Friday, August 3, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Searchers Part 4

In Part 2 of this mini-series within an extended series, I  scientifically proved  conclusively demonstrated   argued effectively  suggested Shandra's eyeglasses did not innocently fall or slide into the position in which they were photographed by the HPD. The obvious alternative is that they were planted.

In Part 3 I argued that the preferential evidentiary treatment provided to those glasses adds to suspicions that the glasses were planted.

In this Part 4, herein, I discuss whether or not the eyeglasses had been photographed at the crime scene before being photograph between the cushions of Preston's couch. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out the implications of such a photograph, assuming it exists or once did.

The Hughes' Claim
Preston Hughes III pulls no punches when it comes to the eyeglasses. He argues that they were planted and that there is a photograph from the crime scene to prove it. From his blog, obviously maintained by a third party:
The eyeglasses were planted, by the police, in the cushions of PHIII's white couch and pictures were taken to make it appear as though they were found there. The police apparently did this to make it appear as though the victims had been in PHIII’s apartment prior to their deaths. However there's a problem with this because there was a picture taken of the glasses at the crime scene where the victims were found, before they were planted in PHIII's apartment. The arresting officer made PHIII aware of the fact he planted the eyeglasses in his apartment when he made statements to PHIII, during the interrogation, concerning the fact he searched his apartment. The first attorney, Randolph A. McDonald, appointed to handle PHIII's Habeas Corpus appeal acknowledged the fact he knew the police planted the glasses in PHIII's apartment. And in a phone conversation he had with PHIII he acknowledged the existence of a picture that depicts the glasses on the ground at the crime scene where the bodies of the victims were found. The attorney ended up withdrawing himself from the case because he wasn't being paid enough to represent PHIII. However since learning of the existence of the picture that depicts the eyeglasses at the crime scene PHIII has been diligently trying to obtain this evidence. His family managed to scrape up enough funds to purchase a copy of the police report(s) and a copy of the pictures taken by the crime scene officer. Unfortunately the Houston Police Department purposely withheld a number of the pictures taken by the crime scene officer.
I'll interrupt Hughes' long paragraph at this point. Hughes claims that appellate attorney Randolph McDonald told him (Hughes) that he (McDonald) somehow acknowledged the existence of a photograph showing the eyeglasses at the crime scene. I find the past-tense verb "acknowledged" to be weaker than "possessed" or "confirmed" or "saw."  I can't tell from Hughes' description above whether or not the attorney might be willing to unequivocally state that he knew of such a picture, that he had seen it, that he had held it in his hands, that he had a copy.

Now back to Hughes' paragraph.
Although the attorney has been off of PHIII’s appeal for some years PHIII wrote him in June of 2006 seeking his help with obtaining a copy of the picture(s) that could help prove his innocence and that he was framed. PHIII was very clear in his letter concerning what he was seeking to obtain. The attorney responded to PHIII's letter by stating where he believed PHIII would be able to obtain the evidence he's seeking. Unfortunately, the individual PHIII was told to contact was the ineffective attorney that mishandled PHIII's state Habeas Corpus appeal after Mr. McDonald withdrew from the case. The response from Mr. McDonald to PHIII's letter, although very short, is the only proof PHIII has at this time to prove the police planted the eyeglasses in his apartment.
Hughes claims that McDonald's reply proves the existence of the photo. It's a bold claim, and I credit Hughes for attempting to substantiate it using the text of McDonald's reply, if not an actual image. Here's the response from McDonald, as presented on Hughes' blog.
Dear Mr. Hughes: 
I received your correspondence of June 22, 2006. I do not have the
requested information that you asked for. I believe you might be able to
obtain them from attorney Dick Wheelan. 
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need further
assistance. Good luck! 
Yours truly,
Randy McDonald
I fear that reply comes up well short of the proof Hughes so badly needs, even more so now that he has only 104 days to live.

Attempt, if you dare, to put yourself in Preston's shoes. Imagine you are innocent but sentenced to death. Imagine you have been on death row for twenty years, even longer. You are locked up for 23 plus hours per day in a concrete box the size of your bathroom. You are totally dependent on others to keep the State from strapping you to a gurney, from swabbing your arm with alcohol to prevent infection, from then putting a needle in your arm, and from them pumping you full of lethal chemicals. You believe, correctly or incorrectly, that there is a photograph out there that can prove the police framed you. Your family is already made poor by your absence, by the incidental (but not insignificant) costs of your trial, and by the substantial costs of your appeals. You family continues to be drained by the costs of you incarceration, by the outrageously priced phone calls, by the postage you need to plead for help, and by your pathetic commissary purchases. Imagine that you hit them up for hundreds more so that the HPD will provide you the photos you request, as they are obliged to do.

Then imagine the HPD stiffs you.

They take your money, then withhold critical, life-saving photos.

They stiff you.

Yet again.

I will not be able, in this now humble post, to prove the existence of a photo showing Shandra's eyeglasses at the crime scene. What I will be able to do, however, is describe independent evidence that the HPD does indeed withhold photos.

On March 14, 2010, Barbara Lunsford submitted an open records request to the city of Houston for any and all reports regarding the case of Preston Hughes III, for copies of all evidence and property reports for all items collected as part of the case, and for all crime lab reports and all crime scene photos. She received a smattering of what she requested. I will focus here on the 35mm photos of the crime scene and the bodies.

After I began writing of this case, Barbara Lunsford generously shared with me (for free) all the material she had obtained (for hundreds of dollars). She also gave me her permission to use any and all the material as I see fit. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here: Barbara Lunsford is the person responsible for bringing this case to public attention. I am, by comparison, a Johnny Come Lately. I write of Preston's case so extensively only because I learned of the case from Barbara's Mystery Crime Scene web site, and only because she has been so gracious in sharing everything she collected.

Barbara Lunsford assures me that I have a copy of each 35mm photo provided to her in response to her public records request. Let's now compare the number of photos provided to Barbara by the number taken by the Houston Police Department.

Hang on. Here we go.

The Hale Photos
From CSU Officer F.L. Hale's report:
At this time I loaded my 35mm Nikon Camera with 100 ASA film. Using the Sun Pac flash attachment a total of 2 roll [sic] of 35mm was exposed, at the scene and morgue. The two rolls of 35mm film was [sic] kept in officer's are, control, and custody until tagged into the 4th floor I.D. Photo Lab lock box.
From Hale's list of items he recovered:
(2) Rolls of 35mm film.
In summary, Hale reported that he had taken two and only two rolls of 35 mm film. Since he claims to have taken pictures inside Hughes' apartment, I presume he included the apartment as part of the crime scene. I believe he was incorrect in that assumption. Time will tell.

For the youngsters out there, let's see what the Guide to Film Photography web site has to say about 35mm film.
35mm film is the most popular film photography type. 35mm film, or 135 film, was introduced by Kodak in 1934. Fitting 35mm cameras, including single-lens reflex (SLR) and range-finder cameras, basic 35mm film photography is named after the size of the film – 35mm wide. Individual rolls of 35mm film are enclosed in a single-spool, light-tight, metal case that allow it to be loaded into cameras in the daylight. ... Most 35mm film is found in 24-exposure or 36-exposure counts. However, with most cameras and proper film settings, you will be able to squeeze out an additional two or three photographs.
Though film usually comes in 24 or 36-exposure counts, the image associated with the article shows a 27-exposure count roll.

I'm aware that film also comes in 12 and 15-exposure rolls, but these will turn out to be irrelevant, as you soon will see.

So ...

Officer Hale most likely took 48 or 72 pictures. Less likely scenarios, assuming up to 3 extra pictures per roll, range from 49 to 60, and 71 to 78.

Officer Hale could have easily removed any confusion about the number of pictures he took by simply stating the number of exposures he took for each roll of film he used. Alternatively, and even better, Officer Hale could have (and I suspect did) maintained a photo log describing the nature of each picture taken, and the sequence in which they were taken.

The Lunsford Photos
I've inventoried the photos Barbara sent me. As I mentioned before, she assures me that I have a copy of every 35mm photo she has for the Hughes case. Here's my accounting of how many photos Barbara received from Officer Hale's first two rolls of 35mm film.
Marcell's body at the scene:  9 photos
Beer can at the scene:  1
Trail and brush, excluding Marcell and the beer can:  15
Fuddruckers:  2
Wooden Fence and its opening into the field:  4
Exterior of Preston's apartment:  1
Exterior of apartment in Lakewood Village complex: 1
Interior of Preston's apartment:  14
Shandra's body at the morgue:  3
That's a grand total of 50 photos.

The Possibilities
All of the possibilities (and the one impossibility) I list below assume I properly accounted the number of 35mm photos received by Barbara Lunsford in response to her open records request.
It is impossible that Hale used two rolls of 24-exposure film unless he managed at least two extra pictures between the two rolls. 
It is possible that Hale used two rolls of 24-exposure film and managed exactly two extra pictures between the two rolls. In this case, and in this case only, all photos were provided. 
It is possible that Hale used some other combination of 24, 27, and 36-exposure rolls, and that he managed as many as six extra pictures. The permutations are many and I have worked through them all for you. In these cases, Hale took anywhere from 51 to 78 photos, excluding 70 and 71. In this case, the number of photos withheld range from 1 to 28, excluding 20 and 21. 
The most likely possibility is that Hale used two 36-exposure rolls in normal fashion, taking 72 pictures total. In this most likely scenario, the number of photos withheld is 22.
That's a lot of missing photos. I think a few of them may indeed show Shandra's glasses laying on the ground somewhere in that dark, overgrown, field. I think I know the subject matter of most the other missing photos as well.

Stay tuned.

ADDENDUM (4 August 2012):
Reader Anonymous has quickly and properly faulted me for an unforced error.  His comment in its entirety:
I don't understand how this evidence leads you to conclude that phots are being withheld. You've told us that

(a) There were 50 photos released(b) 24-exposure film was one of the most commonly used types(c) That "most" cameras would be able to get an extra picture or 3 out of each roll. 
Under these circumstances, it seems to me, if Hale did use 24-exposure film, and if the camera that he used was like "most" cameras (and I have no reason to believe it wasn't), then 50 pictures (or even 52) would be about what one would expect. 

Suppose Hale did (as you suggest) use two rolls of 36-exposure film. Suppose further that he took exactly 50 pictures: some 36 from the first roll and the rest from the second. Is it not likely that he would have the second roll of film developed with the first, even though it wasn't entirely used up? I hardly think he would just leave the half-used roll of film lying in the camera until he had another occasion to use it up. 

I'll acknowledge the possibility that the glasses were planted. I'll event acknowledge the possibility that there exists (or existed) photographic evidence of this. But the information you've given here does nothing to support that claim.
Now my groveling response:
I can't (and won't) disagree with your first point, since I made it myself in the post. 
Your second point does highlight a glaring weakness. I didn't make any case that Hale used all the shots on the second roll, and I probably cannot make that case now. 
I know that he reported that he "exposed two rolls" and I consider that suggestive of using all of them. But you properly fault me for simply assuming that, rather than making a more substantive argument.
I'll add an addendum, confess my sin, and move on. 
Thank you for challenging me.
And I spent a really long time on that post. Seriously.

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