Lou is in and out of prison, but if you put him in a shirt and tie and sat him behind a desk, you’d never know that about him. It’s just one of the unique things about Lou. One day, he’s approached by a fellow inmate named Jason about a murder-for-hire. Lou immediately contacts the cops. As Det. Robert investigates he gets much more than he bargained for.
Special Guest: Detective Robert
Detective Robert has been in law enforcement for over 18 years. He spent nine years on patrol, where he served as a field-training officer (FTO) and an FBI-trained hostage negotiator. He was subsequently promoted to corporal and later to detective. As a new detective, he worked in the crimes against children unit, which investigates sex crimes, serious physical abuse, and child homicides. He was later re-assigned to the violent crimes unit, where he continues to serve. He is an active member of his county’s major crimes team, which investigates homicides and officer-involved shootings.
Robert [00:00:05] So, we get information that is super-detailed and it’s wonderful. But what happens next, I never would have expected in a very long career. We get something that takes this case completely sideways.
Yeardley [00:00:23] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case.
I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, Detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan [00:00:49] I’m Dan.
Dave [00:00:50] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town, USA.
Dan [00:00:54] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant in his police department.
Dave [00:01:00] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places, relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan [00:01:15] So, we ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.
Yeardley [00:01:34] Hey, Small Town Fam. Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects, but we are not all in the same room, because we are all still in various stages of lockdown. So, we’re doing this record through technology with one of our fabulous favorite guests, Detective Robert.
Robert [00:01:55] Good morning.
Yeardley [00:01:56] Good morning. Thank you for coming.
Robert [00:01:58] I’m happy to be here in my house.
Yeardley [00:02:02] That’s true. That’s so well said. You’re a fan favorite and certainly one of ours. But let me say hello to Detective Dan.
Dan [00:02:09] Good morning.
Yeardley [00:02:10] Good morning. So good to have you in some version.
Dan [00:02:13] Good to be here.
Yeardley [00:02:15] And Detective Dave.
Dave [00:02:16] Dave and Georgia are present from afar.
Yeardley [00:02:19] Yes, Georgia, the 150-pound mastiff. So, that’s the other thing. Because we’re not all together and recording in a place that’s a little more sequestered, we’re all in our houses, you might hear Georgia drinking loudly from the water bowl, you might hear Zipper the cat saying, “Hey, what up?” Garbage trucks, life. You just might hear life. All right. Robert, you always bring us great cases. Please take it away.
Robert [00:02:47] All right. Well, first of all, thanks for having me back. At this point in my career, I’ve been a police officer for about 15 years, and I’ve been a detective for about six years. My office in the investigations division is located in our headquarters building and it’s a really, really big building that also houses our county jail. Part of being a detective so close to the jail is anytime an inmate wants to meet with someone, they will fill out a form and it’s a yellow form called the inmate request form. And us detectives, we’re used to this because basically what happens you’re sitting in your cubicle minding your own business, and a sergeant will walk down the cubicle row and they’ll pretend that they have a special gift that they’re looking just for you. However, what they’re doing is they’re looking for the first detective they see. And that’s what it is, you’re not special in any way. It’s just you happen to be at your desk at that very moment.
And so, I see my sergeant coming down the row with one of these yellow forms in his hand. An inmate has written on this form that he wants to talk to a detective right away and he says another inmate has solicited him to kill a witness on his case.
Yeardley [00:03:53] Oh.
Robert [00:03:53] Now, I should mention this is a lot more important sounding and juicy than the normal requests are.
Yeardley [00:04:00] What’s a normal sort of requests? Can I have a hamburger or–?
Robert [00:04:04] “Oh, I’m lonely.”
Dave [00:04:05] Everything.
Yeardley [00:04:07] Like what?
Dave [00:04:08] Well, I had a guy that I’d put in jail. He was a drug dealer. He had a large sum of cash. He wanted me to free up the cash that I had seized during the arrest so his mom could go pay his rent.
Yeardley [00:04:20] I’m guessing that didn’t work out.
Dave [00:04:23] No, I went over and I talked to him and I said, “Hey, man, I can’t do that. That’s evidence. There’s a court process. These are proceeds from drug crimes. And we’re going to have to go through the court process before those funds become available to you, if they ever become available to you because they’re drug proceeds.”
Yeardley [00:04:41] Right. Oh, but we digress. Okay, Detective Robert, back to you.
Robert [00:04:46] Yeah, sometimes they don’t sound as important as this one does. So, the inmate’s name is Lou. I go down and I meet with Lou. Lou is 54 years old and he has spent most of his adult life in custody. Lou tells me again that another inmate in his housing unit has solicited him to kill a witness on his case. The guy’s name is Jason.
Well, Jason coincidentally is in custody on one of my robbery cases. And so, I’m especially interested in what Lou has to say at this point. Lou tells me that Jason trusts him because of Lou’s history as a lifelong criminal, Lou has had over 50 arrest cycles. He was a pretty bad and violent guy. He’s done burglaries, he’s done robberies, he’s had a lot of weapons offences, he has prison tattoos, and Jason feels very comfortable with Lou. Lou is not your average prisoner. If he was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a tie, you would think he was an attorney. Lou is the guy who got not only a college degree in prison, but he became a certified paralegal in prison. In fact, at one point in life, he successfully sued the Department of Corrections.
Yeardley [00:06:00] Wow.
Robert [00:06:01] And this gives him a lot of cred behind bars.
Yeardley [00:06:04] What did he sue the department for?
Robert [00:06:06] Some sort of medical issue that he had that he didn’t feel was treated right. And so, that was his successful lawsuit many years ago. Before Lou came to jail, he had been homeless for quite a while. Through drug use and everything, he’d become distant from his family including a daughter, his mom. He just didn’t really have anything going on, so he had resorted to crime to just basically live. So, he’s homeless before he comes to jail and he’s homeless when he’s not in custody, but you would never know. He is always clean, he’s dressed nicely and he told me he did that so that he wouldn’t stand out when he goes into stores to commit his crimes. So, that’s a little bit about Lou.
Now, a little bit more about Jason. Jason at this point is 25 years old. He has also been in lots and lots of trouble ever since he was a juvenile. However, Jason is also– he’s a smart criminal and he plans very well, but he’s also very dangerous. Jason is also addicted to methamphetamines and opiates. Jason has been part of a robbery crew.
A robbery crew is basically just a group of individuals who are pretty organized and they go out and commit many different crimes together. A female member of that robbery crew named Ariana, she’s actually been caught. She’s been picked up for her involvement in some of these stuffs and robberies. So, Ariana comes forward with her attorney and she wants a deal. She is willing to testify for the State against Jason. So, she is a primary concern for Jason. He wants to eliminate her. So, he asked Lou who’s expected to get out of jail in about two weeks to go kill Ariana.
Yeardley [00:07:43] Was she caught when he was caught for this, whatever the most recent robbery was?
Robert [00:07:49] No, they’re actually caught at different times. And they were actually doing pretty well about hiding out in different hotels where they were able to pay for cash, and they have some legitimate people that they associate with. They can use their credit cards without being traced and stuff like that. So, they did a pretty good job of eluding for quite a while. But no, they’re caught at different stages in the investigation. And I should say the investigation of Jason’s robbery crew involved many, many local agencies throughout the state. These people made their way up and down the state doing lots of robberies.
Our next steps is we have some technical investigators in our office, and they installed a panic alarm in Ariana’s house. That way, if she is unable to call 911, she pushes this big red button and a lot of police come quickly.
Yeardley [00:08:36] So, even though Ariana has been arrested and charged, she’s not being held at the jail, she’s being held at her home?
Robert [00:08:44] Yes.
Dave [00:08:45] Once you hear this plot, it’s important for law enforcement, liability wise, to let the target of this plot know that there’s this threat to their life. And how did that conversation go?
Robert [00:08:57] Yeah. Ariana has been arrested. Her parents bail her out. We cannot talk directly to her. She is represented by counsel, so we can’t even talk to her one on one. And so fortunately, her attorney was someone that was very easy to reach and very helpful. He allowed us to talk to Ariana, her parents were brought into the loop. Everyone knew about the panic button.
Yeardley [00:09:18] How come you didn’t relocate her to a safe house or something?
Robert [00:09:23] Lou is cooperating with us. We didn’t know of any other threats to her. We didn’t know for sure if Jason was talking to anyone else. We were monitoring his phone calls, but we didn’t know of any other legitimate threat to Ariana and so the family decided to stay put and they felt more comfortable with that panic button there.
Yeardley [00:09:40] Does she live with her parents?
Robert [00:09:42] She does.
Yeardley [00:09:43] How old is she then?
Robert [00:09:45] She is late teens, early 20s. I go back and talk to Lou. Lou is not our agent. He has not done anything on our behalf. He came to us with this information and I want to point out that we are acutely aware of what is someone’s motivation to come forward and talk to us. So, we just address that head on with Lou. “Lou, what are you trying to get out of this? What do you want from this?” And here’s what he said, “I don’t want to see a woman get hurt. I’m old school. I don’t believe in women getting hurt.” That was his motivation. At no time did he ask for money, did he ask for crimes to be expunged, did he ask for immediate release. He said, “I don’t want to see a woman get hurt.”
Dan [00:10:32] Which is gold, when you go to the prosecutor and you say this is his motivation. It’s awesome.
Rpbert [00:10:38] Exactly.
Yeardley [00:10:40] Wow. And also, because I should think him having been in prison his entire life, perhaps his credibility is not as good as somebody who hasn’t been in prison all their life.
Robert [00:10:50] And I’m really glad you brought that up. I talk about this when I teach search warrant classes. You think here’s a guy who’s been locked up his whole life, he has 50 plus arrest cycles. What is his credibility in the courtroom? My answer to that is the only reason Jason felt comfortable talking to him is exactly because of his criminal history and where he’s been and his life story. And so, it’s interesting how those two things converge. He wouldn’t have been privy to that information had he not been the person who he was. And that does not in any way prevent us from getting search warrants or anything. We just disclose all that in any affidavit. We say exactly the kind of person who Lou is and what his “warts” are, what his issues are, we just put it on the table first.
Dave [00:11:35] Right. The court has to be aware of this exculpatory or Brady type info. And if a detective writing that affidavit leaves that out, that means the court is now not as informed as they should be, and whether or not to grant this search warrant. So, that’s why we preach, you have to disclose all the facts, whether they’re good or they’re bad, but in the light, most favourable to the defendant, just to give them a fair shot, because now the government is going to be violating your rights, court granted, but your rights are now being infringed by the government. So, you have to be way above board when it comes to search warrant affidavits. That’s rule number one.
Yeardley [00:12:20] Dave, you’re talking hypothetically, if you’re serving a search warrant, not necessarily in this case, correct?
Dave [00:12:26] Yes.
Robert [00:12:26] Correct.
Yeardley [00:12:27] But I don’t get it. If you have a search warrant, doesn’t that mean that you have permission to search somebody’s house or car? Why would you be violating a defendant’s rights, if you have a search warrant?
Dan [00:12:40] If you get the search warrant, then you are blessed, and you can execute that search warrant.
Yeardley [00:12:45] If a judge signs off on that?
Dan [00:12:47] If a judge signs off on it. What Dave is talking about is we have to take the information that the informant gives us and it goes into this credibility scale. So, for instance, if this informant has crimes of dishonesty, say he’s given false information to the police before, that’s a little nugget that goes in this credibility scale. And we’re trying to get out in front of all those things. So, the judge has enough information to make an accurate evaluation of the probable cause for a search warrant.
People have Fourth Amendment protections in this country. Fourth Amendment, you have protections against search and seizure from the government. And part of that is, if we are getting information from an informant, you’ve got to be honest about your informant.
Yeardley [00:13:33] Right. No matter what their circumstances, you have to be right upfront about who’s giving you this information?
Robert [00:13:39] Yes. And so, we just hit that off in the head. If this goes to court and we haven’t talked about that, then we just get hammered on the stand and we look stupid in front of the jury. But because we just put it all out there ahead of time in front of things, the judge knows, the jury knows, let them try to attack us. And, again, Lou is very intelligent and he’s very credible.
So, after we get the panic alarm in Ariana’s house, I talked to Lou about how we’re going to get further corroboration. We talked to Lou about the possibility of introducing a hitman into the mix. And we do this purely as strategy. If we introduce a hitman into the mix, it would require Jason to talk to yet another person about this plot. Another person to provide the same information that he’s given to Lou. It also allows Jason a clear out. It’s another person that he can hit the brakes on and not go through with this murder. So, he can tell Lou I don’t want to do this anymore and he can potentially tell our hitman, “Look, I changed my mind. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Lou and his opinion I value, he is part of our strategy for sure. Lou does not like this idea. He says, “I don’t think Jason’s going to go for it. I think Jason’s too smart for that. And I think Jason is more likely to make incriminating statements to me.” That’s what he says. So, Lou thinks that Jason is more likely to talk to Lou.
Going forward with that, I apply for a warrant. It’s called an ex parte order. And basically it is a warrant to record an in-person conversation. In our state, we can record people over the phone as long as one party is aware that the call is being recorded. However, an in-person conversation that is illegal without notifying the other person, which obviously we don’t want to do in this case, so that requires an ex parte order.
Yeardley [00:15:30] So basically, Lou’s going to wear a wire?
Robert [00:15:32] Correct. He’s going to wear a wire.
Yeardley [00:15:34] Are they cellmates, by the way?
Robert [00:15:36] They’re not. They’re in the same housing unit, but they just happen to talk when they’re on breaks, or they’re on out time. So, we got this ex parte order, we got permission to record him. And I won’t go into detail on what the recording device was or what it looks like. But I will say it’s very small, and you’d be amazed how small it was and how easy it was to conceal. Our next concern is, do we tell the jail staff? Or do we not tell the jail staff? Do we keep this to ourselves or do we want the jail to know? And that’s not an easy decision to make. That was actually a very thoughtful and considerate decision. I ran it by Lou and here’s what Lou said. “Your jail is so professional that I don’t see that it would hurt.”
Robert [00:16:24] So, I took that as a great compliment to our hard-working jail staff.
Yeardley [00:16:28] They can be trusted to know that Jason is going to be recorded.
Robert [00:16:32] Yes.
Dave [00:16:33] You look at other things that happen in jails and you’re like, “This is a bad idea,” because Lou slips, so I’m actually happy that your county has such a professional staff that Lou would recognize and trust that they’re going to be competent enough to handle that kind of case. Credit to you guys.
Robert [00:16:51] Lou once said, “I don’t like being here, because you can’t get away with anything.”
Yeardley [00:16:54] (laughs)
Yeardley [00:17:16] Hey, Detective Dan, you know what I want to talk about?
Dan [00:17:19] I got a pretty good idea.
Yeardley [00:17:20] Best Fiends.
Dan [00:17:21] There we go.
Yeardley [00:17:22] I’m on level 777. I feel like that was really lucky.
Dan [00:17:26] That’s a lot of levels.
Yeardley [00:17:27] Yes. My coworkers might have some questions like, “Are you doing anything else other than playing Best Fiends?” I’m like, “Yes. Mm-hmm.” It’s the game where the bugs defeat the slugs.
Dan [00:17:38] Team Slugs.
Yeardley [00:17:39] No, Team Bugs.
Dan [00:17:40] Okay. Team Bugs.
Yeardley [00:17:42] Team Bugs. Each bug has different outfits.
Dan [00:17:44] They’re all kitted up.
Yeardley [00:17:45] Kitted and geared, and they dance when you win.
Dan [00:17:49] Like an end zone touchdown dance?
Yeardley [00:17:50] Yes, that. Exactly like that. You could play it anywhere because you don’t even need WiFi to keep progressing. That’s one of the things I love about it. Plus, all the bright colors. For the three people who don’t know what Best Fiends is, it’s a match-three game. It’s a casual mobile puzzle game, as I like to say. So, it fits into your life whether you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or–
Dan [00:18:12] Maybe you’re lucky enough to travel on a plane.
Yeardley [00:18:14] Maybe.
Dan [00:18:15] But no WiFi.
Yeardley [00:18:16] You don’t need it. That’s the point.
Dan [00:18:18] Best Fiends sounds like boredom’s worst nightmare. With over 100 million downloads, this five-star-rated mobile puzzle game is a must-play.
Yeardley [00:18:25] Yes, it is. So, Small Town Fam, download Best Fiends free today on the Apple App Store or Google Play. That’s Friends without the R. Best Fiends!
Dan [00:18:37] Best Fiends.
Yeardley [00:18:37] Do it.
Dave [00:19:06] So, you wire up Lou to try and record Jason in jail, hopefully repeating his plan to have Ariana killed. How does Lou go about getting Jason to talk again?
Robert [00:19:16] So, Lou approached it from the point of, “Hey, I just want to make sure I get this right. You said she drives this car,” and kind of created the open-ended environment where Jason just was spilling again. And Jason was happy to talk about it. Jason is bragging. He’s happy in his mind. He’s got away with all these other robberies. And he’s happy to spill to this OG inmate and basically proud of his accomplishments.
Dan [00:19:42] And trying to earn some cred on the inside also.
Robert [00:19:45] Absolutely. Jason is bragging to Lou about doing numerous robberies, and he also tells Lou that he’s been charged with a couple robberies, but there’s many that he hasn’t been caught for. So, let me talk a little bit about my robbery case and what I’m investigating.
At the beginning part of the summer, I get assigned to a robbery of a small Eastern European grocery store. There’s an entrance at the front of the store and the rear of the store, which of course, is not great for security. This in a strip mall. And this is shortly before closing and, of course, robbers think that means the store has all the cash they’ve taken in all day. So, Jason goes in a little bit before closing, it’s still light outside because it’s summer. Basically, there’s three female employees that are working at the store at this time because it’s almost towards closing, they’re in the back room where they have a camera, and they see this guy come into the store with a mask on. And they’re not dumb, so they do not go out there. And he is very eager to get in and out of the store. And so, he’s yelling, “Hello, hello, anyone here,” and they’re saying, “We’ll be out in a minute, we’ll be out in a minute.” And he actually says, “I don’t have a minute.” And they still don’t go out there. So, they put him off.
One of them from this backroom is trying to call 911. But she’s having some cell reception issues, and she can’t get through to 911 right away. Jason is impatient. He doesn’t want to wait for them to come out. They don’t want to come out. And so, he helps himself to the cash register, reaches over the counter, I guess hits the right button, gets the cash and is in and out of the store in less than three minutes. Off he goes.
Yeardley [00:21:29] Does it not occurred to him that wearing a black mask might put them off? And of course, they don’t want to come out?
Robert [00:21:35] Well, he is still young, and he’s still learning. He’s still learning.
Yeardley [00:21:40] Fair.
Robert [00:21:41] And, of course, quite honestly, I think his expectation is you walk into a store and there’s someone ready to wait on you right away. This was not part of his planning that they would all be in the back room at this time.
Dave [00:21:54] He’s going to threaten to leave a bad Yelp review if they don’t come out?
Robert [00:21:59] Well, and we often see that Murphy’s law works overtime and police work. So, I guess it’s nice to know that sometimes Murphy’s law is also an action for the bad guys.
Our patrol deputies, they get there pretty quickly, and they do a canvass and someone in a neighboring business saw a red Chevy Tahoe, backed into a parking spot, playing super loud music right around the time of this robbery. And this witness also saw a male put on a wig with curly red hair, and then the black mask over that before getting out of this red Chevy Tahoe.
Dan [00:22:35] I think that’s a coincidence.
Robert [00:22:39] Now, these robbery crew members one by one, they’re getting picked up. They’re doing lots of robberies in lots of different jurisdictions. And so piece by piece they’re getting picked up one by one. Two days after this robbery of this Eastern European grocery store, Jason’s buddy gets arrested, someone else on the robbery crew gets arrested. Jason’s buddy decides, “I’ve learned enough, I can do my own robberies. I don’t need the rest of you.” So, he goes solo in a stolen car and Rob’s this porn store that’s open 24 hours a day. When he gets arrested, he is found with a long-haired red wig that matches the description in my grocery store robbery. And then four days after the robbery at the Eastern European grocery store, Jason gets arrested by the US Marshals in the next state over, so the US Marshals pick him up.
One of my colleagues was there for that takedown at a hotel and he just happens to mention that one of the female members of Jason’s robbery crew drives a red Chevy Tahoe. Meanwhile, yet another member of Jason’s robbery crew is in custody at our jail and he reports that someone else on the robbery crew has a girlfriend who drives a red Chevy Tahoe and is the getaway driver for the robbery crew. I also show him a picture of that long-haired red wig that was found and he says that wig belongs to Jason, he likes to put it on under a black mask when he does his robberies just to further disguise his ID.
We also have another piece of info that they had been stealing from an Apple Store in a nearby city. And while they hadn’t been arrested that time, one of the loss prevention people got a license plate and that license plate comes back to, a red Chevy Tahoe.
Yeardley [00:24:23] Gee whiz!
Robert [00:24:24] The license plate is listed in the report and it comes back to the father of Ariana. So, piece by piece, this case is coming together with these little nuggets of information. Ariana comes forward with her attorney. She wants to deal. She says that red Chevy Tahoe, that’s mine. And by the way, the suspect in your Eastern European grocery store robbery, that’s Jason. She says he had a fake gun at the time. But it turns out he didn’t need to use it. And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” And she said, “Well, he bragged when he came out after that robbery. No one was at the counter and so he helped himself.”
Yeardley [00:25:04] He didn’t need to use the fake gun or pretend to use it on anyone?
Robert [00:25:08] Correct. And we didn’t even know he had it, it remained tucked in his clothing because he never confronted an employee.
Dan [00:25:14] In our state, that’s actually a huge difference in what you can charge them with. If he did not use a weapon, it drops this crime down, multiple rungs, and potentially at sentencing a lot of years.
Robert [00:25:28] We may have gone back and forth with the DA on this a couple times between Is this a theft? Or is this a robbery? Or is this an attempted robbery? This was one of those weird ones, where because he didn’t confront an employee, what was it exactly?
Dave [00:25:42] And I think the perception of these employees is they know they’re about to be robbed. And I think that that’s very important in this case.
Yeardley [00:25:49] Surely that factored in, didn’t it?
Robert [00:25:51] It did. And then with Jason, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He’s committed so many robberies, that whether this is robbery or theft, he still screwed because he’s been so prolific with his group.
Dave [00:26:02] And the other aspect of this is Ariana has provided corroborative information that’s contemporaneous with the night of the robbery that isn’t just this ambiguous, “Hey, he did this robbery.” Now she’s giving specifics that you can corroborate to the actual witnesses that were at the store that night say, “We didn’t even come out to meet him, he just grabbed the money and ran.” That’s huge because you can’t just make that up.
Robert [00:26:28] No one would know that unless you were there, or unless Jason himself had said that. All this corroborating evidence on this particular robbery is very, very helpful.
Yeardley [00:26:37] So, did you make a deal with Ariana?
Robert [00:26:39] We do not make deals. First of all, as law enforcement, we can’t make deals. That’s not what we do. Prosecutors can get people immunity, prosecutors can get people deals. But our DA’s office, they want to make sure that similar defendants are treated similarly. So, what I mean by that is, you don’t get someone who pleads guilty to a robbery and goes away for 15 years, and the next guy comes along, pleads guilty to robbery, and gets probation. We don’t want that. We want to treat people fairly. And if you commit the same type of crime, we want to make sure that you get a similar type of punishment.
Our DA’s office, we are happy to listen to anyone and, of course, that comes in through the detective, sometimes the DA’s present or is watching remotely. But what we tell people is, we want to listen to everything, you have to say, we’re going to document it, we’re going to video record it, but we don’t make any promises. We don’t know if the DA is going to use that information, if that information is legitimate and can be corroborated or what, so we can’t make any promises on the front end. And that’s what we tell people every single time.
Dave [00:27:43] Well, and that’s also when you go through, say we get a guilty plea in court, one of the first things the judge says is, “Have you been promised anything?” I mean, there’s a coercive nature to being prosecuted, that you’ve got X amount of years hanging over your head. And if you take this plea deal, that you’ve got this many. There’s a reason they call it a deal. You’re cutting out some of your potential prison time exposure. But the judge goes through all these to make sure that everything is above board that you haven’t been promised special consideration for X, Y and Z, and that you’re knowingly giving this guilty plea.
Yeardley [00:28:19] But you said that the judge asks, have you been given any consideration? And they have been promised something that they would get fewer years? Or is that ultimately up to the judge?
Dave [00:28:32] Well, it’s promises outside of the negotiations that are part of that plea deal. So, anything that we don’t know about, have you been promised anything? Have you been threatened in any way? Those types of things that just check the boxes that this isn’t coercive that this defendant is pleading guilty to what they understand the negotiations to be. There’s nothing that’s secret that we don’t know about.
Robert [00:28:57] Yeah, so very aboveboard on that. So, we did that in this case, and Ariana and her attorney they wanted to play ball so that she could get some consideration. Now Jason to Lou, on this recording, tells Lou where to find Ariana. She drives a red Chevy Tahoe. I don’t know the license plate but here’s where it’s parked. Here’s where her parents live.
Dan [00:29:18] What’s he supposed to do if he confronts the parents at Ariana’s house? Take them out also?
Robert [00:29:24] That is not specifically discussed. The idea though is that he confront her when she’s by herself.
Dan [00:29:30] Got it.
Robert [00:29:31] He says to Lou that he wants Lou to do the job in such a way that Ariana won’t be able to have an open-casket funeral. Jason tells Lou now that she’s been arrested, there’s a mugshot online publicly that you can pull up so you know exactly what she looks like. He gives directions on how to get to Ariana’s house and he talks about her schedule where she’ll be on specific days at specific times. And he says she is more likely to be home now because now she’s out on bail. She has a release agreement, and her parents are probably really strict with her right now. So, we get information that is super detailed and it’s wonderful. But what happens next, I never would have expected in a very long career. We get something that takes this case completely sideways.
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Robert [00:32:31] Jason, while he is on this high of giving orders on how to kill Ariana, Jason actually confesses to being present several years earlier when a federal public defender was killed in the city next to us. And this was an unsolved case that happened about seven years earlier before this recording, and involves a former federal public defender named Nora. Nora lived near Jason’s grandparents, and Jason was about 18 at the time this murder happened.
When Nora’s body was found the police in this big city next to us, they didn’t immediately recognize it as a homicide.
Yeardley [00:33:11] Did they think it was a suicide prior to that?
Robert [00:33:14] No. The officers on scene they just thought it was a natural death. That wasn’t determined to be a homicide until the next morning when there was an autopsy done on Nora and the medical examiner said it was a clear case of strangulation. So, we found out through what Jason was telling Lou, again, recorded that this murder of Nora occurred during a burglary when they didn’t think she was home. So, Jason’s grandparents and Nora lived in the same neighborhood. Jason assumed that Nora was rich. She was living in a home by herself. She drove a BMW. And she always left a door open at her house so that her dog could come and go.
And so, one day when Jason and his friend Caleb were walking through the neighborhood, they noticed the car was gone and the store was open, and they decided to go in and burglarized the place. And they didn’t expect her to be there. And so, she happened to be there, she screamed, and that’s ultimately when she was killed.
Now, Jason and Caleb had both previously interviewed by police, and they had confessed to stealing from the home. But at that time, there was no reason to think they were involved with any murder, and so they were released. Now Jason to Lou on this recording, he was bragging to Lou that he’s aware that there’s a large reward being offered and that the case was getting media attention every year on the anniversary of this crime. He was also bragging that this was never going to be solved because Caleb was not going to say anything to anyone. And so, that was this huge surprise on this recording. I mean, it just floored me. It just floored me that while we’re getting our solicitation of aggravated murder case wrapped up, that we’re also hearing about this intertwined other unsolved murder.
Dave [00:35:02] Are you guys listening in real-time? Or is this later on you get the recording, and then you can hear it?
Robert [00:35:07] So, our jail is very secure facility. It’s cinderblock walls, there’s no way we can listen live. It’s not until I can meet with Lou, and get that device and basically downloaded that I hear. However, I hear in the excitement in Lou’s voice when he calls me. He’s just overjoyed. He’s telling me, “Look, I got it. I got it. I got it. You’re going to be really, really, really happy with me.”
Dave [00:35:32] You’re probably aware of this unsolved public defender case when you start hearing this. It’s starting to ring bells for you.
Robert [00:35:40] Oh, absolutely. Yes. In fact, I used to live in this other city and I used to have to walk by their police station when I was walking to my gym. And in front of their police station, they have some of their unsolved cases on big posters and hers was one of them. And I’m the kind of guy who still reads a newspaper every day. I was very familiar with that case. I was familiar with the media attention when it happened. And then every year there’s a media campaign trying to solve it. I knew exactly what that case was right when it came up.
Yeardley [00:36:13] Oh, my God. I can see why Lou was so excited for you to hear that recording.
Robert [00:36:16] Absolutely. Meeting with Lou presented its own challenges. Lou needs to keep himself safe and not broadcast that he is cooperating with us. Normally, I just go down, I asked the jail to talk to an inmate. They put him in restraints, and we can march them up to our office and detectives and meet with them in the interview room. In this particular case, we couldn’t do that with Lou every time. And so, we’re very creative how we met with him. We would meet in medical appointments, we would meet in very different places, so that other inmates would not be alarmed by him leaving his housing unit so much.
Dave [00:36:55] Where’s he going?
Robert [00:36:56] (laughs) So, this is the first time in my career ever dealing with an informant, ever. Up to this point in my career, I had been doing child sex abuse crimes, and I’ve been dealing with other violent crimes, but really not dealing with informants, that’s mostly drug guys and property crimes guys. And so, I really had not dealt with them and he was a very unique one. When he was out of custody, he was homeless. And it was really hard to keep track of him.
Yeardley [00:37:22] I should think so. And didn’t you say that Lou was only a few weeks away from being released from jail before he contacted you about this big plan that Jason had to kill Ariana?
Robert [00:37:34] Yes.
Yeardley [00:37:34] So was it difficult to maintain communication with Lou once he got out of jail those few weeks later?
Robert [00:37:40] Yeah, his cell phone number would change with the day, he would call very sporadically. Sometimes he would call and need food. He says, “I don’t have any food to eat, can you please give me some food.” And so, I was able to provide him some food boxes, take him out to fast food, that kind of stuff. Occasionally, I was able to give him small amounts of petty cash. But it was a challenge to know where he was. And, obviously, that was crucial along the way because we needed him to testify before the grand jury. And we needed to have him handy in case these cases went to court.
Yeardley [00:38:11] Right. But I have a question. You had already been investigating Jason for the robbery that Ariana was a part of before Lou contacted you. So, had you been interviewing Jason about that robbery at the same time you were getting all this intel from Lou?
Robert [00:38:30] No. Three months later, is my first time sitting down with Jason.
Yeardley [00:38:36] So, you don’t speak to Jason for the first time until three months after he’s arrested?
Robert [00:38:42] Correct. Because he’s in custody in our jail. I am piecing stuff together, the suspect’s the last person I want to talk to on a criminal case. I wait until I have what I think is all the information I’m going to get before I go in.
Dan [00:38:55] You might only get one shot at him. If you spook him too much, he’s going to lawyer up on you. And he’s not going to talk to you at all.
Robert [00:39:02] Exactly. So predictably, when I go in and talk to Jason, he is one of those who, they want to know what you know, but they don’t want to give you anything that you don’t know. And so that’s what happens with Jason. When I go interview Jason, he denies being part of the robbery crew he denies ever been at that store. I confront him with the surveillance videos. He says that’s not me. I show him pictures of the vehicle. He doesn’t recognize that vehicle. I show him pictures of the wig. Guess what? He doesn’t recognize the wig either.
Yeardley [00:39:30] (laughs)
Robert [00:39:31] So, that’s just where that case stands, is he denies any involvement of it. So, ultimately, what happens is Jason resolves all these robbery cases with a global plea. And he gets a pretty good deal, but here’s what we get from him. We get Jason in writing to say that he’s going to cooperate against Caleb, who Caleb is the one who ultimately killed Nora. And so, this falls under the life-is-complex kind of irony because here’s a guy, Jason, who wants to kill a snitch becoming a snitch. But Jason gets a really good deal, in my opinion. He gets a 10-year sentence in exchange for testifying against codefendant, Caleb, on the murder of Nora and he does 10 years for all the robberies that he was involved with.
He was basically wanted on robberies up and down the state. Jason was looking at significant prison time just for the robberies because of how many there were, dozens and dozens of robberies. And so, interestingly enough, the best thing that could have happened for Jason was to have this leverage where he could throw Caleb under the bus for this murder. And that’s the only reason why he got a 10-year deal, instead of probably doing 35 to 50 years for all these robberies.
Dave [00:40:45] Yeah, you get a bunch of robbery ones that are, what are they, 70 months?
Robert [00:40:48] 75 to 90 months each. Yeah.
Dave [00:40:51] Yeah. And they add up quick.
Yeardley [00:40:53] How much time did Caleb get?
Robert [00:40:56] Caleb, who is a year older, he’s 19 at the time of Nora’s murder. He is tracked down, he’s arrested. And he ultimately pleads guilty to burglary and manslaughter. So not murder manslaughter, which is slightly lower. And he sentenced to 15 years in prison. And if you’re thinking like I am that that’s not very much time, the rest of the story is that Caleb has a terminal illness at this point. And he’s not expected to live 15 years. So that was taken into account with that sentence.
Yeardley [00:41:29] And what happened to Ariana?
Robert [00:41:31] Ariana, as far as I know, is the success story. She was enrolled in college. And as far as I know, she has not returned back to her bad decisions and bad associations.
Yeardley [00:41:42] Excellent.
Dave [00:41:44] Does she need to worry about when Jason gets out?
Robert [00:41:46] Funny, you should mention that. So, Jason is due to get out in three years. And he’s a very dangerous guy and he’s still very young. In fact, Jason was also housed in the housing unit with a gentleman who spent many years working at a bank. And so, there’s notes and collaboration between these two on how to successfully rob banks. So, I don’t think that Jason is going to change his ways while he’s in custody.
Dave [00:42:13] Right. He’s just been on timeout.
Robert [00:42:15] Exactly.
Dave [00:42:16] Nora’s family, they finally get some answers and some justice. My imagine that there is a great impact there as well.
Robert [00:42:24] Absolutely. Nora’s family’s very grateful nor his colleagues in the Federal Public Defender’s Office, were extremely grateful. They had long been advocates and long been pressing this police department near mine for movement on this case and what’s going on on this case, the family and her colleagues found it extra ironic that this woman who had devoted her life to defending those accused of crimes at the federal level, was ultimately the victim of a crime.
Her death prevented her from continuing her defense of people who needed her help. By all accounts, she was a wonderful lady, very committed to everyone having defense and the best representation possible in the court system.
Yeardley [00:43:10] Where’s Lou now?
Robert [00:43:11] So Lou, because of criminal history, he’ll never work in a law firm. He’ll never be able to get a white-collar job because on paper, he looks terrible. Lou is a character and he kept in touch for a long time. I get calls over the years from police officers all over going, “Hey, I’ve arrested Lou for trespassing. I have Lou in custody for shoplifting. He says he’s working with you.” And these would be 3 in the morning, Christmas Day, whatever. And I would happily take those calls and I will happily take those calls as long as I have breath to answer my phone because Lou went out on a limb. He really, really put his own life in danger for cooperating with us. So, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for him. And I actually haven’t heard from him now, this is the longest I’ve gone without hearing from him. It’s been several months. Weather can be harsh and living outside can be harsh, and word got out that he cooperated with us. So, I have legitimate safety concerns for him. And I don’t know where he is right now.
Lou had family in another state and I tried and tried and tried and tried to get him to relocate. It’s easy for us to buy him a train ticket or a bus ticket and get him there and he wasn’t interested.
Dan [00:44:33] Is he battling addiction also?
Robert [00:44:35] Yes, he is a self-admitted heroin addict.
Dave [00:44:39] That’s rough.
Robert [00:44:40] But, again, you would never know. Even being a longtime cop, you would never know.
Dan [00:44:47] I feel Lou is the guy who would be a character in a Grisham novel, that works for a law firm and does like the off the book stuff in the background.
Robert [00:44:58] You hit the nail on the head. That is exactly how he is. In his mind, we were working this case together, and we were. Let’s be honest, we were. We didn’t tell him our whole strategy and all the details. But we were working this case together, this case would not have been solved without him.
Dave [00:45:14] Well, it’s always interesting to see how the code emerges from some of these old school inmates and old-time criminals that they all have a line where they’re like, “Nope, you don’t cross that line.” And I love that loop is like, I can’t be a part of that. I need to be on the right side of this.
Robert [00:45:34] And Dave, I think that’s going away. I don’t know what your impression is. But I think that’s going away. I really don’t think Jason cared at all if a woman got hurt or if kids got hurt. I don’t think he gave a crap about that. But you’re right, Lou been through the system for his whole life, he did. He had boundaries. And it’s a different way of thinking about things, but I respect him for that.
Dave [00:45:55] Absolutely.
Yeardley [00:45:57] Hats off to you, Detective Robert for hearing Lou out, for not writing somebody off because they may have made bad decisions. But recognizing that they could still have some good to offer, more of what we need, I think. And I hope that the next time we actually sit down with you, we can all be in the same room together again, like the before times. Stay well, stay safe. And thank you so much for joining us today.
Robert [00:46:27] Well, thank you. I love being here.
Dave [00:46:28] Thank you.
Dan [00:46:28] Thank you.
Yeardley [00:46:36] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel and Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate produces are Erin Gaynor and The Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan: [00:47:04] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com, and join the Small Town fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you.
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Yeardley [00:47:31] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country.
Dan [00:47:38] In search of the finest rare true crime cases told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave [00:47:45] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley [00:47:47] Nobody’s better than you.