Saturday, February 13, 2010

U of L student dragged through legal system for crime she didn't commit

And the arrogant cop responsible? No action. At least so far

Tiffany Washington had just finished classes at University of Louisville in late April 2008 when she returned to her townhouse apartment near campus to find an urgent message from her father telling her to call him.

When she did, Michael Washington quickly came to the point: “Tiffany, have you done something in Louisville?” he asked. “If you have done anything, you need to tell me, now.” Local police had just left the Washington family home in Henderson County, searching for evidence of a robbery committed four months earlier on West Hill Street in Old Louisville. The victim had been struck in the face with a gun before her jewelry and other items were taken.

And Tiffany Washington, a student in good standing who worked at the U of L library to help defray her college expenses and whose most serious lawlessness had been two speeding tickets, had been picked out from a photo lineup as a suspect.

Except Tiffany Washington was nowhere near Old Louisville on Dec. 22, 2007, when the robbery occurred. She was on Christmas break in Henderson, 130 miles away, and she had evidence to prove it. She had receipts from bank transactions and a shopping trip to Eastland Mall, across the Ohio River in Evansville, Ind. She had cell phone records showing calls she had made from Henderson that night. And there were photographs of her attending a party at a Henderson bowling alley where the entertainer Midget Mac appeared.

But except for a small circle of family and friends, no one believed Washington — especially Louisville Metro Police Detective Crystal Marlowe, the investigating officer on the Old Louisville robbery who requested the March 28 warrant for her arrest. In that warrant, Marlowe, who is now under investigation by the police department for her questionable handling of court cases, said the robbery victim “was able to positively ID” Washington after viewing photographs.

After questioning Washington April 17, Marlowe arrested her for robbery, beginning Washington's two-month nightmarish journey through the legal system that only ended after a Jefferson County grand jury declined to indict her in May 2008.

Washington's family had to hire a lawyer. She lost nearly a semester's worth of credits because she was too distraught to take final exams. And she experienced a mixture of bewilderment, humiliation, resentment and anger from which she said she has yet to fully recover.

The court record of Washington's case is sparse, but no one interviewed about the case, including representatives of the prosecutors' offices and the university, as well as Washington's attorneys at the time, said they now have any reason to doubt her innocence. In fact, questions of whether Washington was innocent surfaced several times in court.

During one brief court proceeding on April 22, 2008, defense attorney Howard Lerner outlined the evidence showing Washington was nowhere near Louisville during the robbery and told Jefferson District Judge Sean Delahanty: “Your honor, we have an unusual situation here. I think we've got the wrong person.”

Delahanty himself had questions, asking at least twice how Washington's photo could have ended up in the package of pictures Detective Marlowe said she had shown the victim. Because Washington had no prior criminal record, the judge pointed out, she apparently had never been photographed by the legal system, which is the most common source for police photo lineups. The question went unanswered, according to an audio recording of the hearing.

The court record identifies the robbery victim as Abbey Schmitt, whom Washington said she did not know and had never seen before the April 22 court hearing in her case.

During the hearing, Washington said, Marlowe asked Schmitt to identify the person who robbed her. Washington said Schmitt pointed to her cousin, Christie Garvin, who in the courtroom and who is lighter-skinned, 11 years older than Washington and had a much larger build and hair of a different color and length. Garvin, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and works for a drug-store chain, confirmed the account.

Schmitt could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts. Marlowe declined in a brief telephone interview Friday night to talk about Washington's case. “I am not interested in speaking with you,” she said. “As you very well know, what we say and what you print are two completely separate things. I'm sure after you speak with Ms. Washington you will be fully aware of the circumstances of the case.” The detective added: “I can assure you, I handled the case in the utmost amount of professionalism.”

Tiffany Washington and her parents disagree. When Marlowe interviewed her, Tiffany Washington recalled in the interview, “she basically said, ‘This is what happened and this is what you did, and this is what you're gonna get for doing it.' And as much as I sat there and said, ‘It wasn't me, it wasn't me,' she did not believe me at all.”

Michael Washington, a disabled former maintenance manager, and his wife Sandra, a sales associate at an Evansville furniture store, both sat in on their daughter's questioning by Marlowe. Marlowe “already had her mind made up that it was Tiffany who done it,” Michael Washington said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Henderson “We were lying, and Tiffany was lying too. We were covering up for her because we were her parents.

Now in her last semester at U of L, Tiffany Washington has sought to rebuild her life. In addition to taking four classes this semester, she works part time in the university's intramural office and logs another 15 to 20 hours per week as a hostess at a downtown sports bar and restaurant. But she said she still is haunted by memories of her arrest and time in jail.

“To take somebody and put them in a jail cell for a crime that they didn't commit, I mean, it was hard,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don't think about it or stress about it. It's like, every question I had about it is going unanswered. I don't how I was picked out. I don't know anything. I always wonder why.”

Original report here

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