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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dr. Arnold Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Greenwood, Mississippi, attorney Lee Abraham got wind of a murder-for-hire plot against him by two husbands of women he had represented several years before in a pair of divorce cases. The attorney had reason to believe that a local physician, 70-year-old Dr. Arnold Smith, and a 54-year-old brickmason named William Paul Muller, were the masterminds behind the plan to kill him. Apparently these men still hated the lawyer who had won settlements for their wives. Instead of moving on with their lives, they wanted revenge.

     On Saturday night, April 28, 2012, two agents with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office who were investigating the case were in Abraham's office talking to him about the alleged murder plot. That night, 23-year-old Keaira Byrd and his 25-year-old accomplice Derrick Lacy burst into the law office. (According to some reports, the agents knew the hit men were coming and were waiting for them.) Byrd, armed with an assault rifle, and wearing a ski mask, fired the first shot. The agents returned fire, killing Byrd on the spot. Derrick Lacy was shot in the lower back. One of the attorney general agents received a minor wound. Attorney Abraham, the target of the hit, escaped injury.

     Derrick Lacy, as he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told an investigator that he had overheard Dr. Smith offer Keaira Byrd money to kill the lawyer.

     The day after the shootings, a Leflore County prosecutor charged the oncologist and the brickmason with conspiracy to commit murder. The arraignment magistrate denied Dr. Smith bail. William Paul Muller paid his $250,000 bond and was released. On his Facebook page, Mr. Muller proclaimed his innocence.

     Following Dr. Smith's arrest, his attorney arranged to have him evaluated by a mental health expert who concluded that the physician was not mentally competent to stand trial. In January 2013, in response to the prosecution's request, Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ordered Dr. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     Because of institutional overcrowding, a hospital bed for Dr. Smith didn't become available until June 4, 2013. (Mississippi must have a serious problem with mental illness.)

     On October 8, 2014, Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Dr. Arnold Smith mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that the 71-year-old physician be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     As of December 2015, no trial date had been set regarding suspects William Paul Muller and Derrick Lacy. Another man, Cordarious Robinson, had been charged with conspiracy to murder attorney Abraham. Prosecutors believe that Robinson helped hire Keaira Byrd for the hit.

     In November 2016, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ordered that Dr. Smith be transferred from the the state hospital to a private facility, the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, where he would receive treatment as an out patient. The transfer was based on the diagnoses of a pair of Tulane University psychiatrists. As an out patient, Dr. Smith would be allowed to live in his Jackson home with his current wife.

     The alleged murder-for-hire target, attorney Lee Abraham, filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Smith that is scheduled for trial in March 2017.

     The criminal case against the alleged murder-for-hire hit man and his accomplices has not, as of December 2016, gone to trial. The same is true regarding the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind Dr. Arnold Smith who is presumably mentally fit to face conspiracy to murder charges as well as a felony-murder doctrine charge related to Kearia Byrd's police involved shooting death.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Randall Dale Adams: An Innocent Man

     In June 2011, a 61-year-old man who had been living a quiet life in a central Ohio town, died without much notice. His name was Randall Dale Adams, and in the history of 20th Century criminal justice--or rather injustice--he was a towering figure. The Adams case perfectly illustrates the doleful saying: "Any prosecutor can convict a guilty defendant, it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent one."

     On November 27, 1976, Adams, a 27-year-old manual laborer with no history of crime or violence, while walking along a street in Dallas, Texas after his car had run out of gas, met 16-year-old David Ray Harris. Harris, a kid from Vidor, Texas who had aleady been in trouble with the law, was driving a car he had recently stolen. Harris offered Adams a ride.

     After getting into the stolen car with Harris, Adams and his new acquaintance drank some beer, smoked marijuana, and took in a movie called "Swinging Cheerleaders" at a drive-in theater. Shortly after midnight, on November 28, Harris, while driving the blue sedan with its headlights off with Adams in the front passenger's seat, was pulled over by two officers in a Dallas patrol car. As patrolman Robert Wood approached the driver's side of Harris' vehicle, Harris, using a handgun he had stolen from his father, shot officer Wood five times, killing him on the spot. The dead officer's partner, Teresa Turko, fired at the car as Harris sped off. None of her bullets hit the fleeing vehicle. Officer Turko was certain the man who had shot her partner was the only person in the car.

     After dropping Adams off at his place of residence in Dallas, Harris drove southeast 300 miles to his parents' house in Vidor. During the next several days Harris bragged to his friends that he had "offed a pig" in Dallas. This drew the attention of the local police who recovered the pistol Harris had stolen from his father. Through ballistics analysis a firearms expert identified this gun as the murder weapon. Detectives also gave Harris a polygraph test which he failed. At first Harris denied any knowledge of the shooting, but after the ballistics report, and the lie detector results, he fingered Randall Adams, a hitchhiker he had picked up in Dallas, as the cop killer.

     Following a police interrogation in Dallas in which Randall Adams identified David Harris as the police shooter, he passed a polygraph test with that account. The Dallas County District Attorney, Norm Kinne, decided not to prosecute Harris. Kinne didn't want to prosecute David Ray Harris because, at age 16, he was too young for the electric chair.

     At Adams' May 1977 murder trial, prosecutor Kinne manufactured incriminating evidence in the form of three eyewitnesses who testified they had ridden by the shooting scene just as officer Wood approached the blue car. Although it was dark and the inside of the stolen car was unlit, the three witnesses identified Randall Adams as the driver of the stopped vehicle. These identifications were patently ridiculous and obviously motivated by something other than the truth. Two of the eyewitnesses, a husband and wife team, were looking for a piece of the $21,000 reward. The other witness had a daughter in trouble with the law. After the Adams trial the charges against her daughter were dropped. All three of these prosecution witnesses, bought for and coached, committed perjury. Officer Turko took the stand, and while admitting she hadn't seen the shooter clearly, said his hair was the same color as the defendant's.

     Randall Adams took the stand on his own behalf and proclaimed his innocence. The prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments and the case went to the jury. Without taking much time to deliberate the jurors found the defendant guilty of murdering officer Robert Wood. This led to the penalty phase of the trial which involved the determination of whether or not there was a probability that the convicted man would, if given a life sentence, commit future acts of violence.

     District Attorney Norm Kinne put two expert (so-called) witnesses on the stand who testified that Randall Adams was still a dangerous man. The fact that Adams was innocent and had no history of violence proved that both of these psychiatrists were bogus prosecution hacks. The first of these thoroughly corrupt experts to take the stand, Dr. John Holbrook, had been the chief of psychiatry with the Texas Department of Corrections. (This alone should have disqualified him as an unbiased witness.) The second, a creepy shrink named Dr. John Grigson, after having spoken to Randall Adams fifteen minutes, told the jurors that Adams was qualified to be electrocuted. Dr. Grigson's testimony was so predictably prosecution friendly--he had testified in more than 100 trials that ended in death sentences--defense attorneys around the state called him "Doctor Death." (According the American Psychiatric Association, then and now, future dangerousness is impossible to predict.)

     Relying on corrupt and erroneous psychiatric testimony pertaining to an innocent man, the Dallas County jury voted to sentence Randall Adams to death.

     In January 1979, the Texas Court of Crimminal Appeals affirmed Adams' conviction and death sentence. A judge sentenced Adams to die on May 8 of that year. On May 5, three days before his date with the electric chair, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution. The governor of Texas, Bill Clements, decided to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison.

     While Randall Adams sat in prison, David Harris, the man who had murdered officer Wood, joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Harris committed a series of burglaries that led to a stretch in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. After his release from Leavenworth, Harris moved to California where he committed several kidnappings and robberies. In 1985, Harris was back in Texas where, in Beaumont, he murdered a man. A year later, a jury sentenced Harris to death. Had Harris been convicted of killing officer Wood, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to kill the Beaumont man.

     In 1988, producer Errol Morris made a documentary about the Adams case called "The Thin Blue Line." In the film, Morris exposed the prosecution's eyewitnesses as liars, and Dr. John Grigson as a courtroom fraud. A year later, following the airing of the documentary, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka, following a 3-day hearing on the Adams case, recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Randall Adams be granted a new trial.

     On March 1, 1989, the appeals court, in an unanimous 27-page opinion that cited gross prosecutoral wrongdoing, ordered a new trial. Three weeks later, the Dallas County District Attorney (not Kinne) dropped all charges. Randall Adams, after twelve years behind bars, walked free. Because he had not been pardoned by the governor, Adams was not eligible for the $25,000 he would have otherwise been awarded.

     In 2004, the state of Texas executed David Harris for the 1985 murder in Beaumont. Before he died, Harris admitted shooting officer Wood to death.

     Except for the occasional reairing of "The Thin Blue Line," the Randall Adams case is almost forgotten. But it shouldn't be forgotten because it reminds us of how much damage "a great" prosecutor can do.