Did Craig Michael Wood give a false confession in Hailey Owens case

May 19, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good morning:

Craig Michael Wood is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, May 22nd. The hearing was originally scheduled for April 24th, but the judge reset the hearing at the request of Wood’s attorneys because they wanted additional time to consider two new charges added by the prosecution to the three original charges: first degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action.

The two new charges are rape and sodomy. The prosecutor said they are based on recently available information obtained at the autopsy.

As most of my regular readers know, Wood is accused of kidnapping 10-year-old Hailey Owens as she was walking home. There appears to be no doubt that he is guilty because neighbors witnessed the abduction and described the kidnapper’s pickup truck, including providing a license plate number. Police used that plate to identify the registered owner, who turned out to be Wood’s father and he provided them with Wood’s address. They found her dead body a few hours later in the basement of Wood’s home. She had been shot in the back of the head.

I believe all of us suspected a sexual motive for the abduction and the addition of the two charges confirms our worst suspicions. Wood has apparently confessed to the crime, but his statement has not been released to the public.

Because this will almost certainly be a death penalty case, the court has appointed Patrick J. Berrigan and Thomas Jaquinot to represent Wood. Berrigan and Jaquinot are death-penalty lawyers who work for the Capital Division of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. Berrigan has considerable experience handling death cases and an excellent reputation.

They have filed a motion to exclude Wood’s statement asserting that he was drunk, drugged and mentally ill when police took him into custody, that they failed to advise him that he had a right to remain silent and refuse to answer their questions, that they ignored his request to consult with counsel before answering their questions and that they coerced him into providing a statement by promising they would go easy on him, if he cooperated and told them the truth.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the assertions are true, the statement would be inadmissible because it was involuntary and obtained in violation of the Miranda rule.

Whenever the prosecution seeks to use a defendant’s confession against him to prove guilt, one should immediately consider whether the confession contains truthful information. As the video at the beginning of this article demonstrates, false confessions are a reality and one of the causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people.

While the evidence against Mr. Wood appears to be substantial, I recommend against assuming he is guilty. For example, eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable and we do not know if someone else might have been involved. Forensic fraud is another major cause of wrongful convictions as are police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Therefore, watch the video and let’s see if there is any evidence that he was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit.

Finally, “The System with Joe Berlinger,” which premiered last night on Al Jazeera America, will explore the complexities of the U.S. criminal justice system in an eight-part series that uses real cases to question the effectiveness of laws. Looks to be an excellent documentary. Check it out.

Donations have been few and far between this month. We know times are tough and people are struggling to make ends meet because we are in the same situation. Unless you cannot afford it, please make a donation, if you appreciate our efforts to teach and keep you informed.

Fred


Could the prosecution’s case against Craig Wood be derailed by a warrantless search?

February 26, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Afternoon:

I recently commented in response to a question raised by Betty-Kath regarding the warrantless entry into Craig Wood’s house by the police to search for Hailey Owens and their use of information, which they acquired during that search, to obtain a warrant to search his house for evidence that he had kidnapped and detained her in his home.

I said I did not believe the warrantless entry would affect the outcome of the case.

I reconsider my answer today and explain why the warrantless entry could jeopardize the prosecution’s case.

Detective Neal McAmis referred to the warrantless entry into Wood’s residence in his affidavit attached to the complaint:

Officers did a safety sweep of the residence to search for Owens. When the officers got to the basement steps, they could smell a strong odor of bleach. The odor continued as they entered the basement. The officers informed me the basement floor was wet. They also said they saw bottles of bleach in the basement.

On 02/19/14, at 0128 Detective Barb obtained a signed search warrant to search Craig’s residence. Several crime scene technicians responded to the scene. In the basement the crime scene technicians located two plastic storage totes. They were stacked one on top of the other. There were papers and documents in the top tote. In the bottom tote was what appeared to be the body of a small child. The body was concealed inside two trash bags. The crime scene technicians removed the trash bags and confirmed it was the body of Owens.

(emphasis supplied)

Detective Barb also applied for a second search warrant of the residence a little over 12 hours later during the afternoon of February 19th. In that affidavit, he described what he found during the search earlier that day, including firearms, video cameras, a computer, digital storage media, child pornography, cleaning fluids, journals and bedding, and he requested a search warrant authorizing him to search for and seize those items.

He did not mention the earlier warrantless search.

The issues the court may have to consider before this case goes to trial are whether the initial warrantless safety sweep of the residence was unlawful and, assuming for the sake of argument that it was, the second issue is whether any information obtained during that search was used to obtain a subsequent search warrant.

If so, that may invalidate the search and result in the suppression of the evidence seized. Without that evidence, the prosecution might not be able to convict Wood.

The general rules:

(1) A search of a residence without a warrant is unlawful unless an occupant voluntarily consents to the search or exigent circumstances exist that would make it impractical and unreasonable to obtain a search warrant, such as an entry in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect (see United States v. Santana, 427 US 38 (1976)), an entry to prevent the destruction of evidence (see Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849 (2011)) or an entry to prevent someone from suffering imminent injury or death.

(2) The police cannot use “fruit from the poisonous tree” (i.e., information obtained unlawfully) to establish probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe that a residence contains evidence of a crime.

Consent, hot pursuit and preventing the destruction of evidence are not applicable.

Thus, the question the court will have to resolve is whether the warrantless entry was reasonably necessary to prevent someone from suffering imminent injury or death.

The problem for the prosecution is that the police arrived at the residence before Wood arrived. They were waiting for him and when he arrived, they pulled into his driveway and parked behind him, preventing him from backing out. They took him into custody and transported him to the station house for interrogation.

The warrantless entry into his residence took place after Wood was removed from the scene.

With their only suspect in custody and no particular reason to believe that Hailey Owens was in the residence and in any immediate danger, if she was, I am not seeing any evidence that would justify a warrantless entry into his residence to prevent her from suffering imminent injury or death. Absent probable cause to believe that, the warrantless entry would be unlawful and any evidence seized as a result of it would not be admissible.

I also do not see them acting as though they believed she was endangered in the house. Moreover, the absence of any reference to the warrantless entry in the second affidavit for search warrant appears to have been a deliberate omission that the defense probably will interpret as deliberate.

The prosecution may be able to navigate its way through this potential disaster, if it can satisfy the court that (1) no information obtained during the warrantless entry was relied on to obtain a search warrant, or if they did rely on it, they relied on other independent evidence with which to establish probable cause, such that they would have discovered the evidence they seized even if the information obtained during the warrantless search were excised from the affidavit for the first search warrant that was issued at 0128 on February 19th.

How this potential issue is resolved may determine the outcome of this case.


Craig Michael Wood’s conduct likely precludes insanity defense

February 23, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Good morning:

Actions speak louder than words.

Despite his claim of having suffered 40 to 50 blackouts, Craig Michael Wood probably cannot successfully claim insanity.

Insanity is a legal definition, not a medical or psychological definition. You won’t find it in the DSM.

The insanity defense focuses on a defendant’s mental state and requires him to admit committing the acts he is accused of committing.

Section 552.030 (1) of the Missouri Revised Statutes states:

A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect such person was incapable of knowing and appreciating the nature, quality, or wrongfulness of such person’s conduct.

Contrary to the fearful, delusional and fact-free claims of the right-wing-hate-machine, the defense is rarely successful because even so-called crazy and delusional people usually attempt to conceal the crime they committed and/or deny that they committed it.

Their actions speak louder than their words because their behavior demonstrates that they knew they were doing something wrong even if, for example, they thought God commanded them to do it.

Wood’s behavior would not likely satisfy the insanity defense because the circumstantial evidence of his premeditated intent and knowledge that he was committing crimes is so overwhelming as to leave no doubt in a reasonable mind that he was in full command of his faculties, if not his urge to rape and kill a child.

Even though Mr. Wood is unlikely to prevail on a claim of insanity, a claim of impaired mental functioning might still be available to use in mitigation.

One of the first tasks for defense counsel will be to put together a mitigation team with a lawyer and mitigation investigator knowledgeable about mental disorders and the best forensic experts available to test Mr. Wood’s brain functioning and diagnose his condition.

They will be looking for what death-penalty lawyers refer to as “a hole in the brain,” meaning an organic brain disorder or injury (as opposed to a personality disorder) that inhibits his ability to function normally and causes him to act out in a violent, unpredictable and uncontrollable manner.

It’s difficult for a juror to sentence a defendant to death for behavior he cannot control, even if he knows that his behavior is wrong and violates the law.

The problem for Mr. Wood and his defense team is that the Hailey Owens kidnapping and murder shows someone who appears to have planned what he did knowing that it was wrong and illegal. He carried out his plan during a period of approximately 3.5 hours, including an attempt to eliminate evidence and evade capture by executing his victim, cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of her body before the police arrived.

And then there is the child pornography and God only knows what may be recorded on his videos and dvds.

Difficult to imagine that he did not intend to do everything he did to Hailey Owens before he saw her walking home and kidnapped her.

I do not see any evidence of involuntary or unconscious behavior, such as one might expect to see if he has a hole in the brain.

Finally, when confronted by police when he arrived home, he tossed the roll of duct tape that he was carrying into the bed of his pickup truck.

That act suggests that he knew why they were there and he did not want them to notice or question him about the duct tape and what he intended to do with it.

Unfortunately for Mr. Wood and his defense team, his conduct and state of mind do not appear to mitigate what he did. Instead, they appear to aggravate it.

We will have to wait and see how this case works out.


How DNA testing will be used in the case against Craig Michael Wood

February 22, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Good afternoon:

I have received several emails asking me repost as a separate post my comments yesterday about DNA testing in the Craig Michael Wood case.

Here they are with some grammatical changes to promote clarity:

I suspect Wood may have committed a sex crime, since I do not believe he kidnapped Hailey for the sole purpose of killing her.

The ligature marks on her arms and the child pornography seized by the police during the search at his residence suggest he may have committed a sex crime.

I also suspect he may be a serial killer, even though he supposedly does not fit the profile. My suspicion is based on the brazen kidnapping in front of witnesses and the speed with which he committed the crimes, cleaned up the crime scene and prepared to dispose of Hailey Owens’s body. But for the lack of duct tape, he might have gotten away with her body and disposed of it before police arrived at his house. That would have complicated and possibly prevented a successful prosecution.

Whether I am right or wrong will have to await the results of the investigation and forensic DNA testing.

Meanwhile, I can describe the forensic DNA testing that will take place so that everyone understands the procedure and how it works.

During the autopsy, the medical examiner likely swabbed her mouth, anus and vagina separately using sterile swabs, packaging each swab separately and securely so that no foreign DNA could contaminate any of the swabs. They would have been submitted to the DNA lab together with a dried bloodstain obtained from her blood at the autopsy to develop a DNA profile from a known individual to use as a reference sample for comparison purposes.

A DNA analyst should be able to obtain a complete DNA profile from a small cutting obtained from the dried bloodstain (13 genetic sites, plus a sex determinant).

The analyst will take a cutting from each swab and place each one in a separate test tube containing a small amount of distilled water. After soaking the swabs for a certain period of time to allow the dried biological fluid on each swab to go into solution, the analyst will remove the cuttings and spin the test tubes to collect any biological substances present at the bottom of each tube.

After pouring off the solution, the analyst will place a portion of the residue from each tube on separate microscope slides and examine each slide for the presence of spermatozoa and female epithelial cells.

Epithelial cells come from the lining of the vagina, anus or mouth and slough off during intercourse.

By using a process called differential extraction, the DNA in each sample that contains spermatozoa and epithelial cells, assuming they are present, will be selectively released by first adding a mild chemical that breaks down the wall of the nucleus of every epithelial cell releasing the DNA into solution.

The chemical is not strong enough to break down the nucleus of a sperm head and release the male DNA.

After the female DNA is extracted from the epithelial cells, the male DNA is released into solution by adding a stronger chemical.

The analyst will then use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is the biochemical process developed by Dr. Kary Mullis in 1983 to create millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence of interest.

This process is applied to the extracted DNA enabling easy typing of the sequence of interest from a biological sample containing DNA from just a few cells.

By using a process similar to gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMS), the male and female DNA can be typed and compared to the known samples obtained from Hailey Owen’s bloodstain and a buccal swab obtained from Craig Michael Wood.

The DNA profile obtained from the female epithelial cells should match the DNA profile obtained from Hailey’s bloodstain at autopsy at all 13 sites and the sex determinant, assuming complete DNA profiles are obtained from both samples. Partial profiles would be expected to match at the same sites.

The DNA profile obtained from the sperm heads or male fraction, assuming any spermatozoa are present, would likely match the DNA profile obtained from a buccal swab obtained from Mr. Wood after his arrest (which is standard operating procedure in sex crime cases.

The DNA profile obtained from a mixed sample containing both the female DNA from the epithelial cells and the male DNA from the sperm heads should contain alleles matching both known sources at each of the 13 STR/DNA genetic sites and the sex determinant should indicate a mixed sample containing DNA from at least one male and one female.

Most likely the pieces that cut out of mattresses during the search of Wood’s residence are stained with a substance that reacted positively for the presence of blood.

If so, the stains will require confirmatory testing at the crime lab.

DNA in dried bloodstains preserves virtually indefinitely. If they are human bloodstains, the DNA lab may be able to develop a complete nuclear STR/DNA profile and mitochondrial DNA profile that can be compared to the missing persons database for potential matches.

Mitochondria exist outside the nucleus of a cell. They contain DNA. Because there is only one nucleus in a cell and many mitochondria, there is substantially more DNA in the mitochondria compared to the nucleus. For this reason, mitichondrial DNA degrades (breaks down) more slowly than nuclear DNA.

Unlike a complete STR/DNA profile, which is specific to a person, mitochondrial DNA is inherited from and matches a person’s mother’s DNA.

Thus, siblings with the same mother will have identical mitochondrial DNA and all will also match the maternal grandmother.

In the cases of many missing persons, the mother, grandmother, or a sibling have provided biological samples from which a mitochondrial DNA profile was developed to potentially identify unidentified human remains.

If a mitochondrial DNA profile developed from a human bloodstain found on a mattress at Craig Wood’s residence matched a mitochondrial DNA profile from a mother, grandmother or sibling of a missing person, it would be possible to identify the missing person as the source of the bloodstain, even if the body of the missing person is never found.

I suspect, but obviously do not know, if Craig Michael Wood is a serial killer. We will have to wait and see what develops during the investigation.

From my experience as a member of the defense team representing Gary Ridgway, probably the most prolific serial killer in our nation’s history, there really is not a single profile that applies to all serial killers.

Various so-called profiling experts have stated that Wood is not a serial killer because he does not fit the profile.

I do not believe they know what they are talking about.


Greene County prosecutor may seek death penalty for Craig Wood

February 21, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Good afternoon:

According to KMOV.com, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney, Dan Peterson, has announced that he intends to seek the death penalty against Craig Michael Wood for the kidnap and murder of 10-year-old Hailey Owens.

If true, such an announcement is premature and improper.

For the following reasons, a prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty should be delayed until defense counsel has had a reasonable opportunity to prepare and submit a report regarding the evidence that it would present to a jury in support of a request for an LWOP sentence instead of the death penalty.

First, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has ruled that the death penalty can only be imposed in some, but not all murder cases, and there is no murder, no matter how aggravated, gruesome or depraved, that automatically warrants the death penalty.

Instead, the jury or the judge in a case where the defendant waives his right to a jury trial, must decide whether to impose the death penalty by weighing evidence in aggravation (i.e, the manner in which the crime was committed and the defendant’s criminal record) against evidence in mitigation (e.g., youthful age, immaturity, developmental disability, mental illness, diminished capacity, minimal role in a multiple defendant case and absence of a criminal record are some, but not all of the factors that might call for a sentence of LWOP rather than the death penalty).

Second, since there is no murder for which the death penalty is automatic, a prosecutor’s decision to seek it should be based on a thoughtful consideration of both the aggravating and mitigating evidence in the case.

Third, since the prosecution must necessarily rely on defense counsel to discover and disclose the mitigating evidence before it decides to seek or not to seek the death penalty, it must give defense counsel an adequate period of time to prepare a mitigation report.

Pursuant to current practice in most jurisdictions, the prosecution initiates the process of deciding whether to seek the death penalty by obtaining an indictment for a death-penalty eligible murder. The prosecutor then has a specific period of time (typically at least 30 days) following the defendant’s arraignment on the charge or charges in the indictment within which to decide whether to file a notice that it intends to seek the death penalty, if the defendant is convicted of the death penalty eligible murder.

This deadline is often extended by agreement of the parties for a period of months (1) to allow the defense a reasonable opportunity to prepare a mitigation report and (2) to allow the prosecution a reasonable opportunity to review it.

A meeting usually takes place a day or so before the deadline during which lawyers for both sides discuss the relative merits and demerits of their respective positions. These meetings are surreal because they are discussions that presuppose the defendant will be convicted and focus on whether he should live or die.

Sometimes the prosecution decides not to seek the death penalty, in which case it does not file the notice.

Sometimes it does.

If followed in good faith, this process assures that the decision to seek the death penalty will not be based on a defendant’s refusal to plead guilty.

Indeed, ethical prosecutors should be opposed to using the death-penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.

Plead-guilty-as-charged-and-agree-to-a-sentence-to-life-without-possibility-of-parole (LWOP)-or-I-will-seek-the-death-penalty is extortion of the worst sort because it forces a defendant to gamble with his life, if he wants to exercise his right to a jury trial. We have seen far too many wrongful convictions of innocent people to allow a prosecutor to extort guilty pleas in premeditated murder cases.

There is one important exception to this process and that occurs when a defendant seeking to avoid the death penalty offers to plead guilty in exchange for an LWOP sentence. In this situation, the defendant’s desired outcome is an LWOP sentence and he is not being forced to accept it.

For example, in the Green River Killer case in Seattle, Gary Ridgway offered to plead guilty to 48 premeditated rape murders in exchange for providing information about the location of missing bodies. The prosecution accepted his offer, so he is serving LWOP.

Craig Michael Wood is charged with kidnapping and murdering 10-year-old Hailey Owens. This is potentially a death-penalty-eligible offense under Missouri law because it is a premeditated murder committed while engaged in a kidnapping offense and the victim was a witness or potential witness against him.

The offense probably also qualifies as a murder “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman.”

Whether Dan Peterson has already made up his mind or will follow the process I have described in good faith or eventually use the death penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations remains to be seen.

Ironically, such an offer might be quickly snapped up by the defense, if the evidence of guilt is as overwhelming as it now appears to be.


Craig Wood, 45, charged with kidnapping murder of 10-year-old girl: EDITED BELOW

February 20, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Good morning:

Terrible new case out of Springfield, MO involving 10-year-old Hailey Owens, who was reported missing two days ago. Due to the assistance of eyewitnesses to her abduction, who provided a description of the vehicle in which she was abducted and the license plate number, police have recovered her remains and arrested a suspect, 45-year-old Craig Michael Wood, of Springfield, MO.

KMOV.com in St. Louis is reporting:

According to the probable cause statement, a woman was in her garage around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday when she saw Wood’s Ford Ranger pull up to Owens and ask her where Springfield Street was. The witness said Hailey tried to walk away from the vehicle, but Wood opened the door of his truck and said “Hey, come here for a minute,” extending his hand to her, motioning for her to come over.

The witness says Wood lunged out of the vehicle and grabbed Owens with his left hand and threw her into the truck “like a rag doll.” He then drove away from the scene at a high rate of speed. According to court documents, it’s believed Owens was walking home from a friend’s house.

“Our witnesses said it happened just that quick,” Police Chief Paul Williams said.

Neighbor Carlos Edwards told the Springfield News-Leader he ran after the truck as his wife tried to get the license plate number after seeing the abduction. Police say another witness got into a car and tried to pursue Wood’s vehicle, but lost track of it.

Based on the information provided by the witnesses, police obtained a search warrant for the residence of Craig Michael Wood, 45, an athletic coach and teacher’s aide at Pleasant View, a K-8 school in the Springfield Public Schools system. Hailey was not a student at this school and apparently did not know Mr. Wood.

During the search, they found her dismembered body in two plastic garbage bags in the basement and arrested Mr. Wood.

Authorities say Wood pulled up in the truck, belonging to his father, around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday as officers were waiting for him at his home in the 1500 block of E. Stanford St.

The officers approached Wood as he got out of the truck, and noticed he had a roll of duct tape in his hand. When he saw the officers, he threw the duct tape into the bed of the truck.

Ligature marks were found on her arms and she died from a single gunshot wound to the base of her skull. Police recovered a spent .22 caliber casing from the basement.

Wood has been charged with first degree murder. Go here to read the graphic court documents, including the affidavit for probable cause.

This could become a death penalty case.

EDIT: Apparently she was not dismembered. Her body was folded over at the waist and double-bagged rather than bagged in two separate bags. I apologize for my mistake and any confusion that it might have caused.


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