Longform

Defending Darlie

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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.

Spence's appeal also included several sworn statements from high-ranking Waco police officers who said there was nothing in the two cases that convinced them Spence was guilty.

The state and federal appeals courts found that there were errors made in Spence's capital-murder trials, but they concluded that the errors were harmless. They also conceded that at least several of the inmates who testified had been untruthful; that the confessions of Spence's alleged accomplices had inconsistencies; and that the state withheld evidence from the defense--but none of it was enough to sway them in Spence's favor.

"I think that this was such a notorious and horrible murder case," says one observer, who asked that he not be named, "that politics took over the rule of law."

By the time Brian Pardo agreed to look into Spence's case, almost all of his appeals had been exhausted. Pardo took another stab at scaring up evidence that would prove that the state's case against Spence was flawed. He hired a blood-splatter expert, who concluded that there was no way the bodies of the teenagers had been moved from one park to another after their death, as the state contended.

A state district court judge ignored this latest development, even after several prominent writers asked him to consider halting the execution until he could hold an evidentiary hearing. The writers argued that there were many troubling issues in the case, not the least of which was the fact that Muneer Deeb, the so-called mastermind behind the murder-for-hire/mistaken-identity case, had been exonerated.

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Ann Zimmerman