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May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
It’s hard to be a criminal these days. Advances in technology have allowed forensic teams to pursue even the smallest shred of evidence, and hidden cameras catch countless criminals in action every year. Sometimes, though, authorities get a helping hand from the guilty parties themselves. Dan Knight, Boone County’s prosecuting attorney, recalls a number of past cases in which the guilty party was just plain careless. Read three accounts from Columbia’s murder files in which the killer made a costly mistake.
If the shoe fits
In 2005, Dearl Jackson, 47, attacked and strangled Zelpha Turner, 77. Jackson had been making roof repairs for Turner. After committing the crime, Jackson went home but failed to notice the bloody shoe print he left on a piece of paper, possibly because it was hidden beneath Turner’s dead body.
When police showed up at Jackson’s house to investigate, it was hard to deny the evidence. A towel found in his backyard held traces of Turner’s blood. His shoes matched the design found under the victim’s body. Although Jackson pleaded not guilty earlier in the trial, his failure to throw away these items cemented the jury’s suspicions of his guilt.
“In homicide cases, a provable lie is the next best thing to a confession,” says Knight, who tried the case against Jackson and used his lie as key evidence.
In 2002, Knight was listening in on phone calls made from detainees at Boone County Jail. Investigators monitor outgoing phone calls as a way to collect evidence. The voice of Anthony Graves caught Knight’s ear when Graves began apologizing to his mother for making a mess in her home. He had used her living room to attack and tie up Dexter Bradford, who later died as a result of the injuries.
Shannon Gregory and Larry Cain were also involved in the crime and had already been arrested. They named Graves as a third party, which prompted his arrest.
Bradford was found dead after being stabbed more than 70 times. A few weeks earlier, he had committed a robbery with the men who would later become his murderers. When the group began to suspect that Bradford was complying with the police regarding the crime, they decided to kill him before he could turn in any
Graves made the call to his mother before speaking to any authorities. Apparently, he had ignored the warning that all calls are subject to monitoring. Knight recorded the apology and used it to confirm Graves’ guilty conviction.
Late on Nov. 9, 2006, Donald Mickens walked into a Fast Lane convenience store north of Columbia with blood on his knuckles — blood that didn’t belong to him.
A surveillance tape showed that when the cashier inquired about his hands, Mickens replied that he had “gotten into a fight with a hillbilly in the sticks.” He then looked at his knuckles, smiled, looked back up
at the cashier and said: “I held my own, though. That’s all I got to say.” He told the cashier that the blood covering his hands was not his.
The blood belonged to Chris Byers, who was neither a hick nor in the sticks. He was an acquaintance Mickens had met earlier in a bar, and he was locked in Mickens’ trunk, dying of a head wound and trying to escape. The two had been arguing the entire night, and it culminated in Mickens attacking Byers near his former residence outside of town on Blackhawk Trail. When a DNA test found that blood in Mickens’ trunk belonged to Byers, it was hard for the court to ignore the cashier’s testimony about Mickens’ supposed brawl in the country.