Friday, May 6, 2011

Felony Speed Dating

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Five minutes and ten questions, huh? You do know I get paid by the word? Even at games night, I’d get twenty questions to figure out the five word most excrutiatingly painful movie ever (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Heck, that reference took longer than my five allowed minutes. Okay. Speed and precision it is but you’re going to miss out on some pretty great adjectives.

A laser like approach will be influenced by the crime, the suspect and how much information I have before I step in to the box. So, I had to come up with some salient details in order to make this work. My victim is a twenty-something male, shot fifteen times in an alley known as an illicit substance drive-through. He’s six feet and two hundred pounds of muscle. I’m waiting for ballistics to confirm but the bullets look like 9-mm to both the crime scene tech and me. The shot pattern ranges from the neck to the lower torso. I don’t see obvious stipling on his clothes and, given his size, I assume for the time being that his shooter was at least six feet away, out of range. That many shots from a weapon that’s not usually an automatic might mean that the shooter emptied an entire clip and some of the lower shots scream personal motive. Just because the victim was in a known drug zone doesn’t mean his death has anything to do with his most recent activities. That’s supported by the lack of defensive injuries. Most people are wary of felons, even ones they do regular business with. A big guy like my victim would be primed for a problem. Whereas someone he knows could walk up to him and start shooting and the poor, dumb target wouldn’t even get a chance to put up his hands. There was no physical exam at the scene but no obvious track marks either. He’s wearing a University of Texas (have to give a little air time to my newly adopted hometown) sweatshirt, sweat pants and running shoes. His pockets are empty and he has no identification. His watch and wallet are gone.

In the interrogation room is Mary. She’s a waitress at the Cactus CafĂ©. She was picked up five blocks from the scene as a potential witness. She appears dazed and has a bruise on one cheek that looks to be a few days old. She’s shivering in a tank top and boxer-type shorts. After running her name through the system, I discover that she’s a local, born and raised in Fredericksburg, and that seven months earlier she filed a sexual assault report against a prominent athletic booster for the school. The district attorney hasn’t filed charges yet and probably won’t without more evidence. So far, it’s a he said-she said. Mary consented to a search of her person before agreeing to come to the police station. On her cell phone are several pictures of the victim including one that looks to be a drug deal and is time and date stamped. The time is forty minutes before the police had been dispatched to the alley following a 911 call of shots being fired.

I know, I know. That’s a lot of set up for my ten questions. Here goes

Me (1): Hello, Mary. I’m Detective Gabi. I noticed you were shivering and I clicked up the thermometer before I came in. You’ll feel warmer in just a minute. (This is my idea of small talk and rapport building. Say you care with a thermostat adjustment). Just a little formality first, were you read and do you understand your rights? (Normally I wouldn’t Mirandize her until she moved from potential witness to actual suspect but the camera puts her at the scene in close proximity to the death and her dress and demeanor say shock to me so to be safe, and make sure anything she tells me is admissible, I make sure she’s been read her rights. The photographs are opportunity. Or at least put her in the correct location and a proximate time of death).

Mary: Yeah.

Me (2): And you’ve waived your right to counsel in writing? (Dang it all.. It’s cost me a second question and I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet).

Mary: Yeah.

Me (3): I hand her the phone with a clear face shot of the victim buying a coffee taken sometime earlier in the day. Can you tell me who this is?

Mary: I don’t know his name.

Me (4): But you were following him. I flip through the two dozen shots. Why?

Mary: Shrugs. (This is a really unlucky break for me. Sometimes suspects just won’t answer your questions. It’s part of the reason we don’t always bond with them).

Me (5): Mary ,(I’m using her name to personalize our relationship. The more she feels like you know her, the closer she’ll feel to you and hopefully the more likely she’ll be to blather on like your at a teenage slumber party). you took dozens of shots of the same man over a week’s time. Your phone time and date stamps them. You didn’t take any other pictures during that period and these are all of the same man. At his apartment. At a coffee shop. In a parking lot. At the place where he was murdered. You followed him for days. Tracked him. A shrug isn’t going to do it here. This looks like premeditation. You stalked him and he ended up dead. I want to help you out. I think maybe this has something to do with what happened to you. That maybe you haven’t been thinking straight. It’s trauma. Psychological. It can’t be helped. It be controlled. But I’m just guessing. If that’s what’s going on here, I need you to tell me so I can help you. (This is me oozing empathy and team spirit. Rah!)How did you know the man in the photo?

Mary: I didn’t. I saw him at the track. With someone. I wanted to talk to him, that’s all.

Me: (6) (I’ve established a tenuous connection between victim and possible suspect. I’m half way to motive). Who was he with when you first saw him?

Mary: My rapist.

Me: (7) (Not quite there. She has motive against the rapist but not yet against someone to whom he just happened to be talking. But it’s a link. And prior knowledge of the victim. Hello, probably cause). And why did you want to talk to him?

Mary: I heard he was manager of the track team. And the fixer. I wanted to talk to him about it. See if he knew anything about what happened to me. I figure the police probably talked to him but he must not have said anything because HE’S still out there. I have to see him all the time. He comes into the bar. I need my job. I can’t just quit. But I can’t stand it anymore. Then when I talked to…

Me: (8) (I have to burn another question with the conversational flow. If the victim had information he refused to share with the police that would convict Mary’s rapist, her motive might be gone. If he’s dead, she’s got nothing. Then again, if she confronted him and he refused, maybe she’d lost it and killed him.) Talked to who?

Mary: No. I’m not going to say anything about that.

Me: (9) (Adamance like that means move on and come back later but obliquely, subtlely. I’ll need a coach). Do you own or have access to a gun, Mary?

Mary: It’s Texas.

Me: (10) (Okay, that last question was a rookie mistake. Duh!) Mary, we’re going to need to run some tests to eliminate you from our investigation. Can you go with the officer for me?

Mary: I want a lawyer.

And my ten questions come to an abrupt end. Mary finally came up with the right answer to all ten questions. No lawyer would have allowed her to give me, as the detective, nearly so much information. For now, I have multiple avenues of investigation to follow. I need to identify my victim. I need to connect him to Mary’s attacker. I need to check out whether or not he was questioned as part of the rape investigation and if he played a role in the assault. I’m also thinking that if my victim was a facilitator for some local big wig, there might be more victims like Mary, more dope transactions and who knows what else. All of those things could lead to lots of new suspects. Before I start interviewing the phone book, however, I need to go to a judge. With the camera and even a tenuous tie to the victim, I can probably get a search warrant for Mary’s clothes as well as an order to compel her to submit to a gun shot residue test. I’ll probably also get a search warrant for any place she might keep a gun.

Ten questions. Five minutes. I have probable cause, a viable suspect, alternate suspect leads if my primary doesn’t pan out and a definite course for my investigation. It’s not The Closer but it’s the reason every lawyer will tell you, guilty or innocent, the only word you know when talking to the police is ‘attorney.’ Oh, and never waive Miranda. They’re your rights. And they can keep you from being the next Hurricane Rubin Carter.

Thanks for reading and remaining eerily silent in the presence of the police.



Meredith Cole said...

Love all you side comments, Gabi. Only you could make me giggle during an interrogation.

I hope, if I'm ever dragged into a police station, I remember the magic word. Lawyer.

Shane Gericke said...

But, dear Gabi, do you DO subtle and oblique? We know you only as the plunge-in, straight-ahead defender of rights and freedoms.

And, my mother's name is Mary. Coincidence???

Or, am I starting too many sentences with prepositions? And, are they prepositions ... or something more sinister?

Or, do I need to switch to decaf ...

Shane Gericke said...

So many people want to please authority figures. Cops know this and use it to their advantage. So Gabi is dead right: "Lawyer" is the best word you'll ever invoke if you ever intersect with law enforcement.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

All that and good legal advice too. Thanks for another fun post, Gabi!

You just might be my one phone call if I'm ever arrested in Texas. Assuming you're not in the next cell.