The Hunting Grounds: Part One, A Stranger in the Dark

Burglary is a gateway crime. Just as some recreational substance users will enjoy a few drinks and a little smoke without ever progressing to the so-called ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine, so do some burglars remain just that. Burglars. For them, it’s about theft, stealing. Get in. Get the stuff. Get out. The most common time for burglaries is daytime, not night. Burglars don’t want to confront anyone. They hit when you’re at work or when you’re known to be out of town. They hit closed businesses. They just want your stuff. Money is the motivation.

These crimes are neither pure impulse not extensively planned, just a bit of each.
But for another sort of person, being in someone’s house becomes the ultimate rush. They become aware they’re violating a sacred space. They can do anything, touch anything. It’s power. They plan their crimes, stalking the location. They watch from a distance. They hunt–until just being inside isn’t enough anymore. They need more of the adrenaline and so they escalate. The stalking becomes as important as the execution. They need the illicit thrill. Behavior addiction is a real thing and once a burglar moves past the simple desires of a monetary motivation to an emotional one, barriers break down. The larger the violation, the more intense the rush. Add someone with the tendencies of a sexual sadist into the mix, and things get very dangerous.

Curtis Don Brown was such a man.

CBD

He already had a history of violent crime before he ever made his way to the streets of Fort Worth. December 13, 1976, Curtis Brown, 21 was a Marine assigned to Camp Pendleton in California when he committed his first known crime. Brown robbed a man by the Lucky Inn on Hawthorne Boulevard. He was spotted running past the location by police. A woman ran out after Brown, pointing and shouting that he had just robbed a man. Police gave chase, finally locating Brown lying on the floor of a tool shed. He was uncooperative, refusing to even identify himself.

Police went in to speak to the victim and found him seriously injured. He hadn’t responded quickly enough to suit Brown during the robbery. He’d fired a shot in the air and then savagely kicked in the victim’s face with his boots.   Police were able to locate Brown’s wallet in the tool shed where he was hiding, along with the victim’s wallet and a pistol. The robbery cost him his career as a Marine, but he didn’t spend much time in jail.

In November 26, 1978, Brown was staying in an Amarillo motel with his girlfriend, who knew him by the name James Ware, Jr., an alias he would frequently use along with another nickname: Bandit.  Brown left his girlfriend at the motel and went to a nearby small grocery store. On the way, he spotted an acquaintance named Hutchison and asked him for a ride. In the store, he robbed the clerk at gunpoint of $3,000. He ran back out of the store and jumped in Hutchison’s car. Hutchison noticed Brown had a sack and a pistol now. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had just happened.  He was afraid, so he drove Brown around until Brown was satisfied they hadn’t been followed and he jumped from the car.

Hutchison was only too happy to cooperate. He told police everything he knew about “Bandit.” Brown was arrested a couple months later in a stolen car. He pled guilty in 1979.  Brown was paroled in 1983 and came to Fort Worth where his mother was living. In 1983, there were a series of unsolved stranger rapes where a man came in through the window at night. July of 1984, Brown married a woman and had a daughter, but that did nothing to settle him down. He drank heavily, used cocaine and only worked sporadically at unskilled labor. That year, eight women went missing from the area near where Brown lived. Some would surface as bodies. Still others would never be found.

Hulen Place apts.png

June 20, 1985, Patricia Morales, 29, was home alone in her Hulen Place Apartment when she heard a sound at her bedroom window screen. Cautiously, she came into the room. The screen had been removed. The window hung open. Before she could turn around, a man grabbed her from behind, roughly demanding to know where her husband was. Hoping to scare the man away, she claimed her husband was in the apartment’s other bedroom. She told the man she had a little money. He could have it if he would just leave.

He forced her to come with him to the bedroom, then turned on her angrily when there was no one there. Taking her chance, she grabbed up a metal rod, striking him with it. She only made him angrier. He took the rod away from her and hit her several times. He put a pillow case over her head and forced her to lie on the floor while he ransacked the room. She reminded him about the money in her purse. She had been to the bank. Her cash was in an envelope. Again, she promised he could have her money if he would just leave.

He retrieved the money and went to the front door, dragging her with him. Patricia hadn’t been silent. She had screamed as she was being hit and a neighbor heard. The neighbor alerted the apartment’s armed security. He was at the front door as the man tried to leave. The man roughly pulled Patricia in front of him as a human shield and they backed into the apartment. Thankfully, the neighbor had also called Fort Worth Police Department. As they rolled into the parking lot, Patricia wrenched herself free from the man’s grip and ran screaming towards the police.

Police arrested the man and transported Patricia to the hospital where she would be treated for lacerations and broken bones. The man had a bank envelope with Patricia’s money in it and a pair of white, cotton gloves. Police identified him as Curtis Don Brown, a man with no criminal history in the city of Fort Worth. They assumed he was an over-eager burglar. Within hours, Brown had posted bond and was released. He gave a Houston Street address, just 8 miles from where Patricia lived.

Patricia didn’t know it at the time, but she had just survived an encounter with a serial killer, a man who had already killed twice at least, and would kill again.

February 24, 1986, Brown struck again, this time in Arlington.

Debra Hodges, 30 was sitting home alone, watching some TV before bed. It was close to midnight and she was ready to call it quits when a sound at her back window caught her attention. Looking out her patio door, she spotted a man crouched down trying to  remove her screen. He looked up at her and both were startled. The man turned and fled, jumping over a wooden fence, but not before she got a good look at him. As Debra was standing on her patio pointing things out to the Arlington officer who had responded to her call, they heard a commotion. Apartment security was chasing a man through the complex, telling him to stop. She was astonished to recognize the man by his clothing. “That’s him,” she exclaimed. The Arlington Officer joined in the chase and he and the security guard brought the man, soon identified as Curtis Don Brown, back for Debra to see.

Looking in his face, she had no doubts. “That’s the man.”

The security guard told the police that a woman had just pointed out Brown as a man who had been following her outside and ‘sexually harassed her’ in the laundry room to the point she became frightened. The woman left before the security officer got her information. The Arlington officer read Brown his rights and asked if he understood them. Brown cussed at him and said, “What rights?” He gave various stories about why he was in the apartment complex. The officer noted Brown’s boots. There had been boot prints in the soil of the flower beds outside Debra’s apartment. A man, one of substantial size, had stood there for some time, watching Debra through her window. Brown was 6’2, 200 pounds, and very muscular.

Brown was placed under arrest for attempted burglary. This time he spent three days in jail before posting bond and being released.

May 29, 1986, Fort Worth Officers Galloway and Dunn were working undercover in response to the increased crimes in the area. As the officers cruised the 6000 block of Brentwood Stair, just after midnight, a man emerged from the shadows. He kept away from the street lights, but they could see him. Sweating, nervous, he looked around sharply. Under his arm, wrapped in a towel, were two purses.

As the officers cruised past, the man made an effort to hide the purses, shifting them to his other arm and pulling down the towel. The officers circled, moving to a parking lot the man would pass by while they kept him in careful view. When the man was fifteen feet from the officers, they stepped out and showed badges. The man paused, and then took off running behind the Autumn Moon restaurant.

Dunn pursued while Galloway called for back-up. Dunn followed the man into an overgrown vacant lot in the 5600 block of Charlotte Street, just a block south of Brentwood Stair. Back-up was there within seconds, two more officers joined the chase. All four men were now chasing the man who still clutched the purses as he ran past the Amblewood Apartments, running parallel to a viaduct which stretched north and south. The viaduct was fifteen feet tall and twenty-five feet wide, it’s concrete walls slanted at a difficult angle, but the water underneath was just a trickle, the ground mossy and slick, and the man decided to use it to escape. Galloway caught the man’s leg just as he leapt for the edge. The man kicked and tried to pull free, but he was caught. His hands went to Galloway’s hip. He struggled with the officer for his gun. Instead he came away with the officer’s radio which he threw in the shallow water.

It took all four officers to subdue the man. They had to pry the purses from his hands, even as he fought them. He was reluctant to give them up. One of the purses was empty, but the other had a wallet and credit cards in them, all in the name Jewell T. Woods. A more careful search of the area would locate a black bra and a pair of women’s glasses, items that had fallen out of the purse.

They patted the man down and put him in the car, locating  a syringe of narcotics in the process. They read him his Miranda Warnings, which he waived and agreed to answer questions. He claimed to have taken the purses from three men outside the Circle K gas station. He said the men had accosted him with racial slurs so he kicked them in the necks and took their purses. These were clearly women’s purses and the police weren’t buying, especially as he refused to identify himself and continued making attempts to escape. As they put him the back, he commented, “This is the third one for me. I’ll be doing the bitch.”

Doing “the bitch” or “high bitch” refers to someone being punished as a habitual offender. If it is proven that an offender has had two sequential convictions for third degree or higher offenses that included a trip to the pen, punishment for the third offense is 25 years to life.  He wasn’t going to do anything to help them lock him away.

Woodstone AptsConcerned for the woman whose information was in the purse, they went to her home, the apartments at 6051 Bridge Street. They could see the screen had been pried off a window. Their knocks went unanswered. Afraid Jewell Woods, 51, might be injured inside, they tried the doorknob and found it open. Inside, the lights and television were on. A partially drunk glass of tea sat beside an evening chair with the evening paper and a pair of eyeglasses perched on the stuffed arms, as if someone had just stepped out. But there were also indications that this wasn’t what had happened. Clothing was strewn everywhere, including a pair of women’s panties in the entry way. Drawers had been pulled out. The door to the bathroom was damaged and appeared to have been kicked in.

Police knocked on doors. The next door neighbor said he had heard sounds of a commotion and Jewell’s dog yelping or whining just a half hour before midnight. At least, he thought it had been her dog. Now he wasn’t sure. There had also been some yelling, but he minded his own business. Jewell’s keys were in the stolen purse and her car was located in the parking lot, still locked. The dog, an Irish Setter named Emmy Lou, was also missing. Could she have stepped out to walk the dog? It didn’t seem likely she would walk out and leave the door unlocked, but there was no blood, no evidence of injury.

They contacted everyone they could think of based upon the information in her purse: her cousin, her uncle, her son, her many friends. Police then secured the scene, while leaving information for her to contact them upon returning home. That call never came. Instead, they heard from her employer the next morning when she didn’t show up for work. This was very out of character for the 51 year-old nurse. An immediate search began for Jewell.

Brown had been booked into jail for burglary and drugs. This time he gave his address as 3310 Pearl Street, his mother’s residence.

As word of the missing woman hummed across the grapevine, other residents of the apartment complex came forward to say they had witnessed a man who didn’t live there walking around at night. All of them described his clothing and said he was a tall, black male with a red shirt and red shorts. One woman saw him walking away with the items wrapped in a towel. The woman identified Curtis Brown from a photo spread. One man wasn’t sure, but he did place a question mark by Brown’s picture. He had seen the man from a balcony, but Jewell’s apartment was on the ground floor and he didn’t get a good look at the man’s face, however he was sure the man was wearing a red shirt and shorts. At the time of his arrest, Curtis Brown was wearing red shirt and shorts.

At the other end of the breezeway from Jewell’s apartment lived a woman named Becky. Becky complained to maintenance that night that the lights along their hall were all burnt out. The maintenance man who responded discovered the lights weren’t all burnt, nor were they malfunctioning. They’d all been unscrewed, making the breezeway dark. Detectives spoke with Becky. She was expecting her boyfriend, so when there was a knock on her door, she jerked it open. Instead of her boyfriend, there was tall, black male whom she didn’t know wearing a red shirt and shorts. He had a something in his hand covered by a towel. He stared at her for a minute. “Wrong door,” he said and walked away.

It was 11:30 am, just hours after police had left the apartment when they located her partially nude body in a stand of brush of a steeply slanted vacant lot just a short distance east of her apartment complex. She had been left face down, arms outstretched as if embracing the ground, wearing only a red and blue checkered shirt.

The soft ground told a story. Near the top of the slope there was a depression the size of Jewell’s head and a bloody rock. Drag marks led down to her body. The cause of death was obvious due to the damage done to her head. She had been beaten to death with that rock. There was bruising around the neck which indicated there had been some strangulation, but that was not fatal. The autopsy would confirm she had been sexually assaulted.

Brown’s movements could be tracked by his shoe prints. He left prints around the scene with diamond-shaped tread which matched his shoes. His clothing was examined and they found vegetation from the crime scene in his shorts. Blood on his shirt and underwear was type O, consistent with the victim.

Authorities believed he had come in through the front window. Jewell must have come into the room and seen him. She fled into the bathroom, but he broke in the door. They struggled and she broke free and ran, leaving the door open. He pursued her and caught her across the street where he raped her and killed her, then dragged her body farther from the road. He went back to steal, helping himself to two of her purses, one with her wallet and credit cards. As for the bra and eyeglasses, those were possibly trophies.

The Irish Setter, Emmy Lou, was found by a friend of Jewell’s and put in a kennel.

Murder in the course of committing sexual assault or burglary is a capital offense. The death penalty was on the table, but Brown agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. He also pled guilty to the burglaries.

Police were suspicious there were more crimes. They received information that Brown had been “robbing white women” for some time. He fenced the items he stole from these women with a drug dealer he was friendly with. The items were usually small, credit cards and jewelry items. They were also highly suspicious of a series of unsolved rapes that had occurred in 1983.

January 22, 1983, a black female, 36, living at 1502 East Canon woke up to find a man on top of her in the bed. He held his hand over her mouth and told her he would kill her if she didn’t cooperate. She was terrified, not just for herself, but for her young son. He sexually assaulted her. At one point, her son came out into the living room and saw the man on top of his mother. The man allowed him to go to the bathroom, then instructed the child to go back to bed. The boy saw the man, a black male, rifling through his mother’s purse. After the man left, the woman was afraid to leave the house. She showered around 4 am, then worked up her nerve to call the police. They arrived to see that the man had come in through the front window which had a broken lock. The screen had been pried open. Police spoke with the woman and the little boy who said he thought he recognized the man. He told police where he had seen the man before. January 25th, police spoke with the woman who said she had nothing to add. Police suspended the investigation that same day as unsolvable.

July 12, 1983,  white female, 33, residing at 708 Grainger awoke to a noise. A man was in the room with her. He was a slender black male and told her to cooperate or he would “cut her.” He covered her head with a blanket and sexually assaulted her.

November 9th, a black female living at 1023 E. Magnolia woke up with a man on top of her. He had a hand over her mouth. The man dragged her outside to her back yard where he sexually assaulted her. After the man left, she ran to a neighbor to call police. She described him as a black male, around the age of 25 with facial hair and a slight build. She had just moved to this house a month before from 1013 East Canon, just blocks from the first rape,  because her house there had been repeatedly burglarized.

There were other rapes, but they all had common threads, certain things that were done and said by the rapist that later led police to think they might have been the same man, a slender, black male with facial hair. In 1983, Brown was fresh from prison and far more slender than he was in 1986. Due to old statute of limitation laws, those rapes could not be prosecuted now and it’s doubtful the sexual assault kits were ever sent for testing, if they were even preserved.

Jewell Wood’s son was unhappy with plea bargain. He wanted to face the man in court. He wanted the death penalty. It was only later that he realized he was lucky to have a resolution. If Brown hadn’t been stopped fleeing from the scene, he too might have waited 19 years to know who killed his mother, because that’s how long it would take for Woods other crimes to come to light.

Curtis Brown’s Fort Worth crimes didn’t begin with Jewell Woods. It didn’t even begin with Patricia Morales. We can’t be sure exactly when it did start, but do know he had started killing by March 23, 1985.

April 2004 began the cold case revolution for Texas as the prison system began taking DNA from prisoners entering the system. That year alone they solved 14 murders and 81 sexual assaults. There was a renewed interest in old cases. Both Fort Worth and Arlington assigned a detective to pursue cold cases. In 2005 came a new mandate: test everyone in prison who came in before April 2004. Cold case detectives excitedly combed evidence records, looking for potential biological links.

Manny Reyes
Retired Fort Worth Homicide Detective Manny Reyes

For Fort Worth cold case detective Manny Reyes, that meant sorting through the city’s 764 “unsolvable homicide” files that had been boxed and stacked in a room in no particular order. Cases with preserved bio evidence were his first priority. He analyzed and cataloged cases, submitted the evidence for proper testing and sent profiles to CODIS for comparison. It was tedious work, but the results were undeniable. Within months, he got his first hit on a 19 year old murder to a man already sitting behind bars: Curtis Don Brown. That “cold hit” was just the start.

 

 

 

 

Next week, we will take a look at two very different women, Terece Gregory and Sharyn Killsback, two lives forever tied together by their violent end, and by the DNA that would unravel the mysteries of their deaths in part two of The Hunting Grounds: Cold Hit.

 

SOURCE NOTES:

http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/caught-cold-6405623

http://www.murderpedia.org/male.B/b/brown-curtis-don.htm

Additional information can be obtained from Star-Telegram archives at the Fort Worth Public Library and through Open Records requests for primary sources.

 

 

 

 

Slow Justice: The murder of Donald Rodgers

 

 

Donald Bryan Rodgers is forever a 14 year-old boy, forever smiling back from a photo looking dapper with his bow tie. For Donald it’s forever August 7, 1973. That’s where his future came to an end at his best friend’s home–and at the end of his best friend’s gun.

Donnie, as he was called by his family, was one of six kids growing up in Southeast Fort Worth in the Rolling Hills neighborhood.  The siblings ranged in age from 22 to 3 years old. The Rodgers were strict, but loving. The family was tight-knit. He was especially close to his father. Donnie and his father, Jeff had their own side business, scrapping. Jeff worked for a newspaper and later as a maintenance worker at a hospital. Donnie would sometimes go to those jobs with his father as well. Mom was a nurse. She was also the disciplinarian. The children all had duties around the house.

Rolling Hills was considered a very safe neighborhood. The children could walk to their friends’ houses or ride bikes.

Melvin Knox also lived nearby with his parents and his sister, Sheila, just about ten minutes from Donnie’s house. The Knox family owned a grocery store. Unlike Donnie, Melvin had been in trouble before. At 15, he already had a reputation for a bad temper. When he was 13, he pointed a shotgun at a boy with whom he’d had an earlier argument. An adult neighbor saw this and intervened. This was just before Melvin and his parents moved to Rolling Hills.

But whatever their different lives, the boys met and were instant friends in the way kids can be. That August evening, they were playing basketball when the rest of Melvin’s family left for church at 7:00 pm. When the family returned at 8:30, they found the livingroom a mess. The glass patio door had been smashed in with a big rock, The TV was knocked over. Melvin was nowhere to be found.

The family searched frantically for the boys. In the bathroom, 12 year-old Sheila Knox discovered a grisly sight. A young boy was sprawled, his body partially propped in the corner between the shower and the toilet. Blood was everywhere. The shower door was shattered from the shot and the blood splatter on the wall indicated this was where the boy had been shot. His face had been destroyed by a gunshot wound. The damage was so severe, at first Sheila thought it was Melvin’s body. Inexplicably, there was also a knife sticking from the boy’s chest and multiple stab wounds.

The police were immediately called. Moment’s later, Melvin showed back up with his Uncle Emmit. Melvin told the police that Donnie went inside to go to the restroom. While he was in there, Melvin stayed outside. He said he heard glass shatter, walked around the back to see what was going on and then heard a gunshot. He said he ran, jumped the back fence and ran to his Uncle’s house two miles away. He said he didn’t go inside at all.

Knox_house

 

 

The scene was process by David Whisenhunt, he noticed several odd things. He located wadding to a 16 gauge shot gun next to the body. In the master bedroom closet was a Mossberg 16 gauge. Due to the smell, he knew that gun had been recently fired. Why would the murder weapon have been put back in the closet? The knife in Donnie’s chest was also from the house. Someone would have to break into to home, get the family’s shotgun, shoot Donnie, and then put the weapon away. Then they would have to go into the kitchen, grab a knife, and repeatedly stab Donnie. It didn’t make any sense.

The TV, which was in front of the sliding glass door had been knocked over, but curiously there was no glass underneath it, indicating the TV was knocked over before the glass door was shattered. The TV wasn’t damaged from the fall, almost as if it had been gently laid down. Nothing was taken from the house.

A neighbor, Chris Guinn, who was outside in his yard heard a loud noise followed by  glass shattering, and saw Melvin running away. This didn’t match Melvin’s sequence of events. And in a neighborhood full of houses, why would he run two miles to his uncle’s house?

Then there was what had happened the day before. Melvin had been playing basketball with another boy named Ricky. They went inside and for some reason, Melvin pointed a shotgun at him. He told Ricky that his father had given him the gun for his birthday. Ricky pushed the barrel of the gun away and told Melvin to stop, that he shouldn’t play with guns. In response, Melvin pulled the trigger. Ricky heard the click. Melvin laughed it off, but  he later faced charges for this incident.

But would he face charges in Donnie’s death? His story didn’t add up and the scene appeared to be staged to look like a burglary. Had he repeated his actions of pointing a gun at a friend only this time it was loaded?

Dr. Feliks Gwozdz, Tarrant County’s legendary medical examiner performed the autopsy. In his report, he noted an entry wound to the right of the victim’s face and an exit wound to the left side. He also observed nine stab wounds, seven to the chest. One of these stab wounds went into Donnie’s heart. Dr. Gwozdz ruled it a homicide and listed the cause of death as “Shock and hemorrhage due to shotgun wound of head and multiple stab wounds to the chest.”

KNOX_TV2

15 year-old Melvin was charged as a juvenile by an Assistant District Attorney named Billy Mills. Four months later, Mills made the determination he didn’t believe there was enough evidence and he dismissed the case.

Donnie’s family, engulfed in a blur of shock and grief, assumed Melvin was still being prosecuted. They weren’t vengeful people. They weren’t clamoring at the court house everyday. Sure, there wasn’t anything on the news, but then Melvin was a juvenile so in their minds, that explained it. It’s unknown if Donnie’s parents were ever told. If they were told, they didn’t let Donnie’s siblings know.

It would be decades before anyone looked at the case again.

That’s not to say that nothing was happening. You might think Melvin would have learned a hard lesson about violence and playing with guns. You might think he would have been scared straight, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Over the next forty years, Melvin was in constant trouble with the law.

His juvenile records are not public record, but from the moment he was a legal adult, his record shows that Melvin never changed. His crimes include burglaries, thefts, and drugs–lots of drugs. Melvin wasn’t just a user, he was a dealer and did several stints in prison for dealing. In 1999, he was sent to prison for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon for threatening a couple with a shotgun. Once out of prison, he resumed his career as a drug dealer.

Meanwhile, Donnie’s eldest sister, Carolyn became curious about what had happened to her brother’s killer. Their parents were deceased. She couldn’t ask them.  The original detectives were also deceased. She tried to find information online and even through calling the police department, but she couldn’t find anything. She brought her concerns to Jeff Jr, but he was sure things had been handled. Why dredge up the pain again?

Carolyn was persistent so Jeff, a juvenile probation officer, agreed to check into the matter. To his surprise, he discovered Melvin had never faced charges. Jeff contacted the cold case detective, Mike McCormack who agreed to dig into the case.

Cold cases are always difficult and a 40 year old case, especially so. Many of the original witnesses were now deceased. Further complicating matters, the physical evidence was missing. Gone was the shot gun, Melvin’s clothing, and the knife. The property room has moved several times and a great deal of old evidence has been lost. He had the old testing, but that was all he had to go on. There would be no new testing.

All he could do was retrace the steps of the investigation and that meant re-interviewing the witnesses. The first person McCormack went to speak with, was Melvin Knox.

Melvin hadn’t gone far. He was still living in an apartment building owned by his parents. He agreed to speak with McCormack. The story Melvin told was essentially the same except for one very important detail. He claimed to have seen the intruder. This didn’t match any of his previous versions. That would have been a crucial detail, one everyone would have jumped on if he had ever mentioned it. Melvin claimed to have heard the crash of the glass and the gun blast. He went and looked inside and saw a white man in his 20’s carrying a shotgun. The man pointed the gun at Melvin who ran away to his uncle’s house.

McCormack interview Melvin’s Uncle Emmit. He confirmed for McCormack that Melvin had never said anything about seeing the intruder. He said that Melvin arrived looking sweaty and borderline hysterical. Melvin said that an intruder broke into his house and killed Donnie. McCormack was instantly struck by this recollection. Melvin had insisted he never went inside. How did he know Donnie was dead in the bathroom?

McCormack then interviewed Ruth Knox, Melvin’s mother. She told a different story than police had ever been told. She said that the day after the offense Melvin admitted to her that he and Donnie were playing basketball and Donnie asked to use the restroom. After a couple of minutes the Melvin went inside and noticed Donnie was playing with his little brother’s toy in the bathroom. Melvin claimed that he told Donnie to put the toy down but he refused. Melvin was angered by this so he got the shotgun, pointed it at his friend and pulled the trigger. He said he did not know the gun was loaded. Ruth told McCormack that she and her husband loaded the gun that night due to criminal activity in the neighborhood. She was evasive about why she hadn’t told police before. She claimed Melvin didn’t remember the stabbing part.

That was the break McCormack needed. He arrested and interviewed Melvin again and this time he confronted him with his mother’s statement.

 

Melvin confessed shooting Donnie. He said the two were just playing with guns and his gun went off.  First he said they both pointed guns at each other. He said Donnie pulled the trigger and it clicked. He said he then pulled the trigger and heard a boom and remembered nothing more. Under more questioning, Melvin admitted he lied about Donnie having a gun. He said he just meant to scare him when he pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. He did not know it was loaded.

He first denied knowing about the knife or that the Donnie was stabbed. McCormack asked Melvin if he stabbed Donnie because he was afraid he would tell on him. Melvin said “probably so” but again claimed he did not remember the details. In other words, Melvin shot Donnie, possibly on accident, but then didn’t seek help for his friend. Instead he silenced the only witness to the crime. He stabbed his best friend repeatedly until he was dead. Then he left the knife in his chest, staged a burglary, and ran off to save himself.

McCormack had his man and he had new evidence, but there were still obstacles to overcome. Although Melvin was now a 59 year old man, he had committed the crime as a juvenile and therefore that was the law that applied. The case was assigned to Assistant Criminal District Attorney Matt Smid. Smid presented evidence before a juvenile court on August 16, 2016 in a hotly contested hearing. The judge granted Smid’s request and certified Melvin Knox to proceed. Smid then presented the case again to a grand jury and secured an indictment.

Melvin Knox would proceed to trial, but a conviction was not assured. The original evidence was lost. Five witnesses were now deceased including the original detectives. After much discussion Donnie’s siblings, Smid made Melvin an offer. Ten years in exchange for a plea of guilty to Murder. He reasoned that with Melvin’s age and the issues in the case, they would take what they could get.

Astonishingly, Melvin rejected the officer. He was facing five years to life, but he wanted probation. Probation was never on the table. Under current law, that wouldn’t be an option, but Melvin was subject to what the sentencing laws were when the crime was committed. In 1973, people could get probation for Murder.

Both sides were preparing for trial, when Melvin made a startling announcement just two weeks before trial. He was going to plead guilty.

Pleading guilty without an agreed punishment is called an “open plea.” Melvin was going to throw himself on the mercy of the court, or rather, on the mercy of Judge Wayne Salvant.  Judge Salvant is a no-nonsense former marine. He is not afraid of high profile cases.  Ethan Couch, also known “the Affulenza teen” now has his adult cases pending before Judge Salvant. It was big gamble on Melvin’s part.

Judge Salvant

The prosecution went first laying out for the court what happened August 7, 1973 and all of Melvin’s lies and crimes. Hearing all of life laid bare must have made Melvin nervous because at a break, his attorney approached Smid and asked if he could have the ten year sentence. Smid refused. The case would be placed in the Judge’s hands.

Melvin testified before Judge Salvant that he didn’t know the shotgun was loaded when he pointed it and pulled the trigger. He admitted getting the knife out of the kitchen drawer but then insisted he didn’t remember stabbing Donnie or staging the house to look like a burglary.  He said he took care of his parents and that he volunteered at church. Then he asked for probation.

Judge Salvant wasn’t having any of it.  “Do you think you deserve probation for all you’ve done? You committed a heinous crime, you tried to cover it up, then in the past 40 years, you’ve basically been a criminal. Let’s just face it, you have. So probation is not even an issue, not for this court.” Salvant then goes on to note that Donald Rodgers has been dead for over 40 years and so that is Melvin’s sentence. 40 years.

“No matter what I do today nothing’s going to bring Mr. Rodgers back, but that family deserves justice,” Salvant said. “They do. They’ve waited a long time for it.”

UPDATE: A NOTE ABOUT SOURCES:  Today I was contacted by a member of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who was concerned that I did not acknowledge one of their reporters as a source for information in this article. I had linked to one of this reporter’s articles in the paragraph proceeding this one, however, I never specifically mentioned that  I did read the series of articles and did use them as one of my primary sources. In addition I read the police reports for myself and attended the punishment hearing of Melvin Knox in person because I was so interested in this case.

The articles by FWST Reporter Deanna Boyd, and a subsequent podcast about the case– also by Ms. Boyd– are much more in-depth than I could possibly manage here. I am indeed indebted to her for the amount of work she put into covering this case and I wish to acknowledge this. I am not a professional journalist, just someone with a deep interest in true crime. If this story interests you, I encourage you to read the FWST article for yourself here. This article contains a link to the podcast as well. Out of the Cold, Ms. Boyd’s podcast detail many other cold cases other than just this one and the interviews with family members are memorable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Angry Man: The Tarrant County Courthouse Shooting

courthouse lighting

It doesn’t look like a crime scene. The old Tarrant County Courthouse stands guard over the Trinity River, marking the visual divide between historic old North Main, home to some of the best Tex-Mex you’ll ever eat, and South Main Street’s maze of government buildings that cozy up to Sundance Square with its newer, chic eateries and shopping. Built in 1895, the pink granite Grande Dame of the downtown scene was designed to resemble the Capitol Building in Austin with rotundas and a large dome. As newer courthouses were built to house criminal, civil and family courts, the plan was to demolish the old building and connect North and South Main. Fortunately, the old building was saved that fate. The clock tower on the dome still marks the hours. Now days, courts have all moved into the newer buildings, with the exception of one Justice of the Peace court. Instead the building houses the county clerk’s office, land records, and a county law library. But in 1992, it was still home to the 2nd Court of Appeals.

Chris Marshall, 41 was Chief of the Appellate Section of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office and he was there on July 1, 1992 to present a case later that morning. With Chris was a young appellate attorney, Steve Conder, 27.

A three judge panel was on the bench: Clyde Ashworth, John Hill, and David Farris. Dan Hollified, a criminal defense attorney stood at the podium, arguing a case before the panel.  Outside, on a window behind the judge’s bench, Tim McGinty, 41, a contract painter was perched on a hanging ladder.

John Edwards, 32, a civil trial attorney, entered the staircase around 10:00 am that morning. He was due in the court for a later case.

About that same time, Toby Goodman, a lawyer and state representative left the appellate courtroom. He went down the stairs and into the hallway.

Also present in the court room was another lawyer named George Lott who  sat in a conservative blue suit with his briefcase at his feet. At the time, Lott was no longer a practicing attorney, although no one in the room realized it. There were several who thought he looked familiar, but that’s the way it is in the legal community. You see the same faces over and over, some friends, many nodding acquaintances. The legal community in Tarrant County is relatively small for a county of more than a million people. The pool of litigators is even smaller, but cordial.

courthouse interior

Lott had been at the courthouse just the day before and the only person surprised to see him was the attorney who had represented Lott’s wife in their divorce, Douglas Wright.
As divorces went, Lott’s was exceptionally messy and difficult. Lott’s wife was also an attorney and was fearful of him. His anger and disdain for her, for the entire proceeding bled over into an enmity for her attorney. Wright’s father had been a judge and Lott made derogatory comments about him during the custody trial until Wright objected and Lott was ordered by judge Mary Ellen Hicks to refrain from discussing Wright’s father in front of the jury.

Lott represented himself. He had to because all three of his prior attorneys had resigned, unable to work with him. The jury awarded custody of the child to his mother. Lott was convinced of wrongdoing and collusion on the part of the judge, Wright and his ex-wife. More likely the jury was alarmed by his obvious anger and instability. In typical narcissist fashion, Lott blamed everyone else for this. The problem couldn’t be with him. Clearly, the judge was against him. There was a conspiracy and everyone was in on it. He was robbed of his “right” to his son.

Money wasn’t an object for Lott. He had inherited half a million dollars from his grandparents. He only practiced law from 1981 to 1988 where he voluntarily quit his practice and moved from Fort Worth to an Arlington apartment complex near I-20. It’s unclear what he did with his time. He owned a boat and was seen fishing or just walking around. He listed his occupation as “computer programmer” but does not seem to have been working for anyone.

Lott’s ex-wife moved to Illinois with their son. Lott traveled back and forth to visit the child until new allegations surfaced. The son, whose name I’ve chosen not to use here although it is in public documents, made an outcry of sexual abuse. The allegations– which included sodomizing the child with objects–were investigated. In another trial, Lott lost his visitation rights due to the abuse. An Illinois grand jury indicted him for Aggravated Sexual Assault of a child. That criminal trial was set for July 20 1992.

The week before the Tarrant County attack, Lott sent a threatening letter to prosecutors in Illinois and called the court clerk to complain that evidence was being withheld in his case. He called Bob Ray Sanders, a radio host at KLIF-AM and spoke for about 4 minutes. He rambled on about the courts and how they were all against him and how you couldn’t get justice in Tarrant County. He said “they cost me my life.”

He was a stranger to his neighbors. One neighbor, when interviewed about Lott said, “I’ve seen this guy hundreds of times, and he’s never said a word… He was really, really a strange guy. He was like a zombie. No one around here will have any buddy-buddy stories about him.”

courthouse lit

It was after the clock tower chimed 10:00 on July 1, 1992,  when Lott got to his feet and removed his Glock 17 9mm from his briefcase and began shooting. Judge Farris dove under the judges bench. Judges Ashworth and Hill were both shot. Ashworth was seriously wounded.

Dan Hollifield fell to the floor and crawled away. Later he said it was “just astounding to look around a see a man standing with his arm out, holding a gun.”

Chris Marshall was fatally wounded with several shots to the chest and Conder was injured. Lott emptied his gun, then he calmly reloaded and continued shooting.

McGinty, the contractor had just climbed down from his ladder perch for a break when bullets zinged through the window right where he had been. If he hadn’t grown thirsty on that hot July day, he would likely have been a sixth victim.

All over the courthouse, the shots echoed. One survivor later remarked that it sounded like fireworks going off inside the building. Next door to the Court of Appeals, Judge Weaver hid in his office restroom. A briefing clerk hid in his closet. Bookkeepers locked their doors. Some hid under desks.

Courthouse inside

Lott calmly finished shooting. Was he satisfied he had done enough damage to make his point? He went down the stairs where he encountered John Edwards, an attorney  for the prestigious firm Haynes and Boones where he specialized in corporate litigation. John had a wife and daughters.

Julie Level, an elections office employee heard John begging for his life and yelling for help. Without speaking, Lott executed John there in the stairwell.  He ran down the hall, past Toby Goodman, the attorney who had just finished his court business.

Lott exited the building, got in his van and drove around for a bit. Meanwhile, police swarmed the building. A massive manhunt was underway involving local police, the sheriff’s department, the FBI with helicopters and every means available, but it was unnecessary. Lott wanted to be known for his actions. He was making a statement.

At 4:15 pm, Lott walked into the lobby of WFAA,-TV in Dallas. He signed in with his own name and asked to speak with Tracy Rowlett. For years, Rowlett had been the face of the channel eight evening news.  There was always something warm, but professional about Rowlett that made him extremely popular.

Rowlett and an assignments manager interviewed Lott on camera for around thirty minutes. Lott calmly explained what he had done. In his mind, the Second Court of Appeals was wrong to deny him a new trial on his custody case.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing I did today,” Lott said. “I have sinned and am certainly wrong, but someone needs to look into what happened to me…I basically went in the courtroom and sat for a while and then got up and shot apparently five people…I was shooting at the court, essentially, but other people got in the way or did things. You have to do a horrible, horrible thing to catch people’s attention.”

Lott was a classic narcissist. This was all about him. People just “got in the way.” It didn’t matter that he was destroying lives. Little girls would grow up without their father. Survivors would forever feel vulnerable. Lott had a point to make and that was all that mattered.

“He feels terribly wronged by the justice system,” Jim Owens a prosecutor from Illinois told the Dallas Observer. ”What happened today didn’t surprise any of us. In fact, I think it could have just as easily happened here.”

Lott explained to Rowlett that he had a  gun behind his back and more ammo in his sock. He calmly gave those items to Rowlett and surrendered to Dallas police.

Lot arrest

Tarrant County had 32 walk-through metal detectors, but they were all in storage. Spurred by courthouse violence that had occurred around the nation, the County Commissioners purchased the items, but never installed them because none of the courts specifically asked for them. One judge claimed she had been told that the personnel necessary to operate those detectors would be too expensive. There were armed bailiffs in the building, but not specifically in each courtroom. The bailiff closest to the attack never responded.

Courtrooms are safer now. You can’t get in without a thorough screening. Each courtroom has multiple armed bailiffs. There are panic buttons strategically placed around each courtroom. Court house staff regularly goes through “active shooter” training. None of those address the elephant in the room: how much damage can be done by one angry man with a gun.

George Lott represented himself at trial. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. He refused to appeal his sentence and was put to death eighteen months later in what remains the speediest execution in modern Texas history.

Lott book in

Mass killings aren’t new.

In 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother with a knife, then he went to the University of Texas and climbed the tower with a rifle. His rampage ended with sixteen dead and thirty-one injured.

Going back even farther, in 1949 Howard Unruh went through Camden, New Jersey in what would come to be known as the “Walk of Death.” Unruh walked through his neighborhood shooting everyone he saw. He murdered thirteen people that day including two children. His youngest victim was just two-years old.

Unruh is the first known mass gun crime in U.S. history, but before Unruh, there was Andrew Kehoe. Kehoe was a treasurer on the school board in Bath, Michigan. He was angry over taxes so May 18th, 1927, Kehoe rigged his farm and out-buildings to explode with his wife inside. He also rigged the school house. He parked outside and detonated the building killing most within, including the children. He then climbed back into his truck and blew up himself killing another six people who were in the blast radius. He killed 45 people and injured another 58.

Although the mass killings aren’t new, they seem to be occurring with greater frequency and with alarmingly large numbers. Gun violence has actually become rarer, but deadlier. While individual gun crimes are growing fewer, mass murder is on the rise.

Gun control sounds like a sensible solution, except how and where do you draw the lines and how do you put back the genie into the bottle? I grew up in rural Texas in a house where guns were a fact of life. My father was in law enforcement and always had guns. My husband and eldest son own guns. Everyone where I live hunts or has guns for protection. Coyotes are a real concern. A neighbor’s game camera recently showed a mountain lion.

Guns are everywhere. I’ve seen estimates ranging between three and four hundred million guns which are privately owned in America. How can we ban something that is everywhere? Every drug case I handle with large amounts of drugs? There are guns in those cars and most of the guns are stolen or already illegal. The bad guys will have guns. The Texas church shooter shouldn’t have been allowed to have a gun. He was already banned but all it took was someone not following through with paperwork and there he was, one angry man with a gun.

I don’t have an answer, but I join the voices of those frustrated by the violence.

Something has to change.

 

 

 

 

Depraved Heart: The Killing of Gregory Biggs

Texas law provides three basic ways to commit murder. The first is what anyone would recognize as murder, intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person. Next, there is “felony murder” which means committing a murder in furtherance of another felony or in flight from that felony.
The third type of murder involves not a specific intent to kill, but commission of an act “clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.” The classic example has always been a person shooting into a car and striking an occupant. The shooter might not have specifically intended to kill that person, but the action displays such a wanton disregard for the lives of other people that they are punished under the law for the result and not the intent. In the common law, this has been known as “depraved heart” murder.
Chante Mallard was a woman without direction. The 25 year old was single, a certified nurses aide working at a retirement home. For the last several years, she had been increasingly taking drugs and alcohol to deal with her dissatisfaction in life. She bounced around between jobs. October 25, 2001, she met up with her best friend, Titilisee Fry, who went by “T.” The two had a drink, split and ecstasy pill and smoked a joint on the way to Joe’s Big Bamboo Nightclub.
Mallard danced, drank, and smoked more marijuana before leaving the club at 2:30 the morning of the 26th. Mallard was much too impaired to drive, so T drove them both home, however once they got to T’s house, Mallard insisted on driving herself home. She was driving down 287, the six lane MLK Highway in Fort Worth. As she made the sweeping turn at Loop 820, just before Village Creek, she struck 37 year old Gregory Glen Biggs.

gregory-biggs

Much has been made of Biggs being homeless. When I began researching this story, I delved into several Reddit threads and they all ended the same way, an endless discussion of the homeless. People speculated on whether Biggs was mentally ill or an addict. Maybe he was intentionally homeless. Maybe he stepped in front of the car on purpose. Maybe he was drunk and wandered into Mallard’s path.
Just a couple years before his death, Greg Biggs, was a school bus driver and a self-employed brick layer. Like many of the working poor, he was a few rough months away from financial ruin. When he became unable to make his truck payments, he lost his truck. Without that truck, he couldn’t get jobs and landed on the streets. For two years, he had moved from shelter to shelter.
The city of Fort Worth has approximately 5,000 people classified as homeless at any given time. There is no organization with primary responsibility for assisting the homeless population. Instead there is a smorgasbord of organizations trying to meet the complex needs of the city homeless. Like their needs, the causes of homelessness, usually a combination of poor choices and bad luck, are too complex to be explored here. The population centers around two main shelters, Presbyterian Night Shelter and the Union Gospel Mission.
Biggs usually stayed at the Union Gospel Mission. He was known in the homeless community as a friendly man with goals to try and get out of poverty. But whatever his reason for being homeless, for being on the street that night instead of a shelter bunkbed, Denver Moore, one of Biggs friends at UGM put it best in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram interview when he said, “He deserved a chance to live, too.”
Biggs never had that chance. Mallard slammed into him with her gold, 1997 Chevrolet Malibu impaling him in the windshield. His head and torso were inside the car, his chest against the dashboard on the passenger side. His legs hung outside. His left leg was almost amputated.
Mallard kept going. She would later say that she stopped and tried to pull him out of her windshield, but he was wedged in too firmly. When he moaned, she made the decision that would cost Biggs his life and ruin her own. She drove a mile to her house and closed the garage door.
Biggs was still alive in her garage. Mallard went out and checked on him and found him moaning and moving around. Remember that Mallard was a certified nurse assistant, but she did not seek medical attention for Biggs. She would later claim that she cried and apologized to him.
Then she closed the garage again.

windshield

Dr. Peerwani, Chief Medical Examiner for Tarrant County would later testify that Biggs suffered no major trauma to his head, chest, or vital organs. Biggs was, however, bleeding heavily from the nearly amputated leg.
Instead of seeking help for Biggs, Mallard sought help for herself. She called T, telling her she had an emergency. When T arrived, Mallard wanted help in finding her ex-boyfriend, Clete. He would help her, she was sure, but he wasn’t answering his phone and she couldn’t drive around looking for him. Her car otherwise occupied. She took T into the garage and showed her Biggs. Mallard said she had tried to move him, but that he was too heavy. T advised her she needed to call 911 but Mallard refused. She didn’t want to go to jail for Driving While Intoxicated. She decided the best thing to do would be for her and T to go back to T’s house and sleep it off. So they did.
Medical experts agree that Biggs was alive for around two to three hours. Blood spatter show he was moving around as he slowly bled to death, impaled in Mallard’s windshield. Alone. In the dark.
The next day, Mallard borrowed T’s car and went looking for Clete Jackson. Clete was no stranger to trouble with the law. He had already done prison time for drugs and burglary. When Mallard took him to her garage, he touched Biggs to make sure he was finally dead. Satisfied, he said he would need help to move the body. They decided that instead of trying to bury Biggs, they would dump him at nearby Cobb Park. Clete called his cousin Herbert Cleveland for help. Like Clete, Herbert also had done a stint in prison. The two men wrapped Biggs in a blanket, placed him in the trunk of Clete’s car, and transported him to the park where they dumped him by the side of the road as if he were a traffic casualty.

cobb park

Two men out walking spotted Biggs body and reported it to a nearby fire station. Crime Scene immediately noticed that Biggs hadn’t been killed at that location. His socks and shoes were missing and there wasn’t enough blood for someone who had bled to death. His injuries were consistent with an auto accident, but this detail led the Medical Examiner to declare the cause of death as undetermined.
A week later, Mallard and friends were back at the club, drinking, dancing, smoking dope as if nothing had happened.
With no real leads, the case was cold and Mallard might have gotten away with it if she had only kept her mouth shut. February 15, 2002, Mallard and a group of friends were at her house drinking and trying to figure out who was going to drive them to a club when Mallard piped up that she couldn’t drive. Her car was broken. She giggled about it and told them she was messed up on “X” when “I hit a white guy.” She spun a tale about having conversations with the man dying in her windshield over a matter of days while she and her boyfriend has sex in her house. None of that was true, however she did say that the man’s legs were “all twisted up and broken” when they pulled him out.
One of Mallard’s friends, Amanda Marable was shocked at the callous attitude. Had her friend really hit someone and left him to die? Another friend, who went by the name “Keke” added that it was true. Keke told Amanda that it she had been in Mallard’s garage and seen the wrecked Malibu with blood and hair still on it. According to Keke, the garage smelled horrible.
Amanda went to the police. Armed with her sworn statement, Fort Worth detectives were able to get a search warrant for Mallard’s house and garage. The served the warrant on February 26th. Mallard herself opened the door to let them in. In her garage still sat the murder weapon, a gold 1997 Chevy Cavalier with the windshield broken out. The car had been gutted in an attempt to dispose of evidence. Several of the seats had been burned in the backyard. Blood stained the front passenger floor.
Mallard gave a confession of sorts. She initially told detectives that she had only two drinks at Joe’s Bamboo Club and then “felt funny” and believed someone had “slipped something into her drink.” She would give multiple self-serving statements. She next said that a white homeless man staggered in front of her car and she hit him. She drove home because she was too afraid and distraught to think straight. She laid on the floor of her kitchen sobbing. She went out to the garage and apologized to the man, who spoke to her, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She claimed that she asked someone she identified as “Vaughn” for help and he told her to leave and took charge of everything. She was shocked to discover he had cleaned up the crime scene and disposed of the man’s body. She, of course, had nothing to do with that.

chantemallard
Mallard was placed under arrest. The original charge was Failure to Stop and Render Aid Resulting in Death. The charge is exactly what it sounds like. If she had stopped at the scene of the accident, there would have been no charge—in theory. In all likelihood, Mallard would have been charged with Driving While Intoxicated or Intoxication Manslaughter, and she knew it. She knew she was impaired.
But Dr. Peerwani re-evaluated the case based upon the new evidence and changed the manner of death to homicide. Richard Alpert of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office consulted with physicians who agreed that if Biggs had received treatment, he certainly would have survived. Mallard’s charges were upgraded to Felony Murder by committing an act clearly dangerous to human life. She had killed Biggs not with her car, but with her depraved heart.

The case was far from a slam dunk. Two veteran prosecutors, Richard Alpert and Christy Jack would have the challenge of convincing a jury that this was not a tragic accident, but murder. Defense attorneys argued that an omission, failing to seek medical care, was not the same thing as committing an act clearly dangerous to human life. Prosecutors argued that when Mallard took Biggs home with her and closed him up in her garage where he could not be found or receive medical care were acts clearly dangerous to human life.
At trial Mallard’s 2003 trial, Dr. Peerwani testified as follows:

Q. [PROSECUTOR:] Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of continuing to drive that motor vehicle with Mr. Biggs lodged in the windshield would have aggravated his condition?
A. [DR. PEERWANI:] Yes, sir, I do.
Q. And what is that opinion?
A. It certainly would have aggravated the condition.
Q. And why is that? How can you say that?
A. Well, he’s not anchored well. Motions of the car acceleration, turning around corners, stopping would shift the body and would cause more injury to his unsupported near amputated lower extremity and perhaps increase his vascular trauma and injury.
Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of trying to pull him in or out of that windshield of that car within minutes of striking him would have aggravated him?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And what is that opinion?
A. That would also certainly cause similar types of increase in damage to the tissues.
Q. Now, the very serious injury that you showed them a photograph of, of the left leg, are you able to tell whether any of that vascular tearing happened after impact or not? In other words, once the bone and skin are cut, can improper moving of the leg or the body cause further tearing of those veins and arteries?
A. Yes, certainly. It’s distinctly possible, sir.
Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether or not the act of driving the car in which Mr. Biggs was lodged and into a garage and closing the door of that garage was an act clearly dangerous to his life?
A. Yes, sir, in the sense that there was no help asked, certainly.
Q. Okay. In fact, do you think his odds of receiving help would have been better if he had been left along the roadway?
. . . .
A. Certainly, in an enclosed garage, nobody is going to observe an injured person. Open space, there’s more chance somebody might observe a person and ask for help.
Q. Or at least some chance; is that correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you have an opinion whether or not the act of driving Mr. Biggs to a garage while he was alive and leaving him in the garage and not giving him medical attention contributed to his cause of death?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And what is your opinion?
A. It certainly did, sir.
. . . .
Q. And the cause of death ultimately that you found in this case?
A. The cause of death medically was described as multiple traumatic injuries sustained in the auto/pedestrian collision.
Q. And the manner of death?
A. The ultimate amended manner of death was filed as homicide, sir.
The chair of emergency medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital testified that Biggs injuries were very survivable if he had only received treatment. He further testified that no one who presented with similar injuries had died.
Both Clete Jackson and Herbert Cleveland both took plea deals. Each man pled guilty to Tampering with Evidence in exchange for 10 years. As part of the plea, they were required to testify truthfully against Mallard.

clete-deneal-jackson
The portrait that emerged at trial was of a woman who was intensely narcissistic. When out of the presence of the jury, Mallard was stoic. In front of the jury, she cried. Her testimony was all about herself and how this offense had affected her. She talked about how the glass blew inside the car and stung her. She talked about her fear and distress. She claimed to have curled up on the kitchen floor and begged for forgiveness.

The defense sought a lesser charge of Failure to Stop and Render Aid.
In response, prosecutors showed the jury footage of Mallard partying at the club just a week later, dancing and drinking as if she hadn’t a care in the world. After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury convicted Mallard.
At punishment, the defense asked for leniency. They pointed to her lack of criminal history and said she was “placed in extraordinary circumstances,” but that she wasn’t “a horrible person.” The jury could have sentenced Mallard to a few as 5 years or as many as 99. They gave her 50.

Although Gregory Glen Biggs was homeless, he had family who loved. Biggs’ son, Brandon, was a high school senior when he learned his father had been killed. He had to take on the entire responsibility for planning the funeral himself. He would later say that the one bright spot was that this brought him in contact with his father’s side of the family from whom he was estranged.
At the sentencing, Brandon gave a moving speech, forgiving Mallard. He said to her family, ”There’s no winners in a case like this. Just as we all lost Greg, you all will be losing your daughter.” Biggs is now a grown man, married with three children, one who bears his grandfather’s name. Although the he has forgiven Mallard, he had neverspoken with her or corresponded with her. He believes his forgiveness doesn’t mean she should not pay for her crimes, but that he bears no personal hatred in his heart.
As Brandon Biggs said to the courtroom, as Mallard was taken away, and her mother sobbed. “If love is what makes the world go round, compassion is what makes it sincere.”