Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Stabbings Well Done

I now return to the Case of Preston Hughes III. For those unfamiliar with the case, I refer you to the Table of Contents. For those lacking the time or inclination to read the previous posts, I offer this brief overview of the case: Shandra Charles and her cousin Marcell Taylor were stabbed to death in a dark, overgrown field. She allegedly identified Preston Hughes as her attacker in a dying declaration. Preston Hughes confessed not just once, but twice to the crime. He nonetheless claims he is innocent. As he sits on Texas death row, I am working my way bit by bit through the evidence to determine if he may indeed be innocent.

In this post I present Preston Hughes' description of the stabbings as per his two confessions. I present as well the trial testimony of  the prosecution-friendly, fill-in medical examiner, at least those portions related to the wounds.

I include images of all the wounds except Marcell's neck wound. I have no image showing that. I have cropped the images so as to not unnecessarily intrude on the privacy of Shandra and Marcell. I made a two-image composite of Marcell's wounds to show the relationship of the stab entry and exit wounds.

Buckle up. Here we go.

From Hughes Confession #1:
As I got into the field walking along the path someone came up behind me. Nobody said anything and I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I have been carrying a knife ever since these guys have been talking about ryting to kill me. The knife is an army knive with brown handles and 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. When I felt someone touch me, I turned to my left and threw a blodk with my left arm and just started sticking with the knife. It was dark and I couldn't tell who was there. When I swung the first times it hit, but I didn't know it went in or nothing. After I stuck the first two times, I saw that it was Shawn [Shandra]. I fucked up and I just got scared and kept sticking. I swung the knife 6, 8, probably 10 times then took off running toward my apartment.
From Hughes Confession #2:
Everything in the first statement is correct except what happened when I met Shawn on the trail between Fuddruckers and the apt. complex. Shawn did not come up behind me and tap me on the shoulder. I was walking with my dog from from the Lakehurst Apts. toward Fuddruckers on the trail. As I was walking down the trail I saw Shawn walking down the trail from Fuddruckers toward the apt. complex. She was walking with a little boy. I did not know who he was. We then met in the middle of the trail. Shawn spoke first and she told me that she was on the way to my house. I then asked her what for. She told me that she was coming to use my contacts. I told her that she was a damn fool, that she was not wearing my contacts. She then gave me a kiss. She then started rubbing by crotch. She then un-buttoned my jeans. She then pulled her zipper down on her shorts. Shawn then placed my penis in the slit of her vagina. We call that "grinding" if you don't put it in the hole. We did that for about 30 seconds. While we were "grinding" the zipper on her shorts rubbed against the sore on my penis. I then pulled away and buttoned up my jeans. The little boy that was with her was standing next to us. 
I then said, "Fuck this shit", because I hurt the sore. She then asked me if I had some money. I told her I keeps money. She then asked me for $50.00 and I told her no. She then started telling me that she was going to have me arrested for rape. I told her that I never forced her to do nothing with me. She then raised her hand and hit me. I then blocked her with my left hand. I hit her in the throat. She then came back at me with her hand open. She was coming at my face. I had my knife in a sheath on the right side of my pants on my belt. I then pulled my knife and stabbed at her six or eight or ten times. I'm not sure, I just started stabbing. I'm not sure how many times I stabbed her. As I was stabbing her the little boy looked up at me and started crying. He then ran in between us and I stabbed him. I don't know how many times I stabbed him. I stopped and looked at Shawn and she was looking at me. I then put the knife in my sheath and ran home.
Trial Testimony Summarizing Marcell's Wounds:
Q. What was the cause of death of Marcell Taylor? 
A. The cause of death of Marcell Lee Taylor was a result of a stab wound to the neck through and through. 
Q. Does the report reflect if any other injuries were sustained by Marcell Taylor? 
A, Yes, sir. 
Q. What other injuries does the report reflect? 
A. In addition to the stab wound to the neck, there was a stab wound to the chest, which was also through and through, a cutting wound to the chest and a cutting wound to the left arm. 
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Marcell's Neck:
Q. Does the report indicate the nature of the cutting wound to the neck, the damage caused by that cut? 
A. There was a stab wound of the neck.
Q. Stab wound, I'm sorry. 
A. And Dr. Parungao described that the wound was caused by an instrument which traveled completely through the neck in a direction of front to back, slightly upwards and slightly to the left. The instrument perforated the common carotid artery, which is a large blood vessel in the neck, and the jugular vein. 
Q. Does the report indicate an exit wound for that stab wound? 
A. It does. 
Q. Where is the exit wound of the stab wound? 
A. The exit wound of the instrument was located on the back of the neck in line with the entrance wound.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Marcell's Chest:
Q. Does the report describe what if any injuries were sustained by the stab wound to the chest? 
A. Yes, sir. ... The instrument, again, went entirely through the body, did not enter the chest cavity, and came out the back. 
Q. Does the track of that stab wound to the chest indicate that the instrument that caused the injury passed through any cartilage or bone? 
A. Yes, sir. ... On coming out of the back, the instrument penetrated the scapula, which is the large flat bone exposing part of the shoulder. ... The shoulder blade originally is composed of cartilage, but as one ages, it becomes calcified, ossified, forming true bone, which is much tougher than cartilage. ... Medically, the ossification centers of the scapula usually mature faster in the midpoint than they do peripherally so that the scapula of the 3-year-old child demonstrates some ossification and calcification in the central portion. ... [C]artilage is relatively soft compared to bone. Bone is very hard. ... Cartilage has the consistency of a thick sheet of cardboard, such as found in large boxes, packing boxes.
Q. As a person ages, that becomes harder, is that correct?
A. That is correct.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Cutting Wounds to Marcell's Chest and Arm:
Q. As to the injuries sustained by Marcell Taylor, does the report indicate any other injuries besides those two stab wounds? 
A. Yes, sir. ... There was a cutting wound to the chest which is described in the external examination located on the left upper side measuring 1 inch in length and gaping to a width of 5/16  of an inch. In addition, there was a cutting wound to the left arm which measured one quarter of an inch in length and gaped 3 /16 of an inch. The difference between a cutting wound and a stab wound is that cutting wounds are longer than they are deep and stab wounds are deeper than they are long.
Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Shandra's Neck:
Q. Doctor, moving along to the autopsy report, prepared on the body of the young woman in this case, Shandra Charles. Having reviewed that report, do you have a medical opinion as to the cause of death of Shandra Charles? 
A. Yes sir. ... LaShandra Charles died as a result of a stab wound to the neck. 
Q. Could you describe more specifically that stab wound to the neck? 
A. Yes, sir. There was a stab wound to the 1eft side of the neck located 2 inches to the left of the midline and 1 inch below the top of the head. The instrument perforated the left jugular vein and the left common carotid artery, two of the large vessels in the neck. 
Q. Is this injury similar to the injury that the child Marcell Taylor, received? 
A. That is correct.
Q. In fact the arteries and veins were severed the same as on the child Marcell Taylor? 
A. That is correct.

Trial Testimony Regarding the Stab Wound to Shandra's Chest:
Q. Did you note any other stabbing iniuries or wounds on Shandra Charles? 
A. There was a stab wound to the chest. ... The instrument penetrated the left side of the chest, 1 1/2 inches to the left of the midline and 4 inches below the external notch, which is where the collarbones come together, went into the chest and ended at approximately 4 inches below the entrance; in other words, the instrument penetrated to a depth of 4 inches. 
Q. Does the report indicate the approximate width of the stabbing wound? 
A. Yes, sir. ... The wound gaped up to approximalely 1/2 an inch in width. 
Q. Does the report indicate a length of the wound? 
A. Yes, sir. Wound measured 1 inch in length. 
Q. And when we say "gaped up to," I believe you said "1/2 inch"? 
A. That is correct. ... When a sharp instrument enters the skin and subcutaneous tissues, the edges are pulled apart by the little muscular fibers and collagen fibers in the skin. So, it gapes open.

I will withhold my observations until my next post regarding this case. I do so because I hope you will develop your own thoughts on how the confession and the testimony combine to prove or disprove Preston's guilt or innocence. Feel free to use the comments to express your thoughts.

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