This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
UPDATE: Preston Hughes has been executed.
Editor’s Note: This is a rather complicated case, with a lot of information and controversy surrounding it. Many other journalists have already explored it in great detail so in the interest of brevity, I’ve kept this rehashing brief and simply linked to their work in the related reading links at the bottom of this post. They are well worth checking out.
The last Texas execution of 2012 was a controversial one, as the state prepared to execute Preston Hughes for the 1988 slayings of 3-year-old Marcell Taylor and his 15-year-old cousin Shandra Charles.
Charles and her young cousin were attacked in a field behind an apartment complex where Hughes lived. The police were called to the area by a man who was searching for his wife, but while they were searching, a man approached and told them he had found a body while walking home to the apartment complex.
Taylor was dead when they arrived but police say Charles was still alive. She had been stabbed through the neck and was bleeding profusely, but according to police testimony, she managed to tell the officer who asked what happened that “he tried to rape me.” When they asked who, she said the name “Preston.” By the time Charles arrived at the hospital, she was dead.
It didn’t take long for the police to track down Hughes, who was the only person named Preston at the nearby apartment complex. Police obtained two confessions from him and within seven months, Hughes was sentenced to death.
Hughes’ case has drawn international attention from a wide variety of supporters who say his case contains errors and irregularities that should halt his execution. One of the his most dedicated supporters is California-based blogger John Allen, known online as The Skeptical Juror. Allen came across the case while he was investigating James Bolding, the head of blood analysis for the Houston Police Department crime lab at the time of the murders. Since then, he has combed through the details of the case and written more than 60 stories about the case.
According to The New York Times, “after reviewing documents related to the trial, appeals and evidence, he [Allen] deduced that Ms. Charles must have lost brain function within two minutes, and she could not have told the police the name of her attacker.”
Allen also says crime scene evidence suggests that police framed Hughes, planting and tampering with evidence. For more on that, The Austin Chronicle explored some of those possibilities in a lengthy piece called ‘Framing the Guilty?‘
Ellis McCullough, one of Hughes’ trial lawyers, told The Associated Press this week he was convinced no evidence was planted or mishandled. From the article:
“He said Hughes, brought to a police station for interviews in the early morning hours after the slayings, made phone calls from the police interrogation room to acquaintances, including his probation officer, that ‘were pretty devastating taken as a whole.’
‘He didn’t help himself any,’ McCullough said. ‘It was pretty convincing he was the guy.’ ”
However, Hughes’ current attorney, Patrick McCann, said in the same story, “I don’t give a damn and never have whether he is innocent. I give a damn whether he got a fair trial. And I don’t think he did.”
Hughes’ requests for clemency and a variety of appeals have all been denied. The U.S. Supreme Court declined another appeal Thursday night, approximately two hours before the execution was scheduled to begin.
There was a brief delay in the execution, however both the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal district court denied his last-minute appeals and the way was cleared for the procedure to move forward. Hughes was declared dead at 7:52 p.m. CT.
According to the Texas Tribune, “before he was executed, Hughes thanked Allen and others for their work on his case and maintained that he did not commit the murder, according to officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. ‘Please continue to fight for my innocence,’ he said, ‘even though I’m gone.’ ”