Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Trial of Preston Hughes: Sgt. Don Hamilton

Don Hamilton was a patrol sergeant with the Houston Police Department. He is the person to whom Shandra Charles allegedly gave a dying declaration.

Don Hamilton's entire testimony is available at Skeptical Juror Docs. I offer a narrative summary, and more, below.

Narrative of Direct Examination
I am a sergeant with the Houston Police Department. I've been with the department for six and a half years. I'm in the patrol division, assigned to West Houston. My area of responsibility includes the region near Kirkwood and Westheimer, including the Fuddrucker's hamburger joint and the Lakehurst Apartments. 
I was working on the night of September 26, 1988 when I heard a call out on a person down. Shortly after that, they called an ambulance and advised the dispatcher that a female had been assaulted. Roughly 30 seconds later, they said they had found a second victim who had no pulse or respiration, and they requested Life Flight. So I checked by with them. 
The area was a large field, high with weeds and grass. There was no artificial lighting but you could see from the moon how to walk through there and get a general idea of what was out there. I had a flashlight with me. As I was approaching Officers Cook and Baker, I walked past a female laying in the field. She was laying face down in the path. I noticed she was breathing, from just viewing her. I noticed that her face was directly on the ground at an angle that put her nose and her mouth directly in contact with the ground. 
If I recall correctly, she was dressed in whitish or creamish colored shorts and whitish or creamish colored shirt. She had what appeared to me to be a stab wound to the neck and a bloodstain on the upper part of her chest that appeared to be bleeding pretty seriously. There was a puddle of ground where she was lying. 
I turned her over. In observing the injuries to this young lady's neck and chest, I believed she was seriously injured. From the blood that was on her and on the ground, I had the sense that she had injured within the hour. The wound on her neck was still bleeding rather profusely. 
I turned her over to see exactly what the wounds were and to see if she had any other injuries. I noticed her shorts were on her hips. They were from the normal position which someone would have their shorts down on the hips. Her underclothes also had been pulled down and this exposed roughly two-thirds of her pubic area. 
At first, she didn't say anything to me. I asked her, after discovering the condition of her clothes, "What happened?" She replied, "He tried to rape me." I asked her, "Who tried to rape you?" She stated "Preston." 
I asked her if she knew Preston. She stated to me, "Yes." I asked her if she knew Preston's last name. She stated something. I could not understand it. It was more of a mumble. 
At first, she was speaking as clearly as I am to you now but with a little difficulty. As time passed, it did become weaker, almost to a whisper towards then. I had to bend down to hear her talk. She was able to identify the young boy found on the path. She told me it was her cousin. She kept stating, towards the end, her cousin, her cousin, "Find my cousin." 
She was never able to give me the last name of the person who assaulted her. 
Once the paramedics arrived, they started an IV in her situation at that point in resuscitation. At that point after their arrival she began to deteriorate rapidly. We had Life Flight there at the scene but I believe they were dispatched from Galvseston that night and they were still roughly five minutes off. The paramedics made a decision to take her to the nearest hospital they could find. 
Sometime later, Detectives Gafford and Bloyd arrived on the scene. I related to them my findings, especially what the little girl had said to me concerning the person who assaulted her.  After securing the scene, I believe it was Detective Gafford obtained a list of the apartment complex's residents that was nearby the offense. He examined the list and I believe he found the name of a Preston Hughes on the apartment list itself, and I later went over to the apartment -- I believe it was Apartment 138-A -- to see if anyone lived there and to talk with anyone, if they were there. That would be the Lakehurst apartments. 
The path that Shandra was lying on led from the parking lot of the Fuddrucker's, through the field to a wooden fence where there was some planks missing and you could enter either apartment complex from this field. There were two trails, but they were just mud from people that trampled it fairly heavy. 
I accompanied Sergeants Gafford and Bloyd to the residence of the defendant, Preston Hughes III. His apartment is near where the red truck is parked in the photograph. That's about 200, 300 feet from the hole in the fence. I could throw a baseball that far. 
Once we got to Mr. Hughes' apartment, I accompanied Detective Gafford and Bloyd up to the apartment. It was a second floor unit. There was metal stairs, maybe 15, 20 stairs up to the second floor balcony where his apartment was. There was another apartment directly across on the second floor. 
I would say it was after 12:00 when we got to Mr. Hughes' apartment, maybe 12:30 in the very early morning. 
The primary officers investigating the offense were the homicide detectives, Bloyd and Gafford. Detective Gafford was the one who actually knocked on the door. He knocked maybe five minutes, and there was no answer at the door, and he contacted one of the security guards for the complex to see if they could go back to the office and see if there's a phone to the apartments so they could call, see if someone would answer. That turned out -- I believe it turned out they had no phone in the apartment and we knocked a couple more times and he knocked a couple more times. As we were about to walk down the stairs, the door opened suddenly. 
Sgt. Gafford asked the person that answered the door what his name was. The person identified himself as Preston Hughes III. That's him. He's the black male sitting between the two white males, has on a blue blazer, purple tie, whitish colored shirt. 
That evening, he had on a pair of red boxer-type shorts. He invited us in. Sgt. Bloyd had a conversation with him. Sgt. Gafford was standing next to Sgt. Bloyd. At some point, one of them asked him to accompany them downtown to answer questions concerning the case. He agreed. 
He was given the opportunity to change his clothes. I accompanied him into his bedroom, primarily for our safety. As our rule, when we respond to any call, when a person starts walking around, we normally will ask them to stay in the room with us. If they proceed to another room, we'll accompany them, primarily for our safety. 
I did not search his apartment. Neither Sgt. Bloyd nor Sgt. Gafford searched his apartment. 
The apartment was an average, one-bedroom apartment, had a moderate size living room, small bathroom, medium size bedroom, with a hallway between the bedroom and kitchen and living room. 
The defendant changed his clothes and we all left the apartment. Myself, Bloyd, and Gafford were the first to leave. The defendant locked it. He had the key and he locked the door himself. One of our units transported the defendant downtown. 
While we were in the apartment, there were other officers on the downstairs, on the ground in the courtyard. There was a security officer. I'm not sure what his name was. And Officer Vincento and, I believe and Officer Dobbins. 
After I left the apartment, I proceeded downtown to the police building at 61 Riesner to prepare my supplement to the report. Officer Vincento transported, as I said earlier, the defendant downtown. The other units returned to service to additional calls. 
I'm not sure what Sergeants Gafford and Bloyd did after they left the scene. After I turned in my report at the police station, I returned to service, also.
Narrative of Cross Examination
The field behind Fuddrucker's has no lights out there whatsoever. To see the wounds on the victim, I needed my flashlight. As I said, the moon was out that night, and there was enough light for you to walk through the path and to see general things out in the field. You couldn't see anything in detail without additional lighting. You could not make out colors of clothing or stuff like that without using a flashlight. 
I was dressed as I am now, in standard Houston Police uniform, sergeant's chevrons, and gold badge. I introduced myself to the victim as a police officer. I turned her over. There was a great deal of blood. The majority was on her head on to the side of her neck. When I rolled her over, her hair was in her face and matted and pretty soaked with blood. I got some on me in the process of removing the hair out of her face. 
I also went to the place where the little boy was laying. I didn't do anything with the little boy. 
When I went up to the apartment and encountered Mr. Hughes, he did not act nervous or excited. He was relatively calm. He was polite. 
Just myself, Sergeant Gafford, and Bloyd went to the door. He invited us in. I didn't really look around. I was basically just listening to the conversation. I had no right to search, look around his apartment. During the entire time that we were there, Mr. Hughes and Sgt. Gafford and Bloyd were in the living room. I stood right behind them in the hallway. The apartment was dark, and if I wanted to look around, I couldn't see anything anyway. 
The living room area where we are talking, though, was in darkness the whole time. There's a hallway outside the door, the breezeway, whatever you would described that as, has a light. The door was open the entire time. We stepped right out of the breezeway to the entrance of the living room. We were all standing there pretty much together. 
The bedroom was dark when we went in there. When he got dressed, he turned on a light. He went in the bedroom and I followed him. the detectives stayed in the front room, in the dark. I don't recall if the TV or the stereo or radio or anything was on. 
No one checked any of the other rooms. Like I said, when the other sergeants interviewed the defendant, they asked him if anyone else was there. He indicated no one else was there. It was quiet, and I had no reason to believe anyone else was there at the time. When he went to change -- this is a relatively small apartment. As he walked down the hallway, you could look in the bathroom, see there was no one there. As I watched him get dressed, I could see around the bedroom, and there was clearly no one there. I didn't go into the kitchen area or the dining area. 
You would have to see the configuration of the apartment to understand it. When you walk right in, you could see straight to the end of the kitchen. Directly off to your left, you can see the living room. There's a hallway and there's a bathroom off the hallway and and the end is a bedroom. 
I was present when Mr. Hughes was placed in the patrol car. It was a standard blue and white Houston Police Department patrol car. Plastic safety glass separating the front seat from the back, headlights, overhead lights, no door handles on the inside of the back doors. You can only get out if somebody on the outside opens the door and lets you out. The only officer in that patrol car was Officer Vincento. 
I didn't see anything interesting in the apartment and I didn't take anything from the apartment. None of the officers did.
DA Noll showed Hamilton State's exhibits 10, 11, and 12. The exhibits were apparently photographs of Shandra's shorts and shoes. Hamilton identified them as such.  I do not have the photographs available to present. When Houston provided Barbara Lunsford "all" of the case documents in response to her open records request, they did not provide those photographs.

DA Noll also showed Hamilton State's exhibit 5, shown previously to Officer Cook. Once again, I presume that exhibit was the same as the photo below:

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.
sgt hamilton
heard call of person down
30 seconds later, second person down / life flight
no lighting in field but moon was up; had flashlight
walked past girl laying in field
laying face down; nose and mouth in dirt
light shorts and shirt
turned her over; did not cradle her as DA said in opening statement
injuries to neck and chest; blood on ground
recently stabbed; within an hour
shorts down on hips
"he tried to rape me"  "preston"
calm at first?  spoke clearly?  mumbled later, then whisper
"cousin, cousin, find my cousin"
paramedics start IV; she deteriorated quickly; they resuscitated her
life flight 5 min out; take her to nearest hospital
sgts gafford and bloyd arrive; take charge
gafford gets list of residents; lakehurst apts; finds preston hughes
field runs from fuddrucker's to lakehurst; hole in wooden fence
200 - 300 yds from hole in fence to preston's apt; 2nd floor
hamilton goes upstairs and inside w/ gafford & bloyd
after midnight; maybe 12:30
preston opens door after 5 min; in shorts
calm; agrees to go downtown
hamilton follows him to bedroom when he puts on clothes
taken to station in patrol car
last one out; locks door himself
need flashlight to see wounds
bloody hair on her face; got some on him
did nothing w/ boy
preston calm; invited them in
lights off; only on in hallway and bedroom
did not check other rooms
did not look around; could see much anyway
officer vincento drove preston downtown
What the Jurors Never Learned

The jury never learned that Hamilton said in his police report that Shandra told him that Preston lived at Lakeside.

The jury never learned that the apartment complex just south of Lakehurst Apartments was Lakewood Village Apartments.

The jury never learned that the Lakeside Green Condos were just north of the crime scene.

The jury never learned that Hamilton was from District 19 and that the crime occurred in District 20.

The jury never learned that Sgt Parham from District 20 was at the crime scene, and that Sgt Parham was probably the supervising patrol sergeant.

The jury never learned that Officers Cook and Baker reported seeing multiple officers standing around Shandra.


Lynne said...

I wonder - how were they able to find the names of the residents of the apartment from the field and late at night? I wouldn't think in '88 that one could even do a search online for that information and that it would have to be searched by contacting the property manager. Or if it was a private residence that real estate records would have to be searched at the county clerks office.

If life flight was already there, why drive her to the hospital? Surely that would take longer. Did you ever see the EMT records with vital signs recorded, etc.?

Anonymous said...

They knocked on the resident manager's door who supplied them with a list of names of the tenants.

The helicopter wasn't already there -- it was 5 minutes away.

The fact that the EMTs started IVs on Shondra tells me she was alive at the scene.

Why divert an ambulance to another hospital? Well, all the trauma rooms could be full with other acute care patients or they could have had no vascular surgeon at the hospital where as the other hospital did.

Lynne said...

Where does it say that they knocked on the resident manager's door and obtained a list of tenants?! It does not.

He testified that lifeflight was "at the scene" but "they were 5 minutes away" so which is it? It can't be both. That makes no sense.

She was face down but he could see that she was breathing? In the dark? Really?! Not buying it. Her face was in the dirt. If she was trying to breathe, wouldn't she have turned her head?

Anonymous said...


I don't think they specified, at least not that I saw, but a logical conclusion in my opinion would be that they went to the manager's apartment. Many complexes that I am familiar with have an onsite manager that lives in one of the units. I doubt that the internet or county clerk was neccessary.

He did say that "we had Life Flight" at the scene, but says "they were 5 minutes off." He could have meant that they had them at the scene that night, it just would have occured later after the EMT unit left. If the helo was there on the scene, they would not have put her in the ambulance, so logic tells me that despite the ambiguity in his wording, Life Flight was not on deck at the time that they left in the ambulance. But no, I have not seen the EMT ride sheet with vital signs...


An observation, not really sure what this is worth, but Officer Cook says (pg 26, lines 11-14) that there WERE streetlights in the area where the "little girl's" body was discovered. Sgt Hughes says (pg 59, lines 12-18) that there was absolutely NO artificial light in the field whatsoever. A typo by the court recorder perhaps? I don't know...

I'm not saying the case hinges on this point or anything, it was just an observation that I made while reading through.

- Lando

Anonymous said...


I also was going to address your later points. He said that he did have a flashlight, as did (I assume) every officer there. It is quite common to be able to tell if someone is breathing while lying face-down as the inflation of your lungs expands your ribcage. With her throat being cut as badly as it was I doubt that, even giving the benefit of the doubt that she was still breathing at the time, that she would have the muscle control to turn her head.


Anonymous said...

Just to add there were two security officers from the apartment complex at the scene of the crime and they called the apartment manager to come in and help the police officers. He was the one who came in and looked up Preston's apartment number. He testifies later in the trial.


tsj said...

Welcome back.

You're missing at least two pieces of critical evidence in Hamilton's testimony. I'll narrow it down. It has to do with Shandra's physical condition as described by Hamilton from the time he turned her over to the time she was transported.

Anonymous said...

When your heart stops beating, your veins collapse. Again, the fact that the paramedics were able to start IVs tells me she was still alive at the scene.

Anonymous said...

Glad to be back.

Well would it have anything to do with the fact that she could very clearly be made out to express concern for her cousin but could somehow only "mumble" a last name that he couldn't make out?

Other than that, I'm afraid my brain would need some sleep as I've been up almost 24 hours at this point. I would, however like to object to the prosecution leading the witness, and the defense obviously taking the day off.

- Lando

Rick Bonin said...

Start an IV? Seems odd that the EMTs would do that without first/also plugging the gaping hole in her neck. No mention of that.

tsj said...

I suspect they did apply pressure to her neck wound and her chest wound. Read a little more carefully, though. Hamilton testified that they were trying to resuscitate her. You attempt resuscitation on someone you believe just died.

I suspect Hamilton told them that he just spoke with her. That's why they ended up transporting her. The attempted to resuscitate her. Once a paramedic starts CPR, he cannot stop until the person is declared dead by a doctor.

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