Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: 14244

I should probably refer to Preston's first confession as Gafford's first confession. It might confuse the readers, but I suspect it would be more accurate.

Preston didn't write that first confession, or the second one for that matter. He signed the first confession, and the second, but he wrote neither of them. Sgt. Dennis J. Gafford of the Houston Police Department wrote the first.

The issue to be considered in this post is whether the confession that Gafford wrote, using a typewriter rather than a pen, told his story or Preston's story. Were the words in that confession those of Preston Hughes or those of Dennis Gafford?

To begin, I ask you to engage in a brief mental exercise. I assume each of you has been into a convenience store that is neither very close nor very far from your house. Assume if you wish that the store is a bus ride away. I now ask that you recall the specific address of that store.

My guess is that none of you can. I certainly can't.

If we are to believe that Sgt. Gafford merely recorded Preston's words as he spoke them, then we must believe that Preston Hughes is one of the few among us who can recall the street address of each business he walks into. From Preston's (or Gafford's) first confession:
I was feeling good and fell asleep on the bus and then didn't wake up until the end of the route at Westheimer and Hwy. 6. I walked a couple of blocks to a Circle K at 14244 Westheimer and called for a cab.
Thanks to the fine, understanding folks at Google, here's a picture of the convenience store currently located at 14244 Westheimer Road, Houston, CA 77077.

It's not a Circle K, it's a Super K. It may have been a Circle K at the time, but it was a Super K when the Google camera car cruised by. The point is that its street address is identical to that found in Preston's (or Gafford's) first confession.

On reflection, it should have been obvious from the beginning that Gafford was typing the confession as he wished. No one talks like this, particularly someone putting a needle in his arm.
My name is Preston Hughes III, and I am 22 years old. I was born on December 24, 1965, in Buffalo, New York. I now live at 2310 Crescent Park, #138A, Houston, Texas.
It's not even necessary that Preston gave Gafford the detailed information in those two sentences. Gafford clearly knew Preston's address. Gafford made it clear also that he reviewed Preston's file before interrogating Preston. Gafford probably had the details before he began the interview. I suspect Gafford began every interview statement he ever typed in similar fashion, though none of his interviewees ever spoke in such a way.

Given even our limited discussion so far, we realize there are least two ways in which we might identify segments of the first confession that are Gafford's story rather than Preston's. First, the story segment might be too specific. Second, the phrasing might be too stilted, too unlike the fashion in which someone might speak.

With those two rules of thumb now in mind, consider the following segment.
I went back into the apartment and that's when I took the knife off of my belt and put it in my closet. I put in a box in the bedroom closet on the floor. The box is a brown cardboard box with clothes in it and the knife is stuck down on the side. The closet is in a bedroom to the right as you go toward the back of the apartment, the bedroom with the twin bed in it.
Whoa!  That's both specific and stilted. Who talks like that? Who gives that level of detail?

I have an idea! Let's look at the photographs the HPD (admitted they) took of the closet in question. Let's see if the pictures will help us make sense of this.

Here's the first picture, standing outside the closet looking in.

I can see two cardboard boxes from here, so it's good that Preston didn't just say "I threw the knife in a box." It was nice that he was so specific about which of the two cardboard boxes "in the bedroom closet on the floor" that he put the murder weapon inside. He put it inside "the brown cardboard box with clothes in it." That way, the HPD wouldn't have to search both of the brown cardboard boxes, on the floor, in the closet, in the bedroom on the right at the back of the apartment, the bedroom with the twin beds in it.

Here's a closer look at the brown cardboard box with clothes in it.

And here's a closer look still.

Just as Preston (or Gafford) said, the knife (at least it's sheath) is visible right on the side of the box. It couldn't get any easier than this. The HPD would't even have to search the entire box. The knife and the sheath would be right there on the side, in plain view if you looked from the top.

Here's the knife and sheath now, placed on the floor.

They look just like Preston (or Gafford) said they would.
The knife is an Army knife with a rusty blade that is about 5 or 6 inches long. I carry it in a grey sheath on the right side of my belt.
The blade is 5 or 6 inches long and the sheath is grey, just as Preston (or Gafford) said. I used to think that stain near the tip of the blade might be blood. Now I realize that it is rust. At least that explains why the HPD never attempted to match the blood from the knife with Shandra's blood type, or Marcell's blood type. There was no blood on the knife.

We can debate until we're blue in the face about rather the story told in the first confession came from Preston, or from Gafford, or from some combination of the two. We won't know because someone, one of the two people just mentioned, does not want us to know. That someone choose not to preserve the interview by turning on the video recorder made available precisely for such purpose.

Depending on which of the two individuals told the story found in the first confession, there may be great irony preserved therein. Recall that Sgt. Gafford attempted to damn Preston Hughes by claiming that Preston exhibited guilty knowledge of the crime, though Gafford himself later (and unwittingly) proved that Preston did not. Assuming that the words in the first confession are those of Dennis Gafford rather than those of Preston Hughes, then Gafford unwittingly proved his own guilty knowledge, that of an illegal search and seizure, one he denied under oath during Preston's trial.

If Preston Hughes did not provide each and every detail of the knife, the sheath, and their location, then Sgt. Dennis J. Gafford knew something he could not have known had the HPD not searched Preston's apartment prior to 2:58 AM.

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Anonymous said...

I agree that all of these issues smell really funny, but how different are these confessions that other confessions taken related to other crimes in the same time period. It's circumstantially fishy, but I don’t think it proves anything. Imagine an uneducated bad guy explains the long drawn out story of how he stole a car and then robbed a liquor store using slang and improper English. I would imagine its common place for the investigator to put the story in proper English sentences for the confession. I would also imagine that the officer knows what details to include to make the conviction stick and what noise to leave out of the narrative.

The details about the box show to me that the apartment was searched before they said it was. Including the address of the convenience store to me is absurd. I can’t tell you the address of the store I go to almost daily. (Got to make it stick ;-) ).

You have said several times that you think you will have about 50 posts when you are done. Do you have and outline you could share with us. Maybe we could vote on what we think would be more interesting/persuasive. It’s your blog and you can write them in whatever order you want, but it would be interesting to get our feedback,

Keep it up TSJ!


Rubber Duck

tsj said...

Rubber Duck,
Why shouldn't a confession always be in the words of the one confessing? If he is uneducated and doesn't write well, so what? I don't want someone else telling me what someone else said.

The problem could be solved if they would simply use the video equipment they purchased just for that purpose.

With respect to the sequence, I'm going to write one more post on the first confession, several on the second confession, then I'm going to move to the trial. I will be presenting the testimony (an my analysis) of one witness per day. I will be posting the transcript online on a witness by witness basis.

Thanks for the feeback.

Lynne said...

I haven't been following your posts on this case but I agree it is highly suspicious that they didn't record the confession. And you are right - no one talks like that!

I wrote a post on my blog the other day about a different case and it was the same thing - police testified that the accused made certain statements. Interview was not recorded but of course many other interviews from other witnesses were recorded.

I'm going to go back and read more of your posts on this case.

Anonymous said...

Did Preston say anything on the witness stand regarding the confession? Did he just say that he was "pressured" into signing it?


Anonymous said...

However Lynne there is a slight difference here with him signing it and not just the cops saying he said it. Doesn't matter what he exactly said or not because the officer would write up a summary and say does this represent what you think happened and then he could say no and not sign it, or say yes and sign it.


Anonymous said...


To quote Jules from Pulp Fiction

Jules: ... Well, allow me to retort. ...

There is no question that the interview should have been recorded or videoed.

The practical problem:

The practice of having the detective type the confession and have the bad guy sign it can only be the result of the practical problem facing the DA. If the detective just handed a pad and pencil to the bad guy and asked him to write out his confession you can imagine the problems that this would cause. Writing a clear paragraph is a skill. I would imagine it's a skill that not all people who choose to commit a crime would have. The DA or the police chief established a policy (I would imagine) to have the detective take the relevant details of the crime and type them out. The end result is that you get weird details in the confession such as the address to the convenience store where Preston called a cab. If you put it in front of the bad guy and he reads it and agrees that these are the fact of the crime then it's as good as if he wrote it. To me this explains the weird language of the confession.

To me the fact that the two confessions are so different is way more damaging than the fact that the confessions have too many unrealistic details.

Looking forward to the discussion of the trial and witnesses.

Rubber Duck

p.s. Sorry it took me so long to reply. Work, life etc....

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