Carl Lamberth is rejoining us for the exciting conclusion to his most interesting homicide case. When we left off, Carl had a suspect who failed a polygraph, specifically the following three questions:
- Were you present during the murder of this woman?
- Did you participate in the murder of this woman?
- Did you kill this woman?
What happened next? Let’s find out.
The polygraph examiner felt comfortable in his assessment that this inmate had direct involvement in the crime.
If you know anything about criminal polygraph tests, you know the actual test is only half the procedure when a person is caught lying. Next comes the interrogation and hopefully, the confession.
The polygraph examiner and I went back into the room. For the next hour we interrogated the inmate. This interrogation still ranks as one of the most intense grilling of a suspect I’ve ever been involved in as a police officer.
The inmate finally broke and confessed he was, in fact, the one who went into the house that night and killed the elderly woman. He said he had concocted the idea to pin the murder on someone else–a known acquaintance of his who he was feuding with–to get his pending charges dropped and not have to face more prison time. He planned to use the reward money for him and his wife, who was waiting in anticipation for his release.
Since it was Easter weekend, he assumed no one was home that night. There was no car in the driveway.
Note: the week before Easter, the city street department was re-curbing and adding sidewalks along this woman’s street. Fresh cement was poured in front of her house on Thursday and the driveway to her house was barricaded off for the weekend to allow the cement to dry. Therefore, she could not park in her driveway. She parked in her neighbor’s driveway.
Sometime after midnight early Easter morning he arrived at the house. The house was completely dark – no lights and no cars in the driveway or carport. He found the back door unlocked and entered the residence. He wore dishwashing gloves so he wouldn’t leave any fingerprints.
Searching through the kitchen and den, he heard a noise, a woman’s voice coming from the hallway. He quietly went back to the kitchen and found a large kitchen knife in the dish drainer rack, then made his way to the hallway and confronted the elderly woman, who was now halfway up the hall.
She screamed, spun, and bolted. He pursued her, catching up with her in her bedroom.
He stabbed her once in the back. She fell to her knees. However, she regained her footing and fled past him, back up the hallway.
He gave chase.
As she hung a right toward the front door she fell again. She rose to her feet and sprinted toward the front door.
He caught up, stabbing her two more times in the back as she clawed at the interior side of the front door, trying to unlock the deadbolt.
She collapsed on her stomach directly in front of the front door.
Grabbing the woman by her ankles, he pulled her away from the door and flipped her onto her back. She was gasping, reaching for him.
He knelt beside her and stabbed several more times–he could not remember the number, but it was 5 times according to the autopsy report–until she quit gasping and moving. Even though she was dead, her eyes remained open, which “freaked him out”.
Knife in hand, he escaped out the back door. He said he never meant to kill her, but that he panicked when she screamed.
He drove out to the local lake and threw the knife in the water. Later, he showed us where. But when a police dive team searched the lake, they were unsuccessful. Either he was wrong about where he threw it, or he lied about what he did with it.
The inmate was charged with First Degree Murder. A trial date was set.
He pled not guilty and recanted his confession.
During the trial, all our evidence, including his signed confession, was entered into evidence. I was on the witness stand one full day, primarily being drilled by his defense team, who said I and the polygraph examiner had coerced the confession.
The trial lasted a little over a week before being handed over to the jury. At the end of two days, the jury advised the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked 8 to 4. Eight guilty votes to four innocent votes.
Due to a hung jury, the judge declared a mistrial. The District Attorney’s office stated they would re-try the case.
Meanwhile, my SBI partner and I were contacted by an assistant prosecutor. Some of the seated jurors were willing to discuss the case.
I remember speaking with one of the jurors who voted innocent. He said, “I felt like the suspect was guilty from the beginning, but I wanted to see some physical evidence that connected him to the crime scene – like fingerprints.”
I asked, “Do you recall my testimony when I stated the suspect said he wore dishwashing gloves?”
“Yes, but I still wish you could have found some anyway.”
One day I received a phone call from the DA’s office to come by their office.
Upon arrival, I was advised the suspect, through his attorney, was willing to accept a plea bargain to Second Degree Murder, with the possibility of parole. Second Degree Murder carries up to 40 years in North Carolina.
I was advised they were going to make the deal.
I wasn’t happy with their decision, but what could I do? I learned long ago once a criminal case goes to the Judicial System my job is done, other than testifying in court, if necessary.
The suspect pled guilty in Superior Court to Second Degree Murder and received a sentence of 25 years with parole possibilities. In my mind, not nearly enough prison time for the crime he committed. But my job was done; it was time to move on to the next investigation.
He ended up serving 23 years. He was released in 2010 – 3 years after I retired from law enforcement.
I investigated many homicide cases during my 12 years or so in our Criminal Investigation Unit. Later, I was promoted to Sergeant and supervised the Major Crimes Unit for 6 years or so.
Remember the earlier case I mentioned with the scissors in the chest?
I supervised that case and worked with another investigator to help solve the murder. The case was tried as a Capital murder case. The suspect was convicted and given the death penalty. In 2001, the suspect was executed by lethal injection.
Sometimes justice is served.
I was also fortunate enough to be involved with another investigator on a rape investigation where DNA evidence was used to convict a repeat rapist. It was the first case in North Carolina to actually go to trial and DNA evidence was used in the defendant’s conviction.
All these cases were interesting, but none topped the Easter weekend murder investigation I worked for so many months. All together we put over 9 months of “pounding the pavement” into this investigation before the case was finally “cracked.” The time spent was well worth it and although I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending – I’ll take it!
I saw a lot of horrible crimes in my career. But in the same context I found these crimes interesting and exciting to investigate, and I was glad to be involved in the process.
I guess my mentor sums it up best:
“I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life.” ~ Sherlock Holmes “The Reigate Puzzle”
Connect with Carl on Twitter @CarltonLamberth
Thank you, Carl!