Monday, October 1, 2012

The Trial of Preston Hughes: Officer Vincent Cook

Houston Police Officer Vincent L. Cook had been a patrol officer ever since he joined the HPD nine and a half years earlier. His regular shift was 10 PM to 6 AM. He was familiar with the near the crime scene, including the Fuddrucker's, the Lakehurst Apartment complex, and the empty field between them.

His entire testimony is available at Skeptical Juror Docs. I transform his testimony into first-person narrative format below.

Narrative of Direct Examination 
The field was covered by trees and high brush, approximately knee height, maybe two or three feet high. There is an abandoned house in the midst of the field. 
It was dark outside. I had a flashlight. The time was sometime after the beginning of my shift at 10 PM. 
In that field, we found the body of a young woman. She was laying face down on the trail. Her head faced west [towards Fuddrucker's] and her feet pointed east [towards the Lakehurst Apartments.] She was breathing. I could see her chest rising up and down. I noticed blood around her neck and on the ground below her.

As we continued to look, we saw a small boy. He was also laying face down. His head was pointing in a northeast direction. His feet were pointing in a southwest direction. 
We turned him over and checked for signs of life. He was not breathing. I believed he was dead. We attempted to revive him. 
I recall the boy having a stab wound to his shoulder and a stab wound to the back of his head.   
He had what appeared to be an exit wound on his back shoulder. One of his feet was partially removed from its sandal. There was some sort of plastic bag wrapped around his foot. 
I couldn't determine whether or not there had been in a struggle. 
I immediately notified the dispatcher to have an ambulance sent, and possibly a helicopter to lift them out. 
We called for backup. We cornered off the scene. We looked for any suspects that might be in the area. I stayed with the children, but other officers searched carefully for suspects. In fact, a helicopter arrived to look around. 
Sgt. D. Hamilton was one of the persons who responded to assist in the case. Sgt. Hamilton is one of the supervisors at the station. I told Sgt. Hamilton what we had found. I did not direct him to the area where we had located the young woman. I stayed with the little boy.
Narrative of Cross Examination
I had no idea when the children might have been attacked. I didn't see any suspects in the area.
I do not know exactly which photos were presented as exhibits as part of Cook's testimony. I can infer which may have been presented. Assuming I have copies, I present them below

State's Exhibit 5: Seemingly an aerial view of the scene, capturing a portion of the Lakehurst apartment complex, Fuddrucker's in the distance, and the field between them. The aerial view was possibly this one.

State's Exhibit 6: Seemingly an aerial view of the scene, capturing Fuddrucker's, a portion of the Lakehurst apartment complex, and the field between them.  Cook placed an X in the approximate location where each of the children were found. The aerial view was possibly this one.

State's Exhibit 7: Picture of  boy as discovered by Cook, except turned face up and shirt lifted to expose injuries. Possibly this picture. I have blurred the boy's facial features to preserve at least some modicum of privacy.

State's Exhibit 8: Picture of boy showing what appears to be an exit wound at the back of his shoulder. Shirt raised to show injury. Possibly this picture.

State's Exhibit 9: Picture of boy's feet showing plastic bag and one foot partially removed from its sandal. Probably this picture.

Possible Skeptical Juror Notes
I do not know if the jurors were allowed to take notes. I certainly do not know what any of them noted, either mentally or on a notepad. I offer below some of what I may have noted if I had been sitting as a juror.
girl face down on trail
noticed her breathing
did not hear her talking or making noise
did not stop to help her
boy dead
stab wound to shoulder
stab wound to back of neck
exit wound at back of shoulder
boy stabbed both front and back?
something going on with boy's foot; sandal and plastic bag
attempted to revive him
called for help after finding boy but not after finding girl
tried to help dead boy but not live girl
stayed w/ boy, not girl, while others searched area
sgt hamilton showed up
avoided answering directly if hamilton was his supervisor
talked to hamilton; told him what they found
stayed with boy; hamilton must have come to him
hamilton must have walked past girl
What the Jurors Never Learned
All parties at trial attempt to manage what the jurors see, hear, and discuss. The jurors are frequently the least well-informed players in the macabre play we call a trial. Regarding Cook's testimony, here are some bits of information kept from the jurors.

The jurors never learned that Cook's partner was Officer C. J. Becker.

The jurors never learned that Cook and Becker filed a joint police report. We do not know which of the two actually wrote it.

The jury would never hear from Officer Becker, though he had as much information about the discovery of the bodies as did Cook. The jurors would never learn whether Becker's testimony reinforced that of Cook, or contradicted that of Cook.

The jury would never know that Cook, in his police report, declared that the girl was unconscious. He did not make that part of his testimony.

The jury would never know that Cook did not claim in his police report that he could see her chest move as she breathed. In his police report he described her only as breathing deeply.

The jury would not learn that, in his police report, Cook claimed the time was near 11:30 PM when he was flagged down by the first or second person.

The jury would never learn the details of the first gentleman's plea for Cook's help. The jury would never learn the first gentleman claimed:
that he and his wife had been pursued through the field by a dark shadowy figure; 
that his wife had been abducted by 2 black males in the very field; 
that though his wife had turned up safe, he heard a female scream from the area where the children were found.
The jury would never learn that the plastic bag wrapped around the boy's foot was never reported as taken into evidence. The plastic bag was never tested for fingerprints, blood, or DNA.

When Cook was asked specifically if Sgt. Hamilton was his supervisor, Cook gave an oblique answer.
Q. Is Sergeant Hamilton one of your supervisors or how does that work out there? 
A. One of the supervisors there at the station, yes, sir.
The jury would never learn that Sgt. Hamilton inserted himself from another patrol district. The jury would never learn that another sergeant, Sgt. J.H. Parham, was at the scene at the same time Hamilton was at the scene. The jury would never learn that Sgt. Parham was apparently from Cook's patrol district and that Sgt. Parham may have been Cook's supervisor.

The jury would never learn that the aerial photos were not taken anywhere near the time of the crime. The aerial photos were taken long before the crime, as evidenced by the missing car wash north of Fuddrucker's. The aerial photos were later included as part of Preston's case file because they had been used as exhibits in the trial. When Barbara Lunsford submitted an open records request for all the documents in the Hughes case, she was provided those aerial photos.

The jury would never learn that there were photos of another crime scene included as part of the Hughes case. The reason for including these photos in the Hughes file is unclear to this day. One suspicion is that the HPD was considering a suspect other than Hughes, someone who had committed another crime of violence.  I present some of the photographs from that other crime scene below.

Based on information gleaned from other pictures of that crime scene, I believe the crime happened near the time of the murders of Shandra and Marcell.

The crime was associated with the upstairs apartment on the left of the first image. The number of that apartment is 2002. If anyone has any information regarding the crime or the specific location of the apartment, please contact me.

No comments:

Post a Comment