called his boss to make sure he would not lose his job. He no longer called his parole officer to make sure that his parole would not be revoked. He began trying to call his mother. Using the pay phone at the jail, he placed a series of collect calls to The Men's Wearhouse, where his mother worked. Each of his calls was accepted by Elizabeth Stroman.

Preston was no longer calm, as he was when he called his boss and when he called his parole officer. And no wonder. He was beginning to realize he may have been set up. Something was terribly wrong. He wasn't being released. He was still in jail. He needed to speak to his mother. He needed someone to get him help.

From Elizabeth Stroman's testimony:
He was upset and I couldn't carry on a conversation with him because it was off and on, I had to put him on hold and on and off. He was -- I remember the fact that he was upset and I was asking him if he had contacted his mother. He had called looking for his mother. I told him that he needed to call her at home, that she wasn't at work. 
He was telling me that he had to change his statement and I was asking him, "You gave a statement?" And he said, "They're telling me to change my statement. I have to go to change my statement." ... I was asking him why. "Why are you going to go change your statement?" And he said, "Because they told me I had to." ... And as we were talking, he had to get off the phone because they were ready to take him. He said, "They're here. I have to go."
That's pretty ominous, actually. What leverage could they have possibly had to force him to change his statement?

I suggest they used the same leverage they used to get the first confession.

"Look, we'd like to allow you to go home, but you haven't been completely truthful with us. You described only how you accidentally killed Shandra. But there were two dead children out there, and Shandra's pants were pulled part way down her hips. If you can't give us an innocent explanation of how Shandra's pants came to be pulled part way down, and of how the boy came to be accidentally killed, then there is no way we can let you go home. Surely you understand that."

So Preston gave them exactly what they asked for. The second confession, like the first, reveals that Preston had no idea what happened to Shandra and Marcell that night. He didn't know they were each stabbed only twice, each in the same precise manner. He didn't know they were found no where near one another. He had only been told they were stabbed, and he winged it from there.

I now end this series with the second confession of Preston Hughes III, the one in which he put a needle in his arm by confessing to a double murder, a capital offense.
Earlier this morning I gave a statement to Sgt. Gafford. Some of the things that I told Sgt. Gafford in the written statement was not the complete truth. I am giving this second statement to Sgt. Ferguson on my own free will and voluntarily. I was not threatened to give this statement. 
Everything in the first statement is correct except what happened when I met Shawn on the trail between Puddruckers and the apt. complex. Shawn did not come up behind me and tap me on the shoulder. I was walking with my dog from from the Lakehurst Apts. toward Fuddruckers on the trail. As I was walking down the trail I saw Shawn walking down the trail from Fuddruckers toward the apt. complex. She was walking with a little boy. I did not know who he was. We then met in the middle of the trail. Shawn spoke first and she told me that she was on the way to my house. I then asked her what for. She told me that she was coming to use my contacts. I told her that she was a damn fool, that she was not wearing my contacts. She then gave me a kiss. She then started rubbing by crotch. She then unbuttoned my jeans. She then pulled her zipper down on her shorts. Shawn then placed my penis in the slit of her vagina. We call that "grinding" if you don't put it in the hole. We did that for about 30 seconds. While we were grinding" the zipper on her shorts rubbed against the sore on my penis. I then pulled away and buttoned up my jeans. The little boy that was with her was standing next to us. 
I then said, "Fuck this shit", because I hurt the sore. She then asked me if l had some money. I told her I keeps money. She then asked me for $50.00 and I told her no. She then started telling me that she was going to have me arrested for rape. I told her that I never forced her to do nothing with me. She then raised her hand and hit me. I then blocked her with my left hand. I hit her in the throat. She then came back at me with her hand open. She was coming at my face. I had my knife in a sheath on the right side of my pants on my belt. I then pulled my knife and stabbed at her six or eight or ten times. I'm not sure, I just started stabbing. 
I'm not sure how many times I stabbed her. As I was stabbing her the little boy looked up at me and started crying. He then ran in between us and I stabbed him. I don't know how many times I stabbed him. I stopped and looked at Shawn and she was looking at me. I then put the knife in my sheath and ran home. When I got home I looked at the knife to see if there was any blood on it. I did not see any and put it in a box in the closet. I then turned on the TV to see what the score was on the football game. When I got home I also took my clothes off in the bedroom. I then went outside to get my dog. I got my dog and then took her back in the apartment. I then went to bed and got woke up about 2:30am by the police. 
Last night was the first time that I had seen Shawn since June or July. I first met her back in October of 1987. She used to date my cousin, Shawn Graham. On three different times Shawn came over to my apartment. She came over wearing her two piece bathing suit. This was sometime in May or June because it was hot. She would pull down the top of her swim suit and show me her breasts. She also pulled down her bottom and showed me her vagina. I just touched her on the vagina. We never did have sex. I have never had sex with Shawn. 
I had one cigarette while giving this statment. My rights were read to me by Sgt. Ferguson and I understood them.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Althouse, Hitchens, Hughes

What if everyone had 5 "keep alive" cards, that could be played over the course of a lifetime to save human beings — only those you don't personally know? Millions would have played a card to keep Hitchens with us. I would have.
I was struck by the possibility that I may have indeed been given a "keep alive" card.

My card is not nearly as nifty as the one fantasized by Althouse. I don't get to choose for whom I might use it. My card already has a name on it. The name is that of a stranger, someone I have never met nor even previously heard of. The name is that of someone reviled by society, to the extent society even takes notice.

My card is, by itself, insufficient. Even if I play it, the person is unlikely to be saved.

My card is, however, necessary. If I don't play it, the person will almost certainly die.

And my card is hardly free. It demands quid pro quo. It demands that I change my life so that I can somehow become responsible for the very survival of social outcast, one who claims to have literally been misjudged.

How many of you would care to have such a card?

So struck was I by Althouse's fantasy that I bothered to watch the video that prompted it. I almost passed. I didn't have the time. My card was then (and now) demanding my time. But I clicked on the video.

I was dumbstruck by its relevance in how I am attempting to play my card.

Reward yourself. Watch the video in its entirety. Learn from the man that Althouse and millions of others would save.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Gingerbread Man

"Run, run, fast as you can.
"You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"
                            - The Gingerbread Man

The Gingerbread Man had quite a story to tell. Sadly, he is no longer around to tell it, so I'll fill in the best that I can.

As The Gingerbread Man regained consciousness, after being subjected to a burning oven, a little old lady was preparing to eat him. He hopped to his feet and ran like the wind. Behind him, he could hear the little old lady yelling "Stop! Stop! I want to eat you."

It was at that time that The Gingerbread Man, hereafter known as TGM, uttered the taunt that would make him famous throughout the ages.

"Run, Run, fast as you can.
"You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"

As he ran outside he encountered a little old man. The little old man also wanted to eat him, so he taunted the old man as well. I'll not repeat the taunt each time, but you get the idea.

Then TGM ran past the pigsty, and the pig wanted to eat him.

[Insert taunt here.]

Then he ran past a dog. Same story.

And a cow. Same story, same taunt.

Soon he came to a mighty river, and he was in a bit of a bind. Behind him were an old woman, an old man, a pig, a dog, and a cow. All of them wanted to eat him alive. In front of him was the mighty river, and he certainly didn't want to go in there. He would melt away for sure.

To complicate matters, there was a fox standing between him and the mighty river. TGM was a bit wary, since foxes are known for their cleverness and guile (C&G). In this case though, the fox seemed sincerely well-intentioned. It didn't want to eat him alive. It wanted only to help him. It offered to save him by allowing him to ride on its tail as it swam across the mighty river.

If TGM would simply hop on its tail, if TGM would only do that an nothing more, then TGM would be safely transported across the mighty river and would there be allowed to run free.

TGM was in a pretty tough spot. He had voracious mammals of all sorts pursuing him, and a mighty river before him. Now he had a fox offering to help, but foxes are well-known for their C&G.

But there's an amazing twist/turn to this story, one never before told. TGM had already once been saved by a fox. That's right. As hard as it is to believe, TGM had previously been in a quite similar bind. The voracious mammals behind him had not been so many, and the river before him had not been so mighty, but other than that the binds were quite similar. There had been a fox at that not-so-mighty river as well, and that fox had offered to help him gain his freedom.

And sure enough, in that earlier case situation, the fox had carried TGM to freedom.

Now it was happening all over again. All that TGM had to do was to sign a confession in which he described the stabbing as an accident hop on the fox's fluffy tail.

Having little choice, given the alternative, and having been previously granted his freedom for pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit hopping aboard a fluffy tail, TGM jumped at the opportunity.

With TGM now onboard, the fox eagerly leaped into the mighty river and began swimming across, all the while holding his fluffy tail high in the water, all the while causing TGM to believe he had been saved.

For TGM there was no going back. It was too late to change his mind. He was surrounded by the mighty river. And, as it turns out, the river was full of alligators and crocodiles. And water moccasins. And molten lava.

But TGM was confident he had made the right decision. Soon he would be on the other side of this fearsome river and he would be free. And that would be a good thing too, because his employer would be expecting him. He had already missed one day of work because that little old lady had arrested him cooked him, and he didn't want to get fired. So he pulled out his cell phone and called his boss. He told his boss that he had experienced a bit of bother, that he had missed work because of that bother, but that he would not miss any more.

The greedy, profit-driven, capitalistic boss said: "Okay."

TGM was relieved. He realized he should call his parole officer as well, and maybe even his mother. It never occurred to him that he should have called a lawyer earlier.

Particularly when he was dealing with the fox, for foxes are known for their C&G. 

Once they were well away from the shore, the sly and cunning fox suddenly reneged on the deal. It suddenly told him that he would have to sign a second, more damaging confession that it was unable to keep its fluffy tail above water any longer, and that he should hop inside the fox's mouth.

If he wanted to be free.

And, believing he had no choice, he did exactly what the fox instructed him to do.

And on November 15, 2012, the State and people of Texas are going to stick a needle in his arm and inject lethal chemicals the fox swallowed him, and smiled a contented smile. For foxes are known for their cleverness and guile.

*** THE END ***

Author's Note:
This story may have been inspired by a real-life murder case in which the suspect was threatened with life behind bars if he did not confess, and offered freedom if he did. The confession seemed innocent enough. The suspect would only need claim he had stabbed a 15 year old girl when he thought he was stabbing a black, male assailant. It wasn't an ideal situation for the suspect, but the suspect felt he had no choice. He had a mountain of manufactured evidence behind him, and a seemingly innocent enough confession in front of him.

So the suspect signed the confession. He then called his boss, just as the gingerbread man called his boss. The parallels are too striking to be coincidence. The suspect told his boss that he would not be able to work that day, but would be able to work the next. From the trial testimony:
[H]e just said he had been picked up by the police and that he would probably be able to be in to work the next day.
In the classic fairy tale, the fox seems to be a metaphor for the police, and the fluffy tail seems to be a metaphor for the first confession. In the fairy tail, the gingerbread man was told the rules had changed, that he could save himself only by jumping in the fox's mouth. In the murder case, the suspect was told that he would have to modify his statement, and not just by a little bit. The suspect would have to change his statement in life-threatening fashion.

As I said before, the parallels are simply to striking to be coincidental.

I quote once again from the trial transcripts. This time I quote from a co-worker of the suspect's mother. The suspect had not been freed after signing the first confession, as promised. Instead, he had been jailed. He was calling collect from a pay phone located in that jail, trying to reach his mother.
He was telling me that he had to change his statement and I was asking him, "You gave a statement?" And he said, "They're telling me to change my statement. I have to go to change my statement."
And the suspect did just as he was told.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Impending Execution of Robert Wayne Harris

Robert Wayne Harris sits on on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 20 September 2012. I suspect he will not survive the day.

I provide the following summary of his case from the adverse decision in Harris v. Thaler (2012):
[Harris] worked at Mi-T-Fine Car Wash for ten months prior to the offense. An armored car picked up cash receipts from the car wash every day except Sunday. Therefore, [Harris] knew that on Monday morning, the safe would contain cash receipts from the weekend and the cash register would contain $200-$300 for making change. On Wednesday, March 15, 2000, [Harris] masturbated in front of a female customer. The customer reported the incident to a manager, and a cashier called the police. [Harris] was arrested and fired. 
On Sunday, March 19[th], [Harris] spent the day with his friend, Junior Herrera, who sold cars. Herrera was driving a demonstrator car from the lot. Although [Harris] owned his own vehicle, he borrowed Herrera's that evening. He then went to the home of friend Billy Brooks, who contacted his step-son, Deon Bell, to lend [Harris] a pistol. 
On Monday, March 20[th], [Harris] returned to the car wash in the borrowed car at 7:15 a.m., before it opened for business. [Harris] forced the manager, Dennis Lee, assistant manager, Agustin VillaseƱor, and cashier, Rhoda Wheeler, into the office. He instructed Wheeler to open the safe, which contained the cash receipts from the weekend. Wheeler complied and gave him the cash. [Harris] then forced all three victims to the floor and shot each of them in the back of the head at close range. He also slit Lee's throat. 
Before [Harris] could leave, three other employees arrived for work unaware of the danger. [Harris] forced them to kneel on the floor of the lobby area and shot each of them in the back of the head from close range. One of the victims survived with permanent disabilities. Shortly thereafter, a seventh employee, Jason Shields, arrived. Shields noticed the three bodies in the lobby and saw [Harris] standing near the cash register. After a brief exchange in which [Harris] claimed to have discovered the crime scene, pointed out the bodies of the other victims, and pulled a knife from a nearby bookshelf, Shields became nervous and told [Harris] he needed to step outside for fresh air. Shields hurried to a nearby doughnut shop to call authorities. [Harris] followed Shields to the doughnut shop, also spoke to the 911 operator, then fled the scene. 
[Harris] returned the vehicle to Herrera and told him that he had discovered some bodies at the car wash. [Harris] then took a taxi to Brooks's house. At Brooks's house, he separated the money from the other objects and disposed of the metal lock boxes, a knife, a crowbar, and pieces of a cell phone in a wooded area. [Harris] purchased new clothing, checked into a motel, and sent Brooks to purchase a gold cross necklace for him. Later that afternoon, [Harris] drove to the home of another friend and remained there until the following morning, when he was arrested. Testimony also showed that [Harris] had planned to drive to Florida on Tuesday and kill an old girlfriend.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which they are to die. Regarding the propriety of all other executions, I stand mute. In the case of Robert Wayne Harris, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (20 Sep 2012)
Robert Wayne Harris was executed by the people of Texas as scheduled.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Easy Peasy

According to the Urban Dictionary, the complete descriptor is "easy peasy lemon squeezy."
It comes from a 1970's british TV commercial for Lemon Squeezy detergent. They were with a little girl who points out dirty greasy dishes to an adult (mom or relative) and then this adult produces Lemon Squeezy and they clean the dishes quickly. At the end of the commercial the girl says "Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy".
Whatever the origin of the phrase, getting Preston Hughes to confess to capital murder was easy peasy lemon squeezy. It only took from 4:10 AM, when Sgt. Gafford entered the interrogation room, to 5:40 AM, when Sgt. Gafford confronted Preston with the impossibility evidence that Shandra identified her attacker as Preston, causing Preston to say "I don't want to go to jail" and then confess.

That's only 90 minutes. That's nothing. That's chump change time.

It took between 14 and 30 hours to extract false confessions from each of the five youths convicted of raping the Central Park Jogger. The five served between 6 and 12 years before being freed after DNA testing identified the actual rapist, who (by the way) raped another woman four months after the five confessed.

It took 9 hours to convince the first of the Norfolk Four to falsely confess to rape and murder. (For the best ever telling of this story, see my post The Unindicted Co-Ejaculator.) Not only did the first guy confess, he implicated another innocent person as an accomplice, and that person also falsely confessed to rape and murder. Not only did the second person falsely confess, he implicated two other innocent people and they both falsely confessed to rape and murder. The DNA from the victim matched none of the four. The DNA from the victim did, however, match the actual rapist murderer, who (by the way) continued to rape and murder as the four rotted away behind bars.

The Houston Police Department, on the other hand, managed to extract a false confession from Preston Hughes in just 90 minutes. That's because someone convinced Preston he could go home if he would just sign that silly, nonsensical confession. (See The Big Why for proof of that last claim.)

Now it may seem odd to you that anyone could be so naive, but I say au contraire, si'l vou plait. The State and people of Texas had trained Preston to believe such a thing was not only possible, but routine.

Three years earlier, Preston had pled guilty to charges of aggravated assault (third degree felony) and aggravated sexual assault (first degree felony). Preston claims he was innocent and accepted the plea to avoid prison. I have no particular insight into that case, and I don't claim to know whether or not he was innocent. I do, however, take note of the fact that the (alleged?) victim in the case was under age by a fair amount and that Preston (allegedly?) fired a gun at (or near) her to intimidate her, to keep her from testifying.

The charges could very easily have been rape and assault with a deadly weapon. Texas does not take kindly to people who rape and then threaten the life of young teenage girls. If Texas could have made a half-way decent case, I suspect they would have done so. Instead, they several times offered Preston a reduced sentence for a plea of guilty, lowing the sentence each time. Preston, however, insisted he was innocent and didn't want to go to jail. He held tough and refused to take a plea.

That is, he refused to take a plea until they told him he could go home.  If he confessed to a crime, he would be given ten years probation, and he could go home.

He confessed and he went home.

From Preston's perspective, he was framed once before for a crime he did not commit. He believed back then that they would attempt to convict him using falsified evidence, and he believed they might pull it off. When offered the opportunity to walk free in exchange for a confession, he took it.

It is therefore no big surprise that when confronted with false evidence of a murder he did not commit, and when offered the choice of life behind bars or a free walk, he took the free walk.

The decision was easy peasy lemon squeezy.

*** THE END ***

But wait! There's more!

The first confession was but a prelude. Preston Hughes would soon be told that he would have to sign a second.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Big How

In my last post, The Big Why, I explained why Preston Hughes signed the first confession though it was false. You should read that post before reading any further in this one. For the few of you who haven't read the previous post, the rest of us will wait here patiently while you catch up.

We'll wait here. Patiently. We promise.

Okay, let's ditch 'em. They should have read it beforehand. They shouldn't expect the rest of us wait. Who do they think they are, anyway?

It's not particularly difficult to make someone confess to a crime he did not commit. You just need to apply the same well-established psychological techniques you would use to make someone confess to a crime they did commit. You may not be familiar with those psychological techniques, but I assure you that the people who interrogate suspects are. I'll describe the techniques briefly, as best I can.

To get someone to confess (whether or not they committed the crime) you simply maximize and then you minimize. Maximize, then minimize. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you maximize, you maximize the evidence against the suspect and you maximize the penalty he will face if he doesn't confess.

When you minimize, you minimize the suspect's legal and moral role in the crime and you minimize the penalty he will face if (and only if) he confesses.

That's it. It's so stinkin' simple. It may not seem to you that it will work, but it will, just as 25% of all DNA exonerees will tell you.

To do it right, you should be aware of a couple do's and don'ts.

As you maximize, do feel free to lie as you see fit, as long as you limit your lies to the evidence (or alleged evidence) of the crime. The federal courts have ruled repeatedly that such lying is A-okay. Even the Supreme Court, in Frazier v. Cupp, has condoned (and thereby encouraged) the practice.

As you minimize, do free to feel free to invent some bizarre scenario that would allow the suspect to put his involvement in a favorable light. Professionals call this alternate scenario "a theme." I call this alternate scenario "a bullshit." Don't be shy about how bizarre this scenario might be. It's important that you offer an alternative scenario, any alternative scenario. It's not important that the alternate scenario makes any sense whatsoever. As it turns out, it's not important even that the alternate scenario comport with the evidence.

Assuming you have been clever enough to not record the interrogation, make sure you promise the suspect that will he serve the max, even that he will be executed, if he does not confess.

Similarly, if you have been clever enough to not record the interrogation, assure the suspect that he will be treated leniently if he confesses to the alternate scenario.

Assuming you are foolish enough to record the interrogation, do not promise the suspect anything you cannot deliver. If you promise him leniency if he confesses and death if he doesn't, then the confession might be thrown out. You will have to walk a fine line. You will have to convince the suspect that he will be treated harshly if he does not confess, and leniently if he does confess, but you won't be able to be explicit. If the suspect somehow jumps to conclusions based on any perfectly innocent comments you make, then that's his problem.

I know that it's difficult to visualize how something this simple might work. I would be pleased to show you a video recording of Preston's confession so you could see these how it worked in his case, but I can't. Someone decided it would be best not to record Preston's interrogation. That someone decided not to make a recording even though the video equipment was right there ready to go. Now you know why that someone decided it best not to record, best to use his own words instead.

I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll reveal how the techniques were applied in the real world case of Michael Ledford. I'm somewhat familiar with that case, since I've been trying for several years to free him from prison as well. When I do that, you will get some sense of how these techniques are actually applied, and you will see that they work.

Grab a brew, settle in, and buckle up. Here we go.

The Maximization and Minimization of Michael Ledford
If you wish an overview of Michael's case, I suggest you read the executive summary from his not-yet-submitted petition for absolute pardon. Otherwise you can merely trust me that Michael confessed falsely to setting a fire that killed his one-year-old son and burned his young wife. (The fire actually resulted from a deteriorating electrical circuit.) Michael's 4.5 hour interrogation was recorded on video. I have spent many times 4.5 hours transcribing that video and studying it. I offer excerpts so that you to see some maximization and minimization techniques in action.

Maximizing the Evidence
As you read these excerpts, keep in mind that the police had zero evidence of arson, much less a fire set by Michael Ledford. Every bit of evidence claimed in the excerpts was simply a lie. Michael did not fail his polygraph test. The polygraph strip charts could therefore not indicate deception. There were no witnesses or experts who placed Michael at the scene while the fire was burning. There were no lab results indicating arson.

The first few excerpts are from the allegedly unbiased polygrapher, who officially declared the polygraph examination "Inconclusive", but who lied to Michael about the significance of the strip charts.
I'll tell you truthfully from a professional standpoint, you have not told the full truth. 
This is the other question here, you know, "Did you intentionally start that fire regarding, that fire which later caused Zach's death? Did you intentionally start the fire?" Look what happens right here. As soon as I started asking you that question how your blood pressure changes, right there, and also up here in the green. Same thing here. 
Same thing here. Same thing up in here. The question here "Did you intentionally start the fire?" There and there, it's really predominant. There you see something happening, and here you see it happening here. 
This chart, this is the last chart we did. Right here. Number 35 again. "Did you intentionally start that fire?" With that, with all [inaudible], that's a triple saddle basically, is what we call it. 
Now, Mike I'm going to be very honest with you. There's something about this fire that, and you setting the fire, that bothers you tremendously. 
[T]here is no doubt in my mind, the fire was intentionally set. 
The only thing that comes back around the spectrum is that you set the fire intentionally. And I can tell you from the preliminary reports that have come in, that the fire was set intentionally. It had to take direct contact. It had to come from that. ... You set the fire with the intentions of killing your wife and your child. 
[T]hey have got eyewitnesses. Not one, but several eyewitnesses that can put you there at the apartment at the time this expert says that fire started. 
[Y]ou take the reports that have come in from the lab, from these experts that have been called in, and from what Mr. Ritchie tells me, the next step that they have to do after this is, as far they're concerned, this is over, it's gone. 
Monday, this week, when we had an expert do a time burn ... which puts you there when the fire was ablaze. So there's no doubt that that happened. 
I'm, I'm telling you ... the experts will say "This is where the fire was set" and you [inaudible] the candle was over here somewhere. 
Now, scientifically we can show ... what you tell us is not the truth. Testimonily ... we've got these witnesses that can come in and, and, and show that some ... facts you've given us are not truthful. Mike, now is the time to lay it on the line. I'm, I'm being just up front with you.
Maximizing the Punishment
Now I don't know if you've ever been caged up like an animal or not. But that's exactly what's at the end of this Y right up here. Okay? 
Now, it's an easy road or it's a hard road. It's a simple as that.
And you'll be hard pressed to convince any jury in this county, or in Augusta County that you didn't intentionally leave it burning. You'll be hard pressed to do that. 
One of the things people get sentenced hard on these days is domestic violence. And they're going to look at this case and say "Well, this is a case of domestic violence. We're not going to have any mercy on this guy.
Do you want to leave it in the hands of twelve people on the jury, and I guarantee you eight of 'em are going to be women, eight of 'em are going to be mothers, so you might as well go ahead and tell the truth right now. 
And buddy, I'm going to tell you one thing right now, and I'm going to level with you, when it gets down to it and these jurors see this, and I see it all the time, they're going to be hard, they're going to come down hard on you. And I wanna prevent that.
Minimizing Michael's role: The Theme
And I wouldn't tell you that if I genuinely wasn't interested in getting you the help you need. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you. I do not want to see you have to go through and feel any more pain than what you already feel. I want you to believe that. That I do sense through the training, with the training that I've had, I don't call myself a psychologist, I don't do that, but I do sense that you've got a psychological problem that's going to get worse if you don't get help. And I can tell you that if you don't tell the full truth about this that it's only gonna get worse. 
I do sense that you've got a psychological problem that's going to get worse if you don't get help. And I can tell you that if you don't tell the full truth about this that it's only gonna get worse. 
You got a problem. You got a problem. Family problems. Emotional problems. A spur of the moment thing. We don't have something that's planned out, here. Spur of the moment thing that got out of hand. It's what we need to hear from you right now. 
I don't think it was with the intention that I've come to record, the intention of burning down the entire building. Uh, it was probably meant more, uh, I won't say as a joke, but meant something along the lines of, uh, uh, an attention getter. 
I don't think you intentionally deliberately set it with the intentions of harming anyone. You did not do that. 
And with this fire right here, if Elise hadn't opened that door, and let the smoke in, it probably wouldn't never hurt Zach. 
You did not intend to harm your wife, or the fact that your child is gone. You'll remember Zachary the rest of your life. You think about him a lot. So that just happened. ... But for some reason, ... whether ... the in-laws caused a problem, whether it was an argument with the wife, whatever, got out of hand, and, uh, you wanted to set that fire. You'll come back and show your father-in-law or show Elise that "I'm the man of the house. I saved your life, I protected you," this and that. Fire is crazy. You know fire is crazy. You can't, can't predict it. You were there. There to save them. Fire got out of hand. You were there for the purpose of rescuing them. 
Mike, you've got a psychological problem. 
You can't take care of it by all of the denials.
Minimizing the Punishment
You've got to get help. You need help. You've got to get help. And the only way you are gonna get it is to, to help yourself. Now, if you was an alcoholic or a drug addict, then how would you get help? First of all you've got to admit "I've got a problem." It's the same thing here. You got a problem. You've got to get the help that you need. You've got a psychological problem, if you want my personal opinion. You can get help for that. Do it before it is too late. That is up this road, not down that road.
The only thing that will get you that help, Mike, is for you to take it on yourself, to stand up and make the admission you need to admit. 
I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you. 
The only thing I'm interested in is the truth. You're at a point to where you have to make a decision. You're at the crossroads today. You're right up here. You either have to go off to the right, which leads you absolutely nowhere, or you've gotta go over here where you can get help. Help for you and help for the family. You can get that second chance that you say you think people deserve. And I'm of the frame of mind just like you. I believe that people deserve a second chance. Everybody makes silly mistakes in life. 
I'm concerned with helping you. ... You went through a very tragic type thing, and I want to help you get through it if I can. 
And part of the rehabilitation is to be able to admit to, uh, to the things I think Stan [the polygrapher who lied about the test results] probably talked to you about. Stan's a good man. He's, he's, uh, a chaplain with us and I know, I know you been, you've been a religious person your whole life, but he's, he's the kinda person that, uh, that probably would advise you right, uh, in that you need to get, uh, start the, uh, healing process you got to admit that what you did was not right. And that, though it, it, uh, didn't really turn out the way that, uh, you thought it would, matter of fact it went totally haywire, it, uh, didn't turn out, uh, good at all.
Believe it or not, it worked. After 32 times denying that he had started the fire, Michael Ledford came to believe that he must have started it, even if he didn't remember doing so. They convinced him he had a psychological problem. Here is how Michael began the oral portion of his confession.
Okay. I want the agreement that I will be sent for, I want the agreement that I will be placed in a psychiatric hospital. It evaluates my need, my problem, and afterwards getting help and get a trade, not necessarily make a good living at, but something where I will be away from people.
And here's how Michael ended his written confession.
I agree I need help and am willing to get the help. I just hope my Family and Friends and God can forgive me.
Though they never told him so explicitly, they convinced him that he would not go to prison. He believed he would be treated for his mental problem rather than punished. Though he was in Virginia at the time, he wondered if he would be able to receive his psychological help in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Is there any way possible that the health benefits could be in a different state?
The Maximization and Minimization of Preston Hughes III
Though we don't have a recording of Preston's interrogation, we can pretty easily figure out what went on in the HPD homicide interrogation room. We can figure it out based on Sgt. Gafford's police statement and Preston's behavior after the confession. We can figure out what happened because we now understand the basics of maximization followed by minimization.

Sgt. Gafford began the process by maximizing the evidence of Preston's guilt. Since there was in fact no evidence of Preston's guilt, Gafford simply relied on a lie. We know that Gafford told Preston that Shandra had identified him as her attacker. From Sgt. Gafford's report:
Sgt. confronted the suspect with the fact that the compl was given his name as the one who had stabbed she and the #2 compl. The suspect was visibly upset by this fact and Sgt continued that it was Sgts firm belief that he was in fact the one that had stabbed them.
Shandra, however, could not have told anybody anything about who stabbed her, unless they were nearby within 90 seconds of the knife passing through her carotid artery. (See item 1 of Plea and Summary) I suspect, but do not know and cannot prove, that Gafford was actually the first person to claim that Shandra gave a dying declaration. I suspect that Gafford created that "evidence" as he was maximizing the  case against Preston, as the Supreme Court has ruled he is allowed to do.

We can assume also that Gafford told Preston that he was at least going to be incarcerated. Recall from Gafford's report:
Sgt. Gafford the[n] continued the interrogation, and after a time continuing to deny involvement in the case, Hughes broke down, stating that he was afraid to go to jail, and that he did not want to go to jail. He admitted at this time to committing to the offense, and stated that he had killed the #1 compl ...
It seems odd that Preston would confess immediately after expressing his fear of jail and his desire not to go to jail. One would think that the best way to avoid jail, given Preston's circumstance, would be to not confess. Gafford's description seems more like a negotiation than an interrogation.

We know also that a bizarre alternative scenario came out of the interrogation. There never has been any independent evidence that Preston was actually in the field that night, or that a black male sneaked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, or that Preston stabbed him 6, 8, or 10 times before recognizing that he was stabbing Shandra. This story was a product of the first interrogation. The question is which of the two people in the room first proposed the story.

I will point out that Sgt. Gafford would not have needed any input from Preston to make up this story. The story is a reasonable extension of the story that some woman's family threatened to kill Preston because he had kidnapped her. Police were apparently called to Preston's apartment over this issue but did not arrest him. Gafford was almost certainly aware of this, having reviewed Preston's files before he began the interrogation.  Again from his report:
Once in the homicide division Sgts checked Hughes for a criminal history or any warrants. Sgts located a HPD record under ID#465127, and notes two entries, 1985-Agg.Sexual Assault of a Child, filed in the 176th D.C., and -----------------filed in the 176th D.C. ---------------------- Sept/88, and after checking this and other reports in which Hughes was listed as a suspect, there was still nothing to show that this was the correct "Preston". [Hyphens are in the original.]
The hyphened case filed in September of 1988 (the same month as the murders) is almost certainly related to the alleged kidnapping and the counter alleged death threats. It's a perfect basis for the bizarre alternate scenario that came out of interrogation.

It was most likely Gafford that introduced the black-male-who-startled theme. It's likely he introduced that theme to minimize Preston's involvement in Shandra's stabbing. It's likely he then convinced Preston that if he confessed to that bizarre alternate scenario, that he would soon be going home rather than going to prison for life.

Going Home
Both Preston Hughes and Michael Ledford somehow believed that they would be going home soon if they confessed to murder. It may seem strange that either of them or anyone would do such a thing, but they both did.

Immediately after signing his first confession, Preston Hughes called his boss to let him know that he would miss one day, and just one day, of work.  From the testimony of Bill Lillico:
He did not say why, he just said he had been picked up by the police and that he would probably be able to be in to work the next day.
As Michael Ledford wrote out his confession by hand, one of his interrogators asked him when he had last visited his wife in the hospital.
Monday. Going to get some sleep today then go a little bit tonight.
Instead of going home, each was charged with capital murder. Each had effectively signed his own death warrant.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Big Why

Just as the 2:58 AM time hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of those who manufactured evidence against Preston Hughes, so does Preston's signature on the first confession threaten his life to this day. Why did Preston sign that confession if he did not kill Shandra just as the confession said?

The HPD acknowledged that the confession was false, at least in detail. They did, after all, prepare a second confession that differed materially from the first, and they did manage to secure Preston's signature on that second confession as well. The HPD thereby conceded that in at least one instance Preston signed a confession known to be false. As far as I know, they offered no explanation why Preston would sign a confession if it was false. They conceded only that he did.

Preston Hughes claims to this day that he signed the first confession, and the second, because the HPD threatened life and limb. He claims that he signed the first confession because Sgt. Gafford brandished his weapon, slapped him, and punched him in the chest.

While I have little doubt that Sgt. Gafford may have presented himself (at least part of the time) as an imposing and intimidating figure, I'm skeptical of the details provided by Preston. Even if Preston was slapped in the face and once punched in the chest, and even if Preston was given a good look at Sgt. Gafford's handgun, I doubt that is why Preston signed the confession.

Basically, I don't believe any of them. There are very few people involved in this case that I will take at their word.

Despite all the lying and obfuscation, I think I know why Preston signed that confession.

I'm pretty sure I know.

Actually, I'm confident I know.

Actually, I'm so confident that I hereby claim I will prove, in this very post, that I am right.

It's a bold claim, so settle in, buckle up, and get ready for The Big Why.

Preston Hughes signed his first confession because Sgt. Dennis Gafford of the Houston Police Department convinced Preston he would soon be free to go if he signed the confession.

I will leave discussion of how Sgt. Dennis Gafford so deceived suspect Preston Hughes for my next post, which I will entitle The Big How. With the remainder of this post, I will simply prove that I am right. It shouldn't take very long.

As proof, I point to Preston's actions immediately after he signed the confession, as told by Sgt. Gafford.
The suspect was left sitting in this interview room and as Sgt. Gafford was leaving the room, the suspect asked if he us [sic] the telephone to call his boss. Sgt. brought a phone into the room and the suspect called his boss.
Preston's biggest concern at that point was not that he would be put away for life, perhaps even executed. We know that because he asked for neither an attorney nor a priest.

Nor was Preston's biggest concern that his mother might be devastated by the news he had confessed to murder. He would attempt to call his mother that day, but not right then, not right after he signed the confession.

The first act Preston Hughes took after signing the first confession was to call his boss. Preston wanted to let his boss know that he would miss work that day, but that he would be in the next.

The astute and persistent among you might point out that I cannot infer such detail from Sgt. Gafford's report. I concede that point. I will therefore cheat a bit by referring to some trial testimony not yet available to you. I'll be discreet. I'll refer to only a single question to, and a single answer from Bill Lillico, Preston's supervisor at Montgomery Wards shipping and receiving. Note that this testimony was unwittingly solicited by the prosecutor. It was not wittingly solicited by the defense, as it should have been.
Q. Did he tell you why he had been picked up? 
A. He did not say why, he just said he had been picked up by the police and that he would probably be able to be in to work the next day.
Quod erat demonstrandum.

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