The 10,000-Year Capital Case

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Thursday, January 26th, 2017
The 10,000-Year Capital Case

I met the late Clarence Williams in 1972, when we were both involved as court-appointed lawyers for a defendant who was charged with the murder of a police officer.

The experience of working together in the case could not be described as particularly pleasurable, not only because of the nature of the charge, but also because the defendant was a little hard to work with, to say the least. He apparently believed his lawyers were in cahoots with the State, and we were showered with contumely by him (as Everett Dirksen might have said) as often as were the judge and the prosecutors.

A window to the judge’s office was broken as a result of a struggle between the accused and the bailiffs. For a time, the defendant was gagged. At the end of the trial, after the jury convicted the client, the judge, upset that the Texas capital punishment scheme had just been thrown out by the United States Supreme Court, sentenced the defendant to 10,000 years (an event that made Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”).

The judge later thought better of the sentence and reduced it to a more lenient 1,000 years. Some wags said the defendant got 100 years for what he had done and 900 years for breaking the judge’s window; either way, the final sentence was a full millennium.

All of which simply explains how I got involved in the defense of Arnold Madison.

One night in July 1975, an attractive young nurse named Bridget Ann Kelly, called Meg by her friends, was abducted from the parking lot of the Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital as she left after completing a shift about midnight.

There were bloodstains on the parking lot, and an old Buick was spotted driving away from that location in the parking lot. Two hospital employees, a lab technician, and a security guard said they got a good look at the driver of that car, and later identified Arnold Madison, a custodian at a local neighborhood center, as being that person. They also noted the license plate on the car, so that police were able to trace the ownership to Arnold Madison’s stepfather, whom they awakened before 3:00 a.m. He explained that he had sold the car to his stepson, and led the police to where Arnold Madison lived.

There at Arnold Madison’s house was the described Buick, and there were bloodstains in the rear seat area. After the police gained entry into the house, moreover, they found a pair of bloody pants soaking in a pail in the bathtub. A pair of men’s shoes from inside the house were shown to have human blood on them. Most damning of all were the wallet and its contents, which were in a garbage can just outside the door, partially burned and still smoldering but bearing numerous cards and the driver’s license belonging to Meg Kelly.

Of Miss Kelly, however, there was no sign.

Arnold Madison was taken to the San Antonio police station, where he told officers he had loaned his car and a pair of pants to another young man that evening, a guy named Edwin Taylor, or something like Taylor, whom he knew as “Smokey.” He said that Smokey had returned the car a couple of hours earlier, along with the pants, which he said he had thrown up on. Smokey had put the pants in the bucket in the bathtub at his request, Madison said.

Madison denied all knowledge of Miss Kelly’s disappearance, though the lieutenant in charge of homicide would later testify that he did tell him “You’ll never find the body.” (Curiously, though, that remark was not repeated by the lieutenant to his homicide officers or his superiors, and it did not appear in any report.) Neither the police nor either of two juries who heard Madison’s story believed it, but he was absolutely consistent from the first time he told it to the last.

As we all eventually learned to our horror, Miss Kelly had been stabbed several times and left, naked and in shock, to lie in the hot South Texas sun for four days before she was found. When found, however, to the immense relief and joy of the entire community, she was alive.

What is more, she was sufficiently lucid to be able to choose to be taken to the Methodist Hospital, rather than to the Bexar County Hospital, where trauma victims were normally taken, because she had several friends working at the county hospital she didn’t want to see her in her condition.

Every day of the four days Miss Kelly lay in the field (which, incidentally, was within a mile of the Veterans Hospital where she’d been abducted), citizens’ search parties were out combing the brush.

In the beginning, just a few were searching, but by the time she was found hundreds of people were looking for her. The entire community was caught up in her disappearance, and thus it was that everyone went to bed that night feeling a little better about the world because she had been found.

The next morning, however, the joy was replaced with a profound sense of loss, when we discovered that the combined effects of injuries, exposure, and shock had resulted in the death of Miss Kelly while we slept overnight.

Up to that point, I was simply another citizen, first concerned about the missing nurse, then elated when she was found, and finally saddened when her death was reported. My friend Clarence Williams, however, had become involved very early on, when the family of Arnold Madison asked him to go to the jail and talk to Arnold Madison, to find out whether he knew where the young woman was and, if so, to see if he would say where she could be found.

During the next several days, Arnold Madison was placed in a series of lineups, viewed by several women who had been the victims of sexual assault. Judge Jim Barlow had been contacted by the police, and had directed Clarence to be present at those lineups, to safeguard the defendant’s rights (and thereby make any identification made a proper and legally admissible identification at any ensuing trial). Clarence explained to Judge Barlow that he had not been retained to represent Madison, but by the family, merely to talk to him. Further, it was perfectly obvious that Madison was in a great deal of trouble, and neither he nor his family had the wherewithal to retain Clarence (or any other lawyer) in a case of this magnitude.

Judge Barlow’s view was that at least Clarence knew Madison and could talk with him, and thereupon appointed Clarence to represent the young man. Clarence spent the next several days running back and forth between his office and the police station lineup room.

Clarence was a good lawyer, but he was a general practice lawyer, and he knew Arnold Madison needed a criminal lawyer associated with the defense. Remembering our common experience three years earlier, he thought of me.

He secured Judge Barlow’s agreement to appoint another lawyer and came to see me. He was very straightforward about it; he was willing to remain on the case and to do everything he could to be of assistance, but he wanted me to take the lead.

I was, of course, flattered, but not excited at the prospect of handling a case that looked so open and shut for the prosecution. I liked Clarence, though, and greatly respected Judge Barlow, before whom I had appeared on a number of occasions. (He later became a very good friend.) I agreed to become involved.

We tried the case on a change of venue in Corpus Christi. Once the case was transferred there, one of Texas’ finest criminal defense lawyers, Doug Tinker, joined the defense team.

Trying the case with Doug was a learning experience, because he was one of the quickest and most inventive lawyers I have come to know. His skills and whatever Clarence and I brought to the case were not enough, however, and the jury both found Arnold Madison guilty and assessed the death penalty.

The death penalty procedures enacted by the Texas Legislature in 1973 are still largely intact. When the Madison case was tried in the spring of 1976, though, there were a lot of unanswered questions about it.

In particular, the statutes regarding the selection of jurors in capital cases raised a number of questions—which took several years to be ironed out on a case-by-case basis by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Due to error in the jury selection process and the error of a prosecutor in improperly commenting on Madison’s pretrial silence, the first trial was reversed.

A change of venue was likewise had for the second trial, this time to Houston. A Houston judge sat, and Clarence and I were alone for the defense. A conviction was again had and the death penalty again assessed.

Under the procedures in effect in Texas until September 1, 1981, the complete record of the trial was prepared for an ap­peal and then filed with the trial judge, who had an opportunity to grant a new trial rather than send the case forward to the Court of Criminal Appeals, if convinced that reversible error had occurred.

I went on the bench in November 1980, and David Chapman wrote the brief that resulted in the trial judge from the second trial granting a new trial, without forwarding the record to the Court of Criminal Appeals, on August 31, 1981, the last day Texas law permitted him to do so.

A third trial was held in Brownsville. The only participant in that trial who had been in the first trial was Bill Harris, an assistant district attorney who had been fourth “chair” (i.e., fourth from the lead prosecutor) in the first trial and second chair in the second trial, and who was lead prosecutor for the third and final trial.

This time the case stood up on appeal, including an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In 1988, 13 years after the death of Meg Kelly, Arnold Madison was executed.

The police never believed Arnold Madison’s story about loaning his car and his trousers to ‘Smokey” that night, and neither did the jury in either of his first two trials. His lawyers in the third trial decided not to put him on the witness stand.

During jury selection for the first trial, a nurse at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio was abducted, dragged to a cellar-like area under the hospital, stabbed, raped, and left tied up, presumably to die. She was discovered within hours, however, and though severely traumatized, lived to identify her attacker.

His name was Edwin Tyler, and he worked at the Health Science Center as a custodian.

The Health Science Center is just up the street from the Audie Murphy Hospital. We subpoenaed Tyler to the first Madison trial, and though he was not called to testify (both sides being afraid of what his testimony might be), Tyler indicated he had never been known as Smokey and did not know Arnold Madison.

Arnold Madison, on the other hand, identified him as the self-same man to whom he had loaned his pants on the night of Miss Kelly’s abduction.