Before I continue I should tell you that I’m under review at The Amnesty Project. I told you I was diagnosed with HPPD. Jana is concerned that… well let’s just say she’s questioning my ability to properly investigate her cases. I’ll be honest here, there are times when I’m not sure what’s real and fake anymore. Reality and fantasy bleed into each other and it’s maddening. Some days I contemplate ending it all but I have to remind myself that I’m not weak. I’ve overcome all sorts of shit in my life and I’ll overcome this too. Is this website even real? Are the stories you’re reading true or just a figment of my imagination. I don’t know, it’s real to me. I believe the story I’m about to tell you is 100% real but I can’t be sure. Take it with however big or small grain of salt you want but this is my interpretation of the events:
I had just started working for The Amnesty Project. Ronan wasn’t involved by this point. That’s a whole other story but the fallout had a lot to do with the Nick Pelletier case and the witness, David Benson, which you can read about in my earlier post about dirty cops. Anyway we came up with a strategy for how to address Chesapeake PD and decided to start looking into their old cases to figure out if they followed protocol etc. Honestly we were just looking for an Achilles heel and since I used to work there I had a pretty good idea of where to start. It’s risky I know but Jana is fearless and me well… like I said, what do I have to lose.
I was out hunting wild rabbits with the Reeder Bros. We live in the swamps and their approach is that we live off the land. If we take from it we have to give back so we never waste anything. We never kill for sport, ever. If we kill it we eat it but we also use every single part of the animal. That’s what nature intended. I’ve learned a lot from the Reeder Bros. They have never been to college but I bet if you dropped them in Harvard they’d be the smartest people on that campus.
Right after we got home with our kill, I was helping Bunny skin the rabbits and I got a call from Jana. She tells me she just came across a case that Warren Hoad investigated. I’ll get into Hoad on another post but the Cliff notes version is Warren Hoad is currently a captain at CPD and if you remember, he also headed the Nick Pelletier investigation. Hoad has the honor of being the youngest serving captain in the history of the department. You may think that sounds impressive and it might be except Hoad is married to Heather Mukowsky who just happens to be Tammy Hess’s niece. So you tell me if that isn’t a conflict of interest, no matter how many steps removed. America has never been a meritocracy. Once in awhile it is but mostly it’s about nepotism. Why else do legacies exist in this country.
I arrived at the Amnesty office and Brian Veal was there. He’s also an attorney and Jana’s right hand man. He’s super sharp and just a downhome southern guy that doesn’t give a fuck about anything including the way he looks but he’s a very effective lawyer. So they show me the case file and at first glance it seemed like an open and shut case but the more I continued to read a few things jumped up at me. Let me just give you a rundown of the case:
A young man, Chris Murray, 18 years old African American was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Annie Smith, 15, white. I don’t have to spell out the racial undertones which made this thing even way more fucked up. The whole trial was emotionally charged and honestly I think the judge did a piss poor job on restricting racial rhetoric that played out in the court. The prosecutor, Heather Loeb, was surgical in the way she approached the case. The piece of evidence that the prosecution had was a text exchange between Chris and Annie. They got into a back and forth in their text messages. It’s not even worth repeating on here because I read it as two immature kids having a stupid argument because Chris was late. But given the emotions around the case every word was parsed and dissected and was given way too much weight than it should have received. At the end of the trial, the conviction was handed down by a jury that had been manipulated emotionally and they weren’t looking at the case objectively.
The defense attorney was a subpar Al Sharpton type. I think he tried to take a play or two out of the Johnnie Cochran playbook from the OJ trials. Chris Murray was a star quarterback and was on ESPN’s top 100 high school recruits. So the defense figured there was a correlation there which was really the dumbest move they could have made. This is the south, you don’t get to play the race card like that and get away with it without getting some push back. Their gamble backfired and Chris was convicted. The jury deliberation was less than two hours. They had probably already made up their minds once the headlines started hitting the news.
I conducted interviews and this is what I was able to Frankenstein together:
Chris and Annie attended school at Briar Greene High School. Chris was a senior and from all accounts also a model student. He had a 3.7 GPA. He didn’t come from a broken home, his parents were still together and he had the stereotypical All-American upbringing. His dad is a manager of a local bank and his mother is a dentist. They also lived in a middle class neighborhood.
The Murrays were generous enough to lend me some personal pictures for this.
Annie was finishing her freshman year. She wasn’t your stereotypical shy freshman. A number of people described her as the life of the party. She was part of the dance team and was selected as homecoming queen. Her dad is a real estate agent and her mother is a risk analyst.
The night of the murder Briar Greene had just beaten Oakhurst 55-3. One of the traditions for homecoming was after the game all the kids went down to Pete’s, a local soul food restaurant. The owner Pete Jackson was an alumni of Briar Greene and apparently a legendary player in his own right. If you make the mistake of talking with him he’ll tell you about all the records he set at Brian Greene that still haven’t been broken. He still wears his state championship ring which he shows at the slightest opportunity. You get the feeling that his life peaked in high school.
After he graduated he got offers from every major program in the area and he decide to play at Clemson. The big program swallowed him up and he never quite lived up to his potential. He lost his scholarship and ended up dropping out. He returned home and was in and out of jail before settling down and figuring out what the next chapter of his life was going to be and how he’d define it. Naturally for him his life was so intertwined with football that he had to find something that he could associate with football. Hence Pete’s restaurant. He gave discounts to the football players, free drinks etc so they always hung around Pete’s after practice. This was the next best thing for him.
The nostalgia weighed on him and in a way I think he was one of the saddest people I came across while investigating this case. He got his identity from being a player of the Briar Greene football team. How sad to derive your identity from something so fickle but I get it. For me after my arrest, I fell into a deep depression. My identity was so wrapped up in being a detective and now that I was on the other side of the law I contemplated just killing myself. I’m not proud of it but human beings, we need at least something to ring true in our lives to give us meaning. We run into problems when that thing we tie our souls to is a moving target. The Reeder brothers have helped ground me with their spiritual process and for that I am more than thankful.
Pete would host a fish-fry after the homecoming game and the meal was on the house as long as you were a current student at Briar Greene. Most people don’t turn down good free food so from the pictures that I’ve seen the place gets packed, standing room only. Outside, all the kids that owned cars would park in a half circle in the parking lot, turn their headlights on and blast music. The tradition was a dance off between the football team and the girl’s dance team.
Chris and his teammates did their routine and this is where all the reports go helter skelter. There were four general stories told by witnesses about what they saw:
Version 1: Chris and Annie left together, right after the dance off.
Version 2: Chris and Annie left separately.
Version 3: Chris and Annie headed to the Biscayne docks where Jeremy Lyle was having a party on his father’s boat. They got into a fight and Annie left.
Version 4: Chris and Annie were seen ‘hooking up’ in Chris’s car in the parking lot at Briar Greene.
The reliability of each account should be taken into account since these were a bunch of teenagers that had been drinking all night. After reviewing the case some things jumped out at me. Chris was convicted of rape and murder. Now here’s the problem, Annie Smith’s body was never found. The police needed to find a body and perform a rape kit exam to determine if she was raped but they didn’t. There was no body. So where did the rape charge come from? Version 4 of the eyewitness account claimed they saw Chris and Annie hooking up in Chris’s car.
There were so many versions of what happened but the police latched on to the last one because that was the best narrative to bring a conviction. It’s all about the story you are trying to sell to the public. Remember facts are only valuable if they come with emotional weight otherwise it’s just information.
The next thing you are probably thinking is that they were two consenting kids having sex. Well here’s the problem. Chris was 18 and in the state of South Carolina he’s a bona fide adult. Annie on the other hand was just 15, the age of consent is 16. Now in some instances South Carolina will grant consent as early as 14 years old but that’s up to the judge and the court to determine if it was true consent. So for whatever reason the police decided rape was a better story and the whole town ran with that narrative. For better or for worse. Now you have a case that’s being painted as a young black football star who rapes a young white girl and he killed her and got rid of her body. During the trial Chis never took the stand and it just fed into the permeating story that he was guilty and hiding something.
Chris was being housed at LCI… This is where I did my time and I wish I could tell you it didn’t matter but fuck… I was a complete chicken shit. It fucked with my head because this is the last place I want to be. I delayed going as much as I could. I told Jana I wasn’t feeling well and hoped maybe she’d just make the trip herself but she didn’t. She waited for me.
RJ has never been a fan of me being involved with the Amnesty Project. His belief is that it was a grave mistake to revisit those dark places. His theory was that it would push me to the point of no return. Maybe he was right but Bunny didn’t believe that at all. He thought I just had to confront them and power through. Maybe he believes in my mental fortitude but RJ sure as hell doesn’t. That night I went on a mushroom trip and it completely fucked me up…
I saw three versions of me literally being ripped out of my back and they climbed the walls and stayed on the ceiling upside down and they just kept on growing. They got darker and darker and started attacking me from the ceiling. RJ is normally the anchor but for some reason I couldn’t hear his voice. These beings in my likeness grabbed me and I felt my legs lift from the ground. I wasn’t floating or anything, they were fucking dragging me. I’m not sure where they were trying to take me but I had no intention of going there with them. Then I felt my heart pounding and compressing like someone had it in a vice grip. I started choking and gasping for breath. Finally I heard Bunny’s voice and felt him holding me. He was reciting a bunch of native prayers and I was sure I was going to die. Suddenly the beings in my likeness went away.
Later that night I felt them over my bed, just lurking and they would say something to me in some ancient sounding language and every time I would get goose bumps. I guess my fear was deeper than I ever imagined. I made the decision to just go to LCI and get the interview over with.
I got to LCI and all the guards looked like they had faces of beasts. This is where my HPPD fucks things up. Sometimes I see people with aura’s around them. Once I saw a guy and he was swarmed by bugs. Other times I might literally see music pouring out of the radio like it’s lava or I’ll see the ground moving or see distorted people that may or may not be real. It’s fucked up and you feel like a part of your brain is mush.
I finally sit down with Chris and get his side of the story. This is a kid that shouldn’t be where he is. He was scared. He was dealing with some heavy shit and what do you say to someone in his position? Everything will work out? Fuck no, because you know that he’s damaged goods. If he gets out his life will never be the same. He’ll be living with demons the rest of his life. If he’s innocent well… the system just fucked another person but if he’s guilty then his life will be the same nightmarish day over and over again.
After we get the pleasantries out of the way and I got the basic information I needed, I went into the harder part of the interview. It’s clear that he’s smart. He answered his questions but he really took his time to think of what he was saying, which I thought was interesting. Most people just talk as it comes but Chris was different. I had the feeling that he was hiding something so I kept pressing.
There’s a little trick to interrogation. In the movies and on TV shows, the cops do so much talking and the person being interrogated just answers a few question but in real life its the complete opposite. The idea is that you catch them in a lie or at least in a glaring inconsistency. So you ask a question and when they respond I just sit there looking at them, then they tend to offer up more information because they think they’ve said the wrong thing.
I also don’t tip my hand on what information I have. I just play dumb and will ask them the same question in about ten different ways which frustrates most. My approach is that even though we’re trying to help Chris I have to approach him like the prosecution would. So after a back and forth it got tense and I could see he was visibly frustrated. I had to get to the bottom of what he was hiding.
At this point– I want to warn you that I’m not crazy. I just see things differently. I’m asking you not to judge me based on my HPPD. It’s a condition that I hope will get treated but for now I have to figure out how to live with it. I say that because…
During this portion of the interview I felt a darkness around me. The three versions of myself appeared briefly then two of them disappeared and one of them transformed into Chris and sat right next to Chris. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t real but then Chris’s duplicate said started yelling at me, telling me I was a fraud and I started getting angry. The real Chris was looking at me like I’d lost my mind. I asked if I could take a five minute break.
After the break I sat back down and there were two Chris’s and I wasn’t sure which one was the real one. The conversation got convoluted and I may have threatened the real Chris because he said he didn’t want to get her in trouble…
Her???? Who’s her?????
I pressed him. The second Chris kept trying to knock me off my line of questioning, telling me that I was weak and saying stuff about Tara Wilson but I did my best to focus. Then I’m not sure who said the name first, if it was me or him. But I recall saying, ‘Patti’, and he looked at me, scared, nervous. So I doubled down and said ‘Who is Patti?’
It took him what felt to me like hours to finally respond to my question. Chris told me he left his car at school and told Annie he’d meet her at Jeremy’s party. She was going to head over there with some of the girls at the dance team. Ms. Patti gave Chris a ride to school. Ms. Patti was his Calculus teacher. They got to the parking lot and ended up having sex in Chris’s car. Before you condemn Ms. Patti– Chris was 18. He knew damn well what he was doing.
Apparently they had this secret relationship for a couple of months. By the time he left Ms. Patti, Chris was running late and Annie sent him a few angry texts and they got into an argument. When Chris arrived at the party she was gone and that was the last time he saw her. No one saw her leave the party though. Not a single soul and Chris didn’t have an alibi because he was protecting Ms. Patti. He basically sacrificed his life for a woman who was probably manipulating him on some level. The naivete was thick and I felt sorry for him. He thinks he’s being noble. He told me ‘I’m not a snitch.’ I laughed and told him, ‘but you’re a fucking fool.’ This kid threw his life away for what? Since he was arrested Ms. Patti never visited once. She suddenly quit teaching and moved to Bend, Oregon. We weren’t able to reach her.
The problem with this case is that it’s so thin against Chris. There’s no body, so you can’t prove there was a murder or a rape but yet he was convicted. This was our building block and Jana started filing motions to get the ball rolling. I must have conducted at least 50 interviews.
Warren Hoad heard we were looking into his case and he paid Jana a visit and tried to intimidate her. Even Ronan came by to talk her out of his and they got into a big fight. The news picked up on it and we just didn’t want to land in the middle of a race war. We were just trying to do our job, then something happened that blew the whole thing wide open.
I don’t know if you recall the story about the bodies found in the Fire Swamp Lake in West Ashley.
A group of campers were riding around in their boats on the lake and a trash bag popped up. They thought nothing of it but one of the campers saw a hand and they called 911. At first police thought it was a body until they opened the bag up… a host of body parts, arms, legs, feet, torsos but no heads. It was bizarre and macabre to say the least. Police determined that the body parts didn’t match and all belong to different people– eight altogether.
The news was horrifying but had nothing to do with us, then about six weeks later Jana got a call from the coroner’s office. One of the body parts was identified and belonged to Annie Smith. Now our case got even more interesting, for a lack of a better term. We had a partial body so we know at least a murder occurred but now the question was is Chris Murray a serial killer. I highly doubt that and that helps our case. In light of this Jana filed to have the case retried. We were granted a new hearing but in the meantime Chris will just have to endure life in prison because the justice system moves like molasses.
A few weeks later, the coroner, Michael Plume reached out to Jana. He wanted to talk but it couldn’t be over the phone. So they met up and according to her he looked nervous and was acting paranoid. He told her that the 8 body parts wasn’t the only thing that was found. There was a handful of hair found as well. Just hair and it was matted up against a foot. He ran a battery of test to find DNA matches from the database and he got a hit. He believes the hairs belong to Jessica Hess.
Plume let his superiors know and next thing he knows. Warren Hoad comes down and wants to see the evidence. Plume is a smart guy. He knows how things work at CPD so he wisely took a portion of the sample and hid it. Hoad took the rest of the sample and just like that it disappeared and was erased from the database.
Now you tell me what the fuck you think is going on because I don’t know but there’s a lot of smoke and I intend to find the fire.