Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How an Innocent Person is Convicted, Part 7: From Witness to Suspect

Brad Shannon's initial claim that "Brad Orgill had stabbed and killed someone" was consistent with the early actions of the police. When Todd and Brad were apprehended, it was Brad who received their closest attention.

So, what made the police come to consider Todd as a suspect?

It's a tough question to answer, because much of what goes on in a police investigation is hidden from view.

But we do know the police were frustrated by our insistence on legal counsel. We also know that after speaking with us, the police interviewed Mike Lee, who was one of the witnesses.

Lee knew few details. He's seen Todd confronting one person, Orgill fighting with another. He knew that someone had been stabbed but not whom . And he knew that Todd had carried a knife that had been used to puncture a tire. Lee would become a witness for the state.

Jason Melick, another witness learned someone had died by watching the TV news. Melick was a big drinker that night, starting off with 12 beers before moving on to the hard stuff. His memories were dramatic and inconsistent with everyone else's. At two a.m.--24 hours after the stabbing--he called anonymously to the crimestoppers' phone number and left a five word message: "the killer's name is Todd."

On the Monday after the stabbing, Brad Orgill showed up at the Sheriff's Office with his lawyer. Orgill, who had been the only person seen fighting with the victim, now pointed the finger at Todd.

The day following Orgill's interview, Prosecutor Amy Mullaney rushed to charge Todd. The forensic analysis of the physical evidence had hardly begun, and little attention had been given to the eyewitness reports of the victim's friends, but the indictment was made. As the analysis of witness statements and physical evidence dribbled in supporting Todd's innocence, Mullaney would resist any reconsideration of her rush to indict.

A key piece of physical evidence, the tire punctured with Todd's knife, received its analysis over two months after Mullaney cut her deal with Brad. By timeline produced by both the prosecution and defense, the puncturing of the tire had to have occurred after the stabbing of the victim. Had the same knife been used for both the stabbing and puncturing, then blood would have been transferred to the tire. But it wasn't. Despite extremely sensitive tests for the presence of blood on the tire, none was found. Shortly after receiving this news, Mullaney handed the case over to a younger prosecutor, Jeff Lindsey.

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