Posts Tagged ‘wrongful convictions’
Doug Mulder graduated from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Law degree in June of 1964. By October he was gainfully employed in the misdemeanour court for the Dallas County District Attorney Office under Henry Wade.
Wade had participated in the prosecution of Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, and was to also take part in the landmark case of Roe v Wade. He was someone whom Mulder viewed as a mentor while working his way up to becoming Wade’s first assistant within a few short years. Wade’s bullish approach to prosecution was something not lost on a young, ambitious Mulder.
Described variously as flamboyant, irascible and even a con artist, Mulder’s overzealous “win at all costs” style would earn him the moniker “Mad Dog”. Melvyn Bruder , a high profile Dallas appellate attorney, remarked “He is one of the finest pure prosecutors I ever saw. He is thorough, he is heartless, and once the objective is made known to him, he pursues it at all costs”.
This was more than evident in two particular cases which were to live in infamy. The first, as a prosecutor.
Randall Dale Adams
On November 28, 1976, Wood was shot to death by David Ray Harris during what began as an innocuous night time traffic stop on a Dallas street. Adams had only met the sixteen year old Harris the previous afternoon when he was offered a ride after running out of gas.
The car Harris was driving was in fact stolen, as were many items in the vehicle which were pawned that afternoon. One of those items, a .22 calibre handgun, was to be used in the commission of the crime.
The two spent the evening at a drive-in theatre before Adams returned to the motel where he was staying at around midnight.
At approximately 12.30am Patrolman Wood and his partner, Officer Teresa Turko, noticed Harris driving a blue car with its headlights turned off and proceeded to make a traffic stop. As Wood walked up to the driver’s side of the vehicle, he was hit by a volley of shots and died at the scene.
As Harris fled, Turko fired off several rounds at his vehicle to no avail. She was unable to get the tag number but was to later state that the car had only one occupant. Turko’s account of that morning was to be brought into question and cause much conjecture.
Returning to Vidor, from where he had attempted to escape his shady past, Harris soon proceeded to brag to friends about how he had “offed a pig” in Dallas. When police heard of his boasts, they took him to the station for questioning.
Harris claimed he had only made the comment “to impress his friends” and became nervous when told that the ballistic experts had identified a handgun he had stolen from his father as the murder weapon.
It was at that juncture that Harris’ story began to change. While maintaining he had not shot Wood, he had placed himself not only at the scene but in the vehicle. The gunman, Harris said, was Randall Dale Adams.
Adams gave the police a statement in which he detailed the events of that evening, maintaining his innocence throughout. Unsurprisingly, the police advised him that he had had failed a polygraph test which he had agreed to take. This is a ploy often used by police when short on leads and facts of a crime, ultimately resulting in wrongful convictions.
At a pre-trial hearing for Adams, assistant district attorney Mulder struck a decisive blow. He was able to convince Judge Don Metcalfe that Harris’ criminal record ought to be kept from the jury. This ruling was to derail Adams’ defense attorneys, Dennis White and Edith James’, strategy.
Mulder had already earned the ire of White after a visit to Harris’ hometown of Vidor to investigate the case; “Mulder had been there the week before I had and had told the people in Vidor that I was a …eastern educated civil liberties attorney, and that I was down there to discredit David Harris”.
Mulder’s next coup was when he cunningly interpreted the statement Adams gave to police as a confession. In fact, all that Adams had stated was that he had been in the general area of where the crime took place when he and Harris were driving around Dallas the previous evening but not at the time of the murder.
Another act of Mulder’s underhandedness which stymied the defense was the testimony of three alleged witnesses to the crime. These witnesses’ accounts varied and were far from factual. Judge Metcalfe had ordered Mulder to avail the defense of a list of witnesses he had planned to call during the trial but noticeably omitted the names of rebuttal witnesses Emily and Michael Miller, along with that of Michael Randell.
Mulder claimed that under Texas law, he was not required to inform the defense of these witness statements because they were called only to rebut the testimony of Adams. Judge Metcalfe would not permit the defense to admit the testimony of one of those witnesses, Emily Miller, adding that it would be unfair to impeach her testimony because she had moved away from Dallas.
Unsurprisingly, this was far from the truth. Miller had merely relocated to another part of Dallas and not gone to Illinois as Mulder erroneously claimed. Therefore, she was indeed available to be examined by the defense after all.
In fact, the day Mulder managed to convince Judge Metcalfe of her unavailability, she was filmed by a local news crew standing outside her room at the Alamo Plaza Hotel. Regardless, Mulder had claimed yet another decisive victory.
Defense attorney Dennis White was unaware of Emily Miller’s prior statement wherein she had identified the gunman as either “Mexican or light skinned African-American”. Even more startling was Miller testifying to having picked Adams out in a police line-up. She had done no such thing but White missed this opportunity to pounce.
Filmmaker Errol Morris was later to discover that as part of the prosecution’s investigation, Officer Turko had been hypnotised and denied having seen the shooter. This was conveniently suppressed by Mulder since it would have only served to harm his prosecution of Adams.
An internal affairs investigation of Turko was also kept from the defense but Mulder had never lost a capital murder case up until this point and he was determined that this would not be his first. Full disclosure of his office’s investigation was not high on his list of priorities.
He even enlisted the dubious expertise of Dr. James Grigson, a forensic psychiatrist, to seal the conviction of Adams. Known as “Dr. Death”, Grigson had testified in more than a hundred capital cases where he claimed the defendant would not only pose a threat to society, but kill again.
Grigson described Adams as “an incurable and extreme sociopath with no regard for the life or property of others and who would continue to present a danger to society”. Given that Adams had no history of violence whatsoever, it was an extraordinary opinion to proffer.
It wasn’t the first time Grigson was able to persuade a jury to accept his flawed diagnosis. One judge who sat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote:
“When Dr. Grigson speaks to a lay jury . . . about a person who he characterizes as a “severe” sociopath . . . the defendant should stop what he is doing and commence writing out his last will and testament—because he will in all probability soon be ordered by the trial judge to suffer a premature death.”
Grigson’s questionable ethics mattered not to Mulder and both sides rested on Friday, April 19. The following Monday, Judge Metcalfe sent the case to the jury for consideration, during which time several jurors sought clarification of the rebuttal witnesses’ testimony. Remarkably, Metcalfe denied them on each occasion.
The jury, after having deliberated for less than three hours, returned with their verdict. Guilty of capital murder.
Adams was subsequently sentenced to death. Not only had a satisfied Mulder condemned an innocent man, he had allowed Harris to walk free.
Six years hence, Harris would kill again.
Randall Dale Adams’ case was far from finished. His subsequent appeal of the verdict would give Doug Mulder many a sleepless night and will be examined in the next installment.