Longform

Defending Darlie

Page 6 of 17

In Deeb's trial, the state again relied on inmate testimony. Deeb was convicted and condemned to die.

In a subsequent trial, Spence was convicted of killing Kenneth Franks. At this trial, the prosecution no longer needed the help of inmate stool pigeons. They used Melendez's confession instead, as well as the expert testimony of Homer Campbell.

Two years after David Spence was condemned to die, his mother, Juanita White, received a letter from David Snelson, an inmate who had testified against her son. He told her that he had lied under oath and begged her forgiveness. White excitedly gave a copy of the letter to Spence's defense attorney. He contacted the police. Two days after a memorandum about Snelson's letter circulated the department, White was found sexually assaulted and beaten to death in her home. The next day, her house was broken into again. Nothing was taken, but her personal papers had been ransacked.

No proof exists linking White's death to the investigation and conviction of her son, though Pardo claims his "street sources" say there was a direct correlation. The investigation into her death, however, did bear an uncanny similarity to the one that put her son on death row.

White's murder case was assigned to Waco police officer Jan Price, who developed a suspect--a man who committed a similar murder in Juanita White's neighborhood two months later. But before Price could pursue the case further, she was told that Truman Simons had conducted his own investigation. The district attorney's office was going to try two men he had fingered for the crime--Joe Sydney Williams and Calvin Washington, petty thieves who were almost a decade apart in age and barely knew each other.

Again, Simons used jailhouse snitches to make his case. An inmate testified that he walked past a hotel room in the middle of the night and overheard Williams and Washington implicating themselves in the crime. At least 15 Waco police officers testified for the defense at the trials. They claimed that the most important prosecution witnesses should not be believed.

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.

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Ann Zimmerman