“What the tests really do is call into question the integrity of the evidence
“The DNA tests show that not only was the evidence (in the White case)unreliable and should not be trusted, it shows that they got the wrong person,”said Raoul D. Schonemann, a defense attorney now practicing in San Francisco whowas one of Spence’s appeals lawyers. “Obviously, that does not exonerate Davidbut it does show that with the same kind of evidence, they got it wrong. I thinkit adds to the reasonable doubts about David’s guilt that are independent of the(White) case and certainly it should give a lot of hesitancy about David’sconviction.“What the tests really do is call into question the integrity of the evidencethat was used and the prosecutors that took part in both prosecutions.”Both cases involved brutal rape and murder. In the Lake Waco case, three teenswere killed in July 1982. Each of the victims was found with multiple knifewounds, including many shallow “torture wounds.” The two female victims weresexually assaulted and bore marks that prosecutors alleged were human bites.Prosecutors tried the case as a botched murder-for-hire scheme. They said that alocal convenience store owner named Muneer Deeb hired Spence to kill GayleKelley, who was almost 17 years old at the time. They said Deeb’s motive wasthat he had taken out an insurance policy on Kelley, who worked in his store.However, prosecutors said, Spence misidentified another girl, 17-year-old JillMontgomery, and mistakenly killed her instead of Kelley. Two of Montgomery’sfriends who were with her that night Raylene Rice, 17, and Kenneth Franks, 18were killed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they said.Spence and Deeb were eventually convicted of the crime, with Spence receivingtwo death sentences and Deeb being sentenced to death once. In addition,brothers Anthony and Gilbert Melendez pleaded guilty as accomplices and wereeach given two life sentences. Spence was executed in April 1997.The murder of Spence’s mother was also savage. White, 54, was raped andsmothered or strangled during a break-in at her home in March 1986. She had beenhorribly beaten left dead with a broken nose, cuts on her chest, arms, back and legs, and wounds resembling human bitemarks on her buttocks, left hip andleft breast.Calvin Washington, 46, and Joe Sidney Williams Jr., 34, were convicted of hermurder and both received life sentences in 1987.But there is more than kinship and murder that connects the death of JuanitaWhite to the killings for which her son was executed. Convictions in both
instances were built on the investigative work of then-McLennan County Sheriff’sDeputy Truman Simons. A controversial figure in local law enforcement circlesduring most of his career, he almost single-handedly came up with the evidencethat won convictions in both cases. Now an investigator for Austin attorney VicFeazell, who was McLennan County district attorney when the cases wereprosecuted, Simons has denied any wrongdoing in the cases. Simons was notoriginally assigned as the investigator in either case. In fact, Simons was noteven working for the law enforcement agency that had jurisdiction over the twocases, the Waco Police Department, at the time he claims to have solved them.When the Lake Waco murders happened, Simons was a 17-year veteran at the WacoPolice Department. But he was not originally assigned to the case. He startedworking on it more than two months later after asking permission from ChiefLarry Scott.Shortly after Simons picked up the case, he quit the police department to workat the sheriff’s department as a jailer. He has said he quit in part because helost confidence in Chief Scott.But Simons has also said he left because he knew that by working at thesheriff’s department he could keep investigating the lake killings but would bein a better position to develop a close relationship with Spence. Spence was injail at the time for an unrelated sexual abuse case.After Simons left Waco PD, some of his former colleagues questioned hisinvestigative tactics and some, including Scott and the lead detective assignedto the case, have expressed doubts about Spence’s guilt.When White was killed, Simons was an investigator for the sheriff’s department.He has said that he became involved in the case after receiving calls frominformants he had developed as a Waco police officer.Simons has claimed in depositions and court testimony that he cooperated withWaco Police Sgt. Jan Price, who was the main investigator put on the case by herdepartment. But at the trials of the men accused of killing White, Price saidthat Simons had been uncooperative and basically muscled her out of theinvestigation.Both the Lake Waco and White cases were prosecuted under the leadership ofFeazell, then McLennan County district attorney. Feazell personally prosecutedSpence at both of his capital murder trials, as well as Muneer Deeb at his firsttrial.In the White case, Feazell delegated the prosecution duties to two assistantdistrict attorneys in his office, but he made the decision to accept the casedeveloped by Simons against Washington and Williams. He was in the courtroom forparts of the trials and made a few arguments for the prosecution during sessionsin the judge’s chambers.The other major similarities between the two cases revolve around the type ofevidence that was used to convict the defendants.
In both instances, the only biological evidence that tied any of the men to thescene were marks on the victims’ bodies that prosecutors said were human bites.In fact, many involved in the cases said there would have been no successfulprosecutions without the bitemark evidence.That’s because in the Lake Waco case, the other biological evidenceinvestigators recovered did not point to Spence. A laboratory test of hairsamples found in terry cloth towels used to bind the victims showed no match toSpence, two other men accused in the homicide or any of the victims. Hairsamples found in the car Spence owned at the time of the murders did not matchany of the victims or defendants. Likewise, there was physical evidence found atthe home of Juanita White that could not be linked to Washington or Williams. In
fact, a bloody footprint on White’s front door did not match the shoes takenfrom the houses of either defendant.Connecting the cases even more closely is that the same expert witness, aforensic odontologist named Homer Campbell, testified about the bitemarks forthe prosecution in both cases.Karen Amos, a San Antonio defense attorney who was in 1987 the lead prosecutorin the White case, said the presentation of Campbell as a well-respectedscientist had to have swayed jurors. His credibility was probably also bolsteredby the fact that he worked in conjunction with a photogrammetrist, a scientistwho makes measurements using photographs, she said.“(Campbell)’s testimony was crucial,” Amos said. The problem with the bitemarkevidence is that many experts say it is not scientific. Even some professionalodontologists, who study forensic bitemarks, say that bitemark evidence aloneshould not be used to positively identify suspects.The data support that argument. The first published report about how wellprofessional odontologists can accurately interpret bitemark data was releasedin 1975 by British dentist David Whittaker. He found that odontologists erred 76percent of the time when trying to identify the source of a bitemark.In the most recent study, conducted in 1999 by the American Board of ForensicOdontology, the overall error rate was 46 percent when the odontologistsattempted to either include or exclude a set of teeth as being the source of abitemark.Even worse, in instances where the experts made positive identifications, theerror rate was 63.5 percent. The study also found that there was no correlationbetween an odontologist’s years in forensic casework and correct results.In addition to the overall doubt about the validity of bitemark evidence,Campbell’s competency has also been questioned.In August 1984, he positively identified some human remains as belonging to aFlorida runaway named Melody Cutlip. Since Cutlip’s dental chart was notavailable, Campbell made the identification by enlarging a picture of her andcomparing it against the corpse’s teeth. He told newspaper reporters, “Theymatched exactly.”Two years later, Cutlip turned up alive.That misidentification by Campbell came just one month after defense lawyers inthe Lake Waco case attacked Campbell’s “science” during David Spence’s firsttrial. As would later be done during Williams’ trial, the defense team disputedCampbell’s credibility by presenting countering testimony from another forensicodontology expert.Spence’s defense team attacked Campbell’s findings again during his appealsprocess. It employed five of the top forensic odontologists in the country to doa “blind panel” test of the bitemark evidence in the Lake Waco case.Each of the five odontologists, who worked independently of one another, weregiven five dental molds one from Spence and four from other people not involved in the case. They were asked to look at the bitemark evidence in theLake Waco murders and determine if any of the sets of teeth for which they hadmolds could have made the marks.Two of the experts on the panel picked molds that were not Spence’s. A thirdodontologist tried to match up the molds with what he thought were probablebitemarks but said none of them fit.Of the other two experts, one said the areas were not human bitemarks. The othersaid the bitemarks and the photographs of them were of too poor quality to evenanalyze. Thus, they both concluded that they could not match any of the molds tothe marks.Other than the flawed bitemark science, the only type of evidence that tied thedefendants to the crime in both cases was jailhouse testimony. That legal lingorefers to testimony by people who were incarcerated at the time of the trials orpeople with extensive criminal records. Convicted felon after convicted felontook the stand, gave incriminating testimony against one or more of thedefendants and swore that they had not received any deals for their cooperation.However, after Spence’s trials and the trials in the White case were over, manyof the witnesses admitted under oath that they had lied on the stand.Interviewed independently by investigators and defense attorneys, thesewitnesses told strikingly similar stories about how they were bribed or coercedby law enforcement officials or members of the district’s attorney office.In the White case, three witnesses Don Davis Jr., Angela Miles and Fate Dotson completely recanted their testimony and said it was false. A fourth witness, Waymon Dotson, partially recanted.Among the accusations made by those four witnesses were that Simons had fed themevidence about the crime, including showing them photos and telling themdetails, and had changed their written statements to read more like he wanted.Miles said in a sworn statement that Simons threatened to charge her in White’sdeath after she told him she had no knowledge about what he was asking her.The four witnesses detailed in sworn statements or statements to police favorsthey said they received in exchange for cooperating with Simons. Among otherthings, they said he helped get charges against them dropped or reduced, gavethem special food and cigarettes, allowed them to have conjugal visitsin hisoffice and promised them federal protection after they testified.After Spence’s trials, many of the witnesses who testified against him alsorecanted in sworn statements and other statements included in Spence appealsdocuments. They included Jesse H. Ivy, Frank Amorella, Robert David Snelson,Randy Joe White and Kevin Ray Mikel. The testimony of a sixth witness, David E.Puryear, was also called into question by his former-brother-in-law, who saidPuryear told him his testimony was fabricated.As in the White case, those witnesses said that Simons showed them pictures ofthe crime scene and fed them information that only someone involved in thecrimes would know.They also described receiving favors from Simons and the district attorney’soffice: help with pending cases, conjugal visits, food from the outside andcigarettes.Some of themclaimed that they got more elaborate favors. Steve Moore, a formerbrother-in-law of Puryear, said in a November 1991 statement that Puryear had astapled booklet from Feazell containing what he was supposed to testify to andthat Feazell had promised to pay Puryear for his testimony.Ivy said in a sworn statement in October 1992 that Feazell paid him $700 for aring he had made in a prison workshop and that Simons allowed him to havealcohol and marijuana in jail. He also said that officials in the districtattorney’s office treated him “like one of the boys,” and even jokingly offeredhim a “big Styrofoam ‘key to the jail’ or ‘key to the city’ as a present.”Randy Joe White said in a statement that he was given a private cell with ashower and was given a radio. Several times a week, he said, Simons would takehim out of the jail and drive him to visit his father, first at the nursing homewhere he stayed and then later at his private apartment. After many of thosevisits, he said he would smuggle drugs back into the jail because he was never searched.The inmate said the favors were so easy to get while they were in the countyjail that he and some of Simons’ other “snitches” would request things “just tosee if we could get away with it.”“Once we all asked to be sent back to (prison) because of the bad food,” RandyJoe White said. “I was elected spokesman for this request and was called out byJack Harwell, then sheriff. He said they couldn’t make us special meals becauseno one could know about us getting special favors.”In both the prosecutions of Williams and Washington and the prosecution ofSpence, defense attorneys claim, prosecutors withheld evidence from them aboutother likely suspects.In the White case, defense attorneys didn’t find out until years later that aWaco police officer who investigated the case came up with a suspect namedBennie Carroll, said Washington’s lawyer, Walter M. Reaves Jr. of West. Carroll,who killed himself in 1990, has been identified through recent DNA tests as theperson who raped White.Schonemann, Spence’s appeals attorney, said information about another suspectwas similarly withheld from Spence’s lawyers. Some of the most importantinformation involved a man named Terry (Tab) Harper.Police reports were concealed from defense attorneys that indicated that atleast two unrelated people independently claimed to have seen Harper that nightat the park where authorities said the teens were killed, Schonemann said. Therewere also police reports that said several people heard Harper talk about thekillings before the crime was made public, he said.Spence’s lawyers soon learned that Harper had an extensive criminal history. Atthe time of the lake murders, he had already been arrested on 22 assault chargesof varying severity, an armed robbery charge, three aggravated robbery chargesand a terroristic threat charge, according to a court document.When defense attorneys inquired about Harper during Spence’s appeals process,they were told he had an alibi that made it impossible for him to have committedthe crimes. But the nature of that alibi was not specified, Schonemann said.When Spence’s attorneys inquired further, they learned that Harper’s alibi wasthat he claimed to have been at home watching the television show “Dynasty” withhis sister and her boyfriend the night the three teen-agers were killed.Not only was that a far cry from an airtight alibi, but television recordsshowed that “Dynasty” did not even air that night, Schonemann said. Also, policereports that relate to the questioning of Harper never mention an alibi or thatthe alibi witnesses were ever interviewed.Harper killed himself in 1994 when police came to arrest him for the stabbingdeath of an elderly man.Simons deferred interview requests by the Tribune-Herald on at least fiveoccasions and finally refused to grant an interview for this series. However, hehas repeatedly denied all allegations of wrongdoing in both the White and LakeWaco cases over the years. Feazell, who now employs Simons as an investigatorfor his law firm, has also denied many times that witnesses in either case werecoerced or given special favors.“If there had been (favors), everyone in town would have known about it,”Feazell said in a recent interview. “There were people in and out of the(district attorney’s office and the jail) all the time. It’s just hard torespond to these continued rumors. When you respond to one, there are three more.As for some of the other similarities between the two cases, Feazell said theyare to be expected whenever brutal murders are involved. For example, theprevalence of inmate testimony in both trials is due to the fact that thedefendants associated with those sorts of people, he said.In Feazell’s mind, there is only one connection that matters when talking aboutWashington and Williams in the White case and David Spence in the Lake Wacomurders case.“Those boys were guilty, and David Spence was guilty,” Feazell said.But many of the people who were intimately involved in the two cases said theway they were investigated and tried was out of the ordinary. Don Youngblood, aWaco private investigator who worked for the defense in both cases, said he hasalways seen parallels between them.“The jailhouse testimony hollers out at you,” Youngblood said.“I have never seen as much inmate testimony (presented at trial) as during theFeazell era.”Russ Hunt, the attorney who represented Spence during his first trial, also saidthe inmate testimony in the Spence case was unusual. He said public officialsused their authority to scare people into testifying falsely.“There is always inmate testimony,” Hunt said. “The difference in the Spencecase was that according to the inmates we talked to, representatives of the DA’soffice were going to people in the jail, accusing them of the Lake Waco murdersand showing them pictures. When they were sufficiently frightened, they wouldtell them, ‘We’ll work with you.’ I have never known of that kind of thinghappening before.”Observers also said it was unusual for Simons to get involved in cases outsidehis jurisdiction. Amos, the prosecutor in the White case, said she cannot recallany other times when the sheriff’s department took over the investigation of another agency.As for some of the similaritees between the two cases, Feazell said theyare to be expected whenever brutal murders are involved. For example, theprevalence of inmate testimony in both trials is due to the fact that thedefendants associated with those sorts of people, he said.In Feazell’s mind, there is only one connection that matters when talking aboutWashington and Williams in the White case and David Spence in the Lake Wacomurders case.“Those boys were guilty, and David Spence was guilty,” Feazell said.But many of the people who were intimately involved in the two cases said theway they were investigated and tried was out of the ordinary. Don Youngblood, aWaco private investigator who worked for the defense in both cases, said he hasalways seen parallels between them.“The jailhouse testimony hollers out at you,” Youngblood said.“I have never seen as much inmate testimony (presented at trial) as during theFeazell era.”Russ Hunt, the attorney who represented Spence during his first trial, also saidthe inmate testimony in the Spence case was unusual. He said public officialsused their authority to scare people into testifying falsely.“There is always inmate testimony,” Hunt said. “The difference in the Spencecase was that according to the inmates we talked to, representatives of the DA’soffice were going to people in the jail, accusing them of the Lake Waco murdersand showing them pictures. When they were sufficiently frightened, they wouldtell them, ‘We’ll work with you.’ I have never known of that kind of thinghappening before.”Observers also said it was unusual for Simons to get involved in cases outsidehis jurisdiction. Amos, the prosecutor in the White case, said she cannot recallany other times when the sheriff’s department took over the investigation ofanother agency.Rick Bostwick, a Waco civil trial lawyer who represented Williams, said he hasalways thought the district attorney’s office allowed the shift of the case awayfrom the police department so it could be developed around the bitemark allegations and inmate witnesses.
“For (the sheriff’s department) to take over a murder case on 15th Street, inthe middle of Waco, you’ve got to scratch your head and ask why,” Bostwick said.Steve Spence, who is White’s son and David Spence’s brother, has an evenstronger opinion about why Simons was made the main investigator in the cases.He said it is an opinion his mother shared.“If you want to know what the result is before you start, you have to havesomeone like Truman Simons, I think,” Steve Spence said. “Because he knows theending before he starts it. That’s the way he makes his cases, I think.”Jan Price, who was the police department’s main investigator on the White case,has also expressed the view that Simons may have had something at stake in theWhite case. Although Price declined to be interviewed for this story, she statedher opinion about Simons’ involvement in the White case in a deposition she gavein 1993 as part of David Spence’s appeals process.When asked why Simons became involved, Price said she assumed the following:“Since this was the mother of David Spence, it was my understanding that Truman
Simons found out that night of her murder that she had been bitten. And becauseof the nature of this case compared to the Lake Waco murders that David Spencewas convicted of, they were so close in nature there is a possibility that theperson who might have killed the three teens was still at large and might haveretaliated against Ms. White.”Later in that same deposition, Price said that Feazell also seemed concernedabout showing that the two cases were not linked for similar reasons.“The Lake Waco murders was his claim to fame,” Price said in the deposition.“And if somebody was still out there running free that might have done the LakeWaco murders, then that would blow his movie deal and his book deal and, youknow, just his popularity among everybody.”From Steve Spence’s perspective, Simons’ and Feazell’s concerns might have beenright on target. He said he has always thought that his mother’s death wassomehow connected to the Lake Waco murders case.That’s because before she died, White had started conducting her owninvestigation into the Lake case, hoping to exonerate her son, Steve Spencesaid. He said that in the course of asking questions of people at local bars,she was threatened several times.Also, shortly before her death, White “was really paranoid” that her telephonehad been tapped because of an odd noise on the line that she had never heardbefore, Steve Spence said. He said his mother had thought a girlfriend of hisbrother’s, who had a key to White’s house, might have let someone in the house.Then, just a few days before she was murdered, White received a letter fromDavid Spence that had been written by David Snelson, one of the inmates who hadtestified against him. In the letter, Snelson said he had lied during histestimony and was asking for forgiveness. Later, Snelson recanted under oath histrial testimony.Hunt, who was David Spence’s attorney at the time, said White brought the letterto him so he could make copies. After that, Hunt said he believes she probablyshowed it to people all over town.“She was convinced it was going to clear her son,” Hunt said. Steve Spence saidthose occurrences have always made him highly suspicious.“To me, that was too much of a coincidence for it to happen that way and nothave anything to do with David,” he said. Even if he could be 100 percent surethat his mother’s death was a random act of violence, Steve Spence said he wouldstill be suspicious of the break-in that occurred at her house the night aftershe died. Several others including Price, Hunt, Reaves, Bostwick and Youngblood have also said they think the incident was suspicious. That’s because the person who broke in did not take any valuables from thehouse. Instead, the burglar seemed to be searching for something.According to police reports, the only things that were disturbed in the housewere White’s jewelry box and the front bedroom, where David Spence had stayedwhen he lived with his mother. Boxes of his personal papers and the dresser inthe room had been ransacked.
Even stranger, police have said, is that the burglar seemed to want to confuseinvestigators. A screen in the rear of the house had been torn off an openwindow and a chair had been placed below the window, making it appear at firstas that’s how the burglar entered the house. However, Price doesn’t think that’show the intruder actually entered.“It appeared that it was a staged burglary attempt,” Price said in the 1993deposition. “Because there was dust and there was an object right inside thewindow that would have either been knocked over or should have been moved awayif someone had tried to go through the window. The porch door in the rear of herhouse was actually unlocked, so somebody could just walk through the door to getin the house.”Steve Spence said he suspects the break-in was for the purpose of finding theSnelson letter.Rounding out the connections between the murder of Juanita White and the LakeWaco killings is that some of the main suspects convicted of the crimes havebeen legally exonerated.In the Lake Waco murders case, Muneer Deeb was sentenced to death by a Cleburne,Texas, jury in 1985 for Montgomery’s death in the supposedly botched murder-for-hire scheme. But he was later acquitted of the charges by a Tarrant County juryin a January 1993 retrial.That came after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him the right to anew trial in June 1991. In that ruling, the court said some testimony in Deeb’strial had been improperly admitted.When the jury acquitted Deeb, his lawyers and the lead Waco police detective inthe case said the action was long overdue because they did not think he hadcommitted the crime. Deeb himself always maintained his innocence, pointing tothe fact that he passed a three-hour polygraph test with no deception when hewas first arrested for the crime by Waco police. Deeb died while he was livingin Dallas County in November of 1999.Gilbert Melendez died in prison in October 1996. His brother, Anthony Melendez,remains in prison.An exoneration has also come out of the White case. Washington was granted afull pardon based on actual innocence on Oct. 9 after Gov. Rick Perry examinedthe new DNA evidence and received a unanimous recommendation from the TexasBoard of Pardons and Parole.Steve Spence, who has always maintained his brother’s innocence and who alsofought against Washington’s imprisonment, said he is glad that some of the menhe thinks were wrongfully convicted in the two cases have been released fromprison. But that doesn’t change the fact that his brother and his mother areboth dead.Even if all his suspicions born of parallels between the two cases are wrong,Steve Spence said the cases will still always haunt him. Rarely does a day go bywhen he isn’t somehow reminded of what he regards as the murders of two of hisfamily members.“I’ve had to deal with people my whole life over this stuff,” Steve Spence said