Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hughes News: Bloody Pristine Shorts

It has been an amazing 36 hours.

The amazement began Sunday night. (I just checked, since I'm losing track of the days. Today is indeed Tuesday.) While searching the transcripts to reinforce a relative minor point, I became confused about the testimony regarding Shandra Charles' shorts. The prosecutor seemed to be showing those shorts to the last-minute fill-in, prosecution-friendly medical examiner (LMFIPFME). The prosecutor was using those shorts as an example of how Shandra's attacker need not necessarily have blood on his clothes.

I didn't understand. I seemed to recall, in fact I was pretty certain, in fact I knew that the serology lab report showed that a pair of white shorts had blood apparent on them. Allow me to refresh your memory of a somewhat earlier post.

There it is. Third column. "1Pr. white shot PANTS Bld is App"

I checked all the photos. Marcell was wearing blue shorts with large white stripes running down the sides. Elsewhere in the documents, Marcell's shorts are described as blue shorts, or blue and white shorts. I've yet to see his shorts described as simply white.

I looked for a photo of Shandra's shorts. I didn't recall seeing one, but I checked everything again. There is no photo of the Shandra's shorts, at least not among the collection of "all" evidence provided in response to Barbara Lunsford's open records request. Officer Hale, the CSU officer responsible for collecting the evidence and taking the photographs, had collected the shorts from West Houston Medical Center, but he had (purportedly) not photographed them.

I searched the transcripts for each occurrence of "short", hoping to capture both "shorts" and "short pants". That increased the false hits, but it did allow me to find where Sgt. Hamilton (of dying declaration fame) testified that the white shorts introduced as Exhibit 10 by the prosecution were indeed those being worn by Shandra Charles when he found her that night. At least, he hedged, they look like them.

I read once again, and again, and again, the transcript segment where the prosecutor showed the white shorts to his friendly ME. The prosecutor was trying to convince the jury that Preston Hughes could have stabbed Shandra without getting any blood on his clothes.
Q. When we say a gushing, bleeding wound, are we talking about something that is shooting out away from the body or is it something that's ozing [sic] out of the body? Is there a difference in your mind? 
A. Well, arterial pressure is considerably higher than veinous [sic] pressure; and usually when an artery is severed, it is followed by spurting of blood and it can go some distance. 
Q. Now, would the angle of the head, given the nature of these wounds, have anything to do with where it spurted? 
A. Certainly. 
Q. For example, if Shandra Charles had been wearing these white shorts at the time she was stabbed, depending on the angle that the blood was going, there may not have been any blood on these shorts, could there? 
A. That is correct. 
Q. Even though she was stabbed right here in the neck and right here in the chest, her shorts could still have no evidence of blood on them? 
A. That is correct. 
Q. Certainly if her shorts could have no evidence of blood, the man who or woman who stabbed her might have had no evidence of blood on them; is that correct? 
A. Yes, sir.
It hit me hard. I slapped my hands over my face, covering my eyes, blocking out everything but the realization that they had switched Shandra's bloody shorts for a pair of pristine shorts. I became agitated. I got up and started pacing like a caged animal, as I am apt to do when I'm agitated. I left the house and walked the quiet dark neighborhood for more than an hour. I couldn't work any more, so I went to bed and, surprisingly, fell asleep quickly. I guess I was tired.

I got up before daybreak and started hunting for something to convince me that I was wrong or that I was right. I found it.

Be aware that Exhibit 10 is Shandra's pair of white shorts and Exhibits 11 and 12 are Shandra's white shoes. Officer Hale collected those items as a group from West Houston Medical Center. From his examination:
Q. Did you also, in addition to tagging several of these items, go to a West Houston hospital and recover some personal effects concerning the female victim in this case? 
A. After I had left the scene there on South Kirkwood, I went to the hospital and recovered some personal property belonging to the No.2 Complainant. 
Q. And among those items which you recovered, did they include State's Exhibits 11 and 12? 
A. Yes. 
Q. And on 11 and 12, there's some handwritten notations in black ink. Did you put those on there? 
A. No, sir, I did not. 
Q. And State's Exhibit No. 10? 
A. These are the shorts that we recovered. 
Q  And these were recovered -- 
A. At the hospital, yes.
I suddenly note the use of the word "we", as in "the shorts that we recovered." Now I want to know the other person who was with Officer Hale when he recovered those shorts. But I digress.

It was Officer Hale's responsibility to tag the evidence so that it could not be later confused, and he clearly testified earlier about tagging evidence. He denied, however, adding the notations to the shoes but did not identify how he otherwise tagged them.

Now back to transcripts. Earlier, while Sgt. Hamilton (of dying declaration fame) was being cross examined, he offered this tidbit.
Q. Officer, with regard to this pair of shorts that's been marked as State's Exhibit 10, did you make any identifying marks on these -- this item of clothing out there that night in the dark? 
A. No, sir, I didn't.
It's not what Hamilton said that is important. What is important is the understanding that comes from that brief exchange. There were no identification markings on the pair of white shorts the State was presenting as its Exhibit 10. Had there been, the prosecution would have asked Hale if he had made the marks found on the shorts, or the defense would have asked Hamilton if he made the marks.

Of the three items collected as a group from West Houston by CSU Officer Hale, who was supposed to tag all the evidence he collected, the shoes have notations written on them but the shorts do not.

That's because the State switched the shorts. They withheld the bloody shorts from the defense and the jury, and they withheld the lab test results that noted the shorts had blood apparent on them. The State then presented a pristine pair of white shorts to the jury as if those shorts were the ones Shandra was wearing that night. They used those pristine white shorts to help convince the jury that Preston Hughes was guilty and that he should die.

And now the State of Texas has come within 23 days of seeing that wish come true. I assure you, however, that Ward Larkin and I intend to see that does not happen.

It has been an amazing 36 hours.

Stay tuned.