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Juanita White Murder December 17, 2001 Waco tribune Herald

 
Battles in court and out – Jurors believe inmate tales and send pair away, but the fight for freedom goes on
Waco Tribune-Herald (TX) – Monday, December 17, 2001
Author: CINDY VAN AUKEN ; Tribune-Herald staff writer 
When Calvin Washington and Joe Sidney Williams Jr. were tried and convicted separately in the fall of 1987 for the rape and murder of Juanita White, almost nothing was business as usual. 
Much of the prosecution’s case was built on the word of convicted criminals. Many of those witnesses contradicted one another — and themselves — during the trials or later recanted. 
The only other thing the prosecution had to link either of the defendants to the crime scene was bite-mark evidence — a scientifically questionable form of identification that was presented by an expert witness whose findings would later be disputed. 
Yet such irregularities almost seemed fitting. Since White’s brutalized body had been found 18 months earlier, a bizarre series of events had unfolded. 
Waco police had originally taken on the case since the murder of Juanita White at her North 15th Street home fell under their jurisdiction. But within days, an investigator from the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department with close ties to the district attorney launched his own inquiry. 
The case polarized law enforcement agencies, pitted a prosecutor against a police officer, and spurred allegations of police and witness perjury. 
By the time the men went to trial, Waco police were testifying on behalf of the defendants. 
But much of what the juries in 1987 heard was the testimony of inmate witnesses put on the stand by the prosecutors. In the course of the two trials, 14 of the 41 prosecution witnesses were either in jail at the time or had extensive criminal records. 
The 10 key inmate witnesses carried at least 25 felony convictions among them at the time they testified. Most of them also had at least several misdemeanor convictions and had been arrested for numerous other crimes.
Defense attorneys presented evidence that showed witnesses had had cases dismissed or charges reduced after cooperating with then-McLennan County Sheriff’s Deputy Truman Simons or officials from the district attorney’s office. Simons, who retired from the sheriff’s department in November 2000, deferred interview requests by the Tribune-Herald on at least five occasions and finally refused to grant an interview for this series. He now works as an investigator for Austin attorney Vic Feazell, who was McLennan County district attorney when White was murdered. 
The accounts the witnesses gave during the trials were often substantially different from what they initially told investigators. Eight of those 10 key inmate witnesses acknowledged they had lied to police or defense investigators at some point during the case. Some of them even admitted during Washington’s trial that they had perjured themselves at Williams’ trial just three months before. 
Changing stories 
Typical of the garbled answers given by inmates about why they lied during the course of the investigation was a response by witness Harold Brown during Washington’s trial: “I wouldn’t lie. But to get (an investigator) out of (my house), I might have said anything.” 
There were also blatant contradictions between the testimony of different prosecution witnesses. 
For example, a witness named Booker T. Sterling said he was staying at a local motel, named the C&E Motel, the night White was killed and happened to overhear Washington talking about the murder as he walked past Washington’s room. He estimated that happened between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. 
However, witness Waymon Dotson said he was with Washington, Williams and another woman constantly from about 3 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. and they never went to the motel. 
Waymon Dotson’s testimony also conflicts with the testimony of another witness, his cousin, Larry Dotson. Larry Dotson said he saw Williams drive up in White’s car at a popular local night spot called the Sands and that his cousin, Waymon, was in the car with Williams. He said he remembered that detail because Waymon, looking to buy drugs, called him over to the car. 
Waymon Dotson, however, testified he had never been in a car with Williams at any time and that he certainly could not have been that night. At the time Larry Dotson said Waymon drove up with Williams, Waymon Dotson said, he was actually working “the beeper.” By that, he meant he was sitting in a car across from the Sands watching for police officers. 
Similarly, Booker Sterling testified that when Washington left the Sands that night, Fate Dotson — Waymon’s brother and Larry’s cousin — was in the car with him. However, Fate Dotson testified that he had not been with Washington and Williams that night at the Sands. 
Several witnesses claimed Washington and Williams had items such as a television, videocassette recorder and microwave in the back of White’s car and tried to sell them at the Sands the night she was murdered. However, White’s son, Steve Spence, said that White did not even own a microwave or VCR and that her television was not taken the night she was murdered. 
Lead prosecutor Karen Amos was uncomfortable with the conflicts in her witnesses’ testimony, she recalled in a recent interview. She dismissed her uneasiness at the time by thinking it would be odd if the stories read like a script without a few contradictions. Scott Peterson, who prosecuted the cases with Amos, said recently he was not bothered by the conflicts, which he considered immaterial. 
While some of the prosecution’s witnesses were contradicting each other and themselves, a parade of Waco police officers prepared to testify — for the defendants. 
Strong showing of blue 
Sixteen Waco police officers, one Texas Ranger, one parole officer and two private investigators testified on behalf of Washington. Four law enforcement officers testified on behalf of Williams. They essentially told the juries that the prosecution’s inmate witnesses could not be believed, even under oath. 
One of the Waco police officers, Mike Nicoletti, even testified in Washington’s trial that he had direct knowledge of a deal being offered to a potential witness named Arthur Brandon. Nicoletti, who in a recent interview confirmed his testimony, said on the witness stand that Brandon told him that Truman Simons had made a deal with Brandon to have a pending murder charge against him dropped in exchange for his testifying against Washington. 
When Nicoletti asked Brandon if he was going to testify, he said he was not. Instead, he said, his wife was going to testify in his place because her criminal background was not as extensive as his. Although Brandon was not legally married, his common-law wife was Geraldine Douglas, who did testify against Washington. 
In addition to calling police officers as witnesses, the defense in Washington’s trial attempted to belittle a piece of prosecution evidence with a dramatic gesture. Washington’s attorney asked him in the courtroom to try on a blood-stained shirt that prosecutors contended was his. As he tried to put it on, it was clearly too small. 
At that point, prosecutor Amos said recently, she thought she had lost the case. Although she herself had entered the shirt into evidence along with a number of other items, she had not checked to see if it would fit Washington. 
“It was something he might have worn in the first or second grade,” Amos said. “It obviously didn’t fit.” 
But her fears turned out to be unfounded. Despite the bad character of the witnesses, the discrepancies in their testimony and the lack of physical evidence, separate juries convicted Washington and Williams and recommended life sentences. The guilty verdict against Washington came on his 32nd birthday. 
Why the jurors reached those verdicts is unclear. Only two of the jurors the Tribune-Herald was able to con- tact recently were willing to talk about the trials at all. 
Jurors look back 
One of those, a Woodway resident who was on the Washington jury, declined to discuss the case in detail. His only comment was that jurors made the best decision they could, based on the evidence presented to them at the time. 
Another juror, Waco resident Karen Mayfield, said she does not remember much about jury deliberations in the Washington trial. But she did say she was swayed by the fact that prosecutors presented so many witnesses. Despite their criminal pasts, the volume of their accounts overshadowed the relatively little testimony presented by the defense, she said. 
“(The defense) did not have as many on Washington’s side, saying it wasn’t true,” Mayfield said. “I think having the DNA would have turned (the verdict) around.” 
Waco attorney Rick Bostwick, who was appointed to defend Williams, said that very thing — the sheer number of prosecution witnesses — is one of the reasons he has long thought the juries were able to overlook all of the doubts and contradictions raised by the defense. It was an example of quantity winning out over quality, he said. 
“When you hear it over and over, you just get worn down,” Bostwick said. 
Another factor that probably contributed, he said, is that many jurors cannot accurately judge the credibility of inmate witnesses because they themselves have never spent time in jail. 
‘A little naive’ 
“They have a hard time believing (the witnesses) would lie and sell their own grandmother for a Bugler cigarette,” Bostwick said. “They are a little naive in that way.” 
Ray Teske Jr., a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, said that such a heavy reliance on inmate testimony is not typical in capital murder cases. It is occasionally used, he said, but usually only when there are two or more defendants and one of them brokers a plea deal and testifies against the other defendant. 
Bostwick said that his review of the charges against witnesses in Williams’ trial that were dropped or reduced by the district attorney’s office convinced him that some of the witnesses received deals to testify that were not disclosed to the jury. 
“I don’t think there’s any question that it happened,” Bostwick said. “I think that’s how they made their cases. How it happened, why it happened, I’ll never know, but I’m convinced it happened.” 
West attorney Walter M. Reaves Jr., who represented Williams along with Bostwick during his trial, handled his appeals and is now working for Washington, took it a step further. He said in a recent interview that he thinks every one of the prosecution’s inmate witnesses “got something out of it” at some point for testifying. 
Reaves said many of the witnesses had cases dismissed by the district attorney’s office after cooperating with officials but denied in front of the juries that the dismissals were in exchange for their testimony. He said it is rare for any case to be built almost exclusively on inmate testimony. agree to it if he had any guilty feelings about the crime. He also told Washington he should discuss the testing with attorney Reaves. 
Shortly after that visit, Dannen said, Reaves called to tell him Washington had written him a letter consenting to the tests. So Dannen and the doctor who had collected Williams’ blood went to the prison. Eight tubes of blood later, they had what they needed for Washington’s DNA to be tested against the crime scene evidence. 
It was the next step in the process that proved to be the most difficult. Once Dannen had ob- tained blood samples from both men, he set out to obtain the original evidence. 
A jarring discovery 
At Reaves’ request, the McLennan County district attorney’s office sent all of its evidence files in the case to the Dallas Medical Examiner’s Office so the evidence could be prepared for testing. 
As the envelopes that were marked “Rape Kit Swabs” were opened, the stunned Dannen almost cried. 
“They were empty, empty,” he said. “Not even the sticks were there, nothing. I can’t describe how depressed I was.” 
As it turned out, the only evidence the district attorney’s office still had were the microscope slides that had smears from the vaginal and anal swabs, as well as an empty tube that was labeled “DNA evidence.” Since the condition of old smears often makes it difficult to obtain conclusive testing results, both Reaves and Dannen thought Washington’s struggle for freedom might be prematurely ended. 
However, on the advice of someone familiar with the case, Dannen said he checked in March 2000 with the lab where White’s autopsy had been done. Almost miraculously, it still had one vaginal and one anal swab left from the rape kit. At that lucky turn of events for a prisoner who had seemed almost immune to luck, the truth seemed tantalizingly close. 
It was still frustratingly out of reach, however. Reaves and Dannen argued with the district attorney’s office over which DNA scientist should be allowed to do the testing. It took months and a bad experience with one testing company before the two sides finally agreed on a scientist: Lisa M. Calandro, who heads up a Hayward, Calif., lab. 
Calandro was given the newly discovered two swabs from the rape kit, as well as the blood samples from Washington and Williams, and asked to compare them. The results would profoundly change the outcome of the 14-year-old case: Neither Washington nor Williams raped White. 
Dannen said that when he received the news on Oct. 25, 2000, it was worth every penny of the about $6,000 he had paid for all the DNA testing. 
The unnamed suspect 
Since Calandro had developed a DNA profile of the rapist — and in Dannen’s mind the killer — Dannen suggested to Reaves that they test Bennie Carroll’s DNA to see if it matched. The attorney was perplexed. Who was Bennie Carroll? he asked. 
More than a decade into the case, Reaves had never even heard the name of the all-important Bennie Carroll. Although Jan Price had told defense lawyers prior to and during the trials that she had a suspect more promising than Washington or Williams, she had not identified him by name. 
Carroll’s identity as the police suspect didn’t emerge until November 1991, when Jan Price gave a six-page affidavit during the appeals process for David Spence. Spence’s lawyers wanted her to tell them about the White case because they alleged that Simons also committed wrongdoings during the investigation of the Lake Waco triple murders. 
Dannen said he came across the affidavit and a later deposition from Jan Price while researching the David Spence case. He said it never even occurred to him that Reaves didn’t know about Carroll. 
Once Reaves learned about Carroll, he encouraged Dannen to compare Carroll’s DNA against the DNA profile of White’s rapist. Although that would seem like a fairly easy thing to do, there was one problem: Bennie Carroll was dead. 
The 25-year-old had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in June of 1990, just three months after he was paroled for the May 1986 assault that police said was chillingly similar to the attack on White. He was found lying on the bathroom floor at his girlfriend’s residence in Waco, where a .38-caliber handgun was found in the toilet, a police report said. 
The 25-year-old had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in June of 1990, just three months after he was paroled for the May 1986 assault that police said was chillingly similar to the attack on White. He was found lying on the bathroom floor at his girlfriend’s residence in Waco, where a .38-caliber handgun was found in the toilet, a police report said. 
Witnesses told police that Carroll carried the gun with him everywhere he went, not even putting it down when he picked up something else. That led investigators to believe that perhaps he had a hair brush and the gun in his hand at the same time and the gun accidentally discharged. 
Whatever the circumstances that led to Carroll’s death, his demise turned out to be a help to Dannen. The lab that performed Carroll’s autopsy had kept samples of his blood and skin tissue. 
DNA leads to Carroll 
After learning that, Reaves and Dannen asked permission of Segrest to test Carroll’s samples against White’s rape kit. He agreed and ordered the lab to send the evidence to Calandro. Segrest even agreed to the tests being done at the expense of his office and the police department. 
In February of this year — almost 15 years after Juanita White died — Calandro reported that Carroll was the person who raped White. Her findings were conclusive: The odds of someone else having the same DNA profile are one in 96 billion — more than 15 times the earth’s current population. 
Armed with the new evidence, Reaves asked 54th State District Judge George Allen to let Washington out of prison on bail so he could pursue his claims of innocence. But Allen denied that motion, citing a request from Segrest to test a blood-stained shirt prosecutors had claimed at trial was Washington’s. Segrest said he wanted to see if it was White’s blood on the shirt, even though at trial the shirt was shown to be clearly too small for the defendant. 
The shirt was sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s lab in Austin to be tested at the state’s expense. The results further cleared Washington, since the blood was not White’s and the shirt had never been proved to be his. After seeing those results, Allen let Washington out of prison on bail July 5. 
Once he was released, Washington began pursuing a full pardon with Reaves’ help. The first step was to file a pardon petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, which Reaves did July 17. 
After reviewing the petition, the board voted 16-0 to recommend that Washington be pardoned. That recommendation, along with the petition, was sent to Gov. Rick Perry. He granted “a full pardon based on innocence” on Oct. 9. 
Although Washington and his supporters called the pardon long overdue, some of the people who helped put him behind bars said they aren’t so sure it should have been granted. 
Peterson, one of Washington’s prosecutors, said the new DNA evidence casts enough doubt that he would not have tried Washington if the evidence had been available at the time. However, he said he is not ready to say that Washington and Williams did not commit the crime. They could have participated in White’s murder along with Carroll, he said, and simply not have raped her. 
Feazell and Simons take an even firmer stance on Washington’s guilt. Both men have said they still think Washington and Williams committed the crime. 
Feazell still believes 
In a recent interview, Feazell said he has never been shown any reason why the witnesses’ stories, as they told them in court, should not be believed. However, he said the sworn recantations they gave afterward probably should not be trusted. 
“Sworn statements don’t mean anything,” he said, “especially if they were collected by Jan Price.” 
Feazell insisted that the bite-mark evidence against Williams was pretty conclusive and on that basis alone, Williams should have been retried. He pointed out that Williams’ conviction was rever- sed not because the bitemark evidence was judged bad, but because hearsay was improperly admitted at his trial. 
“What we’ve got is pretty solid evidence that Joe Sidney Williams’ mouth was on Juanita White’s body around the time she was killed,” Feazell said. “Apparently forensic odontology is acceptable everywhere else in the U.S. except Waco.” 
Because of the new DNA evidence, Feazell said, it’s clear that Carroll must have been in on White’s murder with Washington and Williams. He said recently that he always thought there was a third suspect, but prosecutors were never able to find out because Washington and Williams would not tell them who was involved. He also said Waco police never mentioned Carroll’s name until after the trials were over. 
In May, Simons made similar statements under oath, saying that the DNA evidence does not exonerate Washington or Williams. When it looked like Washington might be freed in June, Simons said, “Lock your doors.” 
But during an interview with the Tribune-Herald in February of this year, Simons suggested that tests of both men convicted of killing Juanita White would be meaningful. 
“It doesn’t make any difference (to me), but for them to get a conclusive test, I think they need to get samples from Calvin and Joe Sidney,” he said. “If they are not guilty, they ought to be happy to do it. But they are the ones all the evidence pointed to. I am not worried about it, but I think they ought to do two tests and not just one. That’s the only way to cut Calvin loose, is if they tested Joe Sidney, too, and both of them came up having nothing to do with it.” 
Against pardon 
Simons has never directly addressed the issue of the pardon on the record. But Feazell has, saying he is so sure of Washington’s and Williams’ guilt that he opposed Washington receiving a pardon or any money from the state for wrongful incarceration. He said he would have even gladly written a brief to the governor’s office opposing Washington’s petition, but no one asked him. 
However, Feazell said he is not opposed to Washington’s freedom, despite the fact that he and other prosecutors asked for the death penalty in his case. He thinks Washington has served enough time, he said, adding that White’s family also wants him released. 
“I hope that Calvin Washington has straightened out his life. If not, the $300,000 the state plans to give him if he is pardoned — as recommended by John Segrest, Larry Lynch and George Allen — will certainly buy a lot of crack,” Feazell said before the pardon was granted. 
Bostwick said is not surprised that some of the prosecutors and law enforcement officials invol- ved in the case are putting forth the three-person theory. 
“They’ve got egg on their face and instead of having the courage to admit they made an honest mistake, which would be the honorable thing to do, they have chosen to suggest there must be a mysterious explanation that is unsupported by evidence, credible or otherwise,” Bostwick said. 
Under a law that was passed during the last legislative session, Washington is entitled to compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned. The law says people who serve time in prison and are later pardoned can either claim an automatic $25,000 for every year they were behind bars, up to $500,000, or sue the state for damages, up to $500,000. 
Reaves said that he is the process of filing a claim so that Washington can receive the automatic $25,000 per year compensation, adding that the case has big implications for the state. Now that DNA testing is available to all Texans who are convicted of a crime, Reaves said he expects more inmates to follow in Washington’s footsteps. 
Washington, who is now 46, said he is certain other inmates will be freed because of new DNA evidence. He thinks most of the men he met in prison were guilty, he said, but he believes there are a few stuck where he once was — innocent but unable to get anyone to believe them. 
Washington said he hopes those inmates will someday be as lucky as he was. 
“I was thinking all the time, wondering when I would get my freedom,” Washington said. “I would see dudes leaving every day, and I would wonder when it would be my turn. Now it’s just a shock to be out, to be free. 
“I don’t miss the penitentiary. But I think there are still some guys who didn’t do it. Maybe what has happened to me will give them some hope.” 
Cindy Van Auken can be reached at cvanauken@wacotrib.com or at 757-5744. 
“(The defense) did not have as many on Washington’s side, saying it wasn’t true. I think having the DNA would have turned (the verdict) around.”
Karen Mayfield,juror in Washington trial 
A pardon from the governor has officially cleared Calvin Washington of guilt in the 1986 rape and murder of Juanita White. Washington and Joe Sidney Williams, who was freed in 1993, had spent a total of 21 years in prison for the killing. How innocent men were prosecuted while the guilty man was never even arrested in the case is a lesson in McLennan County law enforcement gone awry. 
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