By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Officer Price, who testified at the trial for the defense, witnessed Simons instructing one of his jailhouse witnesses to question the "unlucky" suspects. Shortly afterward, the charges against the witness were dropped. In a sworn affidavit, Price wrote: "I have obtained statements from a significant number of witnesses in [the White case], which uniformly attest that Simons offered deals to prospective jailhouse witnesses in order to secure their cooperation, and then created himself the statements which later formed the basis of their testimony in court...
"My experience in the Juanita White murder has convinced me that the prosecution's case against the defendants in this matter was utterly fabricated and that the prosecution knew it and presented it anyway to secure a conviction. As a career law-enforcement officer, I find such actions offensive and unacceptable."
Williams and Washington were convicted of capital murder in separate trials, in which Homer Campbell was the expert witness. He testified that bruises on White's body were bite marks and that they matched the teeth of defendant Williams. During the sentencing phase, Juanita White's other son, Steven Spence, and others argued against imposing the death penalty. The men were sentenced to life instead. Williams managed to get his conviction overturned, and the prosecution declined to retry him. Washington is still in prison.
In light of the Juanita White murder trial, one of the first things Raoul Schonemann did in preparation for Spence's appeal was track down as many inmates as he could who had been called to testify against him. Three of them recanted their testimony outright. Independently of one another, they told the lawyer how the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department had afforded them extraordinary treatment in exchange for their cooperation, including the opportunity to have sex with their girlfriends and wives in the district attorney's office. A former investigator in the district attorney's office confirmed this fact later.
Schonemann also uncovered evidence that many of the inmates were promised help with their pending cases. In suppressed documents, Schonemann uncovered a statement an inmate had written for Simons in which he did not implicate Spence. Several months later the same inmate wrote another statement claiming Spence had confessed his guilt to him. Two weeks later, the inmate was paroled.
Robert Snelson, the prisoner who first contacted David Spence's mother, told Schonemann: "We all fabricated our accounts of Spence confessing in order to try to get a break from the state in our cases."
Schonemann also argued that the state had suppressed hundreds of pages of documents vital to Spence's defense. The state claimed they withheld these police reports because there were no other possible suspects in the Lake Waco murders. "That was patently untrue," says Schonemann.
In the weeks that followed the murders, several witnesses reported that a man named Terry Lee "Tab" Harper, who had been arrested 25 times for assorted assault charges, had bragged about killing three people at the lake. Police confirmed that he made his boasts before news of the murders had been broadcast. Harper was brought in for questioning, but he refused to cooperate. Witnesses who had been at the lake that night reported seeing the victims talking to someone in a van matching a description of Harper's.
The state argued that the information about Harper would not have helped Spence's case, because Harper had provided the police with an alibi. Schonemann never could find such an alibi in police reports, however. The state also claimed he was not a viable suspect, because such violence was not his modus operandi, though he was known to use a knife in committing mayhem. In 1994, Harper stabbed an elderly couple in their home, and the husband subsequently died. When the police came to arrest him, Harper committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun.
To undermine the bite-mark testimony, Schonemann sent the enhanced autopsy photos of the alleged bite marks on Jill Montgomery along with Campbell's analysis to Dr. Thomas Krauss, a leading forensic odontologist who has taught at the FBI National Academy. The dentist concluded that Campbell's methodology in this case "was well outside the thinking in mainstream forensic odontology."
At Krauss' suggestion, Schonemann set up a blind panel of five odontology experts. They were asked to examine the enhanced photos and determine whether the supposed bite marks matched any of five teeth molds, including Spence's. None of the experts said they could determine with any degree of certainty whether the pictures in fact showed bite marks. Only two experts said the pictures came close to matching one dental mold--not the one made of David Spence's teeth, but a mold belonging to a patient of Dr. Krauss'.
None of Schonemann's findings would persuade any of the courts along the appellate process that Spence deserved a new trial. One lower court ruled that the new bite-mark evidence came too late to be considered--a finding that Brian Pardo, among others, found blatantly unfair.
"There is no statute of limitations for murder, but it is outrageous that there is what amounts to a statute of limitations for presenting evidence to prove you are innocent of murder," Pardo says.