The stage was set for the trial. We were left with the prospect of trying to tear apart the State’s case rather than presenting our own version of the facts. It was deemed impossible to put Bob on the stand because he was such a loose cannon that his testimony would have far more negatives than any positive result.
The case was assigned to a judge who was very pro prosecution and who ruled his courtroom with an iron fist. The trial was upon us and we had worked very hard. We had even contemplated trying to get and expert on the teeth impressions. The leading world authority on the matter was in Sweden. The cost of using him was prohibitive. It would have come out of our own pocket. We did investigate the reliability of this type of evidence and visited the local dental school. The doctor even showed us how the teeth marks are made on one of the cadavers they had there. Not the most fun twenty minutes of my life. We had to settle for a recent graduate with limited experience but that was the best we could do. The State’s man had been studying this area for some years. Although as we checked into the reliability of teeth marks compared to fingerprints for example, we found that a lot of it was in the eye of the beholder.
Likewise when trying to prove up the coercion of the confession we had to make do with a personal friend of mine who had just graduated from medical school and was doing his residency at the local public hospital. Again he was all we could afford since he was free and doing it as an accommodation. He was to testify regarding the stress of the hours of interrogation, the trip to Austin, his proclivity to admire law enforcement officers and especially the Texas Rangers and the deprivation of sleep and inadequate food. The State had available one of the leading experts who had testified in hundreds of cases. He was a psychiatrist and was known locally as “Dr. Death” because he had testified in some many death penalty cases. As a side note, he was publicly vilified about 15 years later for shoddy work and unprofessional conduct in his work. He would usually spend no more than and hour or so with the defendant before he reached his conclusion. Interestingly he had never testified that any defendant was impaired mentally of all those he had examined. But all that was not known then.
The night before the trial the lead prosecutor on the case called me at home and told me they had decided to drop the death penalty and would seek life without parole. So we had already made a major step. The DA knew we had worked the case hard; we had worked it a lot harder than they expected. They knew the jury would as a practical matter require a higher degree of proof for a death penalty case even though the law of beyond a reasonable doubt was the same in either event.
The judge during the jury selection the next day told the jury that the case would only take a few days. We protested that it would take two weeks. The judge chewed us out in front of the panel and said we didn’t understand how efficiently he would run the trial. It did in fact take two weeks. Before the trial began in front of the jury we had a three day hearing on the admissibility of the confession. Our efforts to prove it was coerced was denied by the judge. All the officers denied every allegation of abuse by Bob. They laughed at his allegation of being hit over the head with the night stick and the phone book as a pad to prevent obvious bruising. When we attempted to ask question about the interrogation process we used a recent Supreme Court case on this issue of coerced confessions and the questions came directly from the footnotes of the Supreme Court justices in their opinion but the judge wouldn’t even allow the questions when objected to by the prosecutor.
The prosecution was methodical and of course all the gory details were presented in full color, not black and white. We attacked each expert as best we could. We couldn’t dispute the basic facts of the death or that our guy was in the area and was a true law enforcement “groupie” who loved hanging around with cops. We did establish that he was an informer and did work on drug deal informing for both local law enforcement and the FBI. We naturally hammered constantly on the fact that there was no physical evidence ever found on our guy, the motel room, or the rent car. Here we emphasized the goriness of the crime and how was it possible that no blood or hair or skin was found anywhere. And exactly how did our guy get that body back to the field across the street two days later? We argued that our guy was admittedly a kook by any standard but that did not make him a murderer. We stressed the fact that at least some portions of the confession were clearly ridiculous when he confessed to another murder when he was in prison. The State couldn’t deny he was in prison at that time. We had no alibi to present because he was there. We pointedly talked about his prior criminal record which normally you would not do. We did it because it was for petty non violent crimes and the wearing of those uniforms re-enforced that he was weird. He might write hot checks or fraudulently sell cars but he had no history of violence.
The jury was out for only a few hours. They convicted him and gave him 99 years. You ask did I think he was guilty. To this day I don’t really know. He never varied in his denial. The confession I always thought was coerced but only in the psychological sense. He wanted to please his law enforcement buddies. I always found it incredulous that no physical evidence was found except for those teeth marks. Believe me if you looked at those marks on the original breasts or the photos of them and then his teeth mark impressions it would have looked like chicken scratchings with vague similarities but certainly not an exact match. A different set of attorneys handled the appeal but the conviction was confirmed which I expected. We were worn out. Sometimes you don’t get the clean answer you want. Even the DA told me that had no other evidence that would link him to the crime that wasn’t admissible but in their file. They had no better explanation about the lack of physical evidence than we did. Last I heard he was still in prison and no parole was likely. He was in his late 60’s at that time.
Eddie Rickenbacker the noted WWI ace was also credited with inventing the rear view mirror for automobiles while he was a race car driver before the War. Later he became the President of Eastern Airlines. www.olcranky.wordpress.com