10:25 a.m. The detectives and the ME investigator arrive on scene and find the victim lying on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. Her husband, obviously distraught, is sitting in the back of a cruiser. According to Detective Flap, they went out looking for the assailant soon after getting a physical description from the husband. That was when they ran across young Brenton Butler who, when questioned, said he was on his way to the library. The detectives thought this sounded fishy. A young black man going to the library on a Sunday morning? Despite the fact that he's younger and shorter than the man in the physical description, they take him back to the scene and present him to the victim's husband. The husband looks at Brenton for a moment and says, "Yes. That's him. I recognize his shoes." His shoes. That part never got on the witness stand because prosecuting attorneys obviously knew how flimsy it sounded.
Brenton was taken into custody. The victim's purse and a murder weapon were nowhere to be found. There was no evidence of the blood spatter splash-back on his hands and clothes that would very likely have been present had he shot a woman at point blank range only hours before. I'm sure a gunshot residue kit (GSR) was run on him and came back negative. Still, they had an eye witness. Open and shut. Detective Flap is adamant when he says, "He's as guilty as hell. I know he did it." I glance at Carl, who is looking down at a spot on the floor.
There are more people present at murder autopsies than during most others. As a general rule, the homicide detective must be present to witness the medical examiner's findings firsthand. Detective Flap walks into the autopsy suite and looks down at the victim. Her face is shredded and broken to the point that her own mother wouldn't recognize her. "I think it was a heart attack," he jokes.
You have to understand that people who are surrounded by death all day are not irreverent because they're jerks. It's a coping mechanism. How else do you handle walking into, for example, a scene where you are faced with a black, bloated body teaming with maggots and oozing decomp fluid through the floorboards? How else can you deal with a smell so bad it makes your eyes water? It's about that time that somebody says, "I'm thinking fried rice for lunch today, how about you?" And you laugh. And you are grateful to that person for reminding you that you can laugh.
Anyway, another detective was involved in this case. He happened to be the sheriff's son and the only black detective in homicide. Apparently, he was recruited to befriend Brenton in order to get a confession out of him. When Brenton refused to confess, however, the detective took him out in the woods and worked him over. Brenton was then subject to hours of interrogation without the benefit of an attorney or his parents. He was only 15-years-old and his mother and father were frantic with worry. The authorities didn't bother calling to inform them that their son was in custody until late in the evening. By that time, Brenton had confessed.
At the trial the detectives were torn apart by the public defender assigned to Brenton's case. While being questioned, Detective Flap was asked why he wrote Brenton Butler's confession instead of Brenton writing it himself. Flap smiled smugly and said something like, "Because I didn't know if he could write."
Detective Carl was visibly nervous on the stand and couldn't answer basic questions. The attorney made him look like a bumbling idiot, which is unfortunate. Carl's big mistake through all this was not having the confidence to stand up to Flap. He had it in him and just never did it.
The sheriff's son should never have been a homicide detective in the first place, in my opinion. He was friendly and always had a kind word for me, but he coasted along and didn't really care about his cases. He let other people do the work. On the stand he flat out denied physically coercing Brenton, despite photographs later taken of fresh bruises on the young man's face.
Given my perspective, it's hard for me to resolve the corruption surrounding this case and the men that I knew. All three detectives were demoted or fired. And for good reason. I would like to think that sort of thing won't happen anymore, but I am a realist. Detectives are trained to play serious mind games when they interrogate a suspect. But there is the danger that laying it on too thick will cause a man to confess to crimes he may not have committed.
Several months after Brenton Butler was acquited, a young black man confessed to the murder while in prison on another offense. He was later tried and convicted.
We had the victim's body for several months after she was killed. For some reason her husband wouldn't claim her despite the many calls we made imploring him to get a funeral home to pick up the body. Eventually he stopped taking our calls and we ended up assigning her a pauper's grave in the county cemetary.