Longform

The Girl Who Played Dead

Page 7 of 16

Robert M. Rose is a disgraced former criminal defense attorney who relinquished his law license in 1995 while facing discipline by the State Bar of Texas for a federal tax-evasion conviction. Rose represented bathtub suspect Phillip King, who was placed at the scene by one of the suspects, but, most important, had been picked out of a lineup by Covington. The state was forced to drop the murder charges against King and Christopher Barronette in November 1990 for lack of evidence. Anderson says Rose had persuaded Covington to sign a statement that King wasn't at the scene of the crime, and Anderson couldn't convict him, or anyone else, solely on the statements of a co-defendant. Anderson knew Covington was lying, and Covington knew that he knew. The teen simply said he was sorry.

When Covington recanted, Anderson knew he needed the Williams girls--his best remaining witnesses--to hold up under the pressure. Anderson instantly took a liking to the South Dallas girls and particularly appreciated LaTonya's keen mind. The first time he met her, in fact, LaTonya had played a joke on him. While Paul Wimer, Anderson's investigator, looked on poker-faced, LaTonya handed the prosecutor a bullet she'd found. Anderson picked it up, examining the hulking .45 slug, turning it in his fingers. Then LaTonya told him where it came from: "out my butt." Anderson shrieked and threw the bullet straight in the air, while LaTonya and Wimer laughed. The two hit it off: the wisecracking, street-tough witness and the down-home prosecutor who wouldn't give up on the bathtub case, despite the many challenges it posed. "I had more trouble with that case than you could shake a stick at," Anderson says. "You know what the facts were; it's hard for someone who's dealing drugs to admit what they're doing. It was a hard case. Really hard."

But now, LaTonya and Lizzie had decided to make themselves scarce. Terrified of retaliation, they'd run--in different directions.

As the trial date approached for the first defendant, Mark Uzi Larmond, a Jamaican drug dealer well-known to police, Anderson could hardly blame the girls. He'd tried to persuade them that his best shot at keeping them safe was getting the thugs off the street forever. "The girls were very nice," Anderson says. "They were just scared. I wouldn't lie to them. I told them it could be dangerous--things could happen. But if you don't testify against these people, they'll probably get you later on." Jamaican gangsters, in fact, had once put out a contract on Anderson's life.

The subpoenas went out anyway. And Anderson waited to see if any of his witnesses would dare to show up.

Smoked

It's a part of Dallas you never knew was there, a thatch of dense woods east of the Cedar Crest Golf Course along Southerland Avenue. It's a favorite place for illegal dumpers, as the piles of dead tires and toilets attest.

If you scale the limestone ledge along the road and step down into the hollow, you're no longer visible from the street; surrounded by rock and trees, you could just as well be somewhere in East Texas. Other folks have obviously figured this out. In the brush you find an empty wallet, a gutted checkbook.

It's a perfect place to murder someone.

Along the wooded path, about 90 paces in from the street, a passer-by found the fully clothed body of a thin young black man on the morning of January 9, 1991. His pockets were turned inside out, and on the ground were several 9mm shell casings. The man had been shot at close range four to six times, including a fatal wound to the back of the head.

It looked like an execution.

Walking that lonely walk into the cold, dark woods with his unknown assassin, or running into a young thug with no regard for life, he had to have known what awaited him. He had to think about the choice he'd made: to stay in the game, to go back to the one thing he knew--peddling crack cocaine--even after he'd come within a hair's-breadth of losing his life.

He must have been terrified.

The cops who examined the crime scene found no ID on the young man's body, but the medical examiner recorded two essential bits of information: He had an old head wound on the left side of his face. And he had one glass eye.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons