Tag Archive for Georgia

Who’s Lying Now?

While Artis Cobb was doing time in Georgia for a drug charge in 1997, he “found Jesus.” His reliance on his Higher Power during interrogations by cold case detectives from Kansas looking into two unsolved killings later became the basis for his unsuccessful attempts to overturn a pair of manslaughter convictions.
 
In 1994, Kasey Blount, the wife of Jade Blount, soldier at nearby Fort Riley, was found dead in her apartment by her husband when he returned from maneuvers. She was naked from the waist down with a baby’s sock stuffed down her throat. She appeared to have been sexually assaulted, and the autopsy revealed that she had been asphyxiated.
 
Making the case even more tragic, the couple’s daughter, Alannah, was found in her crib. She had died of dehydration, “apparently after her dead mother could no longer respond to quench her thirst,” the Kansas Supreme Court wrote.
 
Physical evidence at the crime scene included semen from two men, Keith Jones and Javis Devore, and a fingerprint from James Battle. All three men admitted having sex with Kasey in her apartment while her husband was away, and Jones told authorities to speak to a man named “Scoop,” whom he later identified as Cobb.
 
There was never any physical evidence linking Cobb to the crime scene.
 
Three years passed before Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents in the cold-case squad interviewed Cobb while he was serving time in Georgia. At the beginning of the 8-and-a-half hour interrogation, Cobb acknowledged his Miranda rights and willingly spoke with agents.
 
At first, Cobb denied knowing Kasey or being in Junction City, but he then said he had seen her at the barracks and had been in Junction City.
 
When one of the agents told Cobb that Jones was prepared to testify against him and that Jones’s testimony would “bury him,” Cobb became silent and appeared to be praying. The agent, using an interrogation technique called “minimization,” began to outline a scenario that understated Cobb’s possible role in the homicide, speculating that it was part of a gang initiation.
 
Cobb then told the agents that he participated in an initiation process of a group of soldiers called “the Pimps” who lived at the barracks. He explained that he had to drink a concoction made of grenadine, nitrane, and other alcohol called “blood” and then answer questions. He was then taken by Andrew Jones to Kasey’s apartment. He said Andrew Jones forced Kasey to undress and forced Cobb to have sexual intercourse with her. Afterward, Cobb said, Andrew Jones directed Cobb to hold Kasey’s arms while Andrew Jones held a pillow over her face until she stopped moving. Andrew Jones then told Cobb to wait for him in the car. When Andrew Jones joined Cobb a few minutes later, he said the initiation was complete and, “Now you a pimp, nigger.”
 
Then Cobb drew a diagram of the crime scene, correctly locating furniture placement and the location of Kasey’s body. He also wrote a poem for Kasey’s mother and near the end of the interview drafted a four-page statement that described his activities in the assault and killing.
 
The agents returned to continue the interview a few days later and Cobb declined to speak any further about the crime. He handed the agents a letter, which stated: “After speaking with various family members, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions; One being, I made a very detrimental mistake by taking the actions I took with you two agents . . . I’m referring to my writing the statement, which could very well be ‘self-incriminating.’ Due to the fact that I feel as though I was coerced into writing the statement, I wish to withdraw it in its entirety. Out of extreme fear and lack of understanding, I created a scenario in my mind, in order to satisfy the two (2) agents, and I placed it on paper. It has no meaning nor is any of it true. Please disregard the entire contents of the statement. Anything to be discussed in future situations has to be done in the presence of my attorney. Thanks for your time. Respectfully, Artis T. Cobb.”
 
Cobb then said he wanted to explain the letter. Again, he signed a written waiver of his Miranda rights.
 
Cobb explained that he did not want to withdraw the part of the statement about knowing Kasey; he just wanted to withdraw the part about raping and murdering her. He then looked at photographs of Andrew Jones and Keith Jones, correctly identifying Andrew, but not Keith. Cobb did say that he recognized him as someone he had seen around Junction City.
 
It would take another two years for the cold-case squad to gather enough evidence to charge Cobb with the killings.
 
In July 1999, Cobb was living in Florida when the KBI agents teamed up with investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to continue the probe.
 
After the standard Miranda waiver, the agents asked if he was willing to talk about Kasey. “Yeah, I’ll talk to you about it, you know that.”
 
The FDLE agent then lied to Cobb, telling him there was new technology that had provided Kansas with evidence placing him at the crime scene “hook, line, and sinker.” The Florida agent repeated similar comments throughout the interview. Cobb stated several times that he could not remember being at Kasey’s apartment. After one such statement, the following exchange took place:

Q. Okay, Artis, what I have got here is an arrest warrant from the State of Kansas. It’s charging you with six counts.
 
A. Six counts of what?
 
Q. Six counts.
 
A. No, no. We can talk some more, please. Let’s talk some more. Let me try to remember some of this, I mean.
 
Q. I heard you say, you know, you don’t want to talk no more about this thing, that you wanted a lawyer. Would you like to talk some more about this with us?
 
A. We can talk some more about this. Let’s do.

Cobb eventually admitted to drinking until he was intoxicated with other members of the Pimps, including Andrew Jones. Cobb drove to Kasey’s apartment with Andrew Jones, and he sat downstairs and drank while Andrew Jones went upstairs with Kasey for 5 or 10 minutes.
 
When Andrew Jones and Kasey came downstairs, she looked upset. According to Cobb, Andrew Jones told her that now she was “gonna give my boy some of this,” meaning that she was going to have intercourse with Cobb. When she resisted, Andrew Jones grabbed her and held her down to the floor and told Cobb to have sex with her or he would kill him. Cobb complied.
 
Finally, when asked Cobb how Kasey died, he responded: “Ms. Kasey died with a pillow over her face, a pillow that was held by me, but I never meant to do it.” Cobb denied knowing Alannah was upstairs at the time of her mother’s death.
 
Chandra Scott, a friend of Cobb’s, testified that around the time of the crimes, Cobb went to her home to talk to her. He was upset and said he was seeing a woman married to a military man who had a baby girl. According to Cobb, he and this woman “got into it” and he choked her. Scott and Cobb were smoking marijuana during this conversation. Scott also recalled that she had dropped Cobb off at Kasey’s apartment complex on one occasion so that he could visit his girlfriend.
 
At his trial, an expert witness for Cobb educated jurors about the problem of false confessions.
 
The expert testified that the police in this case used Reid and Associates techniques in interrogating Cobb such as telling him they knew he committed the crime, confronting him with irrefutable evidence of his guilt, suggesting that they wanted to help him, suggesting the gang initiation scenario, appealing to Cobb’s moral and religious sense, using maximization and minimization, leading him to believe that they would meet with the district attorney, and repeatedly asking Cobb to remember what happened and to help himself out. He explained that some of the techniques used by the interrogators in this case have contributed to false confessions.
 
On April 7, 2000, a jury found Cobb guilty of voluntary manslaughter of Kasey Blount and involuntary manslaughter of Alannah Blount. On May 16, 2000, the court sentenced Cobb to 98 months in prison.
 
On appeal, Cobb argued that the trial court had erred in admitting his statements to law enforcement because the statements were coerced and thus involuntary.
 
The argument was unsuccessful at the state appellate court level and in December 2004, the U.S. District Court also rejected his request for a writ of habeas corpus, writing, “we conclude the manner and the duration of the interrogations did not make Cobb’s statements involuntary. He was given several breaks during the August 1997 interrogation, and the July 1999 interrogation lasted only 4 hours. Cobb did not complain that he was physically threatened by or that he had received any unfulfilled promises from the agents. He never requested to communicate with the outside world, and, as the district court noted, he was an adult of average intellect who had been in the United States Army and who had previous experience with the criminal justice system…As for the officers’ fairness, although the agents in this case did misrepresent the strength of the evidence they already possessed, we believe it is unlikely these misrepresentations overbore Cobb’s will under the totality of the circumstances.”
 

Room, Board and a Bullet to the Head

Sarah Powers and Earl Manchester

“She promised me $1,000…All I got was a kiss and $10,” said Earl Manchester after he was sentenced to death in Georgia for a 1929 murder-for-hire.
 
Manchester’s thank-you kiss was given by his 71-year-old landlady, Sarah Powers, who had contracted the murder of one of her boarders, 21-year-old James Parks.
 
Powers had insured Parks, a journeyman printer, without the young man’s knowledge and planned to collect the $7,000 policy that included a double-indemnity clause if the insured died a violent death.
 
Parks’s body was found in a drainage ditch outside Macon, Ga., in May, 1929, with two bullet holes in the back of his head. Investigators quickly traced the young victim back to his boarding house, where they began to suspect Powers of having a hand in the death.
 
Parks was raised in an orphanage in Hapeville, Ga., and had recently moved out of Powers’s boarding house to return to his hometown. He was lured back to Macon by a letter from Powers containing a $10 bill for transportation expenses. The letter was filled with what authorities said were “motherly affections.” Unknown to Parks, Powers had insured his life shortly before he moved out of her home and her intentions were not motherly at all.
 
Her plan crumbled rapidly once police learned that Powers held the insurance policy despite not having “an insurable interest.” The legal concept of insurable interest is what keeps those with an evil intent on insuring the life of a stranger or non-relative and collecting the proceeds once something “unfortunate” happens to the insured.
 
Parks may have been a resident of Powers’s rundown rooming house, but that relationship was nowhere near what constituted a legitimate interest in his health or life.
 
Authorities never determined how Powers was able to get the insurance without Parks’s knowledge as even back then, most companies required at least a cursory health assessment of the insured.
 
Once in custody, Powers reportedly confessed to the scheme and named Manchester, an itinerant Canadian citizen, as her accomplice. She quickly repudiated the confession as being coerced, but Manchester also admitted his role and named her as the instigator of the plan.
 
The murder of Parks was not the first time Powers had perpetrated an insurance fraud, and probably was not her first murder.
 
Once the newspapers broke the story of Powers’s arrest, an insurance agent told police that he had insured another young man at Powers’s request in 1921 or 1922. He recalled that Powers collected on that policy, but was unable to remember the name of the insured.
 
An undertaker told police about the accidental death of Samuel Wright, the overseer at a farm Powers owned with her late husband. The cost of Wright’s funeral, the undertaker recalled, was paid out of insurance proceeds Powers received upon Wright’s death. Wright’s death was never investigated as a homicide because of the dangerous nature of the farm work he did.
 
A later attempt was more amateurish and unsuccessful.
 
Another resident of the rooming house, Claude P. Burnham, mysteriously disappeared several years earlier. Many people — including police suspected foul play because of Burnham’s stable employment and active lifestyle in Macon. Burnham’s body — if he was dead — was never found.
 
Like Parks, Burnham was insured by a policy containing the double-indemnity clause. Sarah Powers was the sole beneficiary.
 
Confounding the Burnham case was the murder shortly after of E.E. Valentine, the agent who sold the policy. His killing was never solved. Powers was not suspected of any involvement in that case until the Parks murder.
 
Despite Burnham’s absence, Powers continued to pay the premiums on the policy for another two years. She attempted to collect but was rebuffed by the insurance company in 1927. Instead they settled for the reimbursement of all monies Powers had paid over the term of the policy.
 
The elderly landlady was also apparently an arsonist, having collected on two policies after buildings on her farm burned down.
 
Prosecutors quickly announced that they would seek the death penalty for both conspirators.
 
In October 1929 Manchester went on trial and was damned by his confession. At the sentencing hearing where he was condemned to die in the electric chair, Manchester was adamant that he would never have committed the murder without prompting by Powers. She replied through her attorney that Manchester’s allegations were “sheer poppycock.”
 
Powers went on trial shortly after Manchester. She dropped her initial plan to plead insanity and went with a straight-forward defense that the circumstantial evidence was not sufficient to link her to the murder. Manchester, who was appealing his conviction, took the Fifth and did not testify.
 
Powers was found guilty of first degree murder and also sentenced to die. However, she was successful in her appeal, arguing that the judge erred in his jury instructions. She won a second trial but was once again convicted of capital murder. This time, however, she was sentenced to life in prison.
 
Manchester was unsuccessful in his appeals but was ultimately spared execution through his clemency petition. His argument that it wasn’t fair that Powers should live while he died despite their equal guilt swayed the governor and his sentence was commuted to life.