Monday, June 25, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Prelude to Murder, Act I

This is my 33rd post on Preston Hughes III. For those of you just joining us, allow me to provide a quick summary.

Preston Hughes III sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas for the murder of a teenage girl and a young boy. According to the Houston PD, the teenage girl named Preston as her attacker just before she died; her glasses were found in his apartment; the murder weapon was found in his apartment; he provided two voluntary confessions. According to Hughes, the evidence was manufactured and the confessions were coerced.

My review and analysis of the data leaves me with no doubt that Preston Hughes is innocent. The teenage girl could not have lived long enough to provide a dying declaration. The knife found in Hughes' apartment could not have been the murder weapon. The glasses found in Hughes' apartment were likely planted. The confessions were likely coerced.

If you wish more of the gory details, I suggest you begin with Shandra's Trail. Links at the bottom of each post will then guide you through all the posts between that one and this one.

For those of you who have been following all along and wish only to get going, I thank you for your patience.

We are speaking now of two possible witnesses to the events leading up to the murder of Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor. In Witness To Murder, I presented the police reports of Drew Hartley and Barbara Szekely. In Meet the Hartleys, I provided background on the two possible witnesses. In Frankenmap, I provided a composite overhead view of the crime scene area that will help us understand what the hell Drew and Barbara were claiming.

According to Drew, it started at the Lakewood Village apartment of Victor Alfeiri.
Tonight, I was at Victor Alfeiri's at 17770 Westheimer #2206 at the Lakewood [Village] Apartments visiting. My wife, Barbara Ann Hartley, was with me.
These not Drew's exact words. His statement was typed for him by a police officer, and the police officer added, subtracted, or modified as the officer saw fit. It is unlikely Drew knew that the Lakewood Apartment complex was officially located at 17770 Westheimer unless he was living there rather than visiting. It is even more unlikely he would so conveniently included such information in his report if not prompted to do so. The canned statements at the end of both his report and Barbara's statement makes it clear that their written report is merely an interpretation of what they said. Since the police did not make an audio recording of either report (or of either confession) we have no way of confirming the how accurately the police transcribed what Drew and Barbara (or Preston) told them.

According to Barbara, the time was around 7:30 PM. According to Drew, it was after dark.
Barbara: It was about 7:30PM and it was already getting dark.
Drew: Sometime after dark, we walked from Victor's to the woods behind the apartment complex.
Barbara's timing is probably too early. She and Drew ended up being transported to the crime scene sometime after 11:30 PM. The events they describe should not have taken four hours. Note that had the police bothered to check their own dispatch calls and include that information in the police reports, we would not be so confused about the timing of the events that night.

Drew, on the other hand was correct, at least in a subjective sense. It must have been after dark.

According to
The Weather Underground, the sun set at 7:12; civil twilight ended at 7:36; nautical twilight ended at 8:03; astronomical twilight ended at 8:31.

Civil twilight ends when the sun's center is 6 degrees below the horizon. During civil twilight, there is enough light from the sun that artificial sources of light may not be need to carry on outdoor activities.

Nautical twilight ends when the sun's center is at 12 degrees below the horizon. By the end of nautical twilight, navigation via the horizon at sea is no longer possible. In landlubber terms, by the end of nautical twilight, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible without moonlight or artificial light. Coincidentally, the moon rose just at the end of nautical twilight. It would not be high enough in the sky to provide much illumination before the murders.

Astronomical twilight ends when the sun's center is at 18 degrees below the horizon. Theoretically, the dimmest stars ever visible to the naked eye will become visible only after the end of astronomical twilight.

Based on Barbara's description of being able to make out only a shape of someone following them, the time would have been around the end of nautical twilight, or around 8 PM. That still sounds too early.

According to Drew, he and Barbara were going to walk to the apartment of some friends. According to Sgt. Gafford, Drew and Barbara were going to walk to the Stop N Go.
Drew: Barbara and I were going to another friends [sic] apartment.

Gafford: Drew states he and his wife were on their way from the Lakewood [Village] Apts to the store ...
Drew and Barbara entered the wooded area of the vacant lot by passing through an opening in fence running along the west side o the Lakewood Village Apartments. Drew wanted to take the trail north then enter the Lakehurst Apartments through the hole in the Lakehurst fence. Barbara insisted they take the large trail west then walk north along Kirkwood.
Drew: Sometime after dark, we walked from Victor's to the woods behind the apartment complex. This short [cut] between the apartment complexes. Barbara and I were going to another friends [sic] apartment.
Barbara: Earlier, before we went down the path on Kirkwood, Drew was going to take a short cut through the Lakehurst Apartments and I would not go through the apartments because we were evicted from the apartments and I knew that we would be arrested there if the security guard caught us there.

Once Drew and Barbara were in the Fuddrucker's parking lot, they turned north and walked past Shandra's Trail, the smaller, darker, more northern of the two east-west trails crossing the vacant lot.

Barbara: After I would not go through the apartments Drew told me that it was just as well because a "nigger" just went down the path. The officer later told me that this path was the area where the girl was found dead tonight.
Junction of Northern Trail and Fuddrucker's Parking Lot
It's clear that, among their other charms, both Drew and Barbara were bigots. What is not clear is how Drew could have identified the person he saw just go down the path was an black, given it was dark and they could only make out shapes. Perhaps the person was temporarily illuminated by Fuddrucker's minimalist artificial lighting. Perhaps the person had an afro hairstyle.
Barbara: I just saw the top of the shape and it appeared to be an afro type haircut and that is all the description that I can give on the person.
From there, they made their way to the narrow dirt path than north-south ran along Kirkwood.
Barbara: I was walking with my husband, Drew Hartley, and we were walking down a pathway in front of a vacant field. This field runs the whole length of the block.
At first blush it seems as if Barbara claimed they were walking along the narrow path running parallel to Kirkwood when she first became concerned about being followed.Drew reports, however, that they walked along the line of trees just to the east of the large grassy area. Sgt. Gafford reports the same. Drew, later in his report, was more descriptive about the route he followed.
Drew: While I was walking through the woods, we heard movement in the brush.
Gafford: Drew states he and his wife were ... walking in the wooded area near a car wash. (This area is not the same wooded area that is behind the Fuddruckers where the compls were found, but it is an extension of that same easement).
Drew: When I came back, I went the same way that Barbara and I had previously taken. I was running through here. I ran down the edge that seperates [sic] the woods from the plain field.

I've carefully scanned all the aerial photos and I cannot see a well worn foot path alongside the line of trees east of the large grassy area. I note once again that the aerial photos were taken before even the car wash was constructed, so perhaps the footpath became worn only after the aerial photos were taken. Other than that speculation, I cannot rationalize Barbara reporting they walked down a pathway and Drew reporting he walked in the wooded area.

Several arguments suggest that the two of them walked along the line of trees, as Drew made clear. Even Barbara, for example, made clear that they walked along the edge of a field that ran "the whole length of the block." The large grassy area does not extend along the entire block; the line of trees does.

Also, Drew wished to take a short cut through the opening in Lakehurst fence, but Barbara feared being arrested. This means that the path along line of trees must have been a more direct route to their friends' apartment than walking alongside Kirkwood.

Also, it would not have been as obviously threatening if someone was walking behind Drew and Barbara along a well used footpath, alongside a substantial public roadway, in a wide-open area. It would far more likely to be intimidating if they were walking in the wooded area.

Also, as you will soon be reminded, Barbara said they stopped running when they reached the pavement, and then entered the Stop N Go. If they had been walking alongside Kirkwood, the first pavement she reached would have been that associated with the car wash; then there would have been some additional footpath to cover; then, finally, she would have reached the pavement associated with the Stop N Go.

All things considered, I believe that Drew and Barbara were walking north along the line of trees rather than walking north along Kirkwood. In either case, both Drew and Barbara agreed they were being stalked and ran to the Stop and Go.

Barbara: As we were walking down the path I heard some other footsteps besides our, in the grass. I looked back after hearing the steps for awhile but I didn't see anything. We kept on walking and I kept hearing the sound which was not actually footsteps but it was the sound of feet in the long grass. I looked back a second time and I saw a shape and it was grouped in someone there. I thought that there was someone on the path and I asked Drew if there was someone behind us and he told me that I was hearing things. And we walked a little further and he looked back and he said that there was somebody there. It sounded like there was somebody in the field itself too, as well as the noise on the path. I just saw the top of the shape and it appeared to be an afro type haircut and that is all the description that I can give on the person. I began to speed up and then the footsteps began to get faster behind us. Drew didn't run right away but then he began to run behind me. I ran to the Stop And Go and when I got to the pavement and I didn't see anybody. I went in the Stop And Go and talked to the girl clerk and a guy that was with her. I told them that someone was chasing me on the path.

Drew: While I was walking through the woods, we heard movement in the brush. We didnt [sic] see anybody at that point, but think that we were being chased. We ran to a nearby Stop-N-Go where my wife told the employees what had happened. The employees called the police.
Gafford: They heard movement in the brush and thought they were being chased and ran to a Stop-N-Go where his wife called police.
Barbara did not specify who called the police. Drew reports that the Stop N Go employees called the police. Sgt.Gafford reports that Drew said Barbara called the police. Once again, the confusion is absolutely unnecessary. If the HPD had provided the dispatcher information, or the report of the officers who responded to the call, or an interview with the employees, we would have more insight into what happened that night, what time it happened, and whether or not it was relevant to the crime under consideration.

It does make a difference. It seems to me that Drew and Barbara were not keen on interacting with the police. We have seen this already with Barbara's unwillingness to take the shortcut through the Lakehurst Apartment complex. Here there might be evidence they that they did not want to call the police, but that the employees did so anyway. In Act II of Prelude to Murder, you will see that neither Drew nor Barbara was to be found when the police responded to the employees' call.

  <-- Previous                           Table of Contents                              Next -->