The Wrong Guy

In a bungled hunt for a killer, police wreck the life of an innocent

Despite his desire to help, Schmucker provided police with at least one statement it would use against Wooley in his arrest affidavit: "When Schmucker asked if Wooley had heard of the shooting in McKinney, Wooley reportedly stated something to the effect of, 'They don't think I did it, do they? If they do, I'll turn myself in at the nearest police station.'" The police interpreted his spontaneous response as a guilty one. What Detective VanDertuin omitted when he drew up his affidavit was the context of the conversation: that Patterson had already told him about the shooting as well as Xtera's reaction to it. Wooley would later maintain that when he responded he was just connecting the dots. "Since something was going on, and it was happening in my direction--that is why I said what I said."

Schmucker faults the police for distorting the truth. "They weren't looking for objective information. They were looking for information they could pick and choose among, twist it any way they want to go and then turn it over to the press."

The arrest affidavit painted a picture of a man on the edge: a suicidal, bipolar, gun-crazed extremist who snapped when he quit his job and became "irate, screaming profanities," and was threatening to "do something rash [not radical, as Simmons had said]."

Paul Wooley, from an infant to a troubled adult: Wooley had a difficult relationship with his family, which they say contributed to his emotional problems as an adult.
Paul Wooley, from an infant to a troubled adult: Wooley had a difficult relationship with his family, which they say contributed to his emotional problems as an adult.
Even after McKinney police knew they had the wrong man, claims Dallas attorney Jeff Lynch, they kept his client Paul Wooley in jail for more than three days in an "attempt to smoke out the true killer."
Mark Graham
Even after McKinney police knew they had the wrong man, claims Dallas attorney Jeff Lynch, they kept his client Paul Wooley in jail for more than three days in an "attempt to smoke out the true killer."

What police sorely lacked was evidence, something--anything--that might connect Wooley to the murder. They knew a blue truck was spotted at the scene as much as 10 minutes after the shooting, and Wooley drove a blue pickup. They knew Wooley was traveling with a .223-caliber rifle and that bullet fragments found at the crime scene came from a high-velocity weapon. These tenuous facts were among a "myriad of circumstantial evidence" that police Chief Doug Kowalski would later claim justified Wooley's arrest.

But McKinney detectives were faced with a fluid situation: The Amarillo police had no cause to hold him (his mental commitment was voluntary, and he wanted out), and the McKinney police viewed him as a "flight risk," an armed traveler who was about to take himself and his rifle, which might be evidence, to parts unknown. Most frustrating of all: Wooley refused to cooperate with the police. Upon advice of his Dallas attorney, Ed King, Wooley refused to speak to the police; he even invoked his right against self-incrimination when detectives asked if he wanted dessert. "Mr. Wooley was charged with the crime because of his basic failure to cooperate with us," Kowalski frankly stated in his deposition.

"I think the McKinney police panicked," says attorney King, a former Dallas County felony judge. "They were trying to make sure that no one left the area who might be a suspect. That's good police work, but it's not constitutionally sound."

On May 18 McKinney police obtained an arrest warrant for Wooley. Searching his home in McKinney, detectives found it suspicious that his computer had been destroyed. They found no stockpiles of weapons or food, but rather a video series titled The Men Who Shot Kennedy. Since police were investigating what appeared to be "a sniper shooting," they seized the tapes.

The following day, three McKinney detectives retrieved Wooley from Amarillo and escorted him first to McKinney police headquarters then to the Collin County jail, where he was placed under a suicide watch. At police headquarters, King met with his client, then with detectives. "They told me they would sure like to talk with Paul and polygraph him," he says. "I told them they had the wrong guy."


McKinney police headquarters, May 21, 2002, 2 p.m.

When the McKinney police announced they had charged Wooley with murder and attempted murder, their "media release" sounded as weak as the circumstantial evidence on which they built their case: "Paul Wooley is one of several suspects identified by the McKinney Police Department in connection with these offenses," the release stated. "The department, working in conjunction with the Texas Rangers, will continue to look at other possible suspects."

If the police were tentative about their freshly arraigned assailant, the media held no similar compunction. Cameras captured his "perp walk" and broadcast Wooley in blue jail togs, shamefully hiding his face from view. Reporters were handed the arrest affidavit, which gave them full license to write about Wooley's mental condition. Neighbors were solicited and offered stock responses: He lived alone; he kept to himself; he was a complainer.

Yet even in their media release, the police maintained that their investigation was not closed. Evidence had been submitted to laboratories for forensic analysis, and the results, they said, would take several days to complete.

Deposition testimony and police records suggest that the preliminary results of these tests had already exonerated Wooley. On May 20, the day before the press release, a McKinney detective brought the bullet fragments recovered at the crime scene to the Department of Public Safety laboratory in Tyler and, according to a police affidavit, "Firearms Examiner Wade Thomas advised that the projectile was not a .223-caliber [the caliber of the rifle seized from Wooley] but was more consistent with a .270 or a 7mm."

While the lack of a ballistics match created doubt about Wooley's guilt, intelligence gathered by McKinney Detective Terry Morrison absolved him. Morrison analyzed Wooley's cell phone records, which revealed the time of his calls, their duration and location. Within 10 minutes of the murder, Wooley phoned co-worker Jill Smith from somewhere "right around the Red River...proving that it would have been impossible for Paul Wooley to be in McKinney at the time of the shooting," according to police reports.

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