Evidence 101

EVIDENCE 101...Wherever you go, there you are...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Skeletons In The Closet

The trial was long but not in a boring way. Each day was full of something unexpected. There were times I was very relaxed and others where I was tense beyond any other stressful moment in my life.

Every day would present us with a surprise in our witness statements or reactions to defense questioning, evidence presented, or a mystery event. Literally, no one, knew what we knew inside that court room. Some of it was even excluded from the jury. There were many "approach the bench" moments.

Mattman and I were seated at the head table with the District Attorney and one of the Assistant District Attorneys. If you have never been in a major high profile case, in a district or federal court room, you have missed the ultimate sweating experience. Take note that most court rooms are at refrigerator temp or less.

The "big case" was different from all the others because it received national attention. It was also to be the first bodiless homicide  in Wyoming taken to trial. Add in a cold case. Everyone wants to know about those. They become a community mystery in which citizens feel they are a stakeholder.

Every move we made was on display in the news. Our faces and trial moments were being drawn by a cartoonist. Reporters were scribbling like mad to make sure they didn't miss a detail. The public in the audience scrutinized every second of every judicial procedure.

The jury members had a watchful eye and were glued to us on and off the stand. They watched me. I watched them. We made notes and compared notes of who we thought was paying attention and who thought we did our jobs well. Not one of the jury members faltered in their due diligence. This was serious business, probably one of the most important days of their lives. You would have thought we had Al Capone on trial. They were attentive.

Somewhere along the middle, we were alerted in court of an incident in a county not too far away. They had found skeletal remains in an area where a search had been conducted years ago for our victim, Lynn Bush. Mattman and I both had a gut wrenching experience at that very nanosecond.

Not because we were worried about being wrong or making a mistake in this almost 20 year old cold case with no body, but because we knew a discovery of our victim would be a game changer. The trial would have ended or been postponed for a lengthy time.

The DA approached the bench along with the defense and informed the judge of the discovery. The trial was suspended pending notification of possible match to Lynn Bush. The jury had no idea why.

That meant a University of Wyoming anthropology expert and professor was called to travel hundreds of miles on the court's dime to assist along with Johnson county law enforcement. This would also take time.

We were antsy and sick but at the same time, we had our doubts it was her. We rushed back to the office and directly linked by radio and phone to the Johnson county investigators. Before long, images were appearing on our screen.

What was found:  A partially uncovered skull in the foothills underneath an evergreen.. near a ravine... not far from the treeline of the mountains. It was exactly perfect. It was eerie. We all said, "holy shit."

What do I mean by that? It was just as we may have pictured her. Discarded and buried, with her remains being discovered due to erosion. One of the possibilities.

It was also Wyoming. This area was just like any other. It was "everywhere and anywhere" we had searched and typical of what we imagined about the grave. Oh, there were other scenarios and speculations like a cave, a silo, a well, a canyon, trees, favorite camping spots, rugged terrain, burned remains, etc. Imagine 20 years of stories, speculations, theories, and psychic visions.

Imagine the territory we had to cover and terrain we explored over the years. The department spent well over $150,000 looking for Lynn without any success. And any area we had already looked-could have been the right place. It was Wyoming. How can you be certain you didn't miss something or some clue or some crevice?

One snafu. It was common to come across Indian remains as may be the case we had here.

We all discussed amongst ourselves all the possibilities and what might happen. I knew the case better than anyone else, so I could identify clothing, luggage, etc. that might connect to Lynn. I immediately offered my assistance to go to the site so I could relay the information instantaneously. Not at all offering to dig or interfere, but just as a consultant on case information...a resource to the other county. I thought I could help so the deputies and professor could do their job-not once thinking about what was about to happen.

Some background: all the detectives and law enforcement across the state had their own ideas of where Lynn was. A couple of our old detectives thought Lynn was in Natrona County somewhere. Some others thought she was in Johnson County. I did not limit myself.

When asked, I answered with honesty, " I have no preconceived ideas and I think she was killed and disposed of in Wyoming based upon a timeline, statements from several persons, logistics, weather, and circumstances. Whether there are any remains to be found, I don't know."

That's it. I would not and could not give someone an unproven "notion" or theory. I could not give false hopes. Not even to the family, especially all of them. I looked her parents in the eyes and told them the same. I told Lynn's daughter. I told David's family the same and answered any questions as well. Even her past friends whom I interviewed asked and I answered. Always with a heavy heart, I conveyed the same information. Who wants to say those things to all the people who cared so much for Lynn? Not me. I had grown close to these people. But I had to be honest. Lynn was loved. I was not going to give out anything I could not back up, nor was I going to hurt these folks any worse. I would not be disrespectful. Above all, I was a forthright and honest detective. I could only treat them with respect and answer with details and honesty because they needed to hear it. They had had no closure and they had been so persistent to show up at the police department year after year to keep her case alive. Every year, I am sure there was always some hope.

I could see the disappointment, but I believe they all understood me.

Now, of anything I did in that case, I failed. I failed to bring Lynn home. Something I wished I could have given both sides of the family.

Well, now here we were at trial. Did I want the family to go through another trial? Did I want to? Did Matt? Did the DA? No. But if we had to, we would have had to do it.

I looked over at David. He was smirking and excited. I knew then the body was not Lynn. Why? Because David was not worried. He was hoping this would make the trial a mistrial and the whole thing would go on a new tangent of investigating a bogus lead. He would demand of the state to be let out on bond or dismiss the charges against him.

But we had to be certain.

I was still..what if? What if I made a mistake. My mind raced through all the evidence and I was still positive David was the man. Matt was also certain. The DA was certain. I think the defense was certain, but they had to defend their client the best they could.  

Or what if this was her and now we could get more evidence against David? 

My mind went bonkers.

The sheriff of Johnson county was pissed. He asked Mattman if I thought I was "somebody" and told him that he was perfectly capable of doing the case. I was taken aback, not realizing that I had insulted him because I just wanted to be able to testify firsthand whether anything around the skeleton could be linked to our case. The sheriff threw a fit over the phone to Mattman and he then relayed the information from the sheriff to me. Of course as cops, we do not soften things to each other. I was butt hurt. The sheriff was butt hurt and would not take my calls.

One of the Johnson county deputies was a witness in the Bush case and a friend of mine. In fact, we had gone to the police academy together. I trusted him as a confidant in this matter, but I had to exclude trial information. Luckily he had already testified and he had been released from his sequestration. So Rod told me I pretty much ruined all chances of the sheriff talking to me again. That actually made me laugh. Who does that? Oh, well. What could I do about it? Nothing. Rod tried to soften things between us and tell the sheriff I was actually a great cop and probably things were just misunderstood as I would never try to walk on someone's toes. Still, it did nothing.

I'm not sure the man still would talk to me today if I approached him with the married name I was under during the trial. He would not recognize my name now, however, and probably would not make a connection. 

So, the investigation went underway and the UW professor did his magic. The body was recovered and transported to a lab. DCI sent one agent up to Johnson county to be our liaison per permission of the sheriff and by Matt's request. This was not going to happen overnight. Maybe not even as short as two days. It would take time.

We were afforded a short recess. And the judge cautioned us to hustle it up.

We waited and waited. I'm pretty sure we may have called all Wyoming law enforcement including state troopers to allow the good professor to drive due diligently straight to Johnson County from Laramie with a free pass.

The results were given to us after we were at our last hour of wits because we didn't want a mistrial announced because of time constraints. I talked to the professor as we had consulted with him on previous cases and he was well known to all of us. Extremely intelligent and well-respected man.  I can't remember who received the law enforcement call first from the Johnson county sheriff, but he spoke to Matt and the DA. I was excluded.

The skeletal remains turned out to be a native American approximately 200 years old.

We had beer right after this was announced to the court and the judge ordered us to continue the next morning. It was in the middle of our work day. I didn't ask the bosses. We just went to the bar. Actually, I ran there. I think.

The trial went on the next morning. and you know the rest of the story.

Yes, he is still the current sheriff of Johnson county. He might even be a celebrity now with Longmire Days and his uncanny likeness to the character, Walt. He is NOT "hawt" like Robert Taylor, of course, in my opinion.

I do respect the man even though he might not me.


VandyJ said...

Ah, the good ol' boy Johnson county. Having grown up there, it's a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there...

Old NFO said...

That had to be a hair puller...

Coffeypot said...

I don't think I know the rest of the story (unless it is in your book that I have but not had time to read.