Tag Archives: dna evidence

2012: Richard Stokley, while his accomplice goes free

On a summer’s day in 1991, Richard Stokley and Randy Brazeal picked up two 13-year-old girls from a fair in Cochise County, Arizona and drove them to the desert. There they raped them, then stomped, strangled and stabbed the two to death and dumped their naked bodies in a flooded mineshaft.

Today, Richard Stokley is set to bewas executed for that double homicide.

His accomplice Randy Brazeal is a free man living in Arkansas.

And little but the chance progress of justice and the human judgment calls that officers of the court make every day will distinguish the fate of two men, even though their trial judge has said that he “didn’t have a feeling that one was less culpable than the other.”

Brazeal, a 19-year-old troublemaker new to the area, and Stokley, a local brute twice his age, would spin different stories about exactly what happened in the desert that night to Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder: about how the attacks began, and who particpated in what.

Long story short: Stokley’s version had both men as full participants, raping at least one girl apiece and each strangling a different victim. Brazeal’s version had him basically just giving people a ride and Stokley committing the crimes. (It’s not clear whether the victims were abducted from the fair, or went along willingly only to be attacked later.)

Forensic DNA testing was only just emerging in 1991, and it required months to process … months that the state did not have before Brazeal’s murder trial was set to begin. Even then, the state’s attorney worried that “the status of the law is in some question as to whether the DNA evidence would be admissible.”

This uncertainty set the parameters for a plea deal in which prosecutors took the guaranteed conviction and Brazeal dodged the needle. He was released in 2011 after serving concurrent 20-year sentences for second-degree murder.

But weeks after that deal was sealed (and before Stokley’s trial) DNA tests on semen retrieved from Mandy Meyers showed that both men had indeed raped her.

The DNA evidence helped seal Stokley’s conviction, even though it and other forensic evidence around the scene also tended to buttress Stokley’s “equal partners in the crime” story to the detriment of Brazeal’s version.

The net outcome* doesn’t necessarily look like justice. Mandy’s devastated mother, Patty Hancock, has been vocal in the run-up to Stokley’s execution about her disgust with the sentencing disproportion.

“With the evidence that they did have, Randy Brazeal should be sitting right next to Richard Dale Stokley,” she told one reporter. “And I will say that until the day I die.”

Stokley, for his part, filed a similar appeal in the courts as grounds for reducing his own sentence. But even though he’s availed every legal avenue possible, he didn’t bother trying the long odds at a gubernatorial reprieve — instead writing the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency:

I am also sorry I was mixed up in those awful events that brought me to this. I have been sorry for the victims and the victims’ families. But no one wants to hear of my miserable sorrow, they just want for me to get dead, which is vengeance. They think it will bring ‘closure.’ But there is no healing in that. Ever.

I have decided to decline a clemency hearing. I don’t want to put anyone through that, especially since I’m convinced that, as things stand now, it’s pointless. I reckon I know how to die, and if it’s my time, I’ll go without fanfare. And if it ain’t, I won’t. God’s will be done.

God’s will is scheduled for 10 a.m. Mountain time today. (Update: Stokley was executed as scheduled.)

* It’s particularly striking that the man who was more forthcoming and cooperative with investigators ended up with the heavier sentence.

2008: Michitoshi Kuma, “It can’t be undone now”

On this date in 2008, during a record-setting year for executions, Japan hanged Michitoshi Kuma, 70, and Masahiro Takashio, 55.

Michitoshi Kuma attracts our notice in particular not simply because he insisted throughout his trial and appeal that he was innocent of abducting and murdering two seven-year-olds in 1992 … but because the circumstantial evidence that convicted him was buttressed by a DNA testing regime that has fallen into disrepute.

One crucial piece of evidence against Kuma was the DNA samples taken from blood near the victims’ bodies. The samples were tested with DNA typing of the MCT118 locus.

The same method of testing was used in the case of the murder of a young girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in 1990, known as the Ashikaga case. The test result was seen as crucial evidence in supporting the life sentence handed down to the accused, Toshikazu Sugaya.

However, the result was overturned when the DNA was tested again as part of the immediate appeal filed by Sugaya’s defense counsel after his request for a retrial was dismissed.

Sugaya, 62, was freed from prison on June 4, 17 years after police had arrested him.

“At first glance, DNA tests look scientific. That’s why it’s dangerous to have complete faith in them,” Iwata said.

“The tests were carried out in a particularly sloppy way in the early 1990s, when the Iizuka and Ashikaga cases occurred,” he said, adding that the Iizuka case likely was another example of a wrongful conviction.

“It can’t be undone now,” one of the defense lawyers lamented upon hearing of the hanging — conducted, as per usual in Japan, in secret and without prior notice to either the inmate or his attorneys.

The Ashikaga case, in which another prisoner convicted about the same time as Kuma and with the same DNA technology was exonerated and released a few months after Kuma’s hanging, embarrassingly reversed what had once been a signal judicial triumph for early DNA testing.

“The media treated the science as if it were invincible, like Atom Boy,” [one of Toshikazu Sugaya’s attorneys] said sarcastically. “They just kept admiring the DNA judgment without reservations.”

The objections Sugaya’s exoneration prompted about Kuma’s conviction, of course, arrived a bit too late.