Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Barbara Lunsford

All of the case documents that Guest Blogger Al and I have used while writing about Preston Hughes III have come from the Mystery Crime Scene web site. That site is the work product of Barbara Lunsford, accountant, blogger, and wrongful conviction advocate. She has been at this far longer than have I.

I've been blogging for two years and a month. I've been working to free Byron Case for a few months more than that. I'm not sure how long Barbara has been blogging, but she has been working to free Betty Wilson for eight years. Eight long years. I repeat the introduction to her blog.
Nine years ago, if someone had told me I would be spending the next eight years of my life involved in injustice, I would have said "You are stark raving mad!". Well, I am here to eat those words.
Eight years ago a friend was telling me about twin sisters, Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe, from Alabama who were arrested and tried for supposedly hiring an alcoholic, drug addict con-man, James Dennison White, to kill Betty's wealthy husband, Dr. Jack Wilson, who was a very well-liked and well-known eye doctor in Huntsville. Both sisters were tried on the same evidence and lying testimony. Betty was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole because she was a rich bitch and slept with a black man in Alabama. Peggy, the saintly one, was acquitted. The convicted con-man, who never really admitted to killing the doctor, has come up for parole several times but is still incarcerated. 
After spending six years studying this case including both trial transcripts, putting up an extensive website ( and spending the remaining two years putting together a book about this case Killer For Hire - The Final Chapter of the Alabama Twins Murder Case, I, as many others, believe that the real killer of the doctor is walking around free. Neither of the twin sisters had a motive to have the good doctor put away but the doctor's ex-wife and son did. 
As time permits, I hope to present other similar cases of injustice along with information on books, movies, TV shows, video games, etc., related to mystery crime. In the meantime please visit 
One of the cases that she has presented is that of Preston Hughes III. I'm not sure what prompted her to pursue the Hughes case, but I understand she obtained the case documents on her own dime. Actually, she obtained them on 4,000 of her own dimes. That was what she was charged for copies of the documents she obtained from the Houston PD, or the Houston DA, or whomever. She does not have copies of the trial transcripts because they would have cost her 32,000 of her own dimes.

I am impressed with what she has done with the data they sent her. I like that she made much of the data public. I like that she constructed a timeline. I like that she did a careful accounting of the photos. (She discovered that some had been and are still being withheld.) I like that she tracked the physical evidence as it allegedly moved through the system. (She discovered several substantial and interesting irregularities.) I like that she took the trouble to carefully examine the documents. (She discovered what may be evidence of a falsified voluntary consent to search form.) I like how she focuses on data-supported reasoned argument as a means of correcting what she perceives to be an injustice. I like working with her as I work on the case of Preston Hughes III.

I learned of the Preston Hughes case while working on the case of Frances Elaine Newton, probably innocent and certainly executed. (See The Three-Gun-Monte, Sack O' Fertilizer Conviction and Execution of Frances Elaine Newton.) It is the pathetic work of the Houston PD crime lab that joins them. In Newton's case, the Houston PD crime lab failed to track the alleged murder weapon (a handgun) by its serial number. It's likely they associated the wrong handgun with Newton, and thereby killed her. In Hughes' case, the Houston PD crime lab did not even test the alleged murder weapon for blood before the trial. In fact they first tested the alleged murder weapon from the witness stand, right there in front of the judge. The knife tested negative for human blood and positive for animal blood, just as Hughes claimed all along. The knife was nonetheless presented to the jury as the murder weapon, and thereby helped place him on death row for the last couple decades.

Without the initiative, hours, and dimes of Barbara Lunsford, I would have learned nothing substantive about Preston's case. Based mostly on what she presented on her blog, I am reasonably confident that Preston Hughes is wrongfully convicted.

I have since been communicating with Barbara via email. She has been incredibly generous and gracious with her time, her insight and her data. She has provided me with copies of Preston's two confessions, the police statement provided by Drew Hartley, the police statement provided by Barbara Ann Szekely, all other photographs she had of Marcell and Shandra, all other photographs she had of the crime scene, and ten overhead photographs of the area that the Houston PD sent her. Everything she sends me stimulates my thinking. I have much to study and write of. 

In return, I have shared with her several significant discoveries of my own, still unreported in this blog or anywhere. As I said, I have much to study and write of. However, before I begin presenting posts based on the information she has so kindly provided me via email, I wanted to take a moment to thank her publicly for her efforts in general and for the assistance she has provided to me in particular. It is a pleasure to be working with her on this case.

I'll end with the tag line for her blog, one that is eerily similar to that of The Shadow:

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men and Women?

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The Case of Preston Hughes III: Table of Contents

This blog already includes much writing about the case of Preston Hughes III. Much more will follow. I therefore summarize below all the posts related to his case. I will update this post, this Table of Contents, as I add new posts regarding the case.

This Table of Contents is intended to help both me and the readers of this august blog. It will make it easier for readers to familiarize themselves with the case, and to locate any particular post. It will also free me from the need to summarize the case and all previous posts at the beginning of each new post.

09/27/2001:  An Offer and a Challenge -- In which I challenge readers to investigate any case of possible wrongful conviction, and in which I offer use my blog to publish their findings.

10/07/2011:  The Lingering Case of Preston Hughes III -- In which I ask readers to help investigate the specific case of Preston Hughes III.

10/13/2011:  Reader Response to My Offer and Challenge -- In which I note that multiple readers expressed interest in writing of specific cases of wrongful conviction. Three readers expressed interest in writing of Preston Hughes III.

01/30/2012:  Part 1 of 2 -- In which Guest Blogger Al actually writes of Preston Hughes III. (Fifteen-year-old Shandra Charles and her 3-year-old cousin Marcell Taylor were murdered late at night in a vacant lot in Houston, Texas. The police claim Shandra lived long enough to identify her attacker as "Preston". The police located Preston Hughes in a nearby apartment complex. Hughes confessed not just once, but twice. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He has been on death row for more than two decades.)

02/01/2012:  Part 2 of 2 -- In which Guest Blogger Al provides his analysis of the crime and identifies an alternate suspect. (Hughes provided two confessions. Each confession contradicted the other, and each confession was contradicted by the evidence at the crime scene. Shandra's dying identification of Preston as her murder is questionable, particularly in light of the officer's inability to correctly hear the name of the apartment complex at which Preston lived. The physical evidence in the case is questionable. Preston's previous conviction for sexual and aggravated assault is also questionable. A possible alternate suspect is Douglas Swanson, now serving a life sentence for multiple sexual and aggravated assaults.)

03/02/2012:  Geography -- In which I describe the geography of the crime scene. (When murdered, Shandra and Marcell were walking through an overgrown vacant lot late at night. I question what she was doing there.) [Post 1; 2074 words]

03/05/2012:  Shandra's Final Day -- In which I describe the events of Shandra's final day on this earth. (Shandra had been with her friend Evelyn most of the day. In the evening, they walked from Shandra's home, with young Marcell now in tow, to the residence of some unidentified friends in the same complex where Preston Hughes lived. Though Evelyn received a ride home from one of their friends at 9:30 PM, Shandra stayed behind. Shandra and Marcell later walked through the dark and overgrown vacant lot, destination or purpose unknown.) [Post 2; 5214 words; 7288 words cumulative]

03/10/2012:  Weed -- In which I hypothesize that Shandra may have been in the vacant lot to sell marijuana. (A small bag of marijuana was found in Preston's apartment. Preston claims it was planted there. Preston claims also that the police told him that they had found marijuana both in his apartment and on Shandra's person.) [Post 3; 1726 words; 9014 words cumulative]

03/22/2012:  Shandra's Final Hour -- In which readers learn of the pathetic efforts to save Shandra's life. (No one provided even minimal first aid at the scene. There was an unexplained lag between the time the dispatcher was informed of the need for an ambulance and the time the ambulance was notified of that need. Though they took Shandra first to West Houston Medical Center, which was but a mile away, they then sent her to Ben Taub Medical Center, 15 miles away. She was declared DOA at Ben Taub an hour and fourteen minutes after the dispatcher was first notified of her plight.) [Post 4; 4041 words; 13,055 words cumulative]

03/31/2012:  Table of Contents -- In which I first posted this Table of Contents.

03/31/2012:  Barbara Lunsford -- In which I credit Barbara Lunsford for her efforts to bring the case of Preston Hughes III into the public forum. ("Without the initiative, hours, and dimes of Barbara Lunsford, I would have learned nothing substantive about Preston's case. Based mostly on what she presented on her blog, I am reasonably confident that Preston Hughes is wrongfully convicted.") [Post 5; 1021 words; 14,076 words cumulative]

4/01/2012: Shandra's Trail -- In which we walk along the trail on which Shandra and Marcell were killed. The mystery deepens as to why Shandra was out there that night. [
Post 6; 2387 words; 16463 words cumulative]

4/03/2012: Pools of Blood -- In which readers learn how one might survive, or how quickly one might succumb to a severed carotid artery. [Post 7; 968 words; 17,431 words cumulative]

4/07/2012: Eleven Twenty Five -- In which readers learn how long one might remain conscious and alive with a severed carotid artery, based on expert testimony from various trials. ("Of the seven cases I found where experts testified to such times, none of them, I repeat NONE of them testified anyone could remain conscious longer than 5 minutes without medical intervention. ... So the first two officers arrive sometime after 11:30 PM and find Shandra unconscious. No surprise there. Then the third officer arrives five or so minutes later, after Shandra has bled out even more, and he finds her not only conscious, but sufficiently alert to interview. And with what remains of her blood still flowing from within, she identifies Preston Hughes as her killer. ... Houston, we have a problem!") [Post 8; 2702 words; 20,133 words cumulative]

4/8/2012: Cases Involving Severed Carotid Arteries -- In which I provide a link and a quick summary for each case I used in constructing the plot I presented in Eleven Twenty Five. [Post 9; 3739 words; 23,872 words cumulative]

4/10/2012: Lakeside -- In which readers learn of the existence of Lakeside Green Condominiums within 6 minutes walking distance of the crime scene. ("So there you have it. It is exceptionally unlikely that Shandra Charles could have been conscious when Sgt. Hamilton arrived at the scene. If one nonetheless accepts his report at face value, then Shandra Charles did not identify Preston Hughes as her attacker. She identified someone who lived at Lakeside. That is Lakeside. Not Lakewood. Not Lakehurst. Lakeside, exactly as Sgt. Hamilton claims he heard. Lakeside.) [Post 10; 2462 words; 26,344 words cumulative]

4/19/2012: Shandra's Neck -- In which I investigate possible paths for Shandra's neck wound. [Post 11; 1928 words, 28,262 words cumulative]

4/23/2012: Brain Teaser #1 -- In readers have an opportunity to identify which of three police documents is egregiously faked, and which is merely somewhat tampered. [Post 12; 493 words; 28,755 words]

4/28/2012: Documents Gone Wild -- In which I present my solution to Brain Teaser #1. In which also the integrity of the HPD investigation becomes more clearly suspect. [Post 13; 1069 words; 29,824 words cumulative]

5/1/2012: The 99 Cent Coin -- In which readers learn that Shandra had no coins in her pockets. She instead had five one-dollar bills and one five-dollar bill. The money she had in her pocket is inconsistent with her returning from Fuddrucker's. It is, however, consistent with reports that she was in the field that night to purchase drugs as I suggested earlier in Weed. [Post 14; 939 words; 30763 words cumulative]

5/8/2012: Stabbings Well Done -- In which readers can contrast the stabbings as described in Preston Hughes' confessions with the stab wounds as described by the fill-in medical examiner during Preston Hughes' trial. [Post 15; 1821 words; 32,584 words cumulative]

5/13/2012: Stabbings Redeaux -- In which I discuss the inconsistencies between Preston Hughes' confession and the medical testimony at his trial. [Post 16; 1938 words; 34,522 words cumulative]

5/18/2012: Brain Teaser #2 -- In which readers are challenged to offer insightful observations regarding the neck wounds as described in the autopsy reports, recently provided by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science. [Post 17, 512 words; 35034 words cumulative]

5/23/2012: Dark -- I which readers learn from Shandra's autopsy report that she had multiple, fresh needle marks in the pits of her elbows. This finding further reinforces the hypothesis that Shandra was in the dark, overgrown field that night for a drug transaction, as I suggested in  Weed and  The 99 Cent Coin. [Post 18; 448 words; 35,482 words cumulative]

5/29/2012: Back -- In which I announce that I will post of no subject other than Preston Hughes (and impending executions) until I have completed my series on Preston Hughes. [Post 19; 207 words; 35689 words cumulative]

5/29/2012: On Being Blunt -- In which readers learn from the autopsy reports that none of the stab wounds had a blunt end. This finding excludes the Preston Hughes' knife as the murder weapon. [Post 20; 1182 wors; 36871 words cumulative]

5/31/2012: Exsanguination -- In which readers learn that the autopsy reports make clear that Shandra's carotid and jugular were "transected" (completely severed) while Marcell's carotid and jugular were "perforated" (not completely severed). This suggests that Shandra must have bled out more quickly than Marcell. Given that Marcell apparently died just as the first officers to the scene discovered his body, this suggests that Shandra died before the police alive. She could therefore not have provided a dying declaration (naming Preston as her assailant) to Sgt. Hamilton as Sgt. Hamilton claimed in his police report. [Post 21; 826 words; 37694 words cumulative]

5/31/2012: Silence of the Lambs -- In which readers learn that sheep are slaughtered by the severing of their carotid and jugular on one or both sides. When the carotid and jugular are severed on one side only, brain death occurs in 70 seconds. [Post 22; 424 words; 38,121 words cumulative]

6/3/2012:  Where's Willis -- In which readers learn that sheep are good analogues for humans, at least when it comes to studying how long one might live with one or two severed carotid arteries. [Post 23; 1149 words; 39270 words cumulative]

6/4/2012: Shime-Waza -- In which readers learn that properly applied judo choke holds can render a human unconscious in approximately 10 seconds. This information directly supports the body of evidence previously presented that humans will lose brain function in 14 seconds or so if both carotids are severed. The choke hold information supports indirectly the body of evidence that humans will lose brain function is 70 seconds or so if just a single carotid is severed. The choke hold information thereby casts further doubt on the police claim that Shandra Charles provided them a dying declaration on the night of her murder. [Post 24; 492 words; 39,762 words cumulative]

6/9/2012: Right Tool for the Job -- In which readers learn that a dagger was more likely the type of weapon used to kill Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor.  Specific types of daggers, referred to as sticking knives, have long been used to sever the carotid arteries of livestock during slaughter. [Post 25; 807 words; 40,569 words cumulative]

6/12/2012: Marcell's Neck -- In which I insert Preston's knife into Marcell's neck and learn that the knife blade was too wide to have created Marcell's neck wound. In which I learned also that Preston's knife blade was too wide to have created Shandra's neck wound.  Preston's knife could not be the murder weapon for two reasons. First it is too wide. Second, as explained in On Being Blunt, it is single-edged where the murder weapon was double-edged. [Post 26; 1462 words; 42,031 words cumulative]

6/15/2012: Witness To Murder -- In which the reader learns of Drew Hartley and Barbara Szekely, husband and wife, who were walking through the dark, overgrown field that night and may have witnessed the prelude to the murder of Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor. [Post 27; 2587 words; 44618 words cumulative]

6/22/2012: Meet the Hartleys -- In which the reader learns of the criminal record of Drew Hartley. [Post 28; 1562 words; 46,180 words cumulative]

6/23/2012: Frankenmap -- In which I introduce to the world my creation: an overhead view of the crime scene as it may have existed on the day of the murders. [Post 29; 324 words; 46,504 words cumulative]

6/25/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act I -- In which the Hartleys ran in fear from the field where Shandra's body was later found. They thought thought they were being stalked by shadowy figures, reported such to the employees at the Stop N Go, who then called police. [Post 30; 2233 words; 48,737 words cumulative]

6/27/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act II -- I which the Hartleys become separated be talking to the police who had been summoned to the scene. [Post 31; 1528 words; 48,737 words cumulative]

7/1/2012: Prelude to Murder, Act III -- In which Drew Hartley, while searching for his wife, heard a woman scream and may have witnessed Shandra Charles being dragged into the overgrown field where she was later discovered, stabbed in the neck. I estimate the time when Drew heard the scream and possibly witnessed Shandra abducted. [Post 32; 2531 words; 51,268 words cumulative]

7/4/2012: Independence Day 2012 -- In which we learn that Preston Hughes may be scheduled for execution in November. [Post 33; 1792 words; 53,060 words cumulative]

7/9/2012: Summary -- In which I provide an occasionally updated summary of the case of Preston Hughes III. [Post 34; 2566 words; 55,626 words cumulative]

7/10/2012: Brain Teaser #4 -- In which readers realize that of two photos allegedly showing the exterior of Preston's apartment, one actually shows a different building. In which also, one reader identifies the actual building mysteriously included the photos associated with the case of Preston Hughes. [Post 35; 1280 words; 56906 words cumulative]

7/15/2012: Miscellany -- In which we learn that Preston did not wear his hair in an afro, as did the person who allegedly frightened Barbara Szekely from the dark overgrown field. In which we also learn that Preston did not walk through that field during while returning home from work. In which readers are reminded that, since Shandra Charles entered the field from the Lakewood Village apartments, she would have had to go out of her way to be on the more northern of the two trails. [Post 36; 1291 words; 58,197 words cumulative]

7/17/2012: The Big Sleep -- In which I outline the shocking implications of Shandra Charles dying soon after having her carotid severed. In which I also present my hypothesis regarding how the police quickly homed in on Preston Hughes, since Shandra's rapid death precluded the possibility of her naming Preston in a dying declaration. [Post 37; 3264 words; 61,461 words cumulative]

7/18/2012: Madness! --  In which the State and people of Texas schedule Preston Hughes to die sometime after 6 PM on 15 November 2012. [Post 38; 54 words; 61,461 words cumulative]

7/21/2012: Exceptional -- In which I describe a rare situation in which someone might survive a severed carotid without receiving prompt medical care. In which I also why Shandra Charles was not exceptional in that regard. [Post 39; 702 words; 62,163 words cumulative]

7/24/2012: Floor Plan -- In which I present the layout of Preston's apartment, and identify which of two apartment units must have been Preston's. [Post 40; 1101 words; 63,264 words cumulative]

7/26/2012: The Searchers -- In which readers can move from room to room in Preston's apartment, seeing the evidence collected from the various rooms. In which also I state with confidence that none of Preston's clothes had any visible trace of blood on them. [Post 41; 2463 words; 65,727 words cumulative]

7/27/2012: Brain Teaser #5 -- In which I ask: What the hell happened to brain teaser #3." In which I also challenge the readers to explain why I am right or why I am wrong when I claim that none of Preston's clothes had any visible trace of blood on them. [Post 42; 500 words; 66,227 words cumulative]

7/27/2012: Brain Teaser #6 -- In which I challenge readers to identify which, if any, items were removed from Preston's apartment but not included in the inventory of evidence collected. [Post 43; 1072 words; 67299 words cumulative]

7/29/2012: The Searchers Part 2 -- In which I test my eyeglasses on my couch to see if Shandra's eyeglasses could have fallen or slid in between the cushions of Preston Hughes' couch. [Post 44; 813 words; 68,112 words cumulative]

8/1/2012: The Searchers Part 3 -- In which I contrast Officer Hale's interest in carefully testing the eyeglasses for prints with his lackluster effort to find prints on the Busch beer can found at the crime scene. [Post 45; 1044 words; 69,156 words cumulative]

8/3/2012: The Searchers Part 4 -- In which I fail miserably to account for all the 35mm pictures Officer Hale may have taken. [Post 46; 2355 words; 71,511 words cumulative]

8/4/2012: The Searchers Part 5 -- In which I finally finish this overly long mini series within a series by talking briefly of the maroon shirt and marijuana found on Preston's dining room table. [Post 47; 379 words; 71,890 words cumulative]

8/12/2012: Singularity -- In which the reader is challenged to find a subtle but significant clue in a single photograph. In which the reader realizes that the police have illegally searched Preston's apartment not just once, but twice. [Post 48; 731 words; 72,621 words cumulative]

8/12/2012: Down the Rabbit Hole -- In which I speculate on the events that surrounded the two searches of Preston's apartment. [Post 49; 2600 words; 75,221 words cumulative]

8/14/2012: Opus 50 -- I which I direct the readers to David Protess' article regarding my exploration of Preston's case. [Post 50; 249 words; 75,470 words cumulative]

8/23/2012: KPFT Interview -- A YouTube clip of my 6 minute interview by KPFT radio regardings Preston's case. [Post 51; 17 words; 75487 words cumulative]

8/24/2012: 20G40 -- In which we consider more carefully Sgt. Hamilton's insertion of himself into this case. [Post 52; 1326 words; 76,813 words cumulative]

8/29/2012: Confession #1 -- I which I provide Preston's first confession, in its entirety, along with the circumstances surrounding that confession. In which I ask the readers whether they believe Preston's first confession to be true or false. In which I ask the readers to defend their thinking. [Post 53; 3958 words; 80,771 words cumulative]

9/2/2012: A Blogger's Cruelty -- I which confess to the cruelty of insisting that people defend their beliefs about Preston's first confession in particular, and our justice system in general.. [Post 54; 667 words; 81,438 words cumulative]

9/4/2012: 14244 -- In which I make the case that the words found in Preston's first written confession are more likely Sgt. Gafford's words than Preston's words. Assuming I am correct, Sgt. Gafford unwittingly provided guilty knowledge of his earlier, illegal search  of Preston's apartment. [Post 55; 1190 words; 82628 words cumulative]

9/7/2012: The Big Why -- In which I explain that Preston Hughes confessed because he was told he would be allowed to go home if he did so. [Post 56; 710 words; 83,338 words cumulative]

9/9/2012: The Big How -- In which I explain how to extract a confession from a suspect, whether or not that suspect is guilty. [Post 57; 3520 words; 86,858 words cumulative]

9/13/2012: Easy Peasy -- In which I explain why it was particularly easy to extract a confession from Preston Hughes III. [Post 58; 757 words; 87,614 words cumulative]

9/17/2012: The Gingerbread Man -- In which the children's story of The Gingerbread Man becomes a parable for Preston's reason for signing the second confession. [Post 59; 1320 words; 88,935 words cumulative.]

9/22/2012: Confession #2 -- In which I conclude this series by describing why Preston Hughes signed the second confession. [Post 60; 1625 words; 90,560 words cumulative.]