An argument over dinner turns deadly at a Thanksgiving Day party. Police are called and find the victim shot in the back. Detective Justin leads a citywide manhunt to track down the killer.
Detective Justin is approaching his 15th year in law enforcement. Currently investigating major crimes, Justin has also worked patrol, been a K9 handler, and is a team leader on SWAT. Justin previously served as a field training officer, was on bike patrol, and has been a firearms instructor since 2014.Read Transcript
Justin: [00:00:04] It’s 2:00-3:00 AM, our patrol guys exhausted everything they could do. Our canines check and don’t come across any kind of track that leads them in any direction one way or the other. We have nothing.
Yeardley: [00:00:18] Hi, I’m Yeardley. This is Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:00:21] Hey, there.
Yeardley: [00:00:22] And his identical twin brother, Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:00:25] Hello.
Yeardley: [00:00:26] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dave: [00:00:29] You will hear detectives from Small Towns around the world discuss their most memorable cases.
Dan: [00:00:34] We cover the intimate details of what went wrong and what went right.
Yeardley: [00:00:38] As these dedicated men and women search for justice and crack the case.
Dan: [00:00:42] Names and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dave: [00:00:47] So, please join us in maintaining their anonymity out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:01:02] Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:01:06] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have one of the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:09] Good morning.
Yeardley: [00:01:10] Good morning. It’s so good to see you.
Dan: [00:01:12] Great to see you.
Yeardley: [00:01:13] Our own Detective Dave is off fighting crime in Small Town, USA. But as always, he’s here with us in spirit. Small Town Fam, I hope you’re sitting down because we have one of our favorite original guests from the podcast. We have Detective Justin who gave us Bait and Switch. He gave us Supply Chain. We adore Justin. He’s been extraordinarily busy, and we are grateful that he has agreed to give us his day off to sit down and chat with us. Justin, welcome back.
Justin: [00:01:46] Thanks for having me back.
Dan: [00:01:48] Justin was also part of our season one minisodes in Canine Tails.
Yeardley: [00:01:52] That’s true, because Justin inherited Dan’s canine, Phaedo.
Dan: [00:01:58] This is true.
Yeardley: [00:01:58] Anyhoo, I digress. Justin, please take it away.
Justin: [00:02:03] Sure. This case is from a few years ago now, that happened actually on the early morning hours after Thanksgiving back in 2018. Happened in a normal average neighborhood here in our small town. It’s a house that was known to us. Specifically, we’ve served a couple drugs search warrants there. From my perspective, I’ve been there at least twice that I can remember. The gentleman that lives there, his name Jason, was not a high level, but was a drug dealer in town. So, we knew the house.
Dan: [00:02:36] What kind of weight are we talking that Jason is moving?
Justin: [00:02:39] I would call it street level. Jason basically sells drugs to support his own drug habit. He has some family, but they’re not overly close. I mean they are aware of each other, they’re not enemies, but he’s not tight knit with any family. And so, he lives this life of dealing drugs and getting by day to day. Each time we serve a drug search warrant there, it’s a typical drug den. There’s any number of people that may or may not live there present, and then there’s property of all sorts all over the house. Living room’s full of tools, beds, kayaks, bows, and arrows. You name it, and anything that can be traded for drugs is just there.
Yeardley: [00:03:16] And it’s stolen property?
Justin: [00:03:18] Most of it. Yeah. A lot of the times, it’s not able to be traced back because people won’t have their serial number or description of whatever the item is that lets us identify it uniquely there’s how many DeWalt power saws out there. Well, this guy had like four of them, and he didn’t buy any of them but we can’t prove that they came from somewhere else, and so it just piles up. And with that, they don’t have a great outlet for it either, because eventually pawnshops start asking questions, or we can check pawn records, and they draw attention to themselves, and so they just collect crap.
Yeardley: [00:03:50] Got it.
Justin: [00:03:51] Thanksgiving, 2018 I get a day off because it’s a holiday, hoping nothing major happens. That kind of maintains until the early morning hours of the Friday after Thanksgiving, when I get the call from my boss saying, “Hey, we had a murder. I need you to get to work.” So, I say a few choice words under my breath, because I’m still asleep from a big turkey dinner and get dressed and head into work. Usually, you don’t recognize the name or the address that these cases happen at, but this time I did. As I’m getting into work, I’m starting to listen to the radio, and at this point, the suspect is still outstanding.
Yeardley: [00:04:25] Does that mean he’s missing?
Justin: [00:04:27] Right. We don’t know where he’s at. And so that immediately changes our priorities as far as the investigation goes. And we do two things at the same time. One, we handle the investigation and evidence collection portion of the case, witness interviews, all that stuff that has to get done, but we have this giant problem of the suspect being outstanding. He could be in the next-door neighbor’s house or he could be on his way to Mexico for all we know. We have to try to do both at the same time and it starts really tying up resources really fast. As we’re talking to witnesses, we get a pretty good idea of what happened from some people that were at the house, and what happened leading up to the actual murder. And pretty quick, we had the suspect’s name.
Yeardley: [00:05:11] What was the suspect’s name?
Justin: [00:05:13] Tommy was the suspect. These witnesses, again, are brought to this house through this drug activity. They’re all drug users looking to have a place to stay. Our best witness in this case, he’s listed as a transient. He hasn’t had an address of his own as long as I’ve been at my agency. He’s not just someone hard up on their luck going through a bad time, he’s truly just a transient and that’s how he’s chosen to live his adult life.
Yeardley: [00:05:40] And what’s his name?
Justin: [00:05:41] Bill. But in addition to being transient, Bill has one eye. And so, he goes by One-Eyed Bill. He’s literally missing an eye, and in this case, he’s our eye witness.
Yeardley: [00:05:54] That’s a funny pun, even though I don’t think you’re going for a pun. Let me just get my ducks in a bucket here. Justin, you’ve been called to Jason’s house. Tommy is the murder suspect. And One-Eyed Bill is the eyewitness.
Justin: [00:06:11] Right.
Yeardley: [00:06:12] And who was killed?
Justin: [00:06:14] Jason.
Yeardley: [00:06:15] Okay, got it. And why is Bill at Jason’s House?
Justin: [00:06:18] Bill for the Thanksgiving holiday, he’s found a roof over his head at Jason’s house. So, he’s able to tell us what happened that night leading up to the murder, and it’s eerie how normal the evening was up until it wasn’t.
Now, by all accounts, Jason is kind of an asshole. Jason runs a house with an iron fist kind of thing. And it’s his house and he makes sure that everyone there knows that it’s his house. He’s a bigger guy. He’s in his 50s. He’s able to impose his demands on people. Everyone we talked to, in this case, no one disputes the fact that Jason’s a jerk.
They get done with the meal. They all go back to their normal activity. So, there’s some drug use. Jason goes into the kitchen and is looking for some ice cubes. Somebody forgot to refill the ice cube trays. That’s it. Jason snaps and is ranting and raving in the kitchen about no one filling up the ice cube trays. “You lazy bastards, how hard is it to fill an ice cube tray?” Living area’s kind of a wraparound design, where the kitchen is on one side of inside wall, and the other side of the wall is the living room turned bedroom area, and then there’s a kitchen that connects them. So, you could run circles around the living room, kitchen dining room area in this house. As Jason is going off in there, it’s absolutely directed at those guys in the living room. It’s their fault that the ice cube trays aren’t full, and he wants them to hear about it.
[00:07:48] In the living room, we have One-Eyed Bill, another gentleman who’d actually come up from a city several hours away. He’d met Jason through buying drugs, but really wasn’t a close friend, and then Tommy, and they’re in the living room area. They’re listening to Jason have this fit over ice cube trace. Tommy decides, “You know what, I’ve had enough of Jason’s shit.” Tommy grabs a 22-caliber handgun that he had, and walks around into the dining room area against that horseshoe-shaped living area, and Jason’s still at the refrigerator sink area ranting and raving, and out of nowhere, Tommy shoots Jason four times in the back.
Yeardley: [00:08:31] Holy shit!
Justin: [00:08:33] Tommy comes back into the living room area, and tells everyone, “I just shot Jason.” And he’s holding a gun and has a pillowcase in his other hand that he covered the gun up with.
Yeardley: [00:08:42] To muzzle it, the sound?
Justin: [00:08:45] I think more than anything to make it so Jason couldn’t see the gun.
Dan: [00:08:49] But he didn’t really confront Jason either.
Yeardley: [00:08:52] He shot him in the back.
Justin: [00:08:54] Right. Minus the distance portion of it, it was an execution-type shooting. Jason didn’t have any opportunity to defend himself or get out of the way or anything like that. Tommy and One-Eyed Bill actually have an exchange here that One-Eyed Bill tells us about what to do with the gun, and whether they should get rid of it or, “Here, you take it so I don’t have it with me.” And One-Eyed Bill wants nothing to do with this. He’s not the most upstanding citizen by any stretch of the imagination, but he knows he doesn’t want to be part of a gun, let alone a gun that was just used to shoot somebody. So, he tells Tommy, “Hey, no way am I touching that. You’re on your own.” This point now, everyone in the house is realizing bad things just happened. When bad things happen, the police inevitably end up there. So, people scatter.
One-Eyed Bill takes off. The other guy that was in the house takes off. Jason’s obviously hurt dying, if not already dead on the kitchen floor, and Tommy’s out of there.
Justin: [00:10:01] So, a little bit of backstory on Tommy. Tommy’s life hasn’t always been like this. Tommy had a professional career, a good-paying job, up until maybe a decade prior to this. And then, he had some things go poorly, some relationship issues in his life that affected him and it caused the downward spiral. He’s in his 50s. He’s the same age as Jason. So, this isn’t a lifelong, druggie-type suspect in this case. It’s a guy that had a normal life and had resources and marriage and all sorts of stuff that ended up falling apart on him, and so his life followed.
Dan: [00:10:36] It is something that’s unfortunate that we see in this job, is how fast you can lose it if addiction grabs ahold of you.
Justin: [00:10:43] Exactly. 100%. I have no doubt that had Tommy not had this addiction, we wouldn’t have had this case. His life circumstances got bad, he tried something, it grabbed him. And then, 10 years later, he is spending Thanksgiving at a house full of other drug users that he barely knows. And then, a few hours after dinner, he ends up killing the guy who lives there. It’s totally rooted in that drug culture that they’re living in.
Yeardley: [00:11:08] Does Tommy have a vehicle?
Justin: [00:11:10] He has a car. Tommy’s got a station wagon that he’s had, but because he’s living hit to hit, staying wherever he can with a roof over his head. Gaslight is on it’s been running on empty for a day or two, and he makes it like a block and a half in his car, before out of gas, done.
Yeardley: [00:11:29] Oh!
Justin: [00:11:30] They talk about don’t let your tank fall below a quarter tank, or whatever amount it is, especially if you plan on killing somebody because you’re going to need that car to get away.
Yeardley: [00:11:38] [laughs]
Justin: [00:11:40] So, he has to park it, it rolls to a stop against the curb, and he’s on foot.
Dan: [00:11:46] So, immediately after the shooting, there’s a couple of words exchanged, but mostly everybody takes off.
Justin: [00:11:52] Yes.
Dan: [00:11:53] Who calls 911 initially?
Justin: [00:11:55] Our first 911 call in this case is from a neighbor’s residence. It’s the neighbor calling that, “Hey, this strange guy’s pounding on my door asking me to let in.” That’s the first information we have of anything going wrong at Jason’s house. And it’s not even tied to that house. It’s just that area.
Dan: [00:12:13] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:12:14] Oh, you mean the neighbor that calls 911 isn’t Jason’s next-door neighbor? They just live in the same general neighborhood.
Justin: [00:12:22] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:12:23] Okay. And then, they call 911 because one of the men who was staying at Jason’s is banging on the neighbor’s door for help?
Justin: [00:12:32] Exactly.
Yeardley: [00:12:33] Okay.
Justin: [00:12:34] And that call isn’t in and of itself something that we get super excited about.
Dan: [00:12:39] Suspicious circumstances.
Justin: [00:12:40] Exactly. They’re going to send to patrol officers that way to try to find the guy figure out what his deal is. And so that’s our initial dispatch on this murder, is suspicious subject on a neighbor’s porch pounding on the door.
Yeardley: [00:12:52] And who was that suspicious subject?
Justin: [00:12:55] It ends up being One-Eyed Bill who doesn’t have his own phone, and so he needs to get to a phone. Once he feels that he’s safely away from the house, he starts pounding on a totally uninvolved neighbor’s door, “Hey, I need to use your phone.” And you probably wouldn’t want to let him use your phone either. It’s not a smart move in the middle of the night. It’s 2:00-3:00 AM at this point, holiday weekend, and there’s a strange guy pounding on the door, they did the right thing, they called the police. That’s our initial alert that something is going on in the neighborhood.
[00:13:29] When One-Eyed Bill doesn’t get what he wants from that house, he goes to another house. And from that other house, they let him use their phone. So, he ends up getting a hold of 911, and actually speaking with our dispatcher about what’s going on and is able to kind of explain that. Though he’s a suspicious subject pounding on doors, “Yeah, that’s me but here’s why I’m doing it. Someone’s been shot and this is the address.” So, then it becomes a much, much more serious incident for us. And we basically send every officer we have Jason’s direction. But we have no idea where Tommy is. Tommy is relatively unknown in our area. Like I said before, he doesn’t have a lot of police contacts. And so, it’s not one of those, “Oh, I know where he hangs out,” kind of guys or, “I know where his mom lives,” or really anything about him for our patrol guys.
[00:14:13] At the same time, our dispatchers are researching, doing computer work, trying to come up with intel of where he might go or who he might be with, and everyone’s striking out, there’s not a lot to go on. We found the car fairly quickly. Obviously, it’s around the corner, and so we can check that off the list. Tommy’s probably on foot, but the hardest part is you don’t know what you don’t know on these. So, we don’t know that Tommy didn’t get picked up by a friend, a girlfriend, hitchhiker, taxi, whatever it is, and so we’re trying to cover all those bases as fast as we can. And each time we cover one of them, we don’t get any closer to catching up with him.
Yeardley: [00:14:47] And do you assume that Tommy is armed and dangerous?
Justin: [00:14:50] We do. Our best to information at the time is he still has the gun, and even if that gun was left behind, you don’t know what else he might have. Tommy is who knows where in our small town. It’s middle of the night, it’s cold, it’s a little bit wet out, but it’s not pouring down rain or anything like that. It’s not a night that you couldn’t survive outside all night, weather like this, if you had to. Our canines check and don’t come across to any kind of track. They check from the car, don’t find anything that leads them in any direction one way or the other. We have nothing. We also have the investigation that we have to run the house at the same time, and so come back to the station and start writing a search warrant.
[00:15:31] I wrote a search warrant for Jason’s house, and for Tommy’s car so we can legally and lawfully go through and search those places. The house had been “searched.” Our patrol guys go through and check for other victims, the suspect themselves and make sure that seems safe, and we’re allowed to do that. They didn’t see anything noteworthy during that process. The medical examiner’s, they’re able to go deal with their investigation with Jason’s body. But then, once his body is removed, even though it’s Jason’s house, because we didn’t know how Tommy fits in, if he’s living there, paying rent, what his status is, rather than risk losing any type of evidence down the road in court, it’s always safer for us to write that search warrant. That’s not a quick process. It’s been talked about on prior episodes, that that takes a couple hours, drafting a search warrant working with a prosecutor to, get it reviewed, ultimately get it to a judge.
Dan: [00:16:24] Did you have to go to the judge’s house?
Justin: [00:16:26] Being that it was middle of the night, Thanksgiving Friday is rolled into the holiday weekend, I ended up going to the judge’s house, waking them up and presenting them this affidavit and search warrant. They review it right there in their living room.
Yeardley: [00:16:39] How long does it take for a judge to review a search warrant? Do they rely on you to paraphrase and then they sort of give a cursory glance through it or do they read every word?
Justin: [00:16:49] They read every word.
Dan: [00:16:51] I’ve had judges say in the past, the thicker your affidavit, the less probable cause that you have.
Yeardley: [00:16:56] Why is that?
Dan: [00:16:58] Just because you’re having to overexplain and really try to tie all these things together. Depending on the case, instead of it just being like, “This is why I need to search this because A, B, C, and D.”
Yeardley: [00:17:10] Too much justification.
Dan: [00:17:12] It’s like a big spider web and you’re trying to connect all these dots. And they’ve said if you have a really thick search warrant affidavit, maybe you don’t have a lot of PC. My whole feeling is PC is PC.
Yeardley: [00:17:26] Probable cause.
Dan: [00:17:27] Yeah, once you get the probable cause, you just have to meet that threshold, which is more likely than not, 51%.
Yeardley: [00:17:33] Okay.
Justin: [00:17:35] So, judge signs off on it. It’s the middle of the night, it’s dark out. We decide to hold the scene until the next morning, and we have daylight to work in. It expends some resources to have someone guard the scene, all night. But in this case, it’s only a handful hours until the sun comes up and we’re able to do a better job. We need the evidence, but it’s not the number one priority. We towed Tommy’s car back to our police department. So, we were able to, again, process that on our own timeline, and in a secure and safe environment. But still, our main goal is to find Tommy. Our patrol guys exhausted everything they could do that night, and so first thing the next morning, time to go find him.
Justin: [00:18:28] So, our team of detectives get divvied up. Three of our detectives are searching the house, we have a detective searching the car, and then myself and my sergeant pound the street. And we start with Tommy has a restraining order against him from an ex-wife, and this is ex-wife from back when life was normal. Tommy’s ex-wife lives in our small town, we go talk to her. The restraining order had an element of fear and threats made towards her. She doesn’t know a lot about his current life. But by chance, she lives at an apartment complex where Tommy has befriended some other residents, and she’s aware of that. It’s created problems with the restraining order and with the management of the complex because Tommy shows up and he’s going to a friend’s house, but it’s near her house and is it a violation they don’t want and they’re trespassing. And so, we have our first little piece of, “Well, here’s a place he might go.”
[00:19:22] So, logical next step, we go there. And the gal that lives there, she’s able to live on our own, but she received government support and assistance for some mental health challenges. That becomes a prevailing theme in the newer circle of Tommy’s friends. He finds females that have some government assistance. He’s able to manipulate or take advantage of for shelter or food or transport or whatever it is. And so, after speaking with his ex-wife, everyone else that we were directed to fits this mold and it becomes clear to us that he’s manipulating and using that situation to his advantage and takes advantage of these folks.
[00:20:00] There’s five or six of these ladies that fit this description. We start asking them, “Hey, have you seen Tommy?” And we’re really not getting a whole lot. One of them remembers a few months ago, Tommy was talking about having guns, and so that’s useful information. It’s important for the case if it’s the same gun, but guns come and go, and it doesn’t mean it’s this gun. So, each conversation we have with these ladies ends with, “Hey, if you see him or hear from him, give me a call.” We do this throughout the weekend. We finish processing the crime scene, both in the house and the car, and gain some information but really, nothing we didn’t already know. But it’s just the evidence to confirm that.
[00:20:41] We collect the shell casings from the kitchen, four shell casings matching the four rounds we believe are shot, collect some identification type items that confirm that something with his name is in the house. But mainly, we’re spending the entire weekend looking for Tommy. Making the rounds through his circle of acquaintances, I end up speaking with one of Tommy’s family members. He said, “I don’t know what happened, but if he did something like that, be careful, because Tommy’s going to be dangerous for you guys when you do catch up with him.”
[00:21:11] We go home Sunday, get some sleep. Monday morning, come to work. And we get a 911 call, and it’s from the apartment complex where Tommy’s ex-wife lives, and the apartment that she directed us to that he has a friend at, it’s from that apartment, and she’s calling and says, “Tommy’s here. He’s asleep on my couch right now.” That’s the first info we have that puts any kind of location on Tommy. We get there and surround the place. Fortunately, it has a back-sliding glass door that opens up into a patio area. Our dispatch is able to stay on the phone with the resident, and they give her the instructions that once we’re all set up, “Hey, if he’s still asleep, come out the door and listen to the cops.” And so, she comes out pretty quick after we all get there, so she’s safe and confirm, “Yeah, Tommy’s still on the apartment, on the couch asleep.”
[00:22:02] She gives us permission to enter her apartment. We go inside, and he’s clearly our guy and he is passed out, has no idea we’re there. So, we take him into custody. His hands are getting pulled behind his back and he’s wearing handcuffs before he even wakes up and recognizes the police are there.
Yeardley: [00:22:18] What’s Tommy’s reaction to that?
Justin: [00:22:20] His reaction to being woken up that way would be, “What the hell just happened?” look in his eyes, like, “I was asleep, and now, there’s like four guys around me with guns, and I’m in handcuffs.” I think once he kind of realized that he wasn’t dreaming, he wasn’t surprised, he knew why we were there.
Dan: [00:22:36] So, no gun when you guys initially search him?
Justin: [00:22:39] No. No gun, no weapons of any kind on him. We transport him back to the police department, and now it’s time for the interview. My boss first checks with him and asks him if he wants something to eat and makes a food order.
Yeardley: [00:22:53] What does Tommy order?
Justin: [00:22:54] The go-to. It’s McDonald’s. McDonald’s, I think it was a Big Mac and fries. We send a detective to go hit the McDonald’s and I go in there. My dad did this for 30 some odd years. He’s been on before, Detective Don.
Dan: [00:23:08] Detective Don, yes.
Yeardley: [00:23:09] We love him.
Dan: [00:23:10] The legend.
Justin: [00:23:10] He’s a legend. But he has a term for it, the interview, he describes it as the dance. And so, Tommy and I start dancing, and how long the dance takes before it gets to the good part depends on every interview. And in this case, I said, “Tommy, why are we here?” And Tommy said, “Because I killed Jason.”
Yeardley: [00:23:29] Wow!
Justin: [00:23:31] And so, it’s clear we’re not going to have to play a bunch of games. A lot of times suspects want to know what we have, evidence wise or information wise before they admit to anything, but not Tommy. I collect myself really quick and like, “Well, tell me about it.” And over the course of the next couple hours, Tommy takes me through what happened. He starts by telling me about how he ended up at Jason’s house. This wasn’t the first night Tommy was there. He’d been staying there frequently, but part of the deal to stay there was he had to put up with Jason’s crap. Jason was constantly on him, calling him worthless, demeaning him and just being a bully, really. For a while, Tommy put up with it because he has a roof over his head, supply of drugs. And then, it came to a head that night. Jason pushed and pushed and pushed and the ranting over the ice cube trays was enough. Having dealt with cases with Jason, Jason wasn’t a nice person. But like we say in the office here, it’s not against the law to be an asshole. Just because you’re an asshole, doesn’t mean that somebody can murder you. There was no need for the confrontation in the first place.
Dan: [00:24:40] Yeah, if you don’t like it, just leave.
Justin: [00:24:41] Exactly.
Dan: [00:24:42] And don’t come back.
Justin: [00:24:43] Or fill up the ice cube trays.
Yeardley: [00:24:45] Yes. (laughs)
Justin: [00:24:48] Tommy and I get through what happened, and then I want to know where this gun is at. We didn’t find it in the house, wasn’t in the car, and he didn’t have it on him when we arrested him. We start talking about the gun and the pillowcase he had in his other hand. Tommy said he shoots Jason, he leaves out the sliding glass door of this small house, gets in his car, drives a block and a half, runs out of gas. Gets out on foot and is on foot in the neighborhood. And as luck would have it for him, the next morning was trash day. Almost everyone had their garbage cans out at the curb, and Tommy shoves this pillowcase in one of these trash cans.
[00:25:28] Immediately upon finding that out, we go back out there and hope to get lucky. Half the cans are empty, half of them are full with the holiday, when did the garbage actually come? And we’re working on getting all that information and we strike out. Had do we known that that night, we probably would have come across it, but here we are, days later with that info, and so we strike out there. But he says he walks through the neighborhood and makes a big loop, at one point goes by the house and is able to see emergency vehicles at the house. He talks about seeing the ambulance that had come. So, he’s a few 100 yards away from us, but Tommy keeps moving. And if people keep moving, it makes it hard to catch up with them unless you truly cross paths. But like our canines, when I had Phaedo, when Dan had Phaedo, if you hit somewhere and I was in that yard are on that block, I was going to find you. If I’m in this yard, and you’re two yards over and you just keep moving and stay in a yard or two ahead of me, if you’re able to keep moving and never stop, unless I can see you, I can’t catch up with you. Tommy just kept moving, and moves past us and then goes on what he described is a long walk, and walk all over the city that night.
[00:26:33] Tommy tells me that he unloaded the rest of the bullets out of the magazine of his pistol maybe a mile north of where the scene was and threw them in the gutter and the side of the street, just got rid of the bullets.
Yeardley: [00:26:45] I would just like to have a conversation with the person who goes down manholes in your city, or any city for that matter and ask them how many bullets do you find down there and other weird shit?
Justin: [00:26:58] Exactly. Tommy finds an unoccupied house with a for sale sign and finds the door unlocked. Let himself in, shuts the door. Tommy told me about how his feet were cold. They got a little bit wet going through puddles and stuff like that. And so, he’s able to sit in the bathtub of this for sale house and warm his feet up with warm water from the bathtub, and is able to find there’s some lunch meat in the refrigerator. And Tommy hunkers down there for the morning, and then goes back out on foot, trying to avoid police and not go anywhere where people would know him. That explains part of our difficulty we hadn’t come across him is he was intentionally staying out of his normal circle of contacts with the knowledge that it would probably keep him away from us. And he was right, for the most part.
[00:27:48] So, he goes through the weekend, walking around on foot, makes his way up late Sunday to a boat landing we have on the north side of our small town, runs along the river, where he has a history with fishing up there and a spot that calms him down. He says he takes the gun and the magazine, and he throws them in the bushes along the riverbank up there.
Dan: [00:28:10] Wait, what? He’s next to a river.
Yeardley: [00:28:13] Why not throw it in the water?
Justin: [00:28:15] In talking with him, I think he wanted the gun out of his hands, but I don’t think he wanted it gone. I don’t think he wanted it gone for two reasons. One, if he ever needed it, to go back to it was an option. But at the same time, he knew what was going to happen to this case, I think. I think from the moment it happened, he knew he was living on borrowed time. I think Tommy’s an honest person at the core, and he wanted to be completely forthcoming with us after he showed us where it was at and took us out there. I think part of that gun ending up in the bushes instead of the water was him being able to fulfill that for himself.
[00:28:51] We go for a drive, Tommy and I and another detective, and drive his route through the neighborhood right around the murder scene. To the best of his recollection, it’s daylight now, he does the best he can to retrace his steps. We go through there, and then up into this neighborhood to the north where he had thrown the bullets and he thought he remembered where that was at and tried to point it out to us but we weren’t able to find the rest of the bullets he’d taken out the gun. He points out the house that was for sale that he’d spent some time in and ate the food at. So, we knew where that was at. And then, we drive up to the boat landing, and this boat landings not nearby where we’re at. I mean, several miles as the crow flies.
Dan: [00:29:30] It would take hours to get there.
Yeardley: [00:29:32] On foot?
Dan: [00:29:33] Yeah.
Justin: [00:29:34] That’s a hike. And he takes us up there and points generally down the riverbank, probably 200 yards. Tommy said the gun would be in those bushes down there, the magazine is closer to that big tree.
Yeardley: I get why it’s important to retrieve the gun. That’s obvious. But why is it important for you guys to go around with Tommy and see what his escape route is when there’s no physical evidence left there?
Dan: [00:30:02] The reason why it’s important is because you’ve got to corroborate Tommy’s statement. He’s giving you a confession. So, you have to corroborate those facts and retracing his steps does that. What we’re trying to do is show that he’s credible and he’s telling us enough that we can substantiate his confession. And if he says the gun is 200 feet up there by a tree on the bank of the river and you go there, these are just little statements that keep corroborating what he’s telling you.
Yeardley: [00:30:37] And that’s for the sake of the jury if the case goes to trial?
Justin: [00:30:41] Yeah.
Dan: [00:30:42] Yeah, because we always think that these cases are going to go to trial. You have to approach these investigations that way, that it’s going to go to trial. Defense attorneys are really good at their jobs. If they find out that we cut corners, that defense attorney is going to tear us apart on the stand.
Yeardley: [00:31:02] So, that would impeach your credibility.
Dan: [00:31:04] It would. It’s very important that you don’t cut any corners. The small details are very important in these cases.
Yeardley: [00:31:11] I see.
Justin: [00:31:12] By this point, it’s getting late on Monday night. As before, we decided, “Well, we’ll wait till morning where we have daylight to work with.” The next morning, detectives go out there, and after rigging some rope, they were able to scale this riverbank, and with a metal detector, find both the gun and the magazine basically right where Tommy said they’d be.
Yeardley: [00:31:31] If detectives had to use a rope to scale down the riverbank to pick up the gun, how was Tommy going to get down the riverbank and get the gun? I don’t think he had rope and I don’t think he had somebody there to help him.
Dan: [00:31:46] Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Yeardley: [00:31:48] I guess that’s true.
Yeardley: [00:32:04] Now, that you’ve gathered all this evidence, you have the gun, the magazine, and confession, does he go to trial or does he take a deal?
Justin: [00:32:15] He goes to trial.
Yeardley: [00:32:16] Does he plead not guilty?
Justin: [00:32:17] He does.
Yeardley: [00:32:18] But he just told you he did it.
Justin: [00:32:20] Yeah. But the way the system is designed is we or the state, has to prove that to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Between his own thoughts and his attorney, they wanted to present the case to a jury. All they have to do is convince someone that he didn’t do it, or maybe he didn’t do it. Reasonable doubt isn’t beyond all doubt, but it’s what’s reasonable. So, we go into a jury trial, and trial on cases like this doesn’t happen fast. This one was just inside a year. Months and months after this happened, we finally go to trial, and a lot can happen with people in six months or a year.
One-Eyed Bill is a character, and I needed to find him to serve him a subpoena for this case to tell him, “Hey, be at court on this date and time.” And I had no idea, I couldn’t find him. And fortunately, he came into the lobby of the police department, starts yelling at our counter staff. He was basically making demands and trying to, I guess, extort or pull favors from us. “I’m going to lie. I told you the truth, but I’m going to get up there in court and actually lie to hurt your case unless you help my buddy get out of jail.” I don’t even remember his full list of demands, but he had a list of demands.
Dan: [00:33:34] That’s all on video in the lobby, by the way.
Justin: [00:33:36] Oh, yeah. I tried to take the nice road with him and explained to him, “You don’t get to make demands. That’s not how this works. We’re going to need you to testify and be honest.” And that’s lost on One-Eyed bill. And being nice, it’s not what he’s used to and it didn’t get me anywhere. He’s just, “No, this is what I’m going to do.” I was able to serve him the subpoena there. That interaction ended with me and him yelling at each other, and it ended with me telling him to get the hell out of the lobby with the idea that if he comes back around at trial, then great. If he doesn’t, we can use this interaction where he says, “I’m going to get up there and lie,” to impeach him, show his lack of credibility. We also have his initial statements on tape. If he does get up there and lie, we can play the tape of, “Oh, this is what you said initially. Why’d you change your mind?” But the problem with that is you don’t want to impeach your own witness. So, One-Eyed Bill definitely made our lives hard.
Dan: [00:34:30] It’s just easier if they’re on board.
Yeardley: [00:34:32] (chuckles) It’s 100% less messy.
Justin: [00:34:36] Oh, yeah. So, there’s no way One-Eyed Bill hung on to this subpoena and remember this date. By chance, One-Eyed Bill gets arrested on something completely unrelated like four days before trial starts. One-Eyed Bill is in custody, and is going to stay there based on the crime he committed until the end of this trial, so we have that piece handled.
Yeardley: [00:34:57] Even though you have no idea if One-Eyed Bill’s going to get on the stand and tell the truth or stick to his plan to lie?
Justin: [00:35:04] Exactly. At least I don’t have to find him. The other gentleman that was in the living room when the murder happened is from out of town. He lives primarily in a town two or three hours south of our small town. I had to coordinate getting him up here to testify. And so, got him a place to stay for the length of trial. Then, we started a murder trial. The prosecutor on this case is awesome. She relies on her detectives a lot and listens, and it’s a true team feeling between the prosecutor and detectives.
Dan: [00:35:38] She’s just thorough, and she wants you to be thorough. She’s constantly thinking of little holes in the case, and it’s your job as the investigator to go patch them up.
Justin: [00:35:48] She’s awesome.
Yeardley: [00:35:49] Did Tommy take the stand in his own defense?
Justin: [00:35:51] He did, which is uncommon. Tommy painted Jason as a jerk, and just can’t kill someone because they’re a jerk. The defense wanted to paint a story that it was a self-defense scenario. Tommy had that perception that, “I go in the kitchen, like, ‘Hey, man, calm down,’ he turns out me being mad, clenched his fist and came at me,” which we know didn’t happen. One from statements, but two, the evidence from the medical examiner and the autopsy, and these wound paths of the bullets told us that he wasn’t coming at him unless he was running at him backwards. It wasn’t like he got shot in the side where his head was turned. Jason was shot in the back.
[00:36:28] There was a moment, probably the highlight of the case, the defense attorney gets done. And so, it’s the prosecutor’s turn to cross examine Tommy, and she takes him through the going around the corner, looking at him in the kitchen. “Jason had charged you before and been mean to you before but he didn’t do any of that this time, did he?” And Tommy on the stand goes, “No, not this time,” and completely blows up his own defense and now, there’s nowhere for him to go.
The truth is easy. You don’t have to think to tell the truth. The prosecutor was asking fairly benign questions of Tommy, wasn’t a trick or anything like that. “He didn’t charge at you that night, did he?” And the answer was, “No. Not that time.” Jason had been a jerk before. He may have assaulted Tommy before, but not that night. From the moment we started picking a jury until the moment the judge handed down the sentence, his trial lasted three days.
Yeardley: [00:37:22] That seems remarkable.
Justin: [00:37:24] It was in the history of the county. No one can remember a faster murder trial than three days.
Yeardley: [00:37:28] How long was the jury out?
Justin: [00:37:30] An hour. Most of that time is filled with administrative stuff that they have to do once they reach their verdict. So, not very long at all.
Yeardley: [00:37:38] Amazing. So, Tommy’s in prison now?
Justin: [00:37:42] He is.
Yeardley: [00:37:43] Wow! Before we wrap this up, I just want to ask one question. Tommy’s in prison, and Tommy is still addicted to drugs. What happens to somebody like him when he goes to prison? This seems like a really good opportunity to get clean.
Dan: [00:37:58] It is a great opportunity to get clean, but it’s very easy to find drugs in prison. If you really want to get clean, there are programs in prison. Even if they’re not going to shave any time off your sentence for attending those programs, you can utilize those programs.
Yeardley: [00:38:15] There’s some help.
Dan: [00:38:16] There is help there. But unfortunately, there are countless examples of inmates getting contraband into prison.
Yeardley: [00:38:27] How does that happen?
Dan: [00:38:28] I’ll tell you right now. It’s usually the guards.
Yeardley: [00:38:31] Really?
Dan: [00:38:31] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:38:32] Ah, that’s just seems wrong in every way.
Dan: [00:38:36] Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality.
Yeardley: [00:38:38] That’s a terrible reality. Well, Justin, thank you so much for bringing that to us today. There were so many near misses there. So many things that could have gone wrong. Tommy could have thrown the gun in the river. One-Eyed Bill could have shot the whole thing down. Oof, the amount of stress.
Dan: [00:38:56] You’vegot to take the good breaks when you get them. That’s for sure.
Justin: [00:39:00] What my boss likes to say, “You have to go out and make your own luck sometimes.” We eventually got the break we needed to find Tommy, that wouldn’t have happened if we just sat back and waited. Just got to go out and find people, and get them off the street because if he is dangerous, or is panicked or scared and some truly innocent person comes across him, then what’s going to happen? And that’s on us.
Yeardley: [00:39:20] Thank you so much. It’s so good to have you back.
Dan: [00:39:23] Thank you, Justin.
Justin: [00:39:24] You bet.
Yeardley: [00:39:31] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor, the Real Nick Smitty, and Alec Cowin. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. Our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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