Friday, July 27, 2012

The Impending Execution of Marvin Lee Wilson

Marvin Wilson sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas on 7 August 2012. Because his IQ is reported to be 61, I expect additional challenges to the execution date.

I summarize his case by extracting from the adverse appellate decision Marvin Lee Wilson v. State (1999). I have replaced each instance of the word appellant with Wilson's name.
In a trial beginning in January 1998, Wilson was convicted of capital murder for the kidnapping and murder of Jerry Williams. ... 
The evidence showed the following: On November 4, 1992, Officer Robert Roberts and other police officers entered Wilson's apartment pursuant to a search warrant. Jerry Williams was the confidential informant whose information enabled Roberts to obtain the warrant. Williams entered and left the apartment minutes before the police went in. Wilson, Vincent Webb, and a juvenile female were present in the apartment. Over 24 grams of cocaine were found, and Wilson and Webb were arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Wilson was subsequently released on bond, but Webb remained in jail. Sometime after the incident, Wilson told Terry Lewis that someone had "snitched" on Wilson, that the "snitch" was never going to have the chance to "to have someone else busted," and that Wilson "was going to get him." 
On November 9, 1992, several observers saw an incident take place in the parking lot in front of Mike's Grocery. Vanessa Zeno and Denise Ware were together in the parking lot. Caroline Robinson and her daughter Coretta Robinson were inside the store. Julius Lavergne was outside the store, but came in at some point to relay information to Caroline. The doors to Mike's Grocery were made of clear glass, and Coretta stood by the door and watched. Zeno, Ware, Coretta, and Lavergne watched the events unfold while Caroline called the police. These witnesses testified consistently although some witnesses noticed details not noticed by others. 
In the parking lot, Wilson stood over Williams and beat him. Wilson asked Williams, "What do you want to be a snitch for? Do you know what we do to a snitch? Do you want to die right here?" In response, Williams begged for his life. Andrew Lewis, Terry's husband, was pumping gasoline in his car at the time. Williams ran away from Wilson and across the street to a field. 
Wilson pursued Williams and caught him. Andrew drove the car to the field. While Williams struggled against them, Wilson and Andrew forced Williams into the car. At some point during this incident, either in front of Mike's Grocery, across the street, or at both places, Andrew participated in hitting Williams and Wilson asked Andrew: "Where's the gun?" Wilson told Andrew to get the gun and said that he (Wilson) wanted to kill Williams.They drove toward a Mobil refinery. Zeno and Ware drove back to their apartments, which were close by, and when they arrived, they heard what sounded like gunshots from the direction of the Mobil plant. 
Sometime after the incident, Wilson told his wife, in the presence of Terry Lewis and her husband, "Baby, you remember the nigger I told you I was going to get? I did it. I don't know if he dead or what, but I left him there to die." When Terry looked back at her husband, Wilson stated, "Don't be mad at Andrew because Andrew did not do it. I did it." 
On November 10, 1992, a bus driver noticed Williams' dead body on the side of a road.The autopsy report concluded that Williams died from close range gunshot wounds to the head and neck. 
Having known Wilson for 16 years, Zeno identified Wilson. Lavergne and Coretta recognized Williams but did not know Wilson or Andrew. Lavergne subsequently identified Andrew in a photo line-up. At that time, Lavergne told law enforcement authorities that the man he identified in the photo was the "helper," rather than the primary actor. The other man, who Lavergne described as having a "gerry curl," made the threats and conducted most of the beating of Williams. Under defense cross-examination at trial, Lavergne testified that the man in the photo (i.e. Andrew Lewis) was the man with the gerry curl and hence, the primary actor. But, upon redirect examination, Lavergne testified that his earlier testimony was in error, and that the man in the photo was not the one with the gerry curl. 
This contradiction led to questioning that explored an incident involving Lavergne, defense counsel, and Wilson. At one time, defense counsel and Wilson interviewed Lavergne together, while Lavergne was in jail for an offense unrelated to the present case. No representatives of the district attorney's office were present. Wilson asked Lavergne for his father's name, and Wilson asked if Lavergne had a new baby. These questions made Lavergne feel scared and intimidated, and he wondered how Wilson could have known about Lavergne's new baby. ... 
Our review of the record shows ample evidence to support the conviction. Williams was the informant who caused Wilson to be arrested for cocaine. Wilson could have inferred from Williams' presence at his apartment immediately before the police arrived that Williams had indeed "snitched" on Wilson. That sequence of events established a motive for the murder. Wilson's statements to Terry Lewis and his later statements to Williams show that Wilson intended to act upon that motive and kill Williams. Wilson assaulted and kidnapped Williams in front of several eyewitnesses, and later, Wilson bragged that he had left the "snitch" to die. The latter statement could have been reasonably interpreted as an admission that Wilson had in fact fulfilled his earlier threats to kill the victim. The short time frame in which these events occurred—a matter of several days—also supports the inference that these events were connected. And Wilson's references to Lavergne's father and new baby reasonably could have been interpreted as a veiled attempt to influence Lavergne's testimony. Such an attempt to tamper with a witness is evidence of "consciousness of guilt." ...
I oppose the execution of any person who may be innocent of the crime for which he are about to die. With respect to all other executions, I stand mute. I neither support them nor oppose them. In the case of Marvin Lee Wilson, I stand mute.

ADDENDUM (8 August 2012)
Marvin Wilson was executed by the people of Texas on 7 August 2012.

The Stayed Execution of Michael Tisius

Michael Tisius sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Missouri. He was scheduled for execution on 3 August 2012. His execution has been stayed by the Supreme Court of Missouri due to a lack of drugs with which to conduct the execution.

I summarize the case by extracting from the adverse appellate decision in State v. Tisius (2002). I have replaced each instance of Appellate with Michael Tisius' name.
In early June of 2000, Michael Tisius and Roy Vance were cellmates at the Randolph County Jail in Huntsville, Missouri. Tisius's sentence lasted thirty days, and Vance told Tisius he would be in jail for some fifty years. As such, Tisius and Vance discussed various schemes where Tisius would return to jail to help Vance escape. In one of those plans, Tisius was to return to the jail with a firearm, force the guards into a cell, and give the gun to Vance, who would then take charge and release all of the inmates. 
The Randolph County Jail was a twostory brick building that had been converted from a house. The front door of the jail was kept locked, and the officers could remotely open the door when visitors rang a doorbell. Inside the front door was a small foyer, and to the right behind a counter was the dispatch area where the officers were stationed. A hall led from the dispatch area to the jail cells in the rear of the building. 
Tisius was released on June 13, 2000. Shortly after his release, Tisius contacted Vance's girlfriend, Tracie Bulington, who said that she wanted to go through with the escape plan. Four days later, Bulington drove from Macon to Columbia with a woman named Heather Douglas to pick up Tisius and drive him back to Macon; Tisius and Bulington stayed at Douglas' home for four or five days. During the ride to Columbia, Douglas heard the two discuss various ways of breaking Vance out of jail, including the idea of locking the jailers in a cell. They told Douglas they were joking. Douglas testified that over the days to follow, she heard Tisius and Bulington say that they were "on a mission," but they would not elaborate. Tisius and Bulington also described taking cigarettes to Vance at the jail and of having gotten information from a "stupid deputy." At other times they would stop talking when Douglas entered the room. Douglas also testified that Tisius and Bulington kept a stereo, clothing and camping gear in Bulington's car and that she also saw a pistol in Bulington's car. 
Beginning June 17, 2000, and continuing over several days, Tisius and Bulington visited the jail several times. At or around 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. one of those mornings, they were admitted in the front door and delivered a pack of cigarettes to an on-duty officer, requesting that it be given to Vance. A day or two later, Tisius and Bulington returned to the jail with a pair of socks for Vance and asked questions about his upcoming court date. 
Bulington testified that each delivery signified to Vance certain facts, such as that Tisius had made it to town or that the jail break would not occur the night of the delivery. During some of those visits, Tisius kept a .22 caliber pistol that Bulington had taken from her parents' home in the front of his pants. Tisius had tried to acquire a bigger gun than the one Bulington took. On the night of one of their visits, one officer testified that Tisius and Bulington were acting "real funny," nervous and erratic, such that he wrote a police report about the visit. 
Tisius tested the gun by firing it outside of Bulington's car window while the two were driving on country roads on June 21, 2000. Later that evening, Tisius and Bulington drove around listening to a song with the refrain "mo murda" (more murder) as they prepared to get Vance out of jail. Tisius rewound the cassette and played the "mo murda" song over and over. Tisius told Bulington "it was getting about time" and that "he was going to go in and just start shooting and that he had to do what he had to do." Tisius also said he would go "in with a blaze of glory." 
At 12:15 a.m. on June 22, Tisius and Bulington returned to the Randolph County Jail, rang the doorbell and were admitted. Tisius again carried the pistol in his pants. Tisius and Bulington told the officers they were delivering cigarettes to Vance. The two officers present were Leon Egley and Jason Acton. Tisius made small talk with one of the officers for about ten minutes, discussing what Tisius was planning to do with his life and how Tisius was doing. Bulington testified that at that point, she was about to tell Tisius she was ready to leave but froze as she noticed Tisius had the gun drawn beside his leg. Tisius then raised his arm with the pistol drawn and, from a distance of two to four feet, shot Acton in the forehead above his left eye, killing him instantly. Egley began to approach Tisius, and about ten seconds after he killed Acton, Tisius shot Egley one or more times from a distance of four or five feet, until Egley fell to the ground. Both officers were unarmed. 
Tisius then took some keys from the dispatch area and went to Vance's cell. Tisius could not open the cell, so he returned to the dispatch area to search for more keys. While Tisius was in the dispatch area, Egley grabbed Bulington's legs from where he was lying on the floor, and Tisius shot him several more times at a distance of two or three feet. Egley suffered five gunshot wounds, three to the forehead, a graze wound to the right cheek and a wound to the upper right shoulder. Not long afterwards, police found Egley gasping for air and a heard gurgling sound; he was surrounded by a pool of blood. Egley died shortly afterwards. 
Tisius and Bulington fled in her automobile. Tisius threw the keys from the dispatch area out of the car window on the way out of town. Bulington threw the pistol from the car window while crossing a bridge on Highway 36. After the two had passed through St. Joseph and crossed the Kansas state line, Bulington's car broke down. Later that day, the two were apprehended by the police, and the keys and gun were recovered. After having waived his Miranda rights, Tisius gave oral and written confessions to the murders. 
Tisius's theory at trial was that he was guilty at most of second-degree murder because although he admits that he shot and killed the two officers, he argues that he did so without deliberation. Further facts are set forth below as necessary.
I oppose the execution of anyone who might be innocent of the crime for which they are about to die. In all other cases, I stand mute. I neither support nor endorse the execution. In the case of Michael Tisius, I stand mute.

The Stayed Execution of Marcus Druery

Marcus Druery sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas. He was scheduled for execution on 1 August 2012. His execution was stayed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to allow consideration of his claim the he is not mentally competent to be executed.

I summarize his case by extracting from the adverse opinion in Druery v. State (2007):
On October 30, 2002, Druery went to Skyyler Browne's apartment on the Texas State Technical College campus in Waco where both were students. Browne was commonly known by his nickname "Rome." Druery asked Rome to travel with him to Bryan; Rome hesitated but eventually agreed to go. Rome, who was known to have sold marijuana, took his cell phone, $400 to $500, his gun, and some marijuana. No one at the school ever saw him again. Druery later told a Texas Ranger that, after he and Rome had traveled from Waco to Bryan, they partied into the night, but Rome wanted to go home. Druery recounted to the Ranger that Rome called a girlfriend, and the girlfriend picked him up from the Contiki Club in an orange Cadillac. Law enforcement, however, was never able to locate an orange Cadillac. 
Joquisha Pitts and Marcus Harris told a different story. Pitts was Druery's former girlfriend, and Harris was Druery's younger friend who was still in high school. Pitts recounted at trial that she had known Rome for only a couple of days when she witnessed his murder. She accompanied Druery and Rome to the Contiki Club, and on the way, the group picked up Harris, as well as some ecstasy tablets and some embalming fluid, which is put on cigarettes and smoked to produce a high. Harris recounted at trial that this was his first meeting with Rome. Around 1:00 to 1:30 a.m., at Druery's suggestion, Druery, Rome, Pitts, and Harris left the Contiki Club to go to rural property owned by the Druery family. Pitts drove Druery's car as Druery navigated because she had never been there before. Neither Pitts nor Harris was aware of Druery's plans.
During the drive to the country, Druery claimed that someone was following them, and he repeatedly asked Rome for his gun so he could shoot whomever it was. Rome refused. Once at the property, Druery unlocked the gate and drove the group the rest of the way to a stock pond. Using the vehicle's headlights for illumination, each member of the group took turns shooting Rome's gun at bottles they had thrown into the water. At this time, Druery called Pitts to the car and told her he was going to kill Rome, saying he wanted Rome's "stuff." Pitts reminded Druery that Druery had a two-year-old son, and she ultimately believed that Druery was "just playing." 
After he shot the gun, Druery claimed that the ammunition had run out, and he returned to the driver's seat of the car. Pitts saw that Druery was taking bullets from the car's console, wiping them clean with a rag, and placing them in the pistol's magazine. Druery then called Harris to the vehicle, telling him that he planned to shoot Rome, but Harris believed that Druery was "tripping" on embalming fluid that he had smoked. Druery then ordered both Pitts and Harris to sit in the car. 
Standing near the pond, Rome pulled his jacket or a hood over his head to block the wind as he attempted to light a pipe or cigar filled with marijuana. Druery skulked toward Rome under the cover of darkness, held the gun within six inches of Rome's head, and fired. As Rome's body fell, Druery fired a second shot into Rome's neck, and then he fired a third shot into Rome's body as it lay on the ground. Pitts and Harris began to cry and scream, and both saw Druery kneel over Rome's body. Druery returned to the vehicle with Rome's cellular phone, money, marijuana, and gun. He attempted to calm his hysterical companions by giving each forty dollars. 
Soon thereafter, Druery obtained some gasoline (perhaps with Harris's assistance) and poured it on Rome's body. He set it ablaze, and the three left as the body 497*497 burned. During the drive, Druery instructed Pitts and Harris on how to respond to questions about Rome. He told them to say that Rome's girlfriend picked him up in an orange Cadillac to take him to get his sister in Washington D.C. and that they didn't see him again. The next day, Druery returned to the pond with Pitts and two others, burned the body a second time, and threw the body into the pond. Later, Harris assisted Druery in disposing of the murder weapon. 
Pitts eventually went to the police and told them that she was scared and wanted to get it off her chest. Harris told authorities that he thought he would die because he believed Druery would not want to leave any witnesses to the killing. ... 
Here, neither Pitts nor Harris was an accomplice as a matter of law or as a matter of fact. Neither witness was indicted for the capital murder or a lesser-included offense of the capital murder, and the evidence does not show that the witnesses could have been so charged. ... 
[T]heir testimony was corroborated. Appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to show the murder, and indeed, such a challenge would be laughable. He confessed to the murder to four friends and acquaintances: Chasiti Hall, Angela Minor, LaKeisha Green, and Charles Kennard. The victim's body was recovered on Druery property from a stock tank.
I oppose any execution in which the person to be executed may be innocent of the crime for which they are to die. In all other cases, I stand mute. I neither support nor oppose the execution. In the case of Marcus Druery, I stand mute.

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Brain Teaser #6

From Officer F.L. Hale's police report, we learn that he collected the following evidence from Preston Hughes' Apartment:
Evidence recovered inside Apartment 138A, ( suspect's apartment ) 
(1) Pair of silver rim percription [sic] eye glasses. These glasses were recovered from the three cushion couch, against the south wall of the livingroom [sic]. Laying between the cushion [sic]. The eyeglasses were recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until hand carried to the latent lab to be printed. 
(1) Pair of blue jeans: recovered off the southeast bedroom floor, approximately 5 feet south of the north wall and 2 feet east of the west wall, in front of the dresser. The blue jeans were recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Blue short sleeve shirt; recovered off the southeast bedroom floor,approximately 3 feet north of the south and 6 feet east of the west wall, in front of the chest of drawers. The shirt was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's carem [sic] control and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Short sleeve blue shirt; recovered on the floor in the southeast bedroom, near the closet. Approximately 3 feet south of the north wall and 5 feet west of the east wall. Inside the left front shirt pocket was a gold wrist watch. The band is broken. The watch is a Bulova, black face with (4) diamond, 12.3,6,9 The watch was left inside the shirt pocket. The shirt and watch was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) U.S. Army knife, with sheath: recovered from southwest bedroom closet recovered from southwest bedroom closet [sic regarding the repetition], inside cardboard box, found on floor. The knife and sheath were found seperated [sic] inside the cardboard box. At this time I recovered the knife and sheath, both were kept sererapted [sic] and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Maroon pullover shirt; recovered on the dining room table. The shirt was recovered and placed into a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control, and custody until tagged in the police property room. 
(1) Small clear plastic bag, containing a green leafy substance. Recovered on the dining room table in plain view. The plastic bag was recovered and placed inside a clear plastic bag and kept in officer's care, control and custody until tagged into the property room. 
No other evidence was found inside apartment 138A.
Now here's the property invoice for the material turned over by CSU Officer F.L. Hale to Property Officer F.L Martin. For clarity, the notations in red were on the document when I received it from Barbara Lunsford. Also for clarity, not all the items in the inventory were collected at Preston Hughes' apartment. The other items were collected from the crime scene, from either of two hospitals, or the morgue.

Be aware that this brain teaser has nothing to do with the marijuana found on Preston's desk. That would be too easy. It is clear from Hale's police report that he took possession of the marijuana while at Preston's apartment, and did not relinquish possession until he allegedly turned it over to the property room. It is equally clear from the property invoice that the marijuana (of which Hale claimed sole possession) did not make its way to the property room.

Be aware also that this brain teaser has nothing to do with the eyeglasses recovered by Officer Hale from Preston's apartment. We'll deal with those glasses in detail soon. For now it should be sufficient to note that Officer Hale did not claim to turn the glasses over to the property room. Instead, he claimed to have turned them over to the fingerprint unit. While I would like to see the receipt from the fingerprint unit, there is no reason to expect the eyeglasses would appear on an invoice intended for the property room.

Now you're all set up and ready to go for the brain teaser.

For 10 points, identify which items were taken from Preston's apartment but not mentioned in Hale's report or property invoice.

I suggest you review the photos in The Searchers.


ADDENDUM (31 July 2012):
Oscar Anon earns the 10 nugatory points for being first with the correct and obvious answer. If you look at the two photos in The Searchers that show Preston's fold out bed, you won't see any sheets or blankets. Preston claims on his blog that there was a sheet on the bed when he left, that he masturbated and the sheet was stained with his semen. He and others suggest the HPD intended to use that stain to plant his DNA in Shandra's rape kit.

I do not believe that is correct. While working on another case, just today, I was reminded that the first person ever exonerated by DNA was David Vasquez of Virginia, and that happened in 1989. The police searched Preston's apartment in 1988. I suspect they were not anticipating that DNA samples would soon be leading to exonerations.

I have no doubt that Preston used at least one bed sheet. The mattress does not appear as if it has been used unprotected. I also suspect that the HPD did indeed take the sheet and sent it directly to the crime lab for testing. That's why the sheet is not included in the invoice of evidence turned over to the property room at 2:58 AM.

I suspect the police were hoping that Shandra was a secretor. That means her blood type could be determined from her other bodily fluids. If they could identify Shandra's blood type on the sheets, and Preston was not a secretor and/or Preston did not have the same blood type as Shandra, then they would have been able to argue she must have been inside his apartment recently.

I suspect that Shandra turned out not to be a secretor. Most people are not. I suspect they then planted the glasses in Preston's apartment so that they could argue she had been in there recently, maybe the very night of her murder.

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The Case of Preston Hughes III: Brain Teaser #5

Here's a quick one for zero points:  What the hell did I do with Brain Teaser #3?

Now Brain Teaser #5, for 10 points.

In The Searchers, I state with confidence that there were no visible blood stains or droplets on any of Preston's clothing. None. I claim also that the police, the crime lab, and (possibly) the prosecutor knew that to be so.

You win the 10 nugatory Skeptical Juror points by being the first to provide a compelling explanation of either:

1. Why I am incorrect, or

2. Why I am correct.


ADDENDUM (29 July 2012):
Ten nugatory points to Oscar Anon. Allow me to summarize the points he made and add some of my own.

We can be confident that there was no visible blood on the clothing for the following reasons:

1. The jeans, shoes, and socks are either white or pale enough that any blood stain would be obvious. There is no blood visible in any of the photos. It would be statistically unlikely if in each case substantial blood was apparent only on the portions not visible in the photos.

2. The clothing was not tested until three days before the trial. If they State believed there was visible blood stains of any size on the clothing, they would have tested it sooner.

4. The HPD didn't (at least initially) test individual stains to unambiguously determine if they were blood. The HPD treated large areas of the clothing with a Luminol like substance. Luminol, and the similar substances, are used to detect blood that is otherwise invisible. The testing was designed to give them some idea which areas they might subject to definitive blood tests. Luminol type testing, at best, can indicate only possible areas of blood. The test returns false positives for many ingredients, and is therefore never to be used as the sole determinant for the presence of blood.

5. No blood was found during the subsequent, more definitive testing. The State attempted to leave the impression that the follow-on testing was unable to discriminate between between human blood and animal blood because there insufficient blood remaining to test after the initial Luminol type testing. That's a generous interpretation. The more straightforward interpretation is that there was no blood identified by the more definitive testing.

6. The State did not show the jury those portions of the clothing on which the testing was conducted. That would have made it clear to the jury that there were no visible blood stains on the clothing. Instead, the State showed the jury only those areas of the clothing where even they conceded were no visible signs of blood. They showed the clothing with the samples removed, but did not show the samples.

In summary, there was no visible signs of blood, nor was any detected during any non-ambiguous testing. The State nonetheless left the jury with the impression that substantial amounts of blood had been discovered on multiple areas of the jeans and shirt.

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