MOUNT PLEASANT — A 33-year-old woman has been accused of stealing a van, and was reportedly caught in part because of DNA found on a straw.
Ashley C. Crayton, from Anoka, Minnesota, was charged with a felony count of driving or operating a vehicle without owner’s consent.
According to a criminal complaint:
On Sept. 21, an officer was sent to a residence on Daisy Lane for the theft of a 2009 Chrysler Town & Country. The owner said the van was in the driveway and the key was inside the center console.
On Oct. 2, a sergeant was contacted by the Kenosha Police Department because the stolen van was located. It was parked in the 6600 block of 18th Avenue.
A search of the car was done and a health card belonging to Crayton was found. There was also a Big Buddy cup from a gas station and several Walgreens gift cards. Surveillance video from a Walgreens on 52nd Street showed a woman attempt to use the card but it was declined. She then got into the stolen vehicle.
WOLF CREEK TOWNSHIP – The case of a Chicago man whose body was found 42 years ago in Wolf Creek Township has been solved.
State police say they have closed the case after identifying the victim as Edwin Rodriguez of Chicago, according to a news release issued May 25 by the PSP Troop D Criminal Investigation Assessment Unit.
“The family was grateful that we were able to inform them what happened to their loved one and we were able to return his remains to Chicago for a proper service,” Trooper Joshua Black said, following up on the news release.
Using DNA testing and genealogy tools, they were able to confirm Rodriguez was the victim and identified Nestor Quintanal as the suspect in his death.
Quintanal died in Florida in 2002 at the age of 71. Homicide charges would have been filed otherwise, Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker said.
The suspect would have been extradited to Mercer County and tried, hopefully ending with him being convicted and sentenced to state prison for life, Acker said.
Police began their investigation on Nov. 6, 1980, when someone found a burning body near Interstate 80 in Wolf Creek Township.
Autopsy results revealed that the deceased was a white male between the ages of 16 and 19 who weighed about 115 pounds and was 5 feet 8 inches tall.
Rodriguez had third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body and could not be identified at the time, police said.
Since then, advancements have been made in DNA technology, allowing law enforcement to submit evidence taken from the crime scene, Acker said.
His office paid for state police to have an advanced DNA analysis performed, eventually leading to the…
One of the things I love most about the practice of law is the criminal cases I get to argue. Spanning the gamut from murders to assaults to following money trails — legal and illegal — criminal law is an exacting detail-oriented discipline. It is the piecing together by the prosecution of “they did it” while the defence will strive to establish that “the State has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that we did it”. Part of the process of investigation that results in the collection of proof pointing to innocence or guilt involves the deployment of forensic science.
What is forensic science? Katherine Ramsland writes in her book, Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation, that “forensic science is the application of scientific perspectives and techniques to the legal process, including investigations and courtroom protocol. It is accurate to say that it is the use of scientific data and procedures specifically for the legal system.” She adds that “the disciplines rely on the same values and methodology used by other members of the scientific community. There is rigorous procedure involved, including controlled conditions, reliable data collection and the attempt to disprove hypotheses.”
What does this forensic science of data collection and attempt to prove or disprove the hypothesis look like from the perspective of familiar techniques or methods? Essentially, methodologies like the autopsy procedures, fingerprinting, testing and matching for poisons, blood spatter analysis, matching guns to bullets fired (ballistics), voice sample matches, handwriting assessments and DNA analysis are all facets of forensic science.
Forensic sciences have gained great cultural popularity over the past two decades…
SPOKANE, Wash. – After 10 years, the manner of death for a woman found dismembered and dumped in a sleeping bag has been amended from ‘undetermined’ to ‘homicide.’ The request for Spokane’s new medical examiner to the review the original autopsy report and findings conducted by those who held the title before her, came from the Spokane Police Department.
Dr. Veena D. Singh wrote in an addendum, mailed to the family of Kala Williams, in part stating, ‘Scene investigation, findings, autopsy findings, and toxicology results warrant changed in original certification to the following:
Cause of Death: Homicide by unspecified means
Manner of Death: Homicide’
“[The new medical examiner] has poured grace over our family,” Kala’s mother Martine Maggio told KHQ. “We were beyond floored someone still cares about Kala.”
Martine says even days later, she’s still in shock.
“Obviously this was a murder, obviously,” she said. “It’s been 10 years. We want [justice.]”
She says the wait to get it nearly cost her life. She says the month of May is filled with horrific memories that caused her to go into a deep depression.
“I wouldn’t be eating,” she said. “There’s a gnawing edge in your stomach that never goes away.”
Kala’s body was found on Mother’s Day in 2012. She had been reported missing by her brother several weeks prior.
Martine, and Kala’s cousin Julie Beauchaine, both recall fearing the worst, when no one could track Kala down. The women remember hearing reports that a body had been found off of Highway 195 and suspected instantly that it was Kala.
“I didn’t want to hear the words… I knew, I already…
The defense presented and rested its case to the jury with three expert witnesses after the prosecution formally rested its case Wednesday.
The first-degree murder trial of Demetri Ewing began for the eighth day at 9 a.m. and continued until 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The 17-year-old is charged along with his father, Clyde Ewing, in the shooting death of Samuel Johns on Jan. 8, 2021, when Demetri Ewing was 16 years old. There were about 10 people in the audience.
Defense attorney Greg Rauch gave opening statements and addressed the jury.
He reiterated points made in cross-examination of witnesses that questioned the direction of the police investigation, including clearing suspects based on their own statements, changing testimony from Patricia Labombard and placing witnesses in an ambulance, which he argued provided witnesses the opportunity to construct a narrative of the events.
“The police in this matter immediately heard who they thought did it and pursued it,” Rauch said. “Pursued one route, pursued one set of suspects to one room.”
Rauch also noted evidence that didn’t fit Ewing and suggested a third person, not Ewing, was involved with Clyde Ewing on the night of the shooting. He provided examples of a third bicycle at the Ewings’ motel room and DNA evidence that didn’t match Clyde Ewing or Demetri Ewing. “Who was that third person?” Rauch said.
Rauch identified evidence that didn’t match Demetri Ewing in relation to the size of the suspect. Ewing is 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and Johns was 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and the autopsy reported a downward trajectory of the bullet. Clothing tags found on the Lewiston levee that belonged to black sweatshirts worn by the suspects indicated one was a male XL and the other was a male medium. A jacket that belonged to Ewing was a women’s small.
Additionally, Rauch made the case that Clyde Ewing kicked Demetri Ewing out of the motel on Dec. 23, 2020, and that he was staying at a homeless shelter. A Clarkston police officer reportedly saw Demetri Ewing at the motel Jan. 8, 2021, but wasn’t sure of the exact date of when he returned. Additionally, a photo showing a shotgun, pistol and two cans of bear mace was found on both Demetri and Clyde Ewings’ cellphones. The photo was dated Jan. 3, 2021, and geolocation placed it at the Hacienda Lodge, but did not originate on Demetri Ewing’s phone. Therefore, Rauch said, it proved Ewing wasn’t there. “Why send a picture when you’re both in the same room?” he asked.
“I ask you guys to keep an open mind,” he concluded in his address to the jury.
The defense then began with its expert testimony including from Randell Libby, a forensic DNA analyst with GeneQuest Diagnostics, who testified via Zoom on the DNA sample examined by Eric Seat of the Idaho State Police forensic lab. Libby explained that STRmix, the DNA software used by the ISP lab, analyzes samples that have multiple people’s DNA. However, Libby noted that there are assumptions made in the analysis of how many DNA contributors there are, in this case it was assumed to be three. Out of all three DNA samples, Libby said at least one was male.
In Libby’s reading of the lab’s report, he disagreed with the conclusion that the DNA sample matched Demetri Ewing. He noted several areas that didn’t match Ewing’s DNA. He said that the STRmix software adds in DNA when there are missing areas, like in this sample, which can create a match. It also alters the statistical ratio of the likelihood of the match.
Libby evaluated the likelihood statistic by the ISP lab, which stated the sample was 23,500 more likely to be Demetri Ewing. He said that was a weak number and in many cases it’s in the millions or tens of millions.
Libby also observed an area of the DNA that is passed down from father to son that didn’t match Demetri Ewing or Clyde Ewing.
In cross-examination, Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith asked if Libby did his own testing on the sample and he confirmed he didn’t. She also questioned if he was aware of the validation of the ISP lab and he said he didn’t receive those reports.
Rauch then asked if the validation of the lab affected the results of his findings or the findings of the lab.
“It doesn’t change the fact that assumptions have been made to obtain a match,” Libby said. “(The lab) might be perfectly valid but it still doesn’t change that the evidence sample doesn’t match the defendant in this matter unless assumptions are made.”
Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman objected to another witness by the defense, Charles Schoonover, of Action Agency, who owns a private investigation company in Sandpoint. Gaskill returned to his chambers to consider Coleman’s motion to suppress Schoonover’s testimony and decided the testimony was allowed but only to explain what he would have done as the investigator. Coleman was also allowed to question Schoonover on his credentials and pointed out his lack of formal training and education to the jury.
During his testimony, Schoonover reviewed reports on the investigation and shared with the court what he would have done in his investigation. One of the areas he discussed was keeping witnesses separate to not influence their statements and keep their memories fresh and clear. “Everybody sees the incident differently,” he said. Witnesses at the crime scene gathered at an ambulance when police arrived.
He also examined the collection and documentation of evidence, including the delay in picking up black tape and black gloves, lack of measurements in photos, the use of cellphone cameras to record and take photos at the crime scene, not documenting bicycle tracks for a lab analysis and not using a laser to get a trajectory of the bullets found at the scene. In gathering video evidence, he would have searched security cameras in a wider radius of the route the suspects took, including past the Hacienda Lodge and the Johns residence.
In cross examination, Coleman noted that while Schoonover looked at police reports, videos and photos, he didn’t examine the evidence himself or go inside the Johns residence — although Schoonover said he looked at the house from the outside.
The defense also presented testimony from Gaylen Warren, who owns his own forensics lab, Columbia International Forensics Laboratory, and specializes in firearms and tool marks. Warren made the same conclusions as Britany Wylie, a forensic scientist for Idaho State Police Forensic Services, that three shell casings — two found at the crime scene and another found at the Hacienda Lodge — were fired from the same firearm. Wylie was an expert witness brought forward by the prosecution Friday.
However, he said more could have been done to identify the firearm by also providing the two bullets found at the crime scene for analysis “to give law enforcement an idea of what to look for, ‘cause it’s a no-gun case,” Warren said.
Before the jury entered the courtroom for the day, defense attorney Lawrence Moran asked Second District Judge Jay Gaskill for an acquittal. Moran based his motion on the fact that the prosecution alleged the murder happened during either a robbery or burglary and he said that no testimony or evidence supported that anything was taken and therefore didn’t support the first-degree murder charge. Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith said evidence and testimony showed that assailants entered the residence with a gun, zip tied Labombard and threatened her with a gun, which would be aggravated assault as well as kidnapping and would justify a first-degree murder charge. She also said that items don’t necessarily need to be taken from a residence or victim to be considered a robbery or burglary under the law, and in this case she suggested the attempt was thwarted by the shooting. Gaskill denied the motion for acquittal.
After the three experts testified, the defense rested its case. When the jury was out of the courtroom during a break, Gaskill took the opportunity to ask Ewing if he planned on testifying. Ewing said he won’t be testifying, using his fifth amendment right at the counsel of the defense.
Gaskill directed the jury to return to the Nez Perce County Courthouse at 9 a.m. today to listen to closing arguments and final instructions before the case is submitted to the jury for a verdict.
GREAT FALLS — DNA evidence preserved on a microscope slide after a 1956 double homicide and the use of forensic genealogy helped a Montana sheriff’s office close the books on the 65-year-old cold case, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office announced.
Investigators concluded Kenneth Gould — who died in Oregon County, Missouri, in 2007 — more than likely killed Patricia Kalitzke, 16, and Duane Bogle, 18, the Great Falls Tribune reports. Both were shot in the head.
Detective Sgt. Jon Kadner, who took over the case in 2012, said Tuesday it was the oldest case he could find nationwide to be solved using forensic genealogy, which searches commercial DNA databases to find familial matches to the DNA of a crime suspect.
On Jan. 3, 1956, three boys hiking along the Sun River near Wadsworth Park northwest of Great Falls found Bogle dead near his car. A day later, a county road worker found Kalitzke’s body north of Great Falls.
Kalitzke was a junior at Great Falls High School, and Bogle was an airman at Malmstrom Air Force Base from Waco, Texas.
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Officers investigated for years, but they were unable to make an arrest.
In 2001, then-Detective Phil Matteson sent the slide of a vaginal swab gathered from Kalitzke’s body to the Montana State Crime Lab for analysis. The lab found a sperm cell that did not belong to Bogle, officers said.
In the following years, law enforcement compared the DNA sample to about 35 other men, including gangster James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger Jr. They were all ruled out as suspects.
When Matteson retired, he said he didn’t believe the case would be solved. “A lot of different people had a turn at this, and we just weren’t able to take it to conclusion,” he said.
In 2018, however, forensic genealogy, which was used to help adoptees find biological family members, was used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. as the Golden State Killer. The new method has led to the identification of dozens of suspects in cold cases.
In 2019, Cascade County detectives had Bode Technology perform additional DNA testing on the evidence found on Kalitzke’s body. It was uploaded to voluntary genealogical databases, where they discovered a possible family connection — leading investigators to Gould.
Kadner had to reach out to Gould’s children and ask for DNA samples to verify the match.
“I wasn’t sure how they were going to react when I come to them saying, ‘Hey your dad’s a suspect in this case,’ but they were great to work with,” Kadner said.
Gould’s family home at the time of the homicides was a little over a mile from where Kalitzke lived and he was known to ride horses through the area, officials said.
After the murders, Gould sold his property near the town of Tracy. His family lived in Geraldine and Hamilton before moving to Missouri in 1967. They did not return to Montana.
Gould did not have a known criminal history and was not interviewed during the murder investigation. Investigators could not uncover any connection between Gould and the victims.
Officers kept working the case because of the circumstances, Kadner said.
“You had two young, vibrant individuals that were well-liked among their peer group,” he said. “Investigators poured their heart and soul into this case. They leave a little bit of themselves, from what I’ve seen.”
7 unsolved multiple homicides in Montana, and two that were solved through DNA
Nels and Annie Anderson — Billings
On the night of December 7, 1924, one of Billings’ oldest unsolved murders took place. 43-year-old barber Nels Anderson and his wife, 39-year-old Annie, were slain in their barber shop on Minnesota Avenue.
The weapon used, an ax that the Andersons kept at the shop for splitting wood, was found near Mr. Anderson’s body. Evidence indicated that the Andersons were just getting ready to leave for the night when they were surprised by the killer, as both victims had their coats on and there was no sign of a struggle.
Police attempted to gather fingerprints from a washstand used by the killer to rinse his or her hands, and combed over the Andersons’ correspondence to try and find anyone who they might have been in conflict with. The search for suspects extended to nearby towns, but no arrests were made.
Lloyd Duane Bogle and Patti Kalitzke — Great Falls
On Jan. 3, 1956, three young boys walking west of Great Falls, in an area now known as Wadsworth Park, discovered the body of 18-year-old airman Lloyd Duane Bogle lying next to a car. Bogle’s hands were tied behind his back using his own belt, and he’d been shot through the head. The car’s ignition switch was still engaged, and its headlights were still on.
The body of Bogle’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Patti Kalitzke, was found the next day northwest of the city. Like Bogle, Kalitzke was shot through the head. She showed no signs of sexual assault.
Bogle and Kalitzke were last seen alive at a Great Falls drive-in Jan. 2. Investigators didn’t believe that the two were killed during a robbery, as money and a camera were found in Bogle’s car.
More than 60 years later, the case remains unsolved. It has been theorized that Bogle and Kalitzke may have been victims of Edward Wayne Edwards, who was convicted of similar double murders in Ohio and Wisconsin, and was known to have been in Great Falls in 1956. Edwards died in prison in 2011, and is believed to have been responsible for the murder of at least one more couple in Oregon.
Richard and Alice Easton — McGregor Lake
The bodies of Richard Easton and his wife Alice were found on Feb. 19, 1963 at the Paradise Lodge, a resort that the Eastons owned at McGregor Lake west of Kalispell.
The Eastons were bludgeoned to death. Mrs. Easton was found inside the lodge by her daughter, while Richard Easton was found inside a padlocked garage by police who responded to the scene. A pathologist determined that the Eastons were attacked with a straight, narrow instrument approximately two days before their bodies were found.
A cash register stolen from the lodge and Richard Easton’s billfold were found in 1965. A suspect was questioned a few months earlier, but was released.
A woman came forward 38 years after the murder, saying she believed her ex-husband was the murderer. Arlene LaPierre lived with her then-husband Kenneth Lloyd Pendleton in a cabin not far from the lodge.
LaPierre told authorities in 2001 Pendleton returned to their cabin one night covered in blood. Pendleton claimed to have hit a deer and told LaPierre not to ask any questions. He then proceeded to burn his clothes, according to LaPierre.
Pendleton was believed to have robbed as many as 80 banks in eight states, and escaped from three prisons, before he was found beaten and stabbed to death in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in January 2001. Investigators closed the Easton case after Pendleton’s death.
Jim and Lois Arrotta — Great Falls
On the morning of Friday, Sept. 4, 1964, a beer salesman and a produce manager discovered the bodies of James and Lois Arrotta in the East Side Super Save Market in Great Falls, where James Arrotta was manager.
Lois Arrotta’s body was tied to the rear door of the market, bound with clothesline and gagged with cloth. Jim Arrotta was also bound and gagged, and detectives determined that the cloth used was torn from the aprons worn by the store’s employees. Both of the Arrottas had been stabbed with a long knife found at the scene. Broken Pepsi bottles, which police believe were used to hit one or both of the victims, were also found nearby.
Investigators believed the murders to be the result of a burglary and theorized that the Arrottas were abducted from their home while their seven children slept and taken to the store to open the market’s safe. The safe could not be opened by James Arrotta, as it used a time lock that kept it sealed during late hours.
The Arrottas’ car was found near their home, leading investigators to believe that the murderer or murderers drove the car away from the market before abandoning it. It was later determined that Jim Arrotta’s coin collection was stolen from the Arrottas’ home. The empty coin collection books were eventually found near the Black Eagle Dam.
Alan Reavley, who was fired from the market for theft just weeks before the murders, was charged in 2002 with the murders during investigation of thefts from multiple Great Falls organizations. Witnesses testified that Reavley had talked during a religious retreat about killing people when he was younger, and one witness said Reavley claimed to be the one who found the bodies.
No physical evidence was found to link Reavley to the crime scene, and he was found not guilty of the murders in February 2004. Reavley was convicted of stealing money from the Great Falls Food Bank while serving as its executive director and is on parole, according to the Montana Department of Corrections.
Marjorie and Nancy McQuiston — Butte
Five days after 51-year-old Marjorie McQuiston and her 26-year-old daughter Nancy went missing on April 9, 1965, their bodies were found near the top of a hill northwest of Butte, less than a mile from their home at 945 17th St.
The two women were shot and badly beaten, according to contemporary news stories. Nancy McQuiston’s car was found a quarter-mile away from where the bodies were found, in a gully on the edge of Big Butte. The car’s trunk was stained with blood, indicating that the women were killed elsewhere before being taken to the dump site.
Authorities were stuck juggling the murder investigation with the search for 17-year-old JoAnn Kankelborg, who went missing the same day as the McQuistons. Kankelborg’s body was found on April 15, 1965, just one day after the McQuistons were found, under a bridge southeast of Butte. Butte athlete Jerry Van Nuland was quickly charged with Kankelborg’s murder.
Investigators tried in vain to find some connection between Kankelborg’s murder and the double murder of the McQuistons. Van Nuland pleaded guilty to the Kankelborg murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but was never linked to the deaths of the McQuistons.
Bullet holes and blood-stained objects were discovered in the McQuiston residence. The suspected murder weapon, Nancy McQuiston’s own .22-caliber automatic pistol, was found in the home. The case remains unsolved.
George Heinrich and Marlene Mazzola — Billings
George Heinrich, 58, and Marlene Mazzola, 42, were on only their second date when they were murdered in Heinrich’s home northeast of Billings on Sept. 21, 1980.
The couple was found by Heinrich’s adopted daughter the next afternoon. Both had been strangled and beaten and were bound with electrical tape. There was no sign of sexual assault on either victim.
They were last seen by Heinrich’s brother and sister the night of the murders at the Elk’s Club in Billings, which they left around 1:30 a.m. according to witnesses. Mazzola’s 1979 Pontiac LeMans was found abandoned at a Husky service station on Main Street.
Missing from Heinrich’s home off Highway 312 were a valuable diamond ring, a Masonic ring and a clock. Investigators found Heinrich’s keys outside of the door between the garage and house, leading them to believe Mazzola and Heinrich were surprised by the killer or killers within the garage. The door to the master bedroom, where the bodies were found, was damaged.
A red pickup, which was missing its tailgate, was seen driving up the lane toward the house around 2 a.m., according to investigators.
Kenneth and Iva Larue Cheetham — Lake Inez
The Cheethams’ 1969 Ford van was found days later on Aug. 5, 1991, on a logging road near Lake Alva. Their bodies were found five weeks later on Sept. 11, by a man walking his dog off Highway 83 near Lake Inez, just a short distance from where the van was discovered.
The Cheethams both died of gunshot wounds. Iva Cheetham’s purse was dumped outside of the van, but her checks and credit cards were not taken. The couple’s Hitachi video camera was one of the few items taken from the van. The strap from the camera was found along Highway 80 near Geraldine, more than 200 miles away.
Investigators questioned a man who was known to be in the Geraldine area around the time of the murders, but never had any physical evidence to charge him. Shell casings found near the bodies indicated that a 9mm pistol was the murder weapon.
Dorothy Harris, Brenda Patch and Cynthia Paulus — Florence
On Nov. 6, 2001, three women were murdered in the Hair Gallery salon in Florence. The women were found by a customer who was arriving for an appointment.
The throats of Brenda Patch, Cynthia Paulus and salon owner Dorothy Harris had all been slashed. The brazen nature of the murders, in broad daylight during business hours, puzzled investigators, but also provided a lead. Witnesses described a person wearing a fedora or top hat and a long coat walking briskly near the salon and through a nearby neighborhood after the murders.
Brian Weber, who was questioned in the weeks after the murders, allegedly made statements to acquaintances regarding the murders. Attention returned to Weber while he was being held on drug distribution charges.
Weber claimed that investigators suggested he had been sent to the salon by an Idaho drug dealer because of a drug debt owed by a relative of one of the victims.
The case was reopened after the charges against Weber were dismissed.
SOLVED: Clifford and Linda Bernhardt — Billings
Clifford and Linda Bernhardt had lived in their home at 1116 Dorothy Lane in the Billings Heights for only a month before they were found murdered on Nov. 7, 1973.
The house was just around the corner from Linda’s parents’ house. Linda’s mother went to check on the couple after not hearing from her daughter, and found the bodies in separate bedrooms of the house.
Both Clifford and Linda had suffered blows to the head, and Linda showed signs of strangulation and sexual assault. There were also signs that both were bound at the wrists and ankles at some point, though investigators could never find the bindings.
Clifford Bernhardt was an Army sergeant and was said to be in excellent physical shape and proficient in using weapons, which investigators noted would make a home invasion unlikely. An FBI profile of the killer was developed, painting a picture of a male who was acquainted with the Bernhardts and who may have had an infatuation with Linda.
Some reports said the dinner table was set with place settings for three people, lending further evidence to the theory that the killer was someone the couple knew.
A bowl of ice cubes was found next to Linda’s body. The killer opened the windows to the two bedrooms and turned the thermostat to its lowest temperature, possibly to conceal the time of death.
Investigators say the murderer also took Clifford Bernhardt’s suitcase and filled it with Linda’s underwear and shoes before untying both victims and leaving the house. The perpetrator locked the front door behind him.
DNA evidence was recovered from some of Linda’s clothing decades after the murders. A $100,000 reward was offered for anyone who provided information leading to an arrest in the case.
In 2019, Yellowstone County law enforcement officials announced that through forensic DNA investigation, the killer of Cliff and Linda Bernhardt was identified as Cecil Stan Caldwell, a coworker of Linda’s who died in 2003.
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It took 30 years for authorities to make an arrest in the strangling death of Nona Stamey Cobb, but officials said investigators with the State Bureau of Investigations and Surry County Sheriff’s Office never gave up.
“I want to send a clear message here. Hear my words,” SBI director Robert Schurmeier said at a news conference Thursday at the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. “The men and women of the SBI in partnerships with sheriff’s offices across this state and around the country will seek out justice for the cold cases that we have on our books. We will work day and night to pursue the suspects who think they may have gotten away with it 20, 30, 40 years ago.”
Warren Luther Alexander, 71, of Diamondhead, Miss., was arrested March 15 and charged with felony murder in the July 7, 1992 death of Cobb, a 29-year-old woman who was last seen alive the night before getting into a truck with a white man at a rest stop on Interstate 85 in Cleveland County. Alexander was brought back to North Carolina on March 27 and is currently in the Surry County Jail with no bond allowed. His next court date in Surry District Court is May 4.
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Vickie S. Gregory, Cobb’s sister, and two younger women who are relatives of Cobb, sat on the front row of a conference room in the sheriff’s office late Thursday morning as officials with the State Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General Josh Stein and members of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office spoke.
They said persistence, law-enforcement partnership and new DNA technology led to Alexander’s arrest. After the news conference, the three women quickly left, and SBI spokeswoman Anjanette Grube said they did not want to make a statement.
Sheriff Steve Hiatt read a lengthy list of law-enforcement agencies and officers, some of whom have since died, who worked over the past 30 years on the case.
“The fact that we’re all here today is a testament to the men and women who did not give up,” he said.
Capt. Scott Hudson of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office said a trucker found Cobb’s body off the northbound lane of CC Camp Road by a ramp onto I-77. Her body was found at 6:15 a.m. July 7, 1992. It would take about three weeks before investigators definitively identified her as Nona Stamey Cobb.
The Surry County Sheriff’s Office started investigating, with the assistance of the SBI, and located a woman who told detectives that she saw Cobb on the night of July 6, 1992, getting into a black Peterbilt truck with a white man. Hudson said the woman gave a description of the driver.
Hudson said DNA evidence was taken from Cobb’s body and other items, including clothing, and that evidence was submitted to the State Crime Lab for analysis. The Surry County Sheriff’s Office did not have a suspect until 1995, when an Asheboro trucker named Sean Patrick Goble was questioned about Cobb’s death. Goble denied killing Cobb, and in July 1995, Surry County investigators ruled Goble out as a suspect when DNA tests done on semen from Cobb’s body did not match Goble.
Goble was eventually charged and convicted of killing three other women, including a Florida woman whose body was found in Guilford County in 1995. He is serving two life sentences, plus 14 years, in prison, according to news reports.
Then in April 2021, special agents with the SBI’s Cold Case Investigation Unit and Surry County sheriff’s detectives re-examined evidence, including DNA, in Cobb’s murder. They worked with Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of Identifinders International LLC, and were able to identify Alexander as a possible suspect. The company uses forensic geneology, which takes genetic information from direct-to-consumer companies to help identify suspects in criminal cold cases.
“I will tell you that forensic genealogy is a game changer,” Schurmeier said. “It’s incredible how it helps us connect the dots with people around the country, family members around the country, to identify the suspects who think they’ve gotten away with it.”
Stein said that seven analysts from the State Crime Lab analyzed more than 34 items of DNA evidence over a 10-year period to help break the case. He spoke directly to Gregory and the rest of Nona Cobb’s family.
“It isn’t finished but what we hope is that this impressive step taken by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office brings you one step closer to having some sense of closure and a sense of justice for what happened to Nona,” he said.
Surry County investigators and the SBI are looking into whether Alexander might be connected to other unsolved homicides. Hudson asked that anyone who has information or knows of similar killings contact the SBI’s Hickory office at 828-294-2266 or the Surry County Sheriff’s Office at 336-401-8900.
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The capital murder trial of Derrill Richard “Rick” Ennis continued on Tuesday with multiple witnesses taking the stand, including a forensic analyst who said he found a DNA match between Ennis and a sample of “potential blood” and semen.
Ennis was arrested and charged in 2018 following a cold case investigation of the June 2006 disappearance of Lori Ann Slesinski of Auburn. Slesinski’s car was found engulfed in flames at the dead end of Dekalb Street in Auburn, but her body was never found.
Pete Macchia formerly worked in the DNA forensic biology unit for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in the Montgomery Regional Laboratory. In 2006, he investigated the Slesinski case and looked for potential DNA evidence in her trailer.
Macchia was called to the witness stand on Tuesday, and Lee County District Attorney Jessica Ventiere asked if he found anything he thought could have been blood inside the trailer in 2006. He replied yes.
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Macchia told the jury that he swabbed the interior doorknob of the front door and ran a presumptive blood test of the sample, which returned as “possible blood.”
The process for this kind of test involves applying chemicals to the sample, Macchia said, and if it changes color “then it could be blood.”
“We refer to this as a presumptive test because it is not a confirmatory test. It just, it could be blood,” he continued.
Macchia said multiple items were sent to the Alabama Department of Forensics for testing, including the blood swab, sheets from Slesinski’s bed, DNA swabs from Ennis, and handcuffs and pants found in Ennis’s car.
Ventiere asked Macchia if he found a match for the potential blood swabbed from the door knob. Macchia replied, “Yes, there was a match.”
“Who did it match?” Ventiere asked.
“It matched to the DNA profile of Derrill R. Ellis,” Macchia said. On the report, Macchia said Ennis’ last name was misspelled as Ellis.
The sheets from Slesinski’s bed sent to the Alabama Department of Forensics were tested for blood and semen.
Macchia told Ventiere that all bodily fluids contain DNA and there are different tests for blood and semen.
Ventiere asked if any genetic materials were found on the sheets, and Macchia said they were “analyzed for the presence of semen with positive results.”
Ventiere asked if he was able to make a match to determine whose semen it was.
“Reading from the report, the major component of the DNA profile obtained from the stains on the sheet and the DNA profile of Derril R. Ellis match,” Macchia said, again referring to the mispelling of Ennis..
A pair of pants found in Ennis’s vehicle was also tested, but the results came back negative for “presumptive blood.”
The fur-lined handcuffs were also tested and Macchia said they came back negative for blood and semen.
The next individual to take the stand who was involved in the forensic analysis with the case was Jason Kokoszka, who was the chief of the forensic biology section in the Mobile Laboratory at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences from 2005 until 2017.
While on the stand, Kokosza confirmed what Macchia said about the DNA tests matching Ennis.
“The combination of genetic traits detected in a major component of Item 23, which is the stains on the fitted sheet, occurs in approximately one of 6.66 quadrillion random unrelated Caucasian individuals. In one of 69 quadrillion random unrelated African American individuals, and with a high degree of confidence Mr. Ennis or his identical twin is the source of the genetic traits previously detected in that major component of Item 23,” Kokoszka said.
Earlier on Tuesday morning a former Auburn police officer took the stand and told the jury what he saw while investigating the case in 2006.
Lee Hodge, an officer with the Auburn Police Department from 1980 until he retired in 2008, said he was on duty when the police department received the missing person report on Tuesday, June 13, 2006. He went to Slesinski’s mobile home located at Ridgewood Trailer Park in Auburn and the site where her vehicle was found.
When Hodge first arrived at the trailer, he told Ventiere he remembered seeing Slesinski’s family, friends and coworkers there.
Ventiere asked if he saw Ennis there and Hodge replied no.
Hodge said he noticed the door to the trailer “looked like it could have been forced” open and the door looked “splintered and damaged.” He also told the jury that the damage looked “fresh.”
Ventiere brought a poster diagram of Slesinski’s trailer and put it on an easel next to the stand for Hodge to explain to the jury the layout of the trailer.
Hodge stood up to point to the door he entered and had Ventiere label the rooms inside. The front door opened up into the living room area. To the right was the second bedroom that Hodge said could have been used for office or storage space. To the left was the kitchen and a hallway that led to Slesinski’s bedroom and bathroom.
Scratches and scuff marks were along the walls in the hallway, Hodge remembered, and he found a single gold loop earring on the floor in the hallway.
Ventiere asked Hodge to describe the layout of Slesinski’s room. He marked on the poster the location of her bed and a night stand table.
“One thing that was noticeable in the bedroom,” Hodge said, “the bedding was not neat. The bedding was all shuffled.”
Later, Ennis’ defense attorney, Todd Crutchfield, quoted Arlene Slesinski’s earlier testimony that her daughter’s bed was made when she visited the trailer before lunchtime on Tuesday, June 13, 2006, and Crutchfield asked Hodge if he disagreed with her testimony.
Hodge said that the bed was not made when he saw it. He had arrived at the trailer around 3 p.m., he said.
Also during his testimony, Hodge told the jury that a phone was on the floor and the cord that connected it to the wall was missing, and that was all that stood out to him at that time.
Slesinski’s friends and family had mentioned to Hodge that a green trash can was missing from the residence. Hodge said they told him it was supposed to be outside the trailer close to the front door, and he said the green trash can lid was found inside the trailer in the office/storage room the second time police inspected the trailer.
Hodge also said friends and family had told him rugs were missing from the kitchen, and that the temperature in the trailer was “extremely cold, which was not normal.”
The APD then interviewed the family members, friends and co-workers and created a BOLO – be on the lookout – for Slesinski and her vehicle, which went out across the state that Tuesday.
Then Ventiere asked Hodge what happened the next day, June 14, 2006. Hodge said the APD received a call that Slesinski’s vehicle was located and burned at the end of Dekalb Street.
“At that point going from a missing person complaint to then finding her vehicle being burned, at that time it kind of shifted the missing person to something a little bit more serious,” Hodge said.
Ventiere brought a large diagram of the area where the vehicle was found and put it on an easel. Hodge stood up to explain the scene.
He told the jury he entered Dekalb Street from Opelika Road, and he pointed to the bowling alley building where Ennis worked and said Slesinski’s vehicle was located on the cul-de-sac facing towards Opelika Road.
Ventiere asked if Hodge collected any evidence from the scene and Hodge replied that he collected a “partially burned hand-rolled cigarette” that was “a little damp but not saturated.”
“Being in the environment that we were in, that hand-rolled cigarette looked very fresh, meaning it hadn’t been there very long,” he said.
Hodge, who worked in narcotics for about 15 years, said that hand-rolled cigarettes are different from what is sold in stores.
“It’s rolled in cigarette paper, what’s called a leaf, most of the time it’s white, but to make a hand-rolled cigarette you basically put the tobacco inside the leaf or inside the paper and roll it,” Hodge said. “After you roll it, you’ve got to moisten it. Most people lick it to seal it up. It does not have a filter, so it’s open-ended on both ends.”
Hodge said that was all they found on that day, but law enforcement returned to the area and located a gas can in the wooded area behind the dead end of the street.
Ventiere showed Hodge several packages of evidence and asked him to identify each one. Hodge identified the package with the cigarette, the cans he used to put aside debris from the car fire for testing, the gold earring, Slesinski’s bed sheets and the green trash can lid.
Ventiere asked Hodge what was on the earring and Hodge replied “a piece of hair.”
On June 15, 2006, Hodge said, he went back to the trailer with forensic scientist for a more thorough investigation.
After breaking to take shelter inside the Lee County Justice Center during a tornado warning, the capital murder trial of Derrill Richard “Rick” Ennis reconvened Tuesday afternoon and Hodge returned to the stand for further questioning.
Ventiere asked Hodge if he searched Ennis’s vehicle. He replied that he was present during the search and police found fur-lined handcuffs inside the vehicle. Ventiere opened an evidence package showing the jury the handcuffs that were found.
Crutchfield asked Hodge about the results of the fingerprint test conducted on the gas can that was found in the woods. Hodge said, “There was no latent prints of value. In other words it couldn’t be identified.”
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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Evidence in the death of township teen Tiffany Valiante tested by a forensic lab was mishandled by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, according to a report released Tuesday by a forensic specialist hired by her family.
“We have extensive experience over decades performing analysis on evidence with degraded DNA; however, in this instance, we were able to obtain very little DNA for comparison due to the manner in which the evidence was collected and maintained,” Dr. Julie A. Heinig, laboratory director of Forensics and DNA Technical Leader with the DNA Diagnostic Center, said in a statement Tuesday.
Heinig cited problems with how evidence was packaged by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, saying some of the evidence tested was stored in plastic bags over paper ones. This caused “moisture-inducing bacterial contamination,” she said.
A judge previously ordered the police department to hand over evidence for testing, some of which included a headband, t-shirt and shoes.
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In her report, Heinig cited problems with how evidence was packaged by the New Jersey Transit Police Department, saying some of the evidence tested was stored in plastic bags over paper ones. This caused “moisture-inducing bacterial contamination,” she said, adding that not handling evidence properly can make it difficult to preserve any DNA.
Heinig also said other pieces of evidence were improperly logged, saying they were not labeled with initials of those who handled the them to maintain a chain of custody. She said doing is is industry standard.
Tiffany’s blood from her blood card could only be identified using paternity testing because it was improperly preserved, she added.
The police department declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.
Valiante, who was 18 at the time of her death, died in 2015 when she was struck by a New Jersey Transit train a few miles from her home. The state Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide within 48 hours after her death.
Her family, however, continues its assertion that the teen bound for Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, New York, showed no signs of being suicidal, believing she was a murder victim.
“We know her killer or killers are still free and must be held accountable for Tiffany’s death,” Valiante’s parents, Stephen and Dianne Valiante, said in a statement Tuesday, adding that they’ll be appealing to the state Attorney General’s Office to continue investigating her suspicious death.
The state Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Since Tiffany’s death, the Valiantes have fought for permission to independently test the evidence from the scene, releasing it from the New Jersey Transit Police Department’s custody.
“This report by DDC reinforces our view that there was a gross rush to judgment by investigators, who hastily determined Tiffany’s death was a suicide; they never treated the scene like a crime scene and, clearly, mishandled key evidence that we now conclusively learn was useless when finally subjected to DNA testing,” Paul D’Amato, the family’s attorney, who is handling the case pro bono, said in a statement Tuesday.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
The four men convicted of murdering Chris Paul’s grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, in 2002 are innocent and should be exonerated, an attorney for one of the men said in a motion filed last month in Forsyth Superior Court.
Christine Mumma, an attorney and director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence in Durham, represents Rayshawn Denard Banner, one of five men convicted of murdering Jones on Nov. 15, 2002. Mumma filed a motion in Forsyth Superior Court called a plea for declaration of innocence on March 17. Mumma declined to comment beyond what she said in her motion.
Four of the five men, who were teens when they were charged with the murder, filed claims with the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission. The commission held a hearing in March 2020 and a majority of commission members determined that there was sufficient evidence that the four men — Banner; his brother, Nathaniel Cauthen, Christopher Bryant and Jermal Tolliver — might be innocent. Dorrell Brayboy was killed in 2019 and never got a chance to file a claim, though commission investigators did get a chance to interview him.
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Starting the week of April 18, a panel of three superior court judges will decide if the four men should be exonerated.
The three attorneys who represent the other men support Mumma’s claim.
“The information collected by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is voluminous, and the investigation conducted was thorough,” Julie Boyer, who represents Cauthen, said in an email. “The Commission found sufficient evidence of actual innocence. We are prepared to demonstrate the actual innocence of these young men at the next step, the three-judge panel.”
Mark Rabil, attorney for Jermal Tolliver, is also director of Wake Forest Law School’s Innocence and Justice Clinic and represented the late Darryl Hunt, who was exonerated in 2004 after spending 19 years in prison for the murder of Deborah Sykes, a copy editor at the now-closed afternoon newspaper, The Sentinel.
“Thirty-eight years ago, on behalf of Darryl Hunt, and for 20 years (1984-2004), I fought many of the same officer practices and procedures that caused the wrongful convictions of my client, Jermal Tolliver, and the other members of the Winston-Salem-5,” Rabil said. The Winston-Salem 5 is a reference to another case in which five men, known then as the Central Park Five, convicted as teenagers were exonerated in the rape of a jogger in Central Park. “History is repeating itself now with the State and City’s defense of these wrongful convictions from the past. It is not right to keep two of the young men (Banner and Cauthen) locked up for life and the other two (Tolliver and Bryant) saddled with the impediments and consequences of false murder convictions.”
Brad Bannon, Bryant’s attorney, said all five men and Jessicah Black, a key witness who later recanted, were kids who were interrogated by “more than a dozen seasoned police officers under circumstances we now see all over the science of juvenile false confessions.”
“They tried to tell the truth that day and night, but they finally gave up and told the lies they thought would just get them out of those rooms,” Bannon said.
“When Nathaniel Jones’ life was taken from him and his loved ones, Winston-Salem lost a pillar of its community,” Bannon continued. “Now we have a chance to prove what Chris Bryant, Dorrell Brayboy, Rayshawn Banner, Nathaniel Cauthen, Jermal Tolliver, and Jessicah Black knew to be true on that day and every day since: none of them had anything to do with it.”
Killing on Moravia Street
Jones, 61, died on Nov. 15, 2002, after he was attacked in the carport of his home at 905 Moravia St. Winston-Salem police found Jones lying on his stomach near his Lincoln Town Car, his hands bound behind his back with black tape. Black tape was wrapped around his mouth. An autopsy determined he died from arrhythmia brought on by the stress of the attack and blunt-force trauma.
Days after his grandfather died, Chris Paul, then a standout basketball player at West Forsyth High School, scored 61 points in a game in Jones’ honor. He now plays for the Phoenix Suns and is set to release a book, “Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court,” about his relationship with Jones. He and his family have not made any public statements about the commission’s decision. Chris Paul’s father, Charles Paul, made a victim-impact statement at the commission’s hearing in 2020.
“We’re standing strong, but we just wanted to let you all know that it always gets lost as Chris Paul’s grandfather, but this is my wife, this is my wife’s dad, and her sister’s, somebody that they loved very much,” Charles Paul said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Charles and Robin Paul, one of Nathaniel Jones’ daughters, did not return a message seeking comment. Chris Paul could not be reached for comment.
In the 90-page motion, Mumma argues that Winston-Salem police and Forsyth County prosecutors built a case against the five teenagers — Banner was 14 and everyone else was 15 in 2002 — based on false confessions, weak physical evidence and a since-recanted statement from the only alleged eyewitness in the case — Jessicah Black, then a 16-year-old girl who was friends with the teenagers and drove them around the night of Jones’ killing.
There was never any DNA or fingerprint evidence that tied the five teenagers to the crime scene, and the only physical evidence were footprint impressions found on the hood of Jones’ Lincoln Town Car that may have been a match for a pair of Air Force 1s tennis shoes seized from the house where Banner and Cauthen lived.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill did not immediately return a message seeking comment, but he has been critical of the commission’s work, saying it is biased and unfair. He also argues that the convictions should be upheld and that Black’s recantation is unreliable. Prosecutors argue in court papers that the trial prosecutors, Eric Saunders and Beirne M. Harding, both of whom have since died, cannot defend themselves against Black’s “defamatory and false accusations.”
In court papers, Forsyth prosecutors question the actions of former Houston Chronicle reporter Hunter Atkins, to whom Black first recanted, pointing out that at some point, Atkins paid Black’s car payment. Atkins, who never published a piece about the case, testified to the commission that he paid Black’s car payment months after she had recanted.
Prosecutors accuse Atkins of manipulating Black into recanting. An executive editor at the Houston Chronicle confirmed that Atkins no longer works for the paper but declined to go into any further detail.
“For this Commission to find that these defendants are actually innocent, it must decide that all of the WSPD detectives in this case formed a conspiracy to forcefully feed words into the mouths of all five defendants and the witness Jessicah Black,” the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement provided to the commission before its hearing in 2020.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin said Tuesday that she and other prosecutors could not comment on a pending legal matter. She said prosecutors would respond at the hearing later this month, as is the normal protocol for the office.
Kira Boyd, a spokeswoman for the Winston-Salem Police Department, said the department will not be commenting on pending legal matters.
Mumma contends in the motion that all five teenagers and Black were coerced for hours at the Winston-Salem Police Department and threatened with the death penalty until they admitted some involvement in Jones’ death. In one instance, according to the motion, Bryant started admitting his involvement in Jones’ death within 10 minutes after a detective threatened him with the death penalty.
Mumma said that police quickly targeted the teenagers, ignoring and failing to follow up on other leads that could have led to different suspects.
“It is inconceivable that five teenage boys could commit this crime without leaving any fingerprints or DNA evidence connecting any of them to the scene,” she said.
Nov. 15, 2002
Jones owned a Chevron gas station on New Walkertown Road. Earlier on Nov. 15, 2002, he talked to a painter named Claude Walker and made plans to meet Walker at his house between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.to give Walker a down payment on a job he wanted Walker to do, according to the motion.
At 5:30 p.m. Jones and his nephew Terrence Jones left the station in Jones’ car. They stopped at a shopping center where Terrence Jones bought a carton of cigarettes for Jones and got a six-pack of Sprite and two half-gallons of Five Alive juice. He also bought some hamburger for himself.
Jones then dropped his nephew off at Salem Gardens apartment complex. It was 6:17 p.m. Mumma said it would have taken Jones about 8 minutes to drive from Salem Gardens to his home at 905 Moravia St.
Mumma said Jones stuck to a routine — he got home around 6:30 p.m. every night and he would call his daughter, Rhonda. He didn’t call his daughter that night, and no one picked up the phone when Walker called Jones’ house twice — 6:33 p.m. and 6:46 p.m.
Ava Williams, a family friend, drove by Jones’ house between 6:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., according to Mumma’s motion. She saw a small-framed man sitting in Jones’ car but thought it was one of Jones’ grandsons.
At 7 p.m., the first of four phone calls were made to Willard Cab Company. The person making the call asked for a cab to come to Jones’ house. The caller’s voice was agitated. Mumma said Winston-Salem police made little effort to determine who had made the call.
Walker got to Jones’ house at 7:45 p.m. He went to the front door but no one answered. He went to the carport, knocked on the door and as he came down the steps, he found Jones’ body on the ground. He went across the street to Calvin Scriven, who had his girlfriend, Tarshia Coleman, call 911.
“The foregoing facts support that Jones got home at approximately 6:25 p.m. and was unloading his groceries and collecting mail from the mailbox when he was attacked, causing him to be incapacitated by the time Walker called at 6:33 p.m.,” Mumma said. She alleges that the man Ava Williams saw sitting in Jones’ car was the one who attacked Jones.
Jones’ body was found between the carport steps and his Town Car, with his legs pointing toward the street. In his pockets was $952.70. He also had a briefcase in his trunk containing $1,416. His wallet was missing but jewelry and money in his bedroom were not taken.
In her motion, Mumma said Winston-Salem police detectives missed opportunities to pursue possible leads and do critical follow-ups.
For example, police never got the names of 30 to 40 people in a large crowd that gathered outside the crime scene on the night of Nov. 15, 2002. While they canvassed the neighborhood, officers never went back to houses where no one answered, Mumma said.
Two women, whose names were not obtained, told police that they should talk to a 17-year-old boy who lived at 901 Moravia St. Officers talked to people who lived at that address — Stevie Lindsay who told police he lived there with his sister, Uelyne Lindsay, and her son, Tony Lindsay. Police never interviewed Tony Lindsay, Mumma said in her motion.
It doesn’t appear Winston-Salem police ever talked to Hazel Gilbert, who was Jones’ girlfriend, or followed other leads, including one that said Jones bailed out someone named Red who owed people money. Red, whose real name is not indicated, was not interviewed.
One major miss, Mumma alleges, is that police didn’t do much follow up on the house across the street — 916 Moravia St., which she said was a known crack house. More importantly, Ava Williams’ description of a small-framed man sitting inside of Jones’ car around the time that Jones would have been attacked matched the description of a man known to live at 916 Moravia St.
Williams said that she saw that same man, who she said was nicknamed “Horne,” loitering on the corner of Moravia Street around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2002.
Last year, Mumma requested DNA testing to see if that man was the one who attacked Jones. Forsyth County prosecutors filed a motion Monday asking a judge to prohibit any mention of DNA results because they alleged Mumma had failed to turn over lab reports. Prosecutors said in the motion that the DNA results did not match the man.
Winston-Salem police also spoke to a young boy who said he saw someone he described as Hispanic jump over two fences near Jones’ house. There was also a birthday party at a house down the street from Jones’ house. It doesn’t appear that police ever got a list of who attended the party or interviewed anyone who went to the party.
By Nov. 19, 2002, Winston-Salem police had narrowed their search for suspects Cauthen, Banner, Brayboy, Bryant and Tolliver.
At 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19, 2002, Arlene Tolliver, Jermal Tolliver’s mother, called Winston-Salem police, saying that her son “hasn’t been the same since that homicide on Moravia St.” She told police she believed her son knew who killed Jones and that since Jones’ death, Jermal had stayed home and had not hung out with his friends, Cauthen and Banner.
Over the next several hours, Winston-Salem police pulled Cauthen, Banner, Bryant, Tolliver and Brayboy into interrogation rooms at the Winston-Salem Police Department on Cherry Street. They would sit in those interrogation rooms from between five to eight hours before a recorded statement was made in which they all admitted involvement in Jones’ death.
They all initially denied that they were involved in Jones’ murder. In testimony before the Innocence Inquiry Commission in March 2020, Cauthen, Banner, Tolliver and Bryant said that police detectives coerced them into making false statements.
The teens were told by police that they would get the death penalty if they didn’t tell what happened.
Juveniles cannot get the death penalty. Jermal Tolliver testified at a court hearing that one of the detectives pointed to a place on his arm and said that would be where the needle would go for the lethal injection.
“WSPD spent eight hours scaring, manipulating, and feeding teenagers information, resulting in false confessions that not only contradicted each other, but contradicted the crime scene evidence,” Mumma argues in the motion.
According to the motion, several of the boys said that the attack happened near a white van parked in Jones’ driveway. Police found Jones’ body near his Town Car, then moved it to the van to collect evidence. The teens also said that they attacked Jones with a baseball bat, but an expert hired by one of the trial attorneys determined that Jones’ injuries were not consistent with being attacked with a bat, the motion said.
According to testimony at the commission hearing, Winston-Salem detectives Sean Flynn and Stan Nieves admitted that they falsely told Bryant and Tolliver that they could get the death penalty. They never made mention of it in their reports on the interviews, according to commission records.
In some instances, police investigators told some of the teenagers’ mothers, particularly Cauthen’s and Tolliver’s, that their sons were not being truthful. The mothers then talked to their sons, imploring them to tell the truth.
The teens’ statements also were inconsistent as to whether they planned the attack, who was involved, who attacked Jones first, how they approached his house and who tied up Jones. In statements, some of the boys indicated that Jones was lying on his back, even though police found him lying on his stomach.
The key witness in the case turned out to be Jessicah Black, who was 16 at the time. Black testified at two trials for the five teenagers, saying that she heard them plan to rob Jones and that she drove them to Jones’ house and watched them go toward the house. She said she heard Jones scream as he was attacked. In March 2020, Black recanted, saying that police detectives coerced her for hours into making false statements against the boys.
She also told police that she took the boys to Dollar General and Mayfair, where they bought tape, but the stores didn’t sell that kind of tape, and surveillance video from the Dollar General doesn’t show anyone matching the five boys’ description going into the store, Mumma’s motion said.
Hayley Cleary, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, testified at the commission hearing in March 2020 that this case is similar to what happened to five boys convicted of raping a woman in Central Park. The boys, who made false statements to police after hours of interrogation, were exonerated years later after DNA evidence linked the crime to one man.
In Winston-Salem, the boys also were isolated in interview rooms for long periods of time and because they had less-developed minds than adults, they were also more likely to make false statements when police told them they could go home, Cleary said.
Mumma said that the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office should consent to a finding of innocence before the evidentiary hearing on April 18.
Barring that, the three-judge panel should find that the four men are innocent after the hearing.
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