Hidden in Plain Sight: The Darker Side of Aaron Hernandez

by John W. Taylor

Aaron Hernandez excelled in high school athletics. He has been portrayed as the best athlete to ever come out of Bristol, Connecticut. Off the field, he appeared physically older than other high schoolers, but socially far younger. In 2006, at the age of 16, his father died, and this may have exacerbated an already angry disposition lingering below the surface.

Hernandez attended the University of Florida where he played football. According to various accounts, Hernandez got into considerable trouble while in college, including allegedly failing multiple drug tests. In 2007, Hernandez was involved in an incident outside a bar where someone fired a gun into a car after an altercation. One of the victims described the shooter as “Hispanic or Hawaiian, with lot of tattoos on his arms,” which matched Hernandez. He refused to cooperate and requested an attorney. Hernandez never gave a statement. No charges were filed and his name failed to show up in any police report. Regardless, the shooting was well-known in Florida. During the same year, Hernandez also supposedly ruptured a man’s eardrum during a fight, but he managed to avoid any direct consequences associated with this incident as well. His tumultuous behavior was an open secret.

aa14On the field, Hernandez continued to outperform those around him. He was the starting tight end on Florida’s 2008 National Championship football team. In 2009, he was named first-team All-American and also received the John Mackey Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top collegiate tight end. Hernandez demonstrated the acumen necessary to warrant a first-round draft in the NFL. Unfortunately, NFL scouts knew about his off-the-field incidents and behaviors. On his pre-draft psychological report, Hernandez received the lowest possible score, one out of 10, in the category of “social maturity.” The report also noted that he enjoyed “living on the edge of acceptable behavior.” As a result, he was not selected until the fourth round of the NFL’s 2010 draft.

The Patriots selected Hernandez as the 113th pick in the draft. Hernandez was still available because the other NFL teams avoided him. They chose not to take him. The Patriots landed first-round talent in the fourth-round. Hernandez played in the NFL from 2010 through 2012. He compiled 910 yards in 2011 and 18 touchdowns over his three-year career. He was a pro bowl alternate in 2011, and helped the New England Patriots reach the Super Bowl. During Super Bowl XLVI, Hernandez scored a touchdown and led the team in receiving yardage.

Prior to the Patriot’s drafting Hernandez, he wrote them a letter offering to put his rookie salary at risk if he failed any drug tests for marijuana. When the Patriots drafted him, they tied a huge portion of his contract to him being on time, attending meetings, and generally not causing problems. Surprisingly, he avoided trouble. Then he signed a $40 million contract with a $12.5 million signing bonus, and problems ensued. Within months of signing the deal, police arrested him for murder. In response, the Patriot’s owner, Robert Kraft, was quoted as saying the organization was “duped” by Hernandez.

aa3The Patriot’s organization had a reputation for rehabbing athletes with troubled pasts. They believed they could do the same with Aaron Hernandez. Prior to his arrest for murder, Hernandez allegedly used PCP and carried a gun everywhere he went. He missed workouts and was close to getting cut from the team. The Patriots were not fooled; they believed they could manage the risk, but their calculations were wrong. They pled ignorance rather than acknowledge their significant error in judgment.

aa1On July 16, 2012, Aaron Hernandez and friends partied inside Boston’s Cure Lounge. Reportedly, an individual unknown to Hernandez bumped into him causing him to spill his drink. Hernandez felt disrespected. Hours later, multiple shots were fired from a sports utility vehicle into the vehicle where the individual who bumped into Hernandez was riding. Two of the individuals in the car, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, were killed.

aa15Hernandez’s friend, Alexander Bradley, was allegedly in the car with Hernandez when he killed de Abreu and Furtado. Whether it was to eliminate him as a witness or due to a different dispute, Hernandez supposedly shot Bradley seven months later. According to Bradley, Hernandez shot him in the face and then dumped him in an alley for dead. Bradley lived, but refused to tell police who shot him. Though he refused to cooperate with law enforcement, he filed a civil suit against Hernandez for shooting him. He wanted to be paid.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 2013, Hernandez and two of his friends, Carlos Ortiz, and Ernest Wallace Jr., rented a silver Nissan Altima. They picked up Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Aaron Hernandez’s fiancée. The group drove to a secluded field in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Lloyd seemed to know he was in trouble, as he texted his sister several times alerting her to his concern. A short time later, Odin Lloyd was dead from multiple gun shots.

A mountain of evidence led the police directly from Odin Lloyd’s murder to Aaron Hernandez. DNA, blood evidence, surveillance tapes, text messages, and eye-witness testimony provided a comprehensive timeline and sequence of events that pointed to Hernandez’s killing of Lloyd. Prosecutors postulated that Lloyd’s murder resulted from his knowledge of previous murders committed by Hernandez. Hernandez had reason to believe that Lloyd had told people about his role in the de Abreu and Furtado murders. Hernandez needed to neutralize this potential threat.

Though Hernandez and his accomplices made dozens of mistakes before, during, and after Lloyd’s murder, Hernandez also overtly attempted to destroy evidence. Before the aa6police could get a warrant to view his home security surveillance tapes, Hernandez destroyed six hours of recordings around the time of Lloyd’s murder. He also handed his cell phone to the police smashed into little pieces. In spite of his attempts, the police collected loads of additional incriminating evidence against Hernandez. On April 15, 2015, the jury found Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder and five weapon’s charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After convicting Hernandez of Lloyd’s murder, prosecutors re-visited the Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado murders. Witnesses saw Hernandez and his friend, Alexander Bradley, leave the club in a silver Toyota 4Runner with Rhode Island license plates, following the vehicle containing de Abreu and Furtado. After multiple shots were fired, witnesses saw the same SUV speeding away. The Toyota 4Runner turned up later in a garage of Hernandez’s uncle.

aa16According to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office, police found the murder weapon in the trunk of a car belonging to a woman with ties to Hernandez. After prosecutors granted him immunity, Alexander Bradley testified that Aaron Hernandez fired five shots into the vehicle containing de Abreu and Furtado. According to Bradley, after Hernandez fired the shots, he uttered, “I think I got one in the head and one in the chest.” Though the evidence appeared to paint a clear and logical explanation of what happened to de Abreu and Furtado, the jury did not buy it. They found Hernandez not guilty on April 14, 2017. Though no one from the jury commented on the decision, most likely, they failed to believe the prosecution’s star witness, Alexander Bradley. The defense appeared to have successfully weakened Bradley’s credibility by presenting text messages where he mentioned concerns regarding perjuring himself.

aa8Since 2007, Aaron Hernandez has been charged with, or linked to, the shootings of six people in four incidents. Three of the victims were gruesomely murdered. After entering the NFL, Hernandez posted pictures of himself online with a gun and donning gang colors. He threatened to kill a teammate. Hernandez’s girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, called the police after he put his fist through a window, but he was not charged with anything. When police finally arrested Hernandez for murder, the people around him and in the Patriot’s organization could only feign shock. His behavior had been building for years. Miraculously, Hernandez’s countless indiscretions and crimes had been mostly shielded from the public, but not from those close to him.

aa4Aaron Hernandez was not someone with simply an anger issue. He did not erupt immediately and impulsively in violence. He was a calculating killer who schemed and trapped his victims before brutally killing them in cold blood. Those around Hernandez claimed he suffered from paranoia, but it is not clear how that affected his violent tendencies. Drugs taken by Hernandez may have contributed to his behavior, and there has been speculation he may have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”), due to repeated football-related head trauma. However, neither possible drug use nor unsubstantiated brain injuries fully explain the barbaric and systematic aa5approach Hernandez took when disposing of his adversaries. Hernandez’s football skills, fame, and money likely delayed him from suffering the consequences of his violent crimes, but the lack of accountability only seemed to exacerbate his violent tendencies. He was a ticking time tomb. And he finally turned his rage inward.

On April 19, 2017, Aaron Hernandez killed himself, just five days after a jury acquitted him of double murder. He allegedly wrote “John 3:16” in red marker on his head and opened his Bible to the same verse. Hernandez gave no indication to those close to him that he was contemplating suicide or even depressed. Only conjecture is left to understand his final act, but it appears his conscience may have gotten the best of him.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Kevin, “The chilling story of convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez, and the trial that put him away for the rest of his life,” New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/cold-blood-aaron-hernandez-murder-trial-article-1.2189918, April 18, 2015.

Bishop, Greg, “Hernandez Among Many Who Found Trouble at Florida in the Meyer Years,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/sports/ncaafootball/hernandez-among-many-arrested-at-florida-in-the-meyer-years.html, July 6, 2013.

Fantz, Ashley, “Aaron Hernandez charged in 2012 double homicide,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/15/justice/aaron-hernandez-indictment/, May 15, 2014.

Germano, Beth, “Testimony in Hernandez Murder Trial Centers on Street Sweeper,” CBS Boston, http://boston.cbslocal.com/2017/03/06/aaron-hernandez-double-murder-trial-testimony-continues/, March 6, 2017.

Solotaroff, Paul, “The Gangster in the Huddle,” Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/the-gangster-in-the-huddle, August 28, 2013.

Wilson, Ryan, “Aaron Hernandez wrote Patriots pre-draft letter about drug allegations,” CBS Sports, http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/aaron-hernandez-wrote-patriots-pre-draft-letter-about-drug-allegations/, July 8, 2013.

Wilson, Ryan, “Former Patriots adviser admits team knew Aaron Hernandez had issues,” CBS Sports, http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/former-patriots-adviser-admits-team-knew-aaron-hernandez-had-issues/, April 17, 2015.

“Aaron Hernandez Criminal Cases Timeline,” Fox Sports, http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/aaron-hernandez-murder-case-timeline-051414, May 14, 2014.

“Aaron Hernandez found with Bible verse written on forehead, reports say,” FoxNews.com, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/04/20/hernandezs-lawyer-says-family-looking-for-answers-after-death.html, April 20, 2017.

ESPN, NFL statistics, http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/13230/aaron-hernandez, accessed March 2017.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

How Jeffrey MacDonald’s Words Betrayed Him

Do Helena Stoeckley’s Ramblings Convey Reasonable Doubt for Jeffrey MacDonald?

Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

The Many Trials of Tim Hennis

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John is the host of the true crime podcast “Twisted,” which can be found at www.twistedpodcast.com. It is available through iTunes, Stitcher, and Libysn. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Instafreebie Crime Fiction Group Giveaway

posted by Patrick H. Moore

Crime Fiction Giveaway Alert

Suzanne Jenkins is a dear friend of mine and an accomplished romance and crime writer. I have read several of her books and strongly recommend The Greeks of Beaubien Street, a fast-paced crime novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. Suzanne has 49 books and/or short stories on Amazon, a remarkable total. In addition to staying up all night writing, Suzanne — out of the kindness of her heart — helps indie writers of all stripes find ways to publicize their books and stories.

Suzanne is currently running an Instafreebie Crime Fiction Group Giveaway.If you click on the link, you will be transported to to the Giveaway where you’ll be able to browse through 42 different crime novels and/or stories. All you need to do is click on any of the book covers and you’ll once again be transported — this time to the Giveaway itself where you can download free samples from the books and stories.

In addition to a section of  The Greeks of Beaubien Street, Suzanne is contributing a short story called The Donut Shop Murder. Patrick H. is contributing a sample chapter of his Nick Crane crime novel, Cicero’s Dead.

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Embracing the Other: You Can Make It If You Really Try

Excellent post, Mr. Moore. As someone who has a mixed family, dated women of “otherness”, has close friends of “otherness”, unfortunately in modern America, racism is not color bound. There has been an explosion of racial hatred on all sides. Or maybe it was always there and the scab has finally been picked off and we’re now beginning to see how truly vile humanity really is. Would that it were not so, but alas…

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How Jeffrey MacDonald’s Words Betrayed Him

by John W. Taylor

On February 17, 1970, the military police at Fort Bragg, North Carolina found Colette MacDonald and her two young daughters, Kimberly (age 5) and Kristen (age 2), viciously murdered. The sole survivor of an apparent home invasion was their father and husband, Jeffrey MacDonald. He was a captain and doctor in the army, assigned to the prestigious Green Berets. He told an elaborate tale of a near-death fight with multiple assailants, while he listened to his wife and children being killed.

One of the intruders allegedly wrote the word “pig” in blood on the headboard in the master bedroom. MacDonald claimed he heard one of the attackers say “acid is groovy” and “acid and rain.” With the writing in blood, bizarre statements, and complete over-kill of the victims, the crime scene was reminiscent of the murders in Los Angeles, orchestrated by Charles Manson, only months prior. It was hard to imagine the same perpetrators traveled thousands of miles to Fayetteville, North Carolina, but they could have been copycats. Because of the brutality of the crimes coupled with the similarities to the Manson murders, the case garnered significant media attention.

helen8The military formerly charged Jeffrey MacDonald with murder on May 1, 1970; however, the charges were dismissed the following October due to insufficient evidence. With the charges dropped, MacDonald became somewhat of a celebrity. He was an intelligent and handsome doctor, and the murdering of his family failed to dampen his charisma.

There is no acceptable or “normal” manner for one to grieve a tragedy. However, when someone is suspected of murder, their reactions, statements, and demeanor are scrutinized. When their emotions do not conform to what is expected of a grieving person, many believe it is suspicious and possibly even evidence of guilt. MacDonald did not act in a manner most would consider consistent with a grieving husband and father.

A couple of months after the murder charges were dropped, MacDonald appeared on the late-night program The Dick Cavett Show. Though his celebrity came from his family’s brutal murders, he appeared unaffected. He laughed and told jokes. He criticized the army investigators. His jovial affect may not have conveyed sympathy, but it also did not mean he killed his family. Some people respond to horrific events with comedy and light-heartedness, even if they are destroyed within. However, the national television appearance gave MacDonald an opportunity to help catch his family’s killers, but he instead chose to fixate on the disrespect the homicide investigators demonstrated toward him. To most people, he came across as an unemotional narcissist. His statements and actions fit all too well into the mold of how many people think a psychopathic killer would present himself.

During various interviews and proceedings, MacDonald told investigators and prosecutors what transpired on the night of his family’s murders. His story stayed materially the same. However, when closely evaluating MacDonald’s statements, many issues can be detected. Unlike emotions, which tell us little about guilt or innocence, words almost always give a person away. People choose words for a reason, which will often leak the truth. MacDonald began his story of the night his family’s murder:

And I started to sit up, and there was some people–there was some people at the end of the couch the CID [Army Criminal Investigation Division] said was never in my house. I saw people at the end of the couch. I saw three men.

The use of the term started can often indicate deception. When something starts, it should finish unless something stopped the action. Nothing stopped MacDonald from sitting up at this point, since the alleged intruders were at the end of the couch away from him.

jeff2MacDonald referred to the assailants who murdered his family and tried to kill him as people. It was a rather non-descript and gentle way to describe them. Was this an appropriate description? How about vicious murders or psychopathic killers? No, he saw three men. This contrasted sharply with his later description of the phone operator who took his emergency call. He referred to her as a “dumb-ass operator” and a “dumb idiot.” Apparently, in MacDonald’s mind, a dispatcher not treating him with respect warranted anger, but not killing his family.

MacDonald continued by stating:

I don’t know if I ever said it–like it was–you know–in remembering it, I–like it was almost like I was thinking–you know—what the hell is going on? Why is my wife screaming? And why is Kimberley screaming? And I don’t know if I said–you know–what the hell are you doing here. But I remember thinking it–thinking–you know–saying to myself, what is going on?

He tried to explain what he heard and thought during the first few seconds after he awoke to find intruders in his house. He conveyed his thoughts and incorporated sound into his memory. This provided additional believability.

helen20Another element of MacDonald’s statement was his pervasive use of you know. It is usually utilized as filler. People say you know in order to give themselves time to think. It can be a verbal habit. The use tends to increase when a person is nervous or talking about something stressful. You know also has a literal use. You are saying to the person, “you know what I mean,” I do not need to actually say it. MacDonald consistently utilized you know throughout his testimony when describing his fight with the intruders and actions after finding his family dead. This would seem to imply a pattern in his speech or indicative of his overall stress and nervousness. However, when MacDonald described finding his murdered wife and young girls, he completely eliminated the use of you know. It should have been the most stressful and emotional part of the night; yet, he demonstrated no hesitation or stress, via filler words, in his retelling of those events.

MacDonald went on:

And this guy started walking down between the coffee table and the couch, and he raised something over his head–I just got a glance of this girl with kind of a light on her face.

MacDonald again utilized the term started, though nothing stopped the individual from moving toward him. He described the intruder as a guy, which again was a rather polite term. Further, the individual walked toward him. Though much of MacDonald’s story seemed to play on the listeners’ ability to visualize the scene, it is hard to imagine someone casually walking toward him as the beginning of a potential murder.

While the man approached him with an object raised above his head, MacDonald looked away and noticed a girl standing further away. Why would he take his attention off an imminent threat to look at something innocuous? MacDonald continued:

And the black male was to my left, and he raised something up and I just had an impression that he had a baseball bat…this little struggle…ensued…

When describing the object the black male possessed, he did not show conviction. This could be attributed to the stress of the situation, lack of lighting, or speed at which the individual moved the object. Regardless, MacDonald referred to it as a baseball bat. He went on to describe what ensued as “this little struggle.” At this point, we do not know what the other two men and one woman were doing, but we know one man was in the process of striking MacDonald with a baseball bat-like object. Who would describe waking up in the middle of night to this scene as a “little struggle”? His description did not fit the scenario. When there is incongruity between words and actions, deception is always a possible reason.

jeff6As the intruders attacked MacDonald, he claimed he heard his wife, Colette, and his daughter, Kimberley screaming for help. He painted a complex scenario. With some simple math, we now had a minimum of six intruders because there were four in front of MacDonald and his daughter Kimberly and his wife Colette were being simultaneously attacked in separate rooms. Why would they begin savagely killing a pregnant woman and little girls, but allow a twenty-six-year-old Green Beret to wake up prior to attacking him? He was the only person in the house who could have put up a legitimate fight.

MacDonald continued discussing the fight:

And the guy on my left…he hit me again; but at the same time, you know, I was kind of struggling. And these two men, I thought, were punching me at the same time. And so, I was struggling, and I got hit on the shoulder or the side of the head again.

According to MacDonald, the other two men entered the fight. He was lying on the couch, half sitting up at this point. To his left was a man striking him with a baseball bat or club. The other two men were somehow battling him as well. Were they standing on the couch or leaning over it? Their off-balanced positioning provided minimal leverage to throw powerful punches, and they risked being hit by the man swinging a baseball bat. Regardless, they were allegedly raining strikes upon MacDonald, yet he referred to the scenario as “kind of struggling.” Once again, his words did not match the actions taking place. MacDonald went on to say:

…I felt this pain in my right side, and I thought to myself that–you know–I have a recollection of saying to myself, ‘Jesus, this guy really–really threw a hell of a punch.’

MacDonald provided us with insight into his thinking at this stressful juncture. After utilizing you know again, he used the word really twice to describe the punch. He placed a lot of emphasis on the power of this punch. As stated above, it seemed highly unlikely the other two individuals were in any position to throw an effective punch. According to MacDonald, an intruder struck him on the head with a baseball bat multiple times, but an off-balanced punch to his side was more note-worthy. MacDonald continued:

And I didn’t really notice too much about them. And so I kind of struggled, and I was kind of off balance…

He remembered that he did not remember. MacDonald felt it was note-worthy that he did not remember specific traits about the intruders. In describing what should have been a life and death fight, he twice used the words “kind of” to describe it, which lacked conviction. He appeared to not believe what he was saying. If he did not believe it, why should we? In describing the altercation, MacDonald stated:

So, I was holding onto first what I thought was this guy’s arm, and it was a fatigue jacket with E6 stripes. They were right in front of my eyes.

jeff13Later, MacDonald made the following statement, “And it seemed to me that it was E6–you know.” He earlier stated that the E6 stripes were right in front of his face. MacDonald conveyed no ambiguity or confusion. Now, he lacked confidence in his statement. When someone is being deceptive, they often cannot fully commit to a statement. Their conscious mind knows the truth. He ended his statement with you know, which is consistent with the literal usage, “You know this, I already told you this,” but we do not know, unless he tells us. We have to question whether MacDonald actually saw the E6 stripes because his delivery lacked confidence.

During his various statements, MacDonald regularly used transition words and phrases, such as “…the next thing I remember…” Transition words indicate that time has passed without explanation. Though heavy on details at times, his transitions implied that he skipped over things. We do not know what he chose not to tell us, but we know he left things out.

Later, MacDonald woke up on the floor after the assailants knocked him out. He proceeded to check on his family.

So, I walked in the bedroom, and I–I don’t know if I turned the light on or not, but my wife was visible. I could see her–clear as day…She was–she was–she was all covered with blood. There was–there was–a knife in her chest–which I took out and threw away.

Finding his wife murdered should have been one of the most stressful parts of his story, yet MacDonald’s delivery was surprisingly absent of filler words. You know and really no longer showed up in his statements. Finding his wife brutally murdered did not stress him as much as the struggle he allegedly endured. He also developed a new speech habit of repeating the beginning of each statement. Since he failed to do this elsewhere, it may have been an intentional effort to appear stressed.

jeff16According to MacDonald’s various statements, after he awoke, he engaged in numerous activities throughout the house. He first entered the master bedroom to check on his wife. He pulled a knife out of her chest, covered her chest with his pajama top, and then proceeded to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He then checked on his two daughters, before returning to the master bedroom to call for help. MacDonald checked on his wife and daughters again. He then entered the bathroom to assess his injuries before calling for help a second time from the kitchen.

When describing checking on his family, MacDonald stated, “seemed to me the back door [in utility room connected to the master bedroom] was open.” Later he confidently asserted that the back door was open. This was allegedly how the intruders entered the house. It was a critical detail, but he slipped it into his story as almost an after-thought. In initially describing it, MacDonald stated, “seemed to me,” which was a passive way of describing what he saw. It lacked conviction and could indicate deception. Interestingly, he never mentioned shutting and locking the door, which would have been obvious actions, if he were concerned about murderers re-entering his house.

In describing his actions after finding his wife and daughters dead, MacDonald stated:

So I went back in the bedroom and I called the police–or I dialed the operator. And I told her something like, ‘This is Dr. MacDonald or Captain MacDonald, and help. And there are people dying. We’ve been stabbed. We need the police.’

jeff15Though MacDonald should have been panicked during this call and not thinking clearly, his mind subconsciously organized priorities. First, he identified himself with title. Second, he stated “people are dying,” which was in the present tense. He was the only one still alive; therefore, he referred to himself. Third, “We’ve been stabbed.” Though his family incurred dozens of fatal stab wounds and his “stab wound” did not even require stitches, he lumped his injury in his family’s massacre. Finally, MacDonald asked for the police.

There were significant issues with MacDonald’s call for help. MacDonald should not have known the intruders were gone or not coming back. The police were absolutely needed and they should not have been an afterthought, had he feared for his life. He was a doctor and he knew his family was dead. However, it is possible he experienced some stage of denial (under an innocent scenario). If so, he should have immediately asked for an ambulance along with police, but he failed to do so. MacDonald prioritized himself first, his family second, and the police last.

MacDonald stated that he checked for his wife’s pulse through of her femoral artery. The investigator then asked a follow-up question:

Investigator: When you took this femoral pulse on your wife, did you remove her clothing at all or was it through her pajamas?

MacDonald: I didn’t remove any clothing. It was either through the pajamas or–or, you know, I just pulled them apart–pulled them aside and felt for it. I don’t think it was–I didn’t remove any clothing. I might have just felt through. You can feel it right through. I can feel my own.

MacDonald was unable to answer this simple question. Other than specifically stating that he did not remove her clothes, his answer demonstrated an explanation of what could have happened rather than what actually occurred. Though MacDonald’s recollections contained precise details, he was completely unable to provide any collaborating details other than what he originally conveyed. It’s as if he described visiting the Empire State Building and gave extreme detail on the windows and architecture, but did not know it was in Mid-town, if asked. His inability to answer any follow-up questions casts significant doubt on his believability.

During one of his interviews, the following exchange took place:

Investigator: At any point during the night, during this checking [trying to help his murdered family] before the military police arrived and the medics got there, did you wear a pair of gloves?

MacDonald: Did I wear a pair of gloves?

There was no indication MacDonald had trouble hearing the question, but he answered the question with a question. This is usually either a stall tactic, or it is an unexpected question in a sensitive area. MacDonald eventually responded “no.” However, there was no blood on one phone and only minimal on the other phone that he used to call for help. He never mentioned washing his hands and based on the condition of the victims, if he rendered first aid, his hands would have been covered in blood.

According to various medical reports, MacDonald had bruises on the left side of his head, his left shoulder, and his upper left arm. He had small cuts on his left hand and fingers. MacDonald received a superficial puncture of his left arm, though some sources referred to the injury as having pierced his entire bicep. He also had superficial lacerations of his upper abdominal wall, and a stab wound to the chest, which caused a partial collapse of his lung. The number, location, and severity of MacDonald’s wounds have been highly debated, ranging from superficial to life-threatening.

jeff5Part of MacDonald’s version of events involved him visiting the bathroom to check on his injuries. According to one of his statements, when he initially looked in the mirror, he said, “there wasn’t really even a cut or anything.” During questioning, MacDonald said the following regarding his injuries:

And I stepped in the bathroom, and I remember thinking to myself–you know–that I didn’t see much. There was–like a lump on my head, and there was some blood and there was blood all around my mouth. And I don’t–really don’t remember anything else.

When asked how many times intruders punched him, MacDonald stated:

I have no idea. It seemed like a lot. My later wounds didn’t–you know–didn’t really look like I had just a rain of blows on my head.

MacDonald clearly acknowledged his injuries were not consistent with his story. His nicks and bruises contrasted sharply with what his family endured. The attacker(s) brutalized his wife, Colette. She suffered multiple stab wounds to the face, neck, chest, and head. Her skull was fractured and there was evulsion of the skin on her forehead. She had nine incision wounds in her neck and seven in her chest. Colette also had twenty-one puncture wounds in her chest and three puncture wounds in her left arm. Her body was covered with numerous bruises, scraps, and cuts. Her left arm had multiple simple and compound fractures and her right wrist was also fractured. Both of their daughters incurred similar beatings and stabbings, which resulted in their deaths.

How did Jeffrey MacDonald survive almost unscathed when the rest of his family was killed several times over? Further, the young girls would have put up no fight and Colette was pregnant and supposedly asleep when her attack began. The intruders inflicted unfathomable violence against helpless, innocent children, but MacDonald failed to even receive a fractured arm defending himself.

During questioning, lawyers asked about statements MacDonald made to reporters and on various television shows. In reference to a specific response, he said:

This is not a statement under oath; it’s a statement to a reporter for a news story. And I think it should be viewed as such. There are a lot of things in here that now, if I looked critically at it, aren’t exactly correct. But I don’t see what relevancy that has.

jeff11MacDonald admitted that his answers to questions not under oath were not completely honest. He did not specifically indicate that his statements under oath would be honest, but he implied it. MacDonald also admitted to repeatedly lying to his father-in-law. After his family was murdered, MacDonald told his father-in-law that he made four trips to North Carolina and Florida seeking out their killers. MacDonald added colorful details to make his stories to sound more authentic. He told his father-in-law that during one altercation, he broke his hand punching one of the alleged murderers, which he completely fabricated. According to MacDonald, he did try to find the perpetrators, but in an “ineffectual” manner. However, there was no evidence he ever tried to find anyone associated with his family’s murders.

According to MacDonald, while intruders attacked him, he heard screams from his wife and daughter. Colette allegedly said, “Jeff, Jeff, why are they doing this to me?” If Colette awoke to a vicious attack by a stranger(s), why would her concern be toward motive? She would be screaming for help or for them to stop. Her asking why only made sense if Colette was familiar with her attacker. Interestingly, Colette’s words were close to “Jeff, Jeff, why are you doing this to me?”

MacDonald also said he may have heard his daughter Kimberley screaming for her life. How was this unclear to him? Either he heard his daughter pleading for help, or he did not. This would not have been a vague memory. MacDonald later claimed he heard his daughter Kimberley say, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, help.” The word help was an afterthought. Daddy was the focus of what Kimberley said. Was she screaming Daddy because he was in front of her?

jeff3During the 60 Minutes interview, MacDonald said:

When I first got to the bedrooms, everyone had been assaulted. I mean, the first time I saw Colette, Kimmie and Kristie, they had been murdered.

MacDonald mistakenly referred to his brutally murdered family as having been assaulted. Did he misspeak or were his wife and daughters only injured the first time he returned to the bedrooms?

According to MacDonald’s version of events, he engaged in a fight with three men in the living room while other intruders viciously killed his wife and two daughters in their bedrooms. Apart from his statements, there was little evidence to suggest a fight occurred. The grand jury indicted MacDonald on January 24, 1975. He was immediately arrested, but he was subsequently freed on bail. After several decisions from appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, MacDonald finally went to trial in 1979.

During the trial, the prosecution put on significant amounts of circumstantial evidence. Police found the coffee table adjacent to the couch lying on its side. However, during free motion tests, the table always landed on its top. Due to the table’s weight distribution, it would not stay on its side. It ended up on its top every time it was flipped. Unless it was stopped by other items in the room, the only way for it to remain on its side was if someone placed in that position. Further, in crime scene photos, the magazines and papers from the coffee table were leaning against the base of the table top, as if they merely slid down, rather than having been thrusted across the room when the intruders violently flipped the table

There was a small table adjacent to the couch. In crime scene photos, nothing on the table appeared to have been disrupted, with the lamp still perfectly positioned. The couch cushions remained in place, pictures remained on the walls and level, and plants atop the stereo speakers were unmoved. In the dining area, an unstable hutch contained undamaged dishes. Valentine cards located on a nearby table remained upright.

Investigators believed all of the murder weapons came from the MacDonald home. Police discovered an ice pick, knife, and wooden club under some bushes near the back door. The knife and ice pick were consistent with similar items found in inside the house, and the club was determined to have been part of the master bedroom bed. Crime technicians failed to find fingerprints on any of the weapons utilized.

The wood piece possessed both Colette’s and Kimberley’s blood. As a result, the same person likely killed both of them, and based on the blood found in the house, they were killed in separate rooms. Yet, according to MacDonald, they were both screaming simultaneously, which meant they were attacked at the same time. This implied at least two different killers, but the blood evidence refuted MacDonald’s assertion.

jeff4Many elements of the crime scene do not support MacDonald’s version of events. Crime scene technicians found a surgical glove in a puddle of Colette’s blood in the master bedroom. Later testing determined that the glove was consistent with gloves found in the kitchen. How did the intruders get a glove out of the kitchen without disturbing MacDonald and without leaving any fingerprints? How did they know the gloves were there? It was an implausible scenario.

There were three entrances into the MacDonald house. Two of them (kitchen and living room) would have resulted in the intruders passing by Jeffrey MacDonald in order to reach the bedrooms. The third entrance, through the utility room, led directly into the master bedroom. The intruders had to have come in through this entrance for MacDonald’s story to make any sense. If the assailants entered through the utility room, then they would have encountered Colette and their daughters prior to reaching MacDonald. This would explain MacDonald’s sequence of events, but it would preclude the intruders from having entered the kitchen to obtain the gloves prior to attacking Colette. If they entered through either of the two other entrances, the fight with MacDonald would have occurred prior to the attacks on the girls and Colette.

Investigators found MacDonald’s eye glasses with Kristen’s blood on them in the living room near a wall. This evidence conflicted with MacDonald’s version of events. Investigators also found Kimberley’s blood in the doorway of her room. As a result, they believed she was killed in this location. However, police found Kimberley in her bed. Someone had tucked her into bed and placed her favorite pink security blanket in her arms after she was murdered.

Police found Colette covered by MacDonald’s pajama top. This was consistent with MacDonald’s claims that he placed his pajama top over her after he pulled the knife out of her chest. However, MacDonald’s pajama top had 48 ice pick holes in it. When arranged, the holes matched the 21 puncture wounds in Colette’s chest. She was stabbed after MacDonald placed his pajama top on her.

jeff14Though MacDonald allegedly removed his pajama top immediately after reaching Colette and prior to checking on the girls, investigators found his pajama fibers throughout the house. They were under Colette and in the other bedrooms. Bloody fibers from MacDonald’s pajamas were also found under Kimberley’s fingernails. With the totality of evidence presented, on August 29, 1979, Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of first degree murder of Kristen, and two counts of second degree murder for Colette and Kimberly.

Though a significant amount of forensic evidence supported his conviction, he is still fighting for a new trial. His lawyers have placed tremendous confidence in the disjointed ramblings of a now deceased drug addict, Helena Stoeckley, who claimed to have been present during the murders. However, there is no corroborating evidence to support her assertions and many of her statements contradicted each other.

Lawyers for MacDonald also discovered a hair found under Colette, which does not match any known source. According to MacDonald’s defense team, the hair demonstrates that unknown intruders entered the home on the night of the murders. Yet, an unexplained hair proves little compared to all the forensic and other circumstantial evidence implicating MacDonald.

At no time during any of MacDonald’s numerous statements about the struggle between him and the alleged intruders did he ever mention the thought of saving his family. He provided many details on his thought-processes during these events, but he never once relayed that he was fighting to save his family. As Jeffrey MacDonald’s father-in-law put it, “It couldn’t have happened the way he said it did. Absolutely impossible.”

Works Cited

Masewicz, Christina, “The Jeffrey MacDonald Information Site,” http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/christinascorner.html.

Masewicz, Christina, “Jeffrey MacDonald His Injuries and Wounds,” True Crime & Justice, http://www.karisable.com/mac3.htm, 2002.

McClish, Mark, “Jeffrey MacDonald,” Statement Analysis, http://www.statementanalysis.com/macdonald/, September 19, 2014.

Interview of Jeffrey R. MacDonald, at CID Office, Fort Bragg, NC, http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/macdonald_1970apr6.html, April 6, 1970.

Interview of Jeffrey MacDonald, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWrLpng7xsM, The Dick Cavett Show, December 15, 1970.

Jeffrey MacDonald Grand Jury Testimony, http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/gj-1974-08-12-13-macdonald.html, 1974-1975 Jeffrey MacDonald Case Grand Jury Transcript, August 13, 1974,

“Jeffrey MacDonald: In his own words,” Larry King Live, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55pXxxRt70k, October 24, 2003.

60 Minutes, http://www.thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com/html/1-60_minutes.html, September 18, 1983.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

Do Helena Stoeckley’s Ramblings Convey Reasonable Doubt for Jeffrey MacDonald?

Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

The Many Trials of Tim Hennis

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John is the host of the true crime podcast “Twisted,” which can be found at www.twistedpodcast.com. It is available through iTunes, Stitcher, and Libysn. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Do Helena Stoeckley’s Ramblings Convey Reasonable Doubt for Jeffrey MacDonald?

by John W. Taylor

In the early morning hours of February 17, 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald made an emergency call reporting a stabbing at his home at 544 Castle Drive in Fayetteville, North Carolina. MacDonald was a captain and doctor in the army, and he lived with his family on Fort Bragg Army Base. The military police arrived at the home to find MacDonald’s wife, Colette, and their two daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, dead. They had been severely beaten and stabbed. Each victim was stabbed between 10 and 48 times and clubbed numerous times. The attacker(s) brutalized the victims, killing them several times over. However, Jeffrey MacDonald, the only man in the house, received relatively minor injuries and significantly fewer than the rest of his family. After the scene was secured, investigators found the word “pig” written in blood on the headboard in the master bedroom.

helen9According to MacDonald’s account, he had fallen asleep on the couch the previous evening because his daughter urinated on his side of the bed. In the middle of the night, MacDonald claimed that he was attacked by four “hippy-like” intruders, three men and one woman. During the struggle, he was knocked unconscious. He awoke to find his family dead.

helen2Though investigators believed Jeffrey MacDonald killed his family, they were unable to collect enough evidence to bring him to trial. A year after the MacDonald murders, Helena Stoeckley, a local drug addict and police informant, voluntarily interjected herself into the investigation. During a discussion with a Fayetteville detective, Helena indicated she may have witnessed something terrible, but she could not elaborate because of a mental block regarding the night of the murders.

As Helena’s recollection became clearer, she provided details about what she saw on that fateful night. According to Helena, she was present when Jeffrey MacDonald was attacked and his wife and two daughters were brutally killed. She did not hurt anyone, but she knew who had, and it was not Jeffrey MacDonald.

helen8Shortly after the MacDonald murders, Helena moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As she had while in Fayetteville, Helena worked as a police informant on drug-related activities. Helena confided in her police contact, James Gaddis, regarding the MacDonald murders. According to Officer Gaddis, Helena indicated that she knew who killed the MacDonald family. During another conversation, she only had suspicions as to the identities of the murderers. To further complicate her assertions, Helena stated during a different conversation that she believed Jeffrey MacDonald killed his family. The confusing, changing, and often contradictory stories Helena told to Officer Gaddis were similar to statements she made to others regarding her involvement in the MacDonald murders.

helen20Helena either overtly or indirectly identified close to a dozen people as having a role in the MacDonald murders, many were friends and acquaintances. However, no one corroborated her statements, and many of the accused individuals testified or gave statements contrary to Helena’s claims. Three passed polygraph examinations (“lie detector tests”) regarding the MacDonald murders, and several others had alibis. One individual was in jail at the time of the murders. No forensic evidence has been found to tie any of them to the crime scene. Though she casually identified friends as murderers, Helena remained clear and steadfast regarding her lack of an active role in the murders. It was rather convenient and perhaps implausible that she was the sole person in the group not to harm anyone.

helen14Years later and still part of the story, Helena furnished several signed statements to a private investigator pertaining to the MacDonald murders. When asked about those statements, Helena responded that they were “basically accurate,” and they represented what she thought happened or dreamed. She specifically stated they were, “…not a positive recollection of the events…” She went on to say, “I do not actually know where I was during the early morning hours of February 17, 1970, and I do not know if I was present or participated in the MacDonald murders.” When pressed, Helena’s believability crumbled. Her use of the word basically to describe key events underscored her inability to commit to her statements. Helena never confidently asserted anything about the MacDonald murders.

helen6Helena’s track record of providing accurate information as a police informant most likely gave her credibility with law enforcement, at least initially. Though this time, Helena delivered vague information. As a result, numerous attempts were made to get her to provide more detail. However, when she provided more confirmable data points, she was wrong every time. Helena envisioned the word “Pig” written in blood, saying it was written horizontally on the left-side of the MacDonald’s master bedroom headboard. This insight would have been quite remarkable if it had not already been reported through several news outlets. Helena’s vision accurately identified the word “Pig,” but the actual writing flowed vertically from top to bottom, not horizontally. It was logical to assume the word was written horizontally, but if Helena was present during the murders, she would have known how the word was written.

Helena also claimed she saw a rocking horse in one of the children’s rooms with one of the springs disconnected from the frame. However, an investigator refuted her claim, noting that all four springs were intact. She incorporated publicly-available information into her story, but missed key details.

helen1Shortly after the MacDonald murders, Helena had several dreams about the murders, which paralleled information provided in the media. The culmination of the dreams, lack of memory of the night’s events, and her weak mental condition likely resulted in her believing she had been present during the murders. Her foggy memory of the night’s events conveniently left her out as an active participant in the murders, which allowed her to view her involvement as innocent. Yet legally, she bore significant culpability. As Helena described it, she participated in the commission of a felony (home invasion) that resulted in three homicides.

Because of her claims, when prosecutors later charged MacDonald with murder, his defense team viewed Helena as a potential star witness. Helena’s statements reinforced his innocence. However, she was a drug addict, and she admitted to taking several hallucinogenic drugs on the night of the murders. Her memories of the night’s events stemmed not from wrought memory, but from vivid dreams.

helen4When Helena finally testified, she claimed no recollection of her activities on the night of the murders. She stated nothing to assist in MacDonald’s defense. With a mountain of forensic evidence tying MacDonald to the murders, he was convicted of one count of first-degree murder in the death of Kristen and two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Colette and Kimberly. He received a life sentence.

helen11Helena was more of a distraction than a credible witness, though Jeffrey MacDonald’s lawyers are still trying to utilize her testimony. MacDonald’s lawyers want to use Helena’s statements as evidence of his innocence or at least to grant him a new trial. In one of the latest accusations, a U.S. Marshal who claimed to be present, stated that James Blackburn, MacDonald’s prosecutor, threatened Helena prior to her testimony. According to the U.S. Marshal, Blackburn told Helena that he would charge her with murder if she testified to being present in the MacDonald house on the night of the murders. Blackburn denied the accusations. However, if the allegations are true, Helena chose to perjure herself rather than plead the fifth or tell the truth.

helen16Notwithstanding the detrimental impact her perjury would have on her potential testimony, Helena is not available to testify. In 1983, she died of pneumonia, brought on by cirrhosis of the liver. Helena provided numerous versions of what happened on the night in question, but there is nothing to corroborate her assertions.

If her previous statements were utilized, which parts of her story should one believe and which parts should be discarded? Under oath, Helena Stoeckley stated that she did not have a specific recollection of where she was on the night of the murders. Though the investigators did not process the crime scene in the most effective manner, they did not uncover any hair, DNA, or other physical evidence tying Helena to the crime scene. No one else placed her at the crime scene. Further, she provided no information that could not have been gathered from publicly-available sources. Helena’s statements are interesting and thought-provoking, but were never consistent. They appeared to be drug-induced ramblings rather than a recollection of actual events. Interestingly, MacDonald never publicly identified her as one of his attackers. Was that a calculated decision, or did he simply not see her that night? Jeffrey MacDonald remains in federal prison.

Works Cited

Masewicz, Christina, The Jeffrey MacDonald Case, http://www.thejeffreyMacDonaldcase.com/, website, 2004-2013.

Meroney, John, “The Devil’s in the Details: Errol Morris on the Jeffrey MacDonald Case,” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-devils-in-the-details-errol-morris-on-the-jeffrey-MacDonald-case/274615/, April 3, 2013.

Newcomb, Alyssa, & Christi Hartman, “Jeffrey MacDonald’s Wife Says He Is ‘At Peace’ As Judge Considers New Evidence,” www.abcnews.go/com, September 18, 2012.

Woolverton, Paul, “Lawyer says Helena Stoeckley said she was present at MacDonald family murders,” Fayetteville Observer, September 25, 2012.

Zucchino, David, “Jeffrey MacDonald case: Prosecutor denies threatening key witness,” LA Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/19/nation/la-na-nn-jeffrey-macdonald-testimony-20120919, September 19, 2012.

Affidavit of Helen Stoeckley, The MacDonald Case Website, http://theMacDonaldcase.org/Images/Helen_Stoeckley_Affidavit.pdf, date unknown.

Staff Writers, “Behind the Confession that ‘Haunted’ Jeffrey MacDonald’s Murder Trial – and Why the Jury Never Heard It,” People, http://people.com/crime/jeffrey-MacDonald-appeal-helena-stoeckley-confession/, January 10, 2017.

Unknown Author, “Just the Facts on the Jeffrey MacDonald Case,” http://www.MacDonaldcasefacts.com/html/suspects.html.

“Jeffrey MacDonald Case Trial Transcript,” Testimony of Helena Stoeckley, http://www.thejeffreyMacDonaldcase.com/html/tt_1979-08-17_stoeckley.html, August 17, 1979.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

The Many Trials of Tim Hennis

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes.  He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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The Many Trials of Tim Hennis

by John W. Taylor

In 1985, Gary and Kathryn Eastburn lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina with their three daughters, Cara, 5, Erin, 3, and Janna, 22-months. Gary was a captain in the Air Force. He had orders to relocate to out of the country. Because their family dog could not accompany them, they placed an advertisement in the newspaper to sell it. Tim Hennis, a G.I. based at nearby Fort Bragg, responded to the ad.

index 1Four days later, a neighbor contacted the police because he had not seen anyone enter or leave the Eastburn residence in days. When the police entered the home, they found Kathryn and her two oldest daughters stabbed to death. The 22-month-old baby was still alive. At the time of the murders, Gary Eastburn was on a training assignment in Alabama. The victims were found on May 12, 1985, but the authorities believed they were killed on the night of May 9 or in the early morning hours of May 10.

After seeing a television news story indicating that the police were looking for a man who responded to the Eastburn’s newspaper ad, Tim Hennis voluntarily drove to the police station with his wife Angela and their baby girl. He fully cooperated with law enforcement and answered all of their questions. According to Hennis, he never entered the Eastburn residence and only spoke to Kathryn from the porch.

index3Police discovered an eyewitness named Patrick Cone, who placed Hennis near the scene of the crime in the early morning hours of May 10. As a result, the police arrested Hennis. At trial, the prosecution laid out a strong case against Hennis. On the night of the murders, Cone claimed that he saw a tall white male wearing a Members Only jacket, a knit cap, and jeans near the Eastburn home. He described the individual as 6’4” with blonde hair, same as Hennis. Cone later picked Hennis out of a police line-up as the man he saw that evening.

Two neighbors, Chuck and Cheri Radtke, claimed they also saw a man matching the same description, walking down the Eastburn’s street around the time of the murders.

index10After the murders, Gary Eastburn identified several missing items from the family home, including an ATM card. The police discovered two $150 withdrawals tied to the missing ATM card. Witness Lucille Cook said she saw a man matching Hennis’s description use the same ATM around the time the Eastburn’s card was used. Cook also identified Hennis from a photo line-up.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors showed jurors numerous crime scene photos. The prosecutors utilized the horrific photos of the victims to convey the theme of someone must pay for this atrocity.

On the night of the murders, Hennis’s wife walked out on him after a fight. She called him a poor provider and told him she was bored. According to various accounts, Hennis then drove to his ex-girlfriend’s house, but she turned down his sexual advances. Hennis claimed he proceeded home, watched television, and fell asleep. However, the prosecution asserted that Hennis drove to the Eastburn house with the motive of sex. When he was rebuffed a second time, Hennis flew into a murderous rage. In July of 1986, the jury agreed with the prosecution’s version of events and found Hennis guilty of rape and three counts of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death.

index6Hennis appealed his conviction on the grounds that the prosecution’s repeated showing of graphic crime scene photos of the victims improperly prejudiced the jury. The North Carolina Supreme Court concurred and granted him a new trial, which began in 1989. The defense team was much more aggressive the second time around.

Lucille Cook, who placed Hennis at the ATM machine around the time the Eastburn’s ATM card was used, backed away from her claims. She thought her memory may have been influenced by the pictures of Hennis she saw in the newspaper. Further, it was learned that the first two times she spoke to police she claimed that she did not see anyone at the AMT, but during a third conversation, she identified Hennis. The defense also refuted her testimony with ATM time stamp records, which contradicted her version of events.

The defense team highlighted the fact that none of the fingerprints or hair fibers collected from the scene matched Hennis. Police captured a size nine shoe print, which was much smaller than Hennis’ size 13 feet. Where was the evidence placing him inside the Eastburn home?

index5Patrick Cone was the State’s star witness in the first trial; however, he was much less effective the second time around. The defense team pointed out minor discrepancies in Cone’s testimony. The defense also produced a new witness, John Raupaugh, who claimed he was out walking on the night of the murders in the same neighborhood. Raupaugh stated that he often wore a knit cap and had a black Members Only jacket. He was also 6’4” and bore a striking resemblance to Hennis. With the appearance of Raupaugh in the courtroom, the jurors had reasonable doubt. Tim Hennis was acquitted on all counts. After the trial, he re-enlisted in the Army and then retired in 2004.

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In 2006, advances in DNA testing allowed the authorities to analyze Kathryn Eastburn’s rape kit. Semen found during analysis conclusively matched Tim Hennis. Though many DNA statistics are grossly overstated because they do not account for human error, the match to Hennis was reported as 12 billion to one. Law enforcement believed that whoever raped Kathryn also killed her and her two children. Unfortunately, Tim Hennis had already been tried and acquitted for the murders; therefore, double jeopardy prevented prosecutors from trying him again.

index9The authorities devised a way around double jeopardy. The Army forced Hennis to reactivate and then charged him with the murders in military court. Double jeopardy prevents an accused person from being tried again for the same or similar charges, following an acquittal or conviction. However, the federal government (“Army”) is considered a sovereign and separate authority from the states.  If there are overlapping criminal laws, such was the case here, a person can be re-tried for the same crime. This loophole allowed the Eastburns to seek justice, but the maneuver sidestepped many questionable legal and ethical boundaries.

Though DNA found under Kathryn Eastburn’s fingernails was unidentified and a hair found in her bed did not match Hennis or any other known person, the rape kit DNA results were too compelling. In April of 2010, the jury found Hennis guilty of three counts of premeditated murder and sentenced him to death, again.

Hennis’s lawyer alluded to the idea that Hennis had consensual sex with Kathryn Eastburn on the night of the murder. His lawyer also highlighted integrity issues with the DNA evidence. When investigators re-examined the rape kit, portions of the evidence container had been opened and torn. Though Hennis may have a legal basis for these assertions, they contradict each other. If he had consensual sex with the victim, then the DNA was most likely his. However, if the DNA results were in error, how does that fit with a consensual sex scenario? Hennis never mentioned engaging in consensual sex with Kathryn Eastburn prior to the DNA results implicating him. He failed to mention it during police interviews, his first two trials, or after he was acquitted. Hennis’ explanation for why investigators found his semen in the rape kit appeared to be out of desperation rather than stemming from the truth.

index12Tim Hennis currently resides on death row in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He cannot be executed without presidential approval. Hennis has filed numerous unsuccessful appeals and many more are likely based on the unusual and legally questionable work-around of double jeopardy.

Works Cited

Brooks, Drew, “Timothy Hennis Case: Federal Judge Dismisses Latest Appeal,” The Fayetteville Observer Online, http://www.fayobserver.com/military/timothy-hennis-case-federal-judge-dismisses-latest-appeal/article_133f50b2-c6d8-5978-bdaf-6ff0949799f0.html, October 1, 2015.

Bryan, Kim, “The Eastburn Family Murders and the Three Trials of Staff Sergeant Tim Hennis,” Owlcation, https://owlcation.com/social-sciences/staff-sergeant-tim-hennis-murder, June 13, 2016.

Coletta, Sue, “Eastburn Murders Expose a Loophole in the Law,” Inside the Mind of a Crime Writer, http://www.suecoletta.com/eastburn-murders-expose-a-loophole-in-the-law/, February 9, 2016.

Dolan, Maura, “Expert links soldier to 1985 killings,” Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/may/18/nation/na-hennis18, May 18, 2007.

Patterson, Thom, “Triple Murder Suspect Goes From Guilty to Innocent and Back to Guilty,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/18/us/death-row-stories-hennis/, July 18, 2014.

Whisnant, Scott, “Triple murder retrial to start,” Star-News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=01JIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZxQEAAAAIBAJ&dq=eastburn+murder&pg=2825,3871705&hl=en, February 27, 1989

Whisnant, Scott, “Witness shaky on identifying Hennis,” Star-News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=AU5OAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SRQEAAAAIBAJ&dq=eastburn+murder&pg=4667,2693974&hl=en, March 23, 1989.

“Jury in Hennis trial visits area where murder victims lived,” The Robesonian, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yrFVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Z0ANAAAAIBAJ&dq=eastburn+murder&pg=3724,4335645&hl=en, June 20, 1986.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes.  He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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Top Seven British Miscarriages of Justice

by Blackwater Law

Getting accused of something you know you didn’t do can be annoying at the best of times, but imagine actually being sent to prison as a result. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system still has its flaws and mistakes are often made. These mistakes aren’t just a case of “oh, whoops…sorry about that.”… They ruin people’s lives.

It seems incredible that despite the technology and forensic intelligence we have nowadays that innocent people can still be wrongly convicted for crimes they simply didn’t commit, but it does happen! It’s pretty interesting in all honesty, which is why we’ve put together a list of the UK’s top 7 famous miscarriages of justice cases. Some of these are honestly shocking!

wrong17. Michael Shirley

Date convicted: 1986

Sentence: Life

Released: 2003 (16 years)

Michael Shirley was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of 24-year old barmaid, Linda Cook. The victim was found with a broken spine, jaw and larynx – all caused by the heel of the murderer’s shoe. The logo of the branded shoe was left imprinted on Linda Cook’s body and annoyingly for Shirley; he was one of the 250 people in Portsmouth that owned a pair.

On the night of the incident, Shirley was enjoying a night out with a female accomplice at a nightclub not too far from the murder scene.  Supposedly, the 18-year-old male was given the “pie” and forced to pay for the taxi back home…alone. With no evidence to suggest otherwise, a case was built against Shirley that he allegedly took his frustration out on Linda Cook in a drunken rage.

After serving 15 years of his sentence, Shirley maintained his innocence even though it meant he couldn’t be released on parole. Fresh DNA evidence discovered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2002 concluded that Mr Shirley was in fact, innocent.

wrong26. Sally Clark

Date convicted: 1996

Sentence: Life (twice)

Released: 2003

Sally Clark, from Wimslow, Cheshire, was convicted of murdering her two baby sons Christopher and Harry and was given two life sentences as a result. Clark spent a three years in jail after she was finally released on appeal in 2003. She always maintained that her children had died of cot death syndrome, which was later found out to be true after the court of appeal reviewed the case.

As it turns out, the convictions were based on evidence provided by Home Office Pathologist Alan Williams, who actually failed to disclose important information about the two deaths – including clear signs of a staphylococcus aureus infection that had spread to Harry’s cerebral spinal fluid. At the time, ‘expert’ paediatricians told the jury that the likelihood of two children in an affluence family both suffering cot death was “one in 73 million”. Experts now claim that this could occur in as little as one in 100 cases.

Understandably, Sally Clark never mentally recovered from the trauma caused by the ordeal and in 2007 she was found dead at her own home – the cause of death was believed to be alcohol poisoning. Truly tragic.

Alleged murderer Sam Hallamsam at hmp bullingdon dec 2008.jpg5. Sam Hallam

Date convicted: 2005

Sentence: Life

Released: 2012

At the tender age of 18, Sam Hallam was given life for the alleged murder of a trainee chef Essayas Kassahun in North London, 2005. He served a total of 7 years in prison before his conviction was reviewed and quashed in 2012. The murder was said to be a classic case of gang violence; that Hallam was apparently involved in.

After the police interviewed 37 witnesses, nobody placed Hallam at the crowded murder scene – except for a main witness, who later stated that she was just looking for “someone to blame on the spot”. Well done, miss, you successfully ruined the life of an innocent 18-year-old boy.

Weirdly enough, the compiling evidence that was in fact used to confirm Hallam’s innocence was on his mobile phone. The shear naivety of the police to not use his phone in the investigation essentially cost this boy a huge chunk of his life. It turns out there were photos that placed him in a pub with his dad at the time of the murder. Tragically, Hallam’s father committed suicide shortly after his son was wrongly sent to prison – one of the most serious cases of miscarriage of justice, for sure.

wrong44. Barry George

Date convicted: 2001

Sentence: Life

Released: 2008 (8 years)

48-year-old Barry George, from Fulham, was prosecuted for the murder of BBC television presenter Jill Dando in 2000. George has a history of mental illness and disability and was described as the “local nutter.” When he was accused of allegedly shooting Jill Dando on her doorstep in West London, no one batted an eyelid.

George also supposedly stalked and collected photographs of females (including presenters) and had an obsession with guns – that was enough for the police, the jury and the judge. Furthermore, despite being found with bits of gunpowder in his pockets, the retrial concluded that there wasn’t enough “conclusive circumstantial evidence” to rightfully convict George.

Judges claimed George did not possess a high enough IQ (being in the lowest 1% of the population) to be able to orchestrate and perform such a tactical murder. He endured two trials and two appeals before he was eventually freed and the mystery murder is still yet to be found.

wrong53. The Birmingham Six

Date convicted: 1975

Sentence: Life (All)

Released: 1991 (17 years)

In November 1975, six men were sentenced to life after being adjudged responsible for the infamous Birmingham pub bombings. The bombing, caused by detonated explosive devices placed in two popular Birmingham pubs, killed 21 people and injured 182. Aside from the London 7/7 bombings in 2005, this was the worst ever UK terrorist attack.

In this case, the six men were simply revealed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were all seen leaving Birmingham just after the time of the explosion – on a train to go to a funeral of a former IRA member in Belfast. The men were arrested at Belfast and failed reveal their reasons for their journey. Following this they were apparently brutally interrogated and subjected to mock executions and threats with dogs and guns in order to force confessions. The investigators succeeded and four of the men confessed.

They were all later charged with murder and the conspiracy to cause explosions. A public outcry followed this, and campaigns, lead by Labour MP Chris Mullin, to release the men were met with an eventual appeal and retrial. In 2001, they were released due to the fabrication and suppression of evidence and the unreliability of forensic evidence.

It is believed that the IRA were responsible for the attack, but no suspects have been identified since. The Birmingham six received several millions of pounds in compensation. Worth the 17 years in jail? I’m not so sure.

 

wrong62. Stefan Kiszko

Date convicted: 1976

Sentence: Life

Released: 1992 (16 years)

In 1976, Stefan Kiszko was wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of 11-year-old child Lesley Molseed. Stefan’s case has been described as “the worst miscarriage of al time” – and based on the facts, it’s not hard to see why.

During his interrogation, Kiszko falsely confessed to the murder as he was told it would lead to his freedom. Side note, Kiszko had a history of mental illness and relied heavily on his mother. The compiling evidence came from a group of teenage girls who claimed the 23-year-old tax clerk had indecently exposed himself to them on the day the murder took place. It was later found that the girls made the claim up for a joke. Additional evidence that was used against Kiszko included sweets and ‘girlie’ magazines found his car – things that could have been used to attract his victim.

Due to his mental condition, Kiszko was given injections of testosterone, which the police later interpreted to be a reason for his sexual assault. Upon the referral, it was discovered that Kiszko’s sperm sample (which had a count of zero) would have proved his innocence buy confirming his medical inability to carry out the sexual act and produce the sperm that had been found on Lesley’s clothes.

The persistent mother of the wrongly accused man fought hard to earn a retrial and after 16 of prison torment, her son was eventually freed. Kiszko died of a heart attack a year later. All because of a crime he didn’t commit.

 

Stephen Downing1. Stephen Downing

Date convicted: 1982

Sentence: Life

Released: (27 years)

“The Bakewell tart murder” – Stephen Downing, 17, was sentenced to life for the murder of 32-year-old Wendy Sewell in Bakewell, 1973. The attack took place in a church graveyard, where Downing coincidentally worked as a gardener. After he, himself, found the victim beaten (by the handle of a pickaxe), and covered in blood, Downing was taken immediately taken in for questioning by the police, where he was interrogated for nine hours before he was made to sign a confession to the crime.

Downing had severe learning difficulties and had a reading age of just 11 – reports suggest the 17 year old didn’t know he was confessing to the murder and literally signing his life away. Essentially, Downing couldn’t read the statement.

The case was appealed twice. The first appeal was denied after eyewitness evidence that claimed they saw Downing leave the graveyard at the same time they saw Wendy Sewell alive, was apparently not enough. The second time around, it was concluded that the original confession was unsafe – unfair police questioning and the fact Downing wasn’t given a solicitor helped his defence.

Forensic evidence found there was a bloody palm print on the pickaxe handle, which didn’t match Downing’s. Downing was also wearing gloves at the time, which had no blood on them. Despite also confessing to hitting the victim over the head twice, it was later found that she had been hit eight times, by a right handed man – Downing was a lefty. The innocent 17-year-old continued to deny the murder throughout his stint in prison and was therefore illegible for parole. He eventually cleared his name after a gruelling 27 years in the slammer. This is considered to be the worst case of miscarriages of justice in English legal history.

 

This article was written by Blackwater Law; a trusted firm of personal injury solicitors. Blackwater provide expert legal advice and representation for client compensation claims across a multitude of different personal injury law cases including road traffic accidents, public liability, clinical negligence, head and brain injuries, birth injuries and cosmetic surgery.

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“Suicides don’t take two shots.” – The Death of Michelle O’Connell

by John W. Taylor

Jeremy Banks and Michelle O’Connell started dating in 2009, after Michelle’s brother, Scott, introduced them. Jeremy worked with Scott as a deputy with the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office in Florida, just south of Jacksonville. Michelle held various odd jobs and had a young daughter from a previous relationship. They were both in their early twenties. Initially, they appeared content with their relationship, but many of Michelle’s friends and family immediately disliked Jeremy. They thought he was controlling and verbally abusive toward Michelle. Though their relationship experienced problems early on, they moved in together about six months later.

michelle14On September 2, 2010, Jeremy and Michelle went to a concert with her brother and several friends. Although Michelle planned to end her relationship with Jeremy that night, she still accompanied him to the concert. In a picture taken at the event, Michelle smiles, while Jeremy exhibits an emotion somewhere between disgust and anger. The contrast was unmistakable.

After the concert, two friends came over to Michelle and Jeremy’s home around 10:40 p.m. According to their statements, they remained there for approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. Though the timing is still being debated, shortly after they left, there was a loud “pop.” Fifteen seconds passed and then there was another loud “pop.” Jeremy claimed to be in the garage when he heard the first shot and right outside a locked bedroom door when he heard the second. After kicking the door open, Jeremy called 9-1-1 at 11:20 p.m. The call was routed to the Operations Center for St. Johns County where he was a deputy.

Dispatcher: 911.

michelle12Jeremy Banks: Hey. Please get someone to my house! It’s 4700 Sherlock Place. Please!

Jeremy sounded panicked. His emotions exhibited urgency, but his words did not. Though some people will start with a pleasantry, even in an emergency situation, his use of the word “please” was unnecessary. It was a slower and less efficient manner of conveying critical information.

Dispatcher: What’s going on?

Jeremy Banks: Please. Send─ my girlfriend, I think she just shot herself. There’s blood everywhere!

Jeremy again utilized “please.” He followed by saying that he “thinks” his girlfriend shot herself, which meant he did not know what happened. He was speculating or making an assumption. Jeremy ended his response by saying, “there is blood everywhere.” This was a passive statement as he did not identify whose blood it was or where it was coming from.

The dispatcher asked for clarification:

Dispatcher: She what?

Jeremy Banks: She shot herself! Please. [un-intelligible] Get someone here please.

michelle9Though Jeremy initially stated that he thought his girlfriend shot herself, he now stated that she shot herself, removing “thinks.” This was a significant change. When prompted a second time, he likely slipped and dropped the unnecessary word, “thinks.” The truth leaked out. He knew what happened to Michelle.

Jeremy utilized please two more times. The excessive use of please seemed to indicate Jeremy did not feel the dispatcher believed him or realized the severity of the situation. Why? People who are deceptive can be overly concerned with ensuring themselves that their audience believes what they are saying. The call continued.

Dispatcher: Ma’am? Ma’am, I need you to calm down.

Jeremy Banks: It’s mister! It’s sir!

Due to the caller’s demeanor, the dispatcher likely thought she was talking to a woman. Regardless, Jeremy reacted quite harshly and unexpectedly. Though there should have been a significant sense of urgency on this call, he took the time to correct the dispatcher. He demanded the dispatcher call him either mister or sir. Addressing a slight to his ego was more important to Jeremy than the ostensible emergency situation.

During the initial portion of the call, Jeremy was crying and hysterical. However, when the dispatcher referred to him as ma’am his tone completely changed. Seconds earlier, he was a grieving and distraught boyfriend, but once his manhood was challenged he became angry. He was highly offended and demanded to be spoken to with respect.

Dispatcher: Ma’am, listen to me─

Jeremy Banks: It’s sir! It’s sir. Listen─ hang on, let me tell you the truth. I’m Deputy Banks with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. I work with y’all. Get someone here now!

michelle6Jeremy demanded he be called sir. Twice. Though a life-threatening situation prompted the call, he could not help responding heatedly to what he perceived as the dispatcher’s disrespect.

Listen is a word used at the beginning of a statement in order to get the person’s attention. Why would Jeremy not think he had the dispatcher’s full attention? He called 9-1-1. He followed with more unnecessary words, “hang on” and “let me tell you the truth.” He went on to identify himself as “Deputy Banks.” He wanted her to address him as Deputy Banks, not Jeremy. He wanted her to show respect.

During his two responses after he felt he was attacked, he dropped the use of please. It returned, along with his emotions, as he continued answering questions.

Dispatcher: Sir, we’re doing that while talking to you. Is she still breathing?

Jeremy Banks: No, there is blood coming out of everywhere. Please. Please.

He answered the dispatcher’s question with no qualifiers. It was an emphatic no. He did not elaborate on how he knew she was not breathing. He also did not state whether or not he had attempted C.P.R. or any other life-saving measures.

Dispatcher: Jeremy, we’re coming as fast as we can, ok? Calm down for me, ok.

Jeremy Banks: Please, you don’t understand, she just shot herself. Please get them here.

Again, Jeremy did not think the dispatcher understood the situation. Did he realize he had only provided minimal information, or was he overly sensitive because he was not being completely forthright?

michelle5When deputies from the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office (“SJSO”) arrived at 11:25 p.m., they found Michelle O’Connell with a gunshot wound through her mouth continuing out the back of her throat. There was another bullet burrowed into the carpeting. Twenty-three minutes later, paramedics pronounced Michelle dead. Deputy Jeremy Banks’ service weapon lay next to her left hand. Based on the circumstances, there were only two options, either Michelle committed suicide or Jeremy killed her. Even though the situation involved a St. Johns’ deputy, his duty weapon, and a possible homicide, the decision was made for SJSO to handle the investigation internally.

Though many of the police officers initially on scene appeared to immediately conclude Michelle killed herself, the possibility of homicide existed. Those in authority within SJSO chose to disregard the clear conflict of interest in this case. The detectives on this case were under tremendous internal pressure to conclude suicide. This was the initial assessment by SJSO deputies on scene. Further, they were investigating one of their own. The investigators were not disinterested parties, as law enforcement is supposed to be; they had clear motivation to resolve this case favorably to the department.

As many officials in the department should have known, suicides are rarely accepted by the family. By handling the investigation internally, SJSO nearly guaranteed it would be scrutinized and second-guessed by the victim’s family and friends. Apparently, this was acceptable to SJSO; however, they did not anticipate a wave of criticism from the media and general public that followed.

michelle8During the investigation, SJSO investigators failed to: interview the O’Connell and Banks families; canvass the neighborhood for potential witnesses; collect all the evidence; test the evidence; file reports properly; download Jeremy’s cellphone; or reconstruct the crime scene. The extent of SJSO’s investigation appeared to only include securing the crime scene, taking a few photos, and casually interviewing Jeremy in the back of a police car. SJSO concluded suicide as the cause of death within hours, if not minutes, after deputies arrived on scene. One must ponder, does SJSO handle all investigations in this manner, or did they omit basic, fundamental investigative practices because it involved one of their deputies?

Dr. Frederick Hobin conducted the official autopsy. Michelle’s blood alcohol content was .086, slightly above the state’s legal limit for intoxication, but no other drugs were found in her system. Dr. Hobin found no injuries indicative of defensive wounds. He identified a cut above Michelle’s right eye, which he postulated was a result of an ejected shell casing striking her, though anyone who has fired a semi-automatic pistol has likely been hit by an ejected shell casing without a corresponding injury. Based on his medical analysis and the crime scene information provided by SJSO, Dr. Hobin determined two days after the incident that her manner of death was suicide.

With the autopsy completed, the matter of Michelle O’Connell’s death was considered complete, or so SJSO hoped. Michelle’s family and friends, however, believed she was killed. There were too many unanswered questions and no one close to Michelle thought she was suicidal. The O’Connel’s met with SJSO Sheriff David Shoar to discuss Michelle’s death and request a second, independent investigation. Sheriff Shoar flatly refused their request. Months later, after considerable media attention and numerous website postings criticizing SJSO’s handling of the case, Sheriff Shoar reluctantly authorized an independent investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (“FDLE”). Prior to the investigation, Sheriff Shoar assured his employees that FDLE “won’t find anything” that could lead a homicide indictment in Michelle’s death.

michelle4FDLE assigned Agent Rusty Rodgers, a thirty year law enforcement veteran, to the case. Although Sheriff Shoar unenthusiastically allowed the independent investigation, Agent Rodgers aggressively pursued all possible avenues in the case. Within weeks, he discovered witnesses, Stacey Boswell and Heather Ladley, who claimed to hear two shots fired on the night of September 2, 2010 around 11:00 p.m. They were standing outside smoking, a few blocks from the Banks’ residence. Not only did they hear the gunshots, but they claimed to have heard arguing and a woman cry for help in between the first and second shot. According to the witnesses, emergency vehicles arrived about ten to fifteen minutes after the last gunshot. Both witnesses later passed polygraphs pertaining to what they heard on the evening in question.

Based on the witness statements, Dr. Hobin changed his autopsy conclusion from suicide to homicide. He later changed his conclusion back to suicide. Dr. Hobin regularly changed his opinion in this case, but he failed to select the most obvious conclusion when faced with conflicting information: undetermined.

Dr. Predag Bulic was the next to review the medical evidence. He initially considered an exhumation, but then stated it would not produce any further forensic evidence. Dr. Bulic backed the original determination of suicide. Dr. Bulic opined that Michelle held the gun upside down in her mouth, and the gun recoiled forward causing a small flashlight attached to the gun to injure her right eye. Unfortunately for Dr. Bulic, testing of this scenario failed to produce a single instance of the gun recoiling forward. Also, the distance from Michelle’s mouth to her eye injury was three inches, but the distance from the gun to the outer edge of the attached light was only two and 3/16 inches. The light could not have caused the injury. It appeared Dr. Bulic massaged the evidence to fit his theory rather than letting the evidence drive his conclusions.

michelle15Based on the testimony of the two witnesses, Agent Rodgers and the FDLE investigators believed a homicide may have occurred. FDLE brought in forensic experts to recreate the crime scene. Most of the evidence and information they collected validated their hypothesis of homicide. Notwithstanding the circumstantial evidence collected, on March 12, 2012, Special Prosecutor Brad King released a statement indicating there was not enough evidence to support a homicide indictment. Jeremy Banks would not be charged.

Within a month, Agent Rodgers came under fire for his actions during the O’Connell death investigation. Sheriff Shoar led the charge to pursue Agent Rodgers and discredit his findings. Several complaints were lodged, though Agent Rodgers was eventually cleared of any criminal wrong-doing.

On March 26, 2013, Sheriff Shoar released a 153 page report called a “Review of Michelle O’Connell’s Death Investigation.” The title was quite misleading as a vast majority of the report critiqued Agent Rodgers’ handling of the case and justified SJSO’s conclusion of suicide. Of the 153 pages, only two pages were dedicated to analyzing SJSO’s actions, decisions, and deficiencies during their investigation.

According to the report, Jeremy Banks remained professional and respectful during the investigation. Yet, it failed to mention that Jeremy violently pounded a police vehicle on the night of the incident and admitted to reading his SJSO investigative file prior to an interview. The report provided minimal objective information on Michelle’s death and only helped to draw battle lines between SJSO and anyone who disagreed with their conclusions in this case.

During an interview, Sheriff David Shoar called allegations of SJSO covering up a murder “insane.” No evidence has been uncovered to indicate SJSO intentionally and actively coordinated an effort to conceal the truth from coming out in this case. However, many of the activities SJSO engaged in regarding Michelle’s death investigation were designed to facilitate a conclusion of suicide. Further, SJSO conducted an inept investigation, and it is not clear whether it was deliberate or simply due to incompetence.

michelle2SJSO’s posture in this case has been more about maintaining Sheriff Shoar’s reputation than protecting Jeremy Banks. Sheriff Shoar allowed the initial investigation to be handled internally. He is ultimately responsible for the numerous mistakes made by his deputies and detectives. If they happened to come to the right conclusion, then his errors in leadership appear less alarming. However, if Michelle’s death turns out to be a homicide, Sheriff Shoar will lose even more of the public’s trust and further undermine his authority.

Sheriff Shoar fired Michelle’s brother, Scott O’Connell, for threatening to “blow up the police department” when he was angered over the prosecutor’s decision to not charge Jeremy Banks. Interestingly, about the time Michelle’s brother changed his mind, and concluded Michelle killed herself, he got his job back.

The two witnesses who heard gunshots and a woman cry for help on the night of September 2, 2010 in the vicinity of Jeremy’ home stated that they did not come forward earlier because they were concerned about making statements against an SJSO deputy. Their concerns seemed to be well-founded. Sheriff Shoar has created an environment where a citizen would only report nefarious activities by SJSO deputies at their own peril.

This case hinged on whether or not Michelle killed herself. According to some reports, Michelle may have suffered from depression and low self-esteem as a teenager. Michelle also allegedly expressed suicidal thoughts as a child, but never acted on them. In the months prior to her death, a co-worker noticed that Michelle had recently been crying and seemed stressed. Otherwise, there were no indications she was suicidal.

michelle7When asked during an interview if Michelle ever expressed suicidal thoughts, Jeremy told a story regarding an argument. According to Jeremy, during a “domestic altercation,” Michelle stated, ‘Jeremy, you just make me wanna [sic] kill myself sometimes.’ This statement made no sense. If Michelle and Jeremy were in the midst of an argument, why would Michelle direct her anger at herself and rather than Jeremy? And only on television and in written dialogue do people use the other person’s name when they are in the middle of a conversation. Jeremy’s story sounded contrived.

SJSO placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of Michelle’s text messages in the hours leading up to her death. According to SJSO, it provided a window into her state of mind. The texts illustrated a “despondent” woman on the verge of suicide. Michelle sent several texts to her sister Christine. One stated, “Promise me one thing… Alexis [her daughter] will be happy and always have a good life.” In another text, Michelle stated, “That no matter what, Alexis will always be safe and loved.” These texts conveyed an ominous tone. The texts could have been indicative of her contemplating taking her own life, but her family believed her texts expressed a fear of Jeremy, not a preamble to suicide.

Michelle had not attempted suicide previously, and she did not leave a note. She had recently received a promotion at work. There was nothing going on in her life that would lead one to believe she would kill herself. Michelle had a four-year old daughter. One person close to Michelle, stated, “This was a woman whose life was dedicated to her daughter.”

Hours before her death, Michelle broke up with Jeremy. She told him that after she moved out her brother would pick up her things. At the time she allegedly killed herself, she was packing her bags to leave. Michelle had finally acted; she was leaving a bad relationship. It was her decision to break up with Jeremy. It was what she wanted. Why would she take her own life after following-through on what she wanted to have happen?

On the day she died, Michelle left her mother a voicemail referencing them getting together soon, and she texted her sister at 9:55 p.m., stating “I’ll be there soon.” These actions do not illustrate a woman who was about to take her own life. Suicide, though not always logical, is an act of desperation. One’s situation is perceived to be so dire that her only choice is to end it all. Nothing indicated this type of situation for Michelle. To the contrary, things were improving.

During his initial interview with SJSO, Jeremy described the events leading up to Michelle’s death. He said, “We argued a little bit, but nothing terrible.” Jeremy also allegedly told Michelle that they were not best friends anymore and she agreed. He said they argued in the car, “…but [when] we got to the house, we were fine.” He described their break-up as almost blissful. Though Jeremy was undoubtedly trying to mitigate the appearance of significant conflict between the two of them, he also downplayed the likelihood of suicide.

Police found the gun next to Michelle’s left-hand. Later testing found considerable gunshot residue on her left hand, but not on her right. Based on the crime scene evidence, Michelle shot herself with her left hand, even though she was right-handed.

michelle11Even with considerable non-dominant hand coordination, it feels unnatural to pull a trigger with one’s off-hand. Shooting with one’s off-hand is awkward, even for individuals who have fired a pistol with their non-dominant hand numerous times. Most people would likely never use their non-dominant hand to fire a gun if their dominant hand was available. Some police agencies do not have their officers practice shooting with their non-dominant hand because there have been many instances where police officers still pulled the trigger with their dominant hand, even when it was seriously injured. They found a way to fire the gun. Therefore, why did a woman with minimal firearm experience and no injuries to her dominant hand choose to shoot herself with her non-dominant hand?

Moments after Michelle allegedly shot herself, Jeremy broke into the bedroom and stayed by her side until the police and paramedics arrived. Yet, Jeremy had no blood on him, except for two small dots on his shirt. On the 9-1-1 call, Jeremy stated “there is blood everywhere.” Jeremy also indicated during the emergency call that Michelle was not breathing, which means he must have touched her or engaged her in some manner. According to an SJSO deputy on scene, Jeremy smelled like he just took a shower, but in interviews, Jeremy denied washing his hand or taking a shower prior to the police arriving.

There was also an absence of high impact blood stains on Michelle’s left arm and sleeve, which was inconsistent with her having used her left hand to fire the weapon. Based on the lack of blood spatter on her left arm, either all the forensic evidence indicating Michelle fired the gun with her left hand was wrong, or, alternatively, someone else fired the fatal shot. There was only one candidate for an alternative shooter.

Though not tested initially by SJSO, the gun used to kill Michelle did not have any blood on it. The gun did not have Jeremy’s DNA on it, even though he carried it when he worked. The gun only had trace amounts of Michelle’s DNA on it; however, it was inside Michelle’s mouth when it was fired. It is hard to explain the forensic testing results, unless the gun was cleaned.

michelle3When Agent Rodgers canvassed Jeremy’s neighborhood, he approached Jeremy at his home. Jeremy stated, “I just stopped by to get rid of some of her shit from the house.” He then corrected himself by stating, “…I mean, pack up some of her stuff.” Which statement conveyed Jeremy’s true emotions and which one attempted to conceal his feelings?

According to Jeremy, after he heard the first shot he stood outside the bedroom door, knocking, and yelling to Michelle. Yet, she never said anything to him. She was supposedly in the midst of killing herself because of her losing him, but she did not speak to him. No, ‘I love you. I can’t live without you.’ She did not say anything, which seems quite implausible. Second, a gun was fired, his gun, and he did not feel the need to kick in an interior door. Why did the second shot cause him to kick in the door, but not the first one?

If Jeremy was standing outside the bedroom when Michelle shot herself, he would not have told the 9-1-1 operator that he “thinks” his girlfriend shot herself. He would have known for certain what happened.

Those close to Michelle considered her a fighter, yet she had no defensive wounds. Jeremy was almost a foot taller than Michelle and he outweighed her by over a hundred pounds. Plus, under a homicide scenario he would have been pointing a gun at her, which would have significantlyreduced her ability to fight back. She was at his mercy.

SJSO hypothesized that the first shot into the floor was an accidental discharge by a woman inexperienced with firearms. If a suicide occurred, it was a reasonable explanation. If it was a homicide, it could have been fired postmortem. Jeremy could have placed the gun into Michelle’s hand and fired it into the floor. This would have transferred gunshot residue to her hand and her DNA to the gun, but at this time, there is no clear explanation for why two shots were fired.

michelle13With officials doing little, in early 2016, the O’Connell family arranged for an exhumation of Michelle’s body in conjunction with a second autopsy to be performed by Dr. Bill Anderson. According to Dr. Anderson, when the gun was fired, Michelle’s tongue positioning would have almost gagged or suffocated her. This was consistent with someone else forcing a gun into her mouth rather than her placing it there. Dr. Anderson also found a fracture in Michelle’s jaw. Coupled with lacerations on her lip and eye, he postulated that Michelle was struck multiple times prior to being shot. As a result, he determined her manner of death was homicide.

With significant confidence and no humility, Sheriff Shoar stated, “We know it’s a suicide.” However, the evidence is far from definitive. The FDLE investigation concluded it was more likely a homicide than a suicide. Prosecutors who reviewed the case have concluded ‘not enough evidence to prosecute.’ The debate rages on.

Through interviews, his comprehensive report, and the facilitation of a poorly run investigation, Sheriff Shoar has provided a considerable amount of exculpatory evidence with regard to a future homicide prosecution of Jeremy Banks. It is not clear whether Sheriff Shoar believes Jeremy or not, but regardless, he has way too much to lose personally to allow a successful prosecution of his deputy.

Works Cited:

Bogdanich, Walt, “Florida Gov. Opens New Investigation into O’Connell Death,” Frontline, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/florida-gov-opens-new-investigation-into-oconnell-death/, October 3 2014.

Bogdanich, Walt, Glen Silber, “Two Gunshots on a Summer Night,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/two-gunshots/, November 23 2013.

Doran, Matt, “Who Fired the Gun That Killed Michelle O’Connell?” Crime Watch Daily, http://crimewatchdaily.com/2016/05/23/who-fired-the-gun-that-killed-michelle-oconnell/, May 23, 2016.

Doran, Matt, “Murder or Suicide? The Exhumation of Michelle O’Connell,” The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-doran/murder-or-suicide-the_b_10110682.html, May 24, 2016.

Eastman, Susan Cooper, “Murder, He Wrote: A Man Named Clu Investigates the Death of Michelle O’Connell,” Folio Weekly, http://folioweekly.com/MURDER-HE-WROTE-A-MAN-NAMED-CLU-INVESTIGATES-THE-DEATH-OF-MICHELLE-O-CONNELL,11570?page=1&, November 20, 2014.

McClish, Mark, “Deputy Jeremy Banks 911 Call Death of Michelle O’Connell,” Statement Analysis, http://statement-analysis.blogspot.com/2016/05/deputy-jeremy-banks-911-call-death-of.html, May 23, 2016.

Piggott, Jim, “Sister: ‘So many mistruths’ in Michelle O’Connell case,” News4Jax, http://www.news4jax.com/news/local/sister-so-many-mistruths-in-michelle-oconnell-case, November 19, 2015.

Purdy, Joy, “New autopsy finds Michelle O’Connell’s death a homicide,” News4JAX, http://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/st-johns-county/new-autopsy-finds-michelle-oconnells-death-a-homicide, May 22, 2016.

Robinson, Julian, “Florida cop will not face murder charges after investigation into the death of his girlfriend who was shot with his own gun at his home,” DailyMail.com, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3203695/Florida-cop-not-face-murder-charges-investigation-death-girlfriend-shot-gun-home.html, August 19, 2015.

“Jeremy Banks is Questioned,” NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/watch/dateline/jeremy-banks-is-questioned-230747715932.

“Two Shots Fired, Parts 1-6,” Dateline, NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/video/dateline/54987380#54987380, April 19, 2014.

“Review of Michelle O’Connell’s Death Investigation,” St Johns County Sheriff’s Office, March 26, 2013.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes.  He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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Jason Young: Stone Cold Killer or Victim of Unfortunate Coincidences?

by John W. Taylor

On November 3, 2006, in an upscale neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, Meredith Fisher discovered her 28 year-old sister, Michelle Young, beaten to death. Michelle had married Jason Young a few years prior, and at the time of her death their relationship was already in a perilous state. The Young’s openly fought in public and in front of family and friends. Jason engaged in several extra-marital affairs, and at least one of them was ongoing at the time of his wife’s murder. To complicate matters, the couple had a two year-old daughter, Cassidy, and Michelle was also five months pregnant with their second child.

Around 6:30 p.m. the previous evening, Michelle’s friend, Shelly Schadd, arrived at the Young’s residence. About an hour later, Jason left on a business trip. During the evening, Shelly experienced an “eerie feeling” as if they were being watched. When she left around 10:30 p.m., she had Michelle escort her to her car.

jason1After leaving home, Jason purchased gas and then drove an hour to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he had dinner, finishing at 9:25 p.m. From there, he drove another 90 minutes to his hotel in southern Virginia. He checked into his hotel at 10:54 p.m., and accessed his room two minutes later via his key card. Jason did not use his key card to enter his hotel room again for the remainder of his stay. However, he was seen on a hotel surveillance camera about an hour later getting a newspaper from the front desk. According to Jason, when he left his room he propped the door open; therefore, he re-entered without using his key card. Upon leaving the hotel the following morning, Jason did not talk to anyone or use the front desk to check out, but the police found his hotel receipt during a later search of his vehicle. Since a hotel employee slid the receipt under his door during the night, if Jason did leave his hotel during the night, he returned at some point to collect the receipt.

Based on cell tower records, at 7:40 a.m. the following morning Jason called his mother from the Wytheville, Virginia area, which was about 30 minutes from his hotel and on the way to his business meeting. He arrived at his business meeting in Clintwood, Virginia at 10:30 a.m., 30 minutes late. According to Jason, he got lost during the drive.

After his appointment, Jason purchased gas in Duffield, Virginia at 12:06 p.m., and then left Michelle’s sister, Meredith, a voicemail, asking her to visit his residence. He called her a second time and then had his mother call her with a similar message. Jason inadvertently left papers on the home printer, which would have provided his wife details on his belated anniversary gift for her. Jason wanted Meredith to retrieve the papers before Michelle saw them.

After receiving the voicemails from Jason and his mother, Meredith headed to the Young’s residence shortly after 1:00 p.m. Upon entering the home, Meredith saw what appeared to be red hair dye at the top of the staircase. Turning a corner, she found her sister bloodied and beaten, lying face-down in the master bedroom. She immediately called 9-1-1. As she initiated the call, she saw her two year-old niece, Cassidy, peak out from the covers on the bed.

jason5Meredith described Cassidy as “shockingly clean.” Other than some dried blood on her toenails and on the bottom of her pajama pants, the two year-old was pristine. She was not wet, nor had she soiled her bed. The police saw this as an indication the killer was someone who cared about Cassidy, since she was left unharmed. However, many killers would not harm or kill a child. Even one of the most dangerous men in modern times, Charles Manson, decided against invading a home because children were present.

According to the autopsy report, Michelle Young died as a result of “blunt force trauma to the head and body.” The medical examiner testified that Michelle was struck at least 30 times resulting in a broken jaw, dislodged teeth, a fractured skull, and numerous abrasions and lacerations. The repeated blows also caused Michelle’s pregnancy to terminate. According to the medical examiner, the assailant initially tried to strangle her prior to beating her to death. Investigators estimated the time of death between midnight and 6 a.m. on November 3, 2006.

The police gathered little useful evidence through their investigation. There was no sign of forced entry. The police failed to recover a murder weapon. Whoever killed Michelle, left Cassidy and the family dog unharmed. As a result, the policed focused on the husband. Though their relationship was far from idyllic, there was no evidence directly linking Jason to the murder. The police speculated that Jason planned to obtain Michelle’s four million dollar life insurance policy and pursue a single life-style. However, other than motive, the police lacked evidence. The police did not find blood in Jason’s vehicle, on his clothes, or in his hotel room. Crime scene technicians were unable to find any fibers from Jason’s hotel room in the Young residence. Regardless of the limited evidence against Jason, he lost custody of his daughter to Michelle’s sister, Meredith. He also lost a wrongful death civil lawsuit to Michelle’s family, as Jason never responded to the claim or tried to defend himself.

jason3Over three years after Michelle Young’s murder, on December 14, 2009, a Wake County Grand Jury indicted Jason Young of first degree murder. He went to trial in May of 2011 with the same judge who ruled against him in the wrongful death civil case. After an almost month-long trial, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked at eight to acquit, four to convict. Early the following year, the State tried him again, but this time, the jury came to a unanimous decision in just eight hours. Jason Young was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

During the second trial, the State entered evidence that Jason lost, via a default judgment, a civil wrongful death action regarding Michelle’s death. On appeal, the State argued it entered the civil suit as evidence in order to cast doubt on Jason’s testimony from his first trial, which the State chose to introduce (Jason testified during his first trial, but not his second). However, the State’s argument resulted in it impeaching its own evidence. The State also disclosed to the jury that it was the current presiding judge, the Honorable Donald Stephens, who ruled against Jason Young in the civil suit. The Court of Appeals found that the prejudicial impact of admitting this evidence outweighed the probative value. As a result, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously vacated the judgment, thus delivering Jason to his third trial.

In a rare occurrence, the state’s Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision, finding that the defendant did not properly preserve his challenge to the admission of evidence. [To preserve an issue for appellate review, a party must present the trial court a request, objection, or motion for the specific grounds.] Thus, it turned out that Jason Young would not obtain a new trial.

Though a jury of his peers convicted Jason, the evidence proving his guilt was somewhat nebulous based on hotel surveillance video and cell tower records, Jason had unaccounted time from approximately midnight until 7:00 a.m. on the morning of November 3, 2006. During this time, the State contended that he drove 160 miles from his hotel to his home, killed his wife, and then drove another 160 miles back to his hotel in southern Virginia. Based on an estimated two hours and 25 minute drive time between the two points, Jason still had two hours to conduct nefarious activities. It was possible.

According to Jason, while staying at the hotel, he left twice without his key card. Both times, he propped open the outer door with a stick to prevent it from locking upon his return. The first time he retrieved a computer charging cable from his car. The second time, after obtaining a newspaper from the hotel’s front desk around midnight, he went outside to smoke a cigar and read a newspaper. Jason then allegedly returned to his room and went to sleep.

jason4In the early morning of November 3, 2006, a hotel employee noticed that an emergency door was propped open with a small rock. Yet, according to Jason’s recollection of events, he returned to his room through this door after smoking his cigar. As a result, the rock should have fallen out of the door-jam when he entered. If not, someone else independently propped open the door after him.

After returning to the front desk, the hotel employee reviewed the surveillance camera near the emergency exit door. It was malfunctioning. A maintenance employee later determined that the camera was unplugged, and the camera’s last image was from 11:19 p.m. the previous evening. He plugged the camera back in at 5:50 a.m. Forty-five minutes later another employee found the same camera pointing toward the ceiling. According to hotel staff, the camera had never been previously unplugged and had only been tampered with one other time.

Around 5:30 a.m., a man in a white sports utility vehicle pulled up to the outer gas pumps at Four Brothers BP in King, North Carolina. The man entered the store to prepay for the gas. According to the store attendant, the man cursed at her because the pumps were not on, and he threw twenty dollars at her. He pumped fifteen dollars’ worth of gas and drove off without collecting his change. She identified Jason Young’s white Ford Explorer as the vehicle in question and Jason Young as the man who yelled at her. Somewhat countering her positive identification, during a deposition, she described the man as “a little taller than her,” though she is five feet tall and Jason is six-foot-one. Further, the witness acknowledged a childhood brain injury that affected her memory.

The King, North Carolina gas station was located approximately 50 minutes from Jason’s hotel and on the direct route between his home and hotel. If he was at the gas station at that time, he would have likely arrived back at his hotel about 10 minutes prior to when the hotel camera was tampered with the second time. However, Jason’s fingerprints were not on the security camera.

jason2The police discovered two distinct sets of bloody footprints near Michelle’s body. One print was made by a size 12 shoe, which matched Jason. Investigators determined that the imprint was made by one of three shoe types; Hush Puppy Orbitals were one of the possibilities. Jason owned a pair of Hush Puppy Orbitals at one time. However, the State never produced Jason’s shoes for comparison. Crime scene investigators also identified a size 10 Air Fit or Franklin athletic shoe imprint. This imprint did not match any of Jason’s shoes nor did it match other shoes tested.

A jewelry box from the master bedroom had two missing drawers and Michelle’s wedding and engagement rings were never recovered, pointing to theft as a potential motive. Partial DNA found on her jewelry box did not match Michelle or Jason. Police found several unidentified fingerprints in the house, though nothing definitively linked them to the murder.

A newspaper delivery person testified that she saw a light-colored sports utility vehicle parked on the street in front of the Young’s residence between 3:30 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. on November 3, 2006. Another woman claimed that she saw a light-colored “soccer mom car” with a white male in the driver’s seat and another person in the passenger seat parked at the edge of the Young’s driveway around 5:30 a.m. on the same date. A third woman, a neighbor, claimed that she saw an empty sports utility vehicle at the edge of the driveway sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. There was no indication as to whether these women saw the same vehicle, separate vehicles, or one or more was mistaken in her recollection.

Meredith discovered Michelle wearing sweatpants and a zip-up sweatshirt. According to both Meredith and Jason, Michelle would not have worn an outfit with a zipper to bed, due to the associated discomfort. Investigators placed the time of death at between midnight and 6:00 a.m. If Michelle was not asleep during the attack, it likely occurred either at the beginning or end of the estimated time frame. Yet, with Jason’s established alibi, if he killed his wife then she had to have died in the middle of the estimated time of death. Too early and the hotel’s camera surveillance excluded him. Too late in the morning and he was excluded based on the cell tower data locating him in Virginia.

jason8Jason drove a 2004 Ford Explorer at the time of Michelle’s murder. It had a 22.5 gallon tank and was rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway. Upon leaving his home on the evening of November 2, 2006, Jason purchased gas at a location in Raleigh. According to Jason, he then drove from Raleigh to his hotel (stopping for dinner) and from his hotel to his business meeting in Clintwood, Virginia the following day. After leaving his appointment, he purchased gas in Duffield, Virginia. The police found receipts verifying both of these purchases. Driving from Raleigh to Duffield is approximately 350 miles, plus Jason claimed he got lost prior to his business meeting. Based on the Ford Explorer’s gas tank capacity and average miles per gallon, Jason’s travels would have consumed almost all of his gas from the fill-up the previous evening.

The State presented an eyewitness who claimed she saw Jason Young put gas into his vehicle around 5:30 a.m. on the third of November; however, based on the average gas price at that time of $2.23/gallon, fifteen dollars equated to less than seven gallons of gas. With the only other verified gas purchase having been in Raleigh the previous evening, Jason would not have made it to Duffield without requiring an additional stop for gas. For Jason to have driven from his hotel to Raleigh and back in the middle of the night, he would have covered an additional 320 miles. Therefore, if he made this trip, he must have stopped for gas at some point, unbeknown to the police. There were no witnesses or documentation to support this purchase. Without an additional stop for gas, Jason could not have been the killer.

If Jason is innocent, he certainly encountered a lot of unfortunate coincidences. Someone tampered with the camera covering the exit closest to his hotel room not once, but twice. Someone also propped open the emergency exit door next his room. Another man who looked like Jason and drove a similar vehicle, stopped for gas at a location and time consistent with a scenario of Jason having driven to Raleigh to kill his wife.

When police began investigating Michelle’s murder, several of Jason’s friends recommended that he retain a lawyer prior to speaking with the police. He took their advice. After retaining legal counsel, he still refused to speak with police. Unless Jason was legally required to provide something, such as fingerprints or DNA, he flatly refused to cooperate with the police investigating his wife’s murder.

On the advice of legal counsel, Jason also chose not to speak to friends or family about Michelle’s murder. He never spoke to anyone about her murder. With numerous publicized accounts highlighting issues with police interrogation tactics, many would agree with Jason’s cautious stance. Detectives could have coerced or manipulated his statements. The police could have misinterpreted his answers. Further, any information Jason provided the police could have been used against him.

Notwithstanding the risks, Jason could have taken many actions to help the investigators find his wife’s killer(s). He could have agreed to be interviewed by police in the presence of his attorney. When JonBenét Ramsey was killed in Boulder, Colorado, the police almost immediately suspected her parents of involvement. Regardless, John and Patsy Ramsey allowed investigators to interview them. Though they knew the associated risks in agreeing to interviews, they chose to assist the police in finding their daughter’s killer.

jason7Jason Young possessed the most information about his wife’s activities, behaviors, routines, and acquaintances. He could have provided the police with a written statement, reviewed by his attorney, but instead he opted to remain silent. Whatever information he had, he chose to withhold it from the police.  He never even called the police to check on the investigation or even asked his family or friends to contact them on his behalf.

The prosecutor stated regarding Jason Young’s failure to cooperate with the police: “He answered questions (while testifying at his first trial) 1,693 days after his wife’s murder. When he answered questions, he said that he did not kill his wife and that when he went outside the hotel, it was for the purpose of smoking a cigar. How in any way would that have been incriminating?” Only when he faced life in prison did Jason feel compelled to speak regarding the brutal and vicious murders of his wife and unborn child. He spoke, not in an effort to help find the killer(s), but with the sole intent of protecting himself. Based on the limited evidence and off-setting exculpatory evidence, Jason Young may be not guilty. However, based on his selfish actions, he certainly is not innocent.

Works Cited

Average Jane, “Meredith’s 911 Call,” Friction Powered, http://frictionpowered.blogspot.com/2007/02/merediths-911-call.html, February 15, 2007.

Fisher, Jim, “The Jason Young Murder Trials,” Jim Fisher True Crime, http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-jason-young-murder-case-going-to.html, December 1, 2015.

Gardner, Kelly, “Jason Young’s Daughter Spoke of Him During 911 Call,” WRAL.com, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/story/10702549, February 8, 2012.

Gardner, Kelly, “Michelle Young’s Life Was Insured for $4M,” WRAL.com, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/story/10771883/, February 23, 2012.

Justice for Jason Young, Analysis of the investigation and trial, https://justiceforjasonyoung.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/summary-and-key-facts-of-the-case/, accessed April-May, 2016.

Michelle Young Murder, http://youngtragedy.blogspot.com/2007/02/autopsy.html, accessed April-May, 2016.

North Carolina Court of Appeals No. COA13-586, State of North Carolina v. Wake County No. 09 CRS 19207, Jason Lynn Young, Filed: 1 April 2014.

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, Report of Autopsy Examination. Autopsy Number: B06-3327, Decedent: Michelle Marie Fisher Young, Date of Examination: November 4, 2006, Dr. Kevin Green, http://www.wral.com/asset/news/local/2007/01/22/1175523/1307321296-scan0001.pdf.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina No. 124PA14, State of North Carolina v. Jason Lynn Young, Filed 21 August, 2015.

WRAL.com, Jason Young Murder Trial Video, June 2011, http://www.wral.com/specialreports/michelleyoung/asset_gallery/10684977/, accessed April – May, 2016.

Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:

Murderer, Manipulator, or Do-Gooder? The Many Sides of James Rupard

“Making a Murderer” Sparks Public Outrage (as well it should)

The Deep Sleeper – Darlie Routier’s Plight for Innocence

Drew Peterson – A Legend in His Own Mind

Not How It Was Supposed To Go: Joanna Madonna and the Murder of Jose Perez

johntJohn W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.  John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes.  He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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High Profile Criminals Who Have Called Washington “Home”

by Frankie Rendón

Public consciousness is collectively enthralled by the media circus, elusive events, bizarre behavior and often gruesome details that surround highly publicized crimes. Most mesmerizing, however, are the perpetrators responsible for committing these dastardly deeds.

With our eyes glued to TV screens watching the criminal proceedings unfold, we wonder: “What might prompt someone to act so irrationally? What circumstances drove them toward that brink?” Then, there’s the classic “nature versus nurture” debate. Were they psychologically predisposed to violence, or are environmental factors to blame?

Regardless of the catalyst, these infamous individuals share one commonality: they can all trace their felonious roots to the Pacific Northwest — a stage set for newsworthy yet horrifying scenarios.

seattle.jpg

Ted Bundy

bunAmong the most notorious serial killers in American history, Ted Bundy has been linked to 36 murders on-record. Some sources have even alleged that he committed over 100 murders before his 1989 execution at a Florida state prison.

Bundy was born in Vermont then later relocated, along with his mother, to the Pacific Northwest, where he would eventually earn a Psychology degree from Seattle’s University of Washington. Throughout his adolescence, Bundy began exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, marked by a perceived ineptitude when communicating with others. Witnesses have also indicated that, from a young age, he became fascinated by knives and violence.

Reportedly, Bundy’s killing spree was instigated when a college sweetheart ended their relationship. In fact, several of his victims strongly resembled this ex-girlfriend. In 1974, Bundy murdered nine women in Washington and Oregon, while simultaneously attending UW, volunteering with a political campaign and planning to enroll in law school.

Known for his disarming physical features and charismatic pretense, Bundy lured numerous unsuspecting female students to their deaths during his five-year rampage. His criminal activities have even been traced to incidents in Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Florida.

Gary Ridgway

bun3Dubbed the “Green River Killer,” based on his pattern of dumping corpses along the Green River, Gary Ridgway ultimately confessed to 71 murders. He was active throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, managing to elude capture until 2001.

Ridgway embarked on his killing spree in 1982, during which time, he preyed on female prostitutes and runaways. Also demonstrating necrophiliac behaviors, Ridgway often visited his victims’ burial sites to have intercourse with their bodies. Following a conviction on 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder, this assassin received a life imprisonment sentence.

In order to escape execution, Ridgway cooperated with detectives in locating the unaccounted for victim remains. He is currently isolated at USP Florence Supermax prison, but will soon transfer to Washington where he can be more “accessible” for open murder investigations.

D.B. Cooper

bun2Given the pseudonym “D.B. Cooper” by media outlets, an unidentified man infamously hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft on November 24, 1971. After extorting $200,00 in ransom from the passengers, he parachuted away and vanished into the Northwestern wilderness.

Nine years after this hijacking, a young boy uncovered three cash bundles along the Columbia River, north of Portland. Totaling $5,800, with serial numbers matching Cooper’s stolen loot, federal investigators determined this was most likely ransom money.

D.B. Cooper himself remains at-large, however. Although he presumably did not survive his skydive escape, FBI authorities still cannot trace this individual’s whereabouts. In fact, over 40 years later, his true identity continues to be shrouded in mystery.

Mary Kay Letourneau

bun4Convicted of child rape in 1996, former schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau served over seven years in prison for sexual relations with a 13-year-old student named Vili Fualaau. Throughout their illicit affair, she became pregnant twice.

At this time, Letourneau had a husband and four children, but the marriage was reportedly in shambles. Following her sentence completion, Letourneau and Fualaau said “I do,” and have since been married for 10 years. Currently, the couple is petitioning to remove her name from Washington’s sex offender registry.

These criminals have undeniably earned reputations for wreaking havoc on numerous lives, leaving  harmful consequences in their wake, and capturing public attention in the process.

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Can you think of any other notorious Northwestern convicts we forgot to mention? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Frankie Rendón is a freelance writer. He has written this post on behalf of Seattle Lockmaster.

Ron Goldenberg is the manager of Seattle Lockmaster, a 24 hour locksmith service company that offers residential, automotive, and commercial services throughout the greater Seattle area.

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