Friday, July 17, 2009

It's over

And I have a hunch I'm going to be unhappy about the way the process worked for a long, long time. The DeKalb Police Department did a truly shitty job of investigating this particular case -- they were slow, they were sloppy, they neglected to collect truly important evidence (e.g., projectiles, aka bullets) at the scene. . . and if the defendant had had a Trak phone instead of one through Metro PCS the prosecutor's office would have been SOL. They wouldn't have had a single piece of credible evidence other than the man's in-laws' dislike of him to connect him with a double homicide.

As it was, the cell phone records (Metro PCS) convicted him because they contradicted his claim of having left the scene 6 hours prior to the murders happening. Atlanta is full of cell phone towers, but between 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. he made multiple calls, and they all hit the same tower, one located very close to the victims' home. Although we all recognized that the fact the tower site did not in itself prove he was in the house, it did make it clear he had lied about where he really was when the calls were made -- which was about ten miles away with a whole lot of other cell towers between him and the one his calls went to. Everyone knows that being right next to a cell tower doesn't guarantee that's the one your call is routed through -- but call after call after call passing through the same tower definitely suggested he'd been in the same general location all night. And if the friend whose house he claimed he was actually at had had lived four blocks away instead of those ten miles, the phone records wouldn't have meant a damn thing.

Some background: this was a double homicide, two women shot at approximately 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning a year ago. A neighbor heard the gunshots, and saw a man fleeing the house on foot, but that neighbor did not see the suspect clearly enough to make a visual identification from a photo lineup, nor did he recognize the suspect when he saw him in the courtroom. He did, however, say the man was carrying a gun as he ran. He called 911.

When the police arrived 7 minutes later they found the house totally empty of people except for the bodies of the victims, one in her bedroom and the other on a living room sofa. Within minutes of the police arriving, a friend of the victims showed up to accuse the estranged husband of one of the dead women of being the shooter. This was at approximately 5:30, 5:45 a.m. And, remember this was a double homicide.

When does DeKalb's finest decide to go looking for the prime suspect? Three hours later, around 9:30 a.m., they call his cell phone to ask him where he is. He gives them the address of the friend he's staying with. One hour later, around 10:30 a.m., they actually go to that apartment to talk to him. My fellow jury members didn't seem to have a problem with DeKalb's finest taking four fucking hours to get around to going after "a person of interest" who quite possibly was armed and dangerous. For sure I do. Calling up a possible murder suspect and giving him an hour's head start in which to flee? If this is acceptable policing in Georgia, it's yet another reason to look forward to seeing this state in the rearview mirror next year.

Anyway, when they did finally make contact and bring him to the police station, they park him in an interview room for 7 hours before they finally get around to doing a gun shot residue test kit, which, of course, was pretty much wasted effort by that point.

In short, at the time they arrested him for the murders they had no evidence: no murder weapon, no definitive identification (two of the kids later said they'd seen him fleeing the house, but they weren't interviewed until almost a full week later, and neither one saw him with a gun), nothing other than the suspect's own admission he had been at the house Saturday evening to watch movies with his estranged wife and his kids. It wasn't until the GSR tests came back negative from the GBI that they finally got around to getting a court order for phone records -- and by that time it was no doubt the prosecutor's office that had brains enough to go looking for them.

The trial itself was pretty much of a clusterfuck, too, on the state's part. Example: a duffel bag of odds and ends of men's clothing was introduced into evidence, but it seemed totally irrelevant. What did six pairs of men's boxer briefs have to do with anything? No clue. The detectives seized them when they searched the room where the defendant was staying at a friend's apartment (the defendant and his wife had been estranged and living separately for approximately 8 months prior to the murders; nonetheless, testimony by several witnesses indicated they had an amicable relationship and were seeing each other again and talking about a reconciliation) but it was a truly odd assortment of clothing, and none of it was ever tied in any way to the crime scene. So what was the point?

And then they introduced a witness for the prosecution who was quite obviously mentally challenged. The prosecution kept asking her about the statement she had given to the police and the way she seemed to be contradicting it in court. The assistant prosecutor (one of them) placed the statement in front of her and told her to read it to refresh her memory. The poor woman was staring and staring and looking like a frightened rabbit -- and then on cross examination it comes out that she's functionally illiterate. The detectives had asked her questions, written a statement for her, and asked her to sign it. She could not read cursive writing. If those of us in the jury box could spot in 30 seconds that this lady was retarded, quite possibly an adult with Down syndrome, how could the police be so fucking stupid as to question her without insisting on having someone there (e.g., a social worker) to make sure she truly understood what they were asking her and why? And how could they believe that anything she said was credible? Not to mention how could the prosecution be so stupid as to place her on the stand and then speak to her in polysyllables? It was bizarre. Not that it actually mattered much in the end -- but it could have.

And that's what really pisses me off. The police being lazy and sloppy meant that there were a lot of instances where something that could have helped the case if the investigation had been thorough resulted instead in making things murkier and more confusing -- and the DeKalb PD came really close to causing jury nullification because so many of us were so disgusted with their incompetence. If they had done their job right to begin with, the case might have been a slam dunk with a quick plea bargain. As it was, only the phone records saved them, and that was sheer luck. I think half the jury took the time to go up to the prosecutors after the trial (the judge encouraged us to do so if we had any suggestions to offer to the attorneys, both prosecution and defense) to complain about the DeKalb PD.

Bottom line: the defendant was found guilty of 2 counts of malice murder, 2 counts of felony murder, 2 counts of aggravated assault, and 1 count of child cruelty. (In Georgia commiting a felony in the presence of children is legally a form of child abuse.) This being Georgia, I'm going to assume he'll be a guest of the state for the rest of his life. Now I think I'm going to do some self-medication and try to unwind.

I do have some real strong philosophical problems with that bullshit of doing multiple charges all for the same crime -- it's a tool prosecutors came up with to help them plea bargain (i.e., we'll drop two if you plead to one) -- but that's a subject for another time.


  1. I guess that it's to do with the old saying about people who enjoy sausage and good gov't. Witnessing the manufacture of either can be unsrttling, and I suppose it's so with "justice".

    One of the trials my wife actually got seated for had to do with electricity, and the defense had an 'expert' witness, a Penn State professor, do a bunch of double talk regarding current flow and stuff about amperage and its dangers.

    This prof's testimony (in essence) was that you could stick your foot in a toilet, touch a hot wire with a copper fork and feel no ill effects.

    My wife is highly intelligent and educated, plus is a licensed Ham operator, so she knew the man was just spouting jargon, and a lie at that. It took a while to convince her colleagues of this because this man "has a doctorate" which means if he said the sky was made of deviled eggs they'd probably believe him. But, she managed.

  2. The GBI scientists (one was a GSR expert, the other a firearms/ballistics person) both managed to talk for a really long time without really saying anything. The firearms guy took over an hour to get around to telling us the murder weapon was a .45 high point automatic pistol. We knew that before he opened his mouth based on the projectiles and shell casings recovered. He was another "what was the point?" witness because in the absence of an actual murder weapon (gun was not found and probably never will be) his testimony didn't add anything other than confirming DeKalb PD actually did send evidence to the GBI labs.

  3. I would be extremely upset having to observe shoddy police work. Locally, that is the kind of small town force we have. there are two murderers walking the streets because of their inactions. Scary huh? So glad your trial went quick and you can relax now.

  4. If Decatur was a small town, I'd halfway expect incompetence, too, but the police are a county-wide force, and this is part of the Atlanta metro area.

    The thing that bothered me the most was them not looking for the prime suspect immediately. Everyone knows that the spouse is always the prime suspect, especially when a couple is estranged, but instead they gave the guy five hours to hole up somewhere with (theoretically) a weapons cache and hostages. And it's not like the DeKalb PD is a 2-man force -- there are literally hundreds of cops on the payroll.

  5. Also, looking at from another perspective, the man's wife had just been shot. He was her legal next of kin -- so they should have been looking for him ASAP out of compassion.


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