Tag Archive for police

A Bit of the ol’ Third Degree

At 11:30 p.m. on September 1, 1993, Leif Taylor, 16, was asleep on the couch of the Long Beach, California, home that he shared with his mother. She was out for the evening and Taylor was alone when he was startled awake by four men with guns drawn and flashlights trained around the room.
 
The men were Long Beach police officers and they had reason to believe that Taylor was involved in a May 31, 1993, murder of 26-year-old William Shadden.
 
Shadden was riding his bike through a beachside area in Long Beach when two assailants, one tall and the other short, attempted to take it from him. Shadden resisted and the assailants fled. For some reason Shadden gave chase and one of the assailants shot Shadden twice, killing him.
 
After police entered his home, Taylor was permitted to get dressed. Then he was handcuffed and driven to the police station. He arrived at the station ten minutes later and was placed in an interrogation room, where he sat alone for about thirty minutes.
 
Two eyewitnesses had seen the crime, and after the murder was profiled on a local crimestoppers show, Ana Bonilla, an acquaintance of Taylor’s, contacted police. She told Detectives Craig Remine and William MacLyman that she and several of her friends were cruising around the area of the crime on the night in question and that Taylor and Victor Rodriguez entered the van in the vicinity of the crime scene, after which she heard someone say that a person either had been or would be killed; she also heard someone say something about urinating on his hands. She could not attribute these statements to a specific individual in the van.
 
Bonilla also told detectives that she had seen Taylor with a handgun in the past, but was unsure about when that was. Later she told police that it was Taylor who asked a friend to urinate on his hands in an effort to get rid of gunshot residue.
 
Another witness, Gerald Ofhgang, saw the taller boy, from 25 feet away while driving at night. Ofhgang had initially identified both boys as Hispanic. Ofhgang did identify the shorter boy from a photograph as Victor Rodriguez, but he couldn’t identify Taylor as the taller boy. Taylor is not Hispanic. In 1994 Rodriquez was convicted of robbery and the murder of William Shadden. As a 14-year-old he was sentenced to 10 years in state custody.
 
Based on the witness information, Remine and MacLyman, accompanied by at least two other officers, executed a search warrant on Taylor’s home and took him into custody.
 
While in police custody, at about 3:30 a.m., Taylor confessed to shooting Shadden.
 
On its face this appears to be an open-and-shut case against Taylor. But there is more to the story.
 
By the time Remine and MacLyman entered the interrogation room and began to question Taylor, it was past midnight. For the next three hours the detectives interrogated the teenager, who “was considerably younger and physically smaller” than they, according to a written opinion by a California appellate court. Taylor was given no food, offered no rest break, and “may or may not have been given any water.”
 
Neither Taylor’s mother nor an attorney was present to advise him during questioning. Taylor denied involvement in the crime for more than 21/2 before finally inculpating himself. At the detectives’ behest, he then recorded his confession and signed a waiver of his rights. Begun at 3:02 a.m. and completed at 3:13 a.m., the recording is just eleven minutes long; there is no record of the earlier 21/2 hours of questioning. This bothered the Ninth Circuit panel which heard the appeal.

This is so because Remine and MacLyman questioned Taylor without turning on the tape recorder eventually used to record his confession — or the hidden recording equipment installed in the interrogation room — until after he had inculpated himself. Remine took notes during the questioning but subsequently disposed of them. There is no videotape, so we cannot see whether Taylor was calm and cool or tearful and agitated; nor do we have the audio tape to listen to. Indeed, there is no contemporaneous record at all of what happened during most of the time that Taylor spent in the interrogation room with Remine and MacLyman.

Prior to his trial, Taylor sought to suppress the confession, claiming that it was coerced. He told a harrowing story, that if true, stands as an example of some pretty heavy-handed interrogation techniques, not to mention a clear violation of Taylor’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
 
On the stand at the suppression hearing, Taylor recalled that he awoke to find a flashlight and a gun pointed at him, and his living room filled with men. As he was handcuffed and placed in a police car, he was not told why he was being arrested. Taylor asked the officer driving the car if he knew the reason for the arrest. The officer said Taylor would be told at the station. Taylor also asked the officer if he “could call…[his] mom when…[he] got there. [The officer]…said that she would be notified for…[him].”
 
When Remine and MacLyman came into the room, Taylor continued, they did not tell him immediately why he had been arrested, asserting instead that he knew why he was there. MacLyman, who Taylor described as “the bigger fellow,” wore a ring inscribed with the police code for murder — “187″ — which he thrust in Taylor’s face.
 
“‘Well, you know why you’re down here,’” Taylor testified that MacLyman said.
 
MacLyman then told Taylor he had been arrested in connection with Shadden’s killing.
 
Taylor testified that he repeatedly asked for a lawyer, but the detectives denied his requests.

Q:Did you ask to speak to anyone?
A: I asked to speak with my attorney. I told… [the detectives] I knew an attorney from the outs. I thought maybe I could call him to get some advice, and they told me no, it wouldn’t be possible.
Q: Did you ask to speak with anyone else?
A: I then asked, “Well, can I speak with my mother, can I call her?” And they told me, no.

Under California law, a minor subject to custodial interrogation invokes the Fifth Amendment by asking to see a parent. Upon such a request, before or during questioning, “the police must cease custodial interrogation immediately,” according to the common law.
 
Instead, according to Taylor, MacLyman drew long and short lines on a piece of paper, explaining to Taylor that he could go to jail for the rest of his life or just until he was twenty-five, depending on whether he cooperated with the detectives. MacLyman also reportedly said he knew Taylor didn’t kill Shadden deliberately but had done so unintentionally.
 
At the supression hearing Taylor gave a classic response about why a person would confess to a crime that (according to him) he did not commit:
 
“I am getting tired, so I just started agreeing with everything so I can get out and make a phone call, because I was thinking, you know, well I didn’t do it anyways, so why don’t I just try to get out of the room to get my phone call and just tell them what they want to hear,” he told the court.
 
“I was just tired, you know. I wanted to get out of that room, for one thing. I was thinking, you know, you know, I am just not knowing what was going on,” he continued. “I am thinking these guys are supposed to be the good guys. I was never involved in any serious crime, so if I just agree with them, get my phone call, I will get it straightened out, I will go home.”
 
Taylor also testified that when he was asked to sign the Miranda waiver form, he did so without reading it. He added that not only did he not read it, but that one of the detectives had his hand covering most of the text on the page.
 
MacLyman did not testify at the suppression hearing.
 
On the stand Remine testified to a story very different from Taylor’s, at times saying he could not remember specific key events in Taylor’s story.
 
A day after the suppression hearing, Remine testified at Taylor’s trial that he had thrown away his notes of the interrogation, and nothing remains to corroborate either side’s claims.
 
“Responding to our request for the tape-recording of Taylor’s confession, the state advised that all trial exhibits, including the tape, had been destroyed on June 16, 1999, and that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office does not possess any copies of the recording,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion reads.
 
Remine testified that Taylor had been advised of his Miranda rights immediately after Remine and MacLyman joined him in the interrogation room, and that he had waived his rights at that time by signing the advisement form.
 
Remine did confirm that MacLyman wore a “187? ring.
 
He denied or could not recall that Taylor appeared emotional during questioning, that Taylor asked to speak with his mother, that MacLyman thrust his “187? ring in Taylor’s face, and that MacLyman mapped lines representing potential sentences. Remine also denied that he told Taylor he knew Taylor hadn’t intended to kill the victim; he was never asked whether MacLyman made that statement.
 
When asked by defense counsel whether Taylor asked to speak with an attorney, Remine replied, “I don’t recall him making that statement.”
 
Another witness testified at the suppression hearing — attorney Arthur Close, who said he received a telephone call from Taylor shortly after he had given his confession.
 
According to the attorney’s testimony, Taylor told him that he had just confessed to murder, that he had requested his mother and Close more than once, that he had been prevented from making a phone call until after he confessed, that he had confessed falsely in order to gain permission to make that phone call, and that one of the two detectives questioning Taylor had thrust a “187? ring in his face, and had drawn a diagram to illustrate the alternatives facing Taylor depending on whether or not he cooperated by confessing.
 
The trial judge subsequently ruled in favor of the state and allowed the confession to be introduced at trial.

I am a fact finder first, and I have to decide and say who I believe. I conclude, in this case, that I clearly believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, Officer Remine and not the testimony of the defendant in this case. Not only because it is the defendant in this case, but for other reasons, which were the nature of the facts that were developed by both sides. Leading me, in addition, to my feelings about who I should believe and who I really do believe, but also, why I should believe as a secondary or perhaps a primary, to look at with that crediting Officer Remine’s testimony. It now sheds light upon the decision.
[Defense counsel] makes the best case, of course, it is made primarily by the testimony of a witness I do not credit in this case. I find there was no violation of Miranda, the Miranda rights were given ahead of time, when they have been given before incriminating statements were given. … I decline to suppress the statements that were given by the defendant to the officers in this case.

The tape of Taylor’s confession was played for the jury which subsequently convicted him of first-degree felony murder and second-degree robbery; he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The California Court of Appeal affirmed; the California Supreme Court denied his petition for review without comment or citation.
 
Eventually Taylor’s request for habeas relief found its way to the federal system, which tossed the confession and ordered the now 26-year-old prisoner freed or retried.
 
This time the prosecution was the one that faced the uphill battle.
 
The prosecution’s witness list included Rodriguez, an admitted gang member who refused to be sworn in as a witness; Ruben Lucero and Ana (Bonilla) Espinoza, who formerly had gang ties; Arnold Elliott, a sex offender; and Geofrey Leyva, who said he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.
 
It took an additional two trials to re-convict Taylor of the crime. The first jury deadlocked.
 
In the end, Taylor, who is described as a model prisoner and who still denies any involvement in the crime, was convicted and sentenced to a minimum 25-year term. The prosecution established a clear timeline of events despite the reluctant or intimidated witnesses.
 
“I do not have a shadow of a doubt that it was anyone other than than the defendant who shot, killed and murdered (the victim) in this case,” the judge said in sentencing him.
 
By the way, William Shadden’s family said that he paid $15 for the bicycle.
 

He said, She said

A tale of cattle rustling and murder seems out of place in the outskirts of 1930s San Francisco, but as usual where crime is concerned, the truth is stranger than fiction.
 
For several months prior to the disappearance of rancher Frank Roderick, Sheriff James J. McGrath was investigating with little success reports of cattle being rustled from several ranches in San Mateo County. Complaints had come in from the Gallagher & Zink ranch, and the Lillicote spread that cows and steers were disappearing. Over the course of the investigation, the sheriff learned that at least a dozen head of cattle had vanished from those two ranches.
 
The only ranch in the area that was not reporting any losses was the Roderick ranch, leading Sheriff McGrath to conclude that Frank, 40, and his right-hand man, William Woodring, 44, were somehow tied up in the thefts. McGrath, however, couldn’t prove anything and there was no hard evidence to back up his theory.
 
The cattle rustling investigation went nowhere until May 20, 1930, when Frank’s 33-year-old wife, Minnie, visited county prosecutor Franklin Swart in Redwood City where she wanted to report that her husband had beat her, taken their life savings of $2,800, put on his “store clothes,” and left the ranch in the company of a mysterious “red-headed gal.”
 
“I only saw her a few times,” she told authorities. “When I asked my husband about her, he said ‘that’s for me to know and for you to find out.’”
 
Minnie, who had spent her entire life as a “woman of the earth” (one newspaper man’s description), swore out a complaint and Sheriff McGrath was given the responsibility of serving the warrant.
 
The complaint, originally meant to provide an explanation for Frank’s absence, turned out to be the impetus for an investigation that would not only break open the rustling, but that would reveal a murder conspiracy and send two people to prison for life (which, considering what used to happen to cattle thieves, might have been a lucky break).
 
When he went to the Roderick place, Frank was nowhere to be found, but his young son was sitting on the front porch.
 
McGrath figured this was a good opportunity to gather a little evidence about the cattle rustling and engaged the boy in some innocent conversation.
 
The boy eventually told McGrath that he had accompanied his father and another man to the Gallagher & Zink ranch in the middle of a moonless night where they made off with a large roan steer. The men took the steer to a nearby abandoned farm where Frank shot it in the head and butchered it. The boy told McGrath that they sold the beef the next day.
 
Based on his conversation with the boy — the elder of Roderick’s two sons — McGrath began talking with a ranch hand from a nearby place, Ernest Hildebrandt, who was implicated with Frank and Will Woodring in the rustling scheme.
 
Hildebrandt might have been a participant in the cattle theft, but his conversation with McGrath revealed much more than just a little rustling going on.
 
“I often heard Mrs. Roderick threaten her husband,” Hildebrant told McGrath. “A week before he disappeared, I heard her tell him to ‘get out of here or I’ll shoot your head off.’”
 
According to Hildebrant, Minnie was quite capable of carrying out her threat for she was a crack rifle shot. On another occasion Hildebrant said he saw Minnie attack her husband with a knife.
 
Their 15-year marriage was unhappy, the “slight and work-worn” woman admitted to authorities.
 
“My husband gave me this dress (a cheap brown velvet shift),” she told police. “It’s the only thing he ever did for me. The neighbors gave me my old coat and hat.”
 
When Frank didn’t like the food she prepared he boxed her ears, she said.
 
Based on the young Roderick’s information, McGrath visited a nearby building and found several cattle skins whose brands had been excised. The sheriff placed Woodring and Hildebrant under arrest and took Minnie back to town as a material witness.
 
McGrath suspected that Frank was dead and that he was buried somewhere on the ranch. A foot-by-foot search, however, failed to reveal anything resembling a grave.
 
Aside from Minnie’s threats against her husband, McGrath had no firm motive for Frank’s murder. He guessed that Frank had been killed because of a falling out among the rustlers or because there was a romance between Woodring and Minnie. The suspects denied anything untoward.
 
“I kissed her many times it is true,” Woodring told authorities. “But we were never intimate and Roderick was often present when we embraced. Kissing was the order of things around the ranch when we came in or went out.”
 
Minnie also demurred any relationship.
 
“I didn’t love anyone else and I want to go back to the farm,” she told McGrath after a third-degree session (by the way, the term for an intense and now-illegal interrogation probably comes from the testing a Master Mason undergoes in a Freemason rite).
 
“She lived the only life she knew, rearing her young sons, working indoors and out, milking cows, even working with a fork in the hay fields next to the men,” Minnie’s attorney told the press. “Why should she suddenly turn agains it all, when she had been happy all these years with her husband?”
 
Her lawyer, J.J. Bullock, added that Minnie had the “mentality of a child.”
 
The search continued for a month without success until in early June 1930 McGrath received a tip telling him to “look for the well. You’ll find the body there.”
 
McGrath never told who gave him the tip, but it probably came from either Hildebrandt, who was anxious to strike a deal for the rustling charge, or James McCraney, a 50-year-old hand on the Roderick ranch. McCraney had only been on the ranch for a week before Frank disappeared. He was never considered a suspect.
 
McGrath went back to the farm in search of a well, but just like his earlier search for a grave, the sheriff was unsuccessful.
 
There was, however, a newly graded road and cobblestone path. Neighbors reported that Woodring was fixated on grading the road to the exclusion of anything else. The farmers in the area told McGrath that the crops in the field were neglected.
 
McGrath turned to the county recorder for assistance. The recorder pulled the deed, which revealed that the Rodericks had purchased the spread just a few years prior from George Steinberg, the San Mateo county road commissioner. McGrath and Steinberg paid a visit to the Roderick ranch.
 
Steinberg stood at a corner of the house, looked in the direction of a large oak tree and began walking toward it. Going about 100 yards, he stopped and turned to McGrath.
 
“The well should be about here,” he said, pointing to a spot in the middle of the new road.
 
Summoning inmates from the jail, McGrath ordered the area excavated. They began digging with little success. The hole had been filled with farm debris, dirt and manure.
 
The diggers went down about 20 feet and were about to give up when one of the convicts unearthed a newspaper. It was dated May 22, 1930 — indicating the fill was recent. Energized, they continued to dig another six feet before uncovering a man’s hand.
 
Eventually they exhumed Frank’s body. He had been shot in the head with a .30-30 rifle.
 
“The position of the bullet wound indicates that the killer might have waited until Roderick had passed a certain place and then stepped out of his hiding place and fired,” McGrath told newspapermen. “Roderick must have been thrown into the well almost immediately after he was shot because the body is in a good state of decomposition.”
 
Woodring and Minnie were interrogated and each blamed the other for killing Frank. Her story was that Woodring and Frank had a falling out over the rustling and that Woodring fired the shot that killed her husband. Woodring then forced her to help dispose of the corpse and ordered her to file the battery charge with the claim that Frank had left her.
 
“She lies,” was how Woodring answered the allegations. “When she told me (she shot Frank) that was the first time I knew Frank was dead.” Woodring said he did help dispose of the body.
 
Both Woodring and Minnie did admit that they went out to lunch and then shopping after the shooting.
 
In Autumn 1930 the pair went to trial, each blaming the other for the killing and acknowledging only serving as accessory after the fact. The jury convicted them both of murder and the judge ordered them to prison for life.
 
Even after the sentencing, Woodring and Minnie each claimed they were innocent. Minnie collapsed in hysterics while Woodring was stoic.
 
“I can’t understand the jury’s verdict,” he told a deputy. “I am innocent and I hope Minnie will come clean some day and clear me.”
 
Woodring’s wish never came true, but reportedly Minnie was released from prison and lived to the ripe old age of 95.