Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Weed

In my previous two posts, Geography and Shandra's Final Day, I challenged the reader to ponder what 15-year-old Shandra Charles (and her 3-year-old cousin Marcell Taylor) were doing in that unlit, overgrown, vacant lot so late at night. I am now aware of two suggestions why she might have been there.

First, some readers suggest that she may have been going to or coming from Fuddrucker's. While I have no doubt that teenagers hang out at Fuddrucker's on occasion, I'm not convinced they usually bring their 3-year-cousin along. More to the point, Fuddrucker's closes at 10 PM. Shandra and her cousin were attacked substantially later than closing time, sometime after 11 PM.

The second suggestion was actually the first, since it came just 2 days after the murder. Shandra's mother, Cynthia Charles, claimed Shandra was returning from an unspecified store. The problem with this claim is that Cynthia Charles did not know where her daughter was that evening, or what she was doing. Based on what we can learn from the police reports, Cynthia Charles knew only that:
1. Shandra left their apartment complex around 8:30 PM,
2. Shandra was then in the company of 18-year-old Evelyn Brown
3. Marcell was with them
4. They walked to the Lakehurst Apartments to visit friends
5. They had not come home by the time they were expected
Cynthia Charles apparently did not know the name of the friends, nor their apartment number, nor their phone number. When Cynthia searched for Shandra, she went to the manager's office at the Lakehurst Apartments. All she could tell the manager (and security guards) was that her daughter and her cousin had come there with someone named Evelyn.

Cynthia did not, as far as I can discern, search any stores to find her daughter and nephew.

More to the point, if Shandra was simply shopping before going home that night, she was headed in the wrong direction. The trail through the broken path took her further away from her home. There were multiple other stores that were open late located between the Lakehurst apartment complex and Shandra's home.

This incremental distance matters. Shandra had a three-year-old cousin in tow, and they were afoot. Marcell had already walked a mile between Shandra's apartment complex and the Lakehurst apartment complex. He would have a mile further to return to Shandra's apartment, further still if Shandra walked him first in the direction opposite her home.

Finally, if Shandra was actually planning on soon returning home, she could have secured a ride with one of her friends. We know that one of them drove Evelyn Brown back to her home at 9:30 PM. Presumably that friend would have returned Shandra and Marcell to Shandra's apartment complex. It was on the way to Evelyn's apartment complex. Shandra though, elected to stay at her friend's apartment.

I suggest Shandra wasn't walking to or from Fuddrucker's, which was closed, or walking to or from a store, located in a direction opposite her home. I suggest instead that Shandra Charles may have been in the field that night to sell drugs. I suggest that she may have been there at the behest of her "friends" at the Lakehurst Apartments, and that they used her to make the transaction because of her age.

Those who buy or sell drugs frequently use minors to make the actual transaction. If the minors are caught selling drugs they are frequently not arrested. If arrested, they are frequently not prosecuted. If prosecuted and convicted, they are sentenced to far less time than adults.

Consider this 1996 study of 349 African American youths living in housing projects. The study indicates that 18% of the youths have been asked to traffic drugs.

More specific to Shandra's demographic, 13% of the female children and 24% of children older than 12 have been asked to traffic drugs. Of the females who were asked to traffic, 68% of them were asked while they were near home. Only 5% were asked while at home; only 11% while at school; 21% while near school. Assuming Shandra had been asked to sell drugs that night, she would have been typical of those who are asked while near, but not in, their homes.

Based also on that study, 42% of the youths older than 12 who were asked to traffic drugs were asked by someone they knew; 37% were asked by a stranger; 11% by a relative. Assuming Shandra had been asked to sell drugs that night, I suspect she had been asked to do so by her older "friends" at the Lakehurst Apartments.

Roughly 50% of the drug transactions in this country involve marijuana. I therefore turn to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) for additional statistics regarding the frequency of female youths as drug sellers. I offer first the figure below, obtained here.

That's a lot of sellers, more than 300,000 in Shandra's demographic alone.

The figure (and associated data available at the link) shows that 27% of people who sold marijuana in 2002 were female. The figure shows also that females in Shandra's age group (13-17) were more likely than females in any other age group to be involved in selling marijuana.

Consider now the next figure, obtained here. It provides an explanation of why young females might be used to traffic marijuana.

Female sellers in Shandra's age group are arrested less than one-fifth as frequently as male sellers aged 18 to 23. At least they were in 2002. That's a substantial difference any experienced seller would be aware of. That's a substantial motivation to recruit females of Shandra's age to act as intermediaries in drug transactions. 

My hypothesis does not (at least yet) explain Marcell's presence in the dark, overgrown field that night. He may have been there simply because Sandra was forced to take him with her, first by her mother then by her "friends." Alternatively, Marcell may have been used as an unwitting mule.

For those of you out there more naive than I, a mule is someone who transports drugs. Young children, even babies, are sometimes used because those using the children believe they are unlikely to be searched. The drugs are concealed in the clothing or belongings of the child, sometimes even inside the child.

I believe that some of the drugs or drug money may have been hidden on Marcell's person, and that little trick may have cost them their lives. I'll defer further discussion of this point to a future post, when I discuss the condition of the bodies as they were discovered that night.

I may not be the first person to suggest that Shandra and Marcell were killed in the midst of a drug transaction gone terribly wrong. The Houston police may have also suspected as much. I offer this description of what the police allegedly told Preston Hughes as they attempted to extract a revised confession from him.
I don't believe your story. We found marijuana on the girl, and we found a bag in your apartment. I believe you were with the two kids before you stabbed them. What did you do, trade some marijuana for a piece of young tight pussy? Come on you can tell me the truth. I know how you people are trading drugs for sex. You're going to give another statement to my partner, Sgt. Ferguson when he comes in this room. If you don't I'm going to kill you because I have kids and I have nightmares of someone like you coming after them. Or hell, I'll just beat your ass all over this room and put you in Ben Taub. I'm sure they'll love to have and treat another patient. And who do you think the judge will believe, a piece of shit like you or me, a police officer? Now do I make myself clear?
I found that statement in quotes at the Mystery Crime Scene Time Recap for the Hughes case.  While that site is far and away the best source of information for those interested in the Hughes case (and for some other cases as well), and while that site frequently sources its information, it does not source the quote above. I suspect the quote came from Hughes himself, possibly from his trial testimony. I'm confident, though, that it didn't come from the police report. The police report describes the event as if the police were as pure as the driven snow, with never a harsh word spoken.
Sgt.'s [sic w/ a bullet] informed the suspect that he did not relate in his first statement about the stabbing of the #2 compl [complainant, i.e. victim]. Sgt. Yanchak then read the suspect his Miranda warning from the blue card furnished by the district attorney's office. 
Sgt.'s [sigh] then asked the suspect if he would be willing to give a second statement de-scribing [sic with a LOL] the stabbing of the #2 compl. The suspect then agreed to give a second statement about the stabbing of the #2 compl.
Finally, I'll point out that some actual, honest-to-goodness marijuana showed up in this case. The police claim they found it, just sitting there on Hughes coffee table. Hughes claims the police planted it, just as he claims they planted the eyeglasses found wedged between his couch cushions. I'll discuss in detail those claims of planted evidence, but not quite yet, not today.

Having now laid bare my hypothesis of what Shandra Charles was doing in that field so late at night, I now provide my answer to the second question I posed. Why did the police seem so uninterested in following leads, such as questioning Shandra's friends or calling Dog's phone number?

I don't believe the police were in fact uninterested. They only seemed to be. I suspect they were instead concerned that following the obvious leads would complicate their case. I suspect they did not look into Shandra's "friends" because those friends might have had a history of drug trafficking. Such an unfortunate circumstance would force them to consider suspects other than Hughes, and motives other than "she startled me."

We have much, much more to discuss regarding this case. The next post in this series is not far off. It will include a disturbing revelation about how authorities may have saved Shandra's life, but failed to do so.

Stay tuned.

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