Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is an innocent man in jail for the Crozet murders?

Coerced confession again

It was the crime that rocked Crozet: a mother found stabbed to death in bed, her three-year-old son dead from the smoke of a cover-up fire. Amid whispers of witchcraft, four neighborhood teens were arrested, and three are doing time today in state prisons.

One of them, Rocky Fugett, now 27, admits he was there that night in 2003, for which he was convicted along with his sister and another neighborhood kid. Eight years later, Fugett says an innocent man is serving time for something he didn't do, and that man-- Robert Davis-- wasn't even there.

Davis' attorney, Steve Rosenfield, has long maintained that his client was coerced into a false confession, and with Fugett recanting, Rosenfield now seeks clemency from the governor. Fugett, serving a 75-year sentence on a guilty plea, says he has nothing to gain from changing his story.

As the clemency petition heads to Richmond, accounts differ and questions remain. But Rocky Fugett has another bombshell allegation: that another person, showered with sympathy eight years ago, played a key role in the events of that fateful night.

On the morning of February 19, 2003, a Wednesday, snow was on the ground, and school was canceled. Around 8:40am, a female neighbor noticing black smoke pouring out of the Charles home began pounding on the door, according to court documents. She was greeted by the elder daughter, Wendie Charles.

Wendie, 15, and her sister Katie, 11, both with rooms on the first floor, escaped their burning house. Another neighbor testified that she tried to run upstairs to where the girls' mother and baby brother slept, but the smoke stopped her after just three steps.

Crozet volunteer firefighters were the first officials to arrive. After subduing the flames and reaching the charred second floor, firefighters discovered something far more sinister than fire.

"The damage was done before we got there," remembers Albemarle Fire Chief Dan Eggleston, who got the call at his Crozet home.

Upstairs, investigators found Ann Charles face down in the bunk bed where her toddler son usually slept. The 41-year-old woman's arms had been bound behind her back with duct tape, and there was duct tape on her feet and ankles, which had been bound to the bed posts. Police forensic tech Larry Claytor, who today calls it one of the worst crime scenes he's ever seen, saw two aerosol cans on the bed and one on the floor.

In the adjacent bedroom, insulation had fallen, and the sky was visible through a hole in the roof, Claytor later testified. Under the debris in his mother's bedroom, responders found the body of three-year-old William Thomas Charles, who had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from smoke inhalation.

Claytor was still taking in the scene when he noticed a grisly detail he'd overlooked earlier: a knife in Ann Charles' back.

The knife was so badly charred, Claytor later testified, that he didn't initially notice it. What remained of it appeared to match those in a wooden knife-holder in the kitchen. The medical examiner later noted that Ann Charles' throat had been cut.

Investigators discovered that the upstairs smoke detector had been removed from the ceiling and the batteries taken from the kitchen detector downstairs. More ominously, the home's electrical breakers had been thrown.

Within two days, police picked up the Fugett siblings, 15-year-old Jessica and 19-year-old Rocky. After initial denials, the Fugetts admitted their roles. And they fingered two other Western Albemarle High teens: Tygue Herrmann and Robert Davis.

Rocky Fugett now says neither had anything to do with the gruesome invasion.

Herrmann, 17, who lived in nearby Orchard Acres, was held in juvenile detention for several months--- until prosecutors dropped the charges for lack of evidence. Davis, however, had given prosecutors something they weren't able to extract from Herrmann: a confession.

The third person serving time is Robert Davis, 18 at the time. Arrested shortly after midnight on the morning of February 22, he was interrogated for more than five hours, beginning around 2am. As the transcript shows, he insisted dozens of times he had nothing to do with what happened in the Charles house, repeatedly offered to take a polygraph test, and said that he was tired and just wanted to sleep.

With his legs shackled, he complained he was cold, and it was almost 7am when Davis asked a fateful question of his interrogator: "What can I say I did to get me out of this?"

In September 2004, Davis entered an Alford plea, which allowed him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him.

Rocky recants

Rocky Fugett now resides southeast of Petersburg in Sussex II State Prison. In late April of this year, he meets with two reporters-- one from the Hook and one from the Daily Progress-- to share his story.

Speaking via teleconference at the medium-security facility that bans recording devices, cameras, and face-to-face meetings, Rocky appears to have lost weight since his perp-walk pictures of eight years ago. The first words he utters are about Davis.

"He wasn't there during any of this whole situation," says Fugett, "not in the slightest."

Although Fugett and Davis both lived on Cling Lane, both attended Western Albemarle, and were about the same age, they were the opposite of buddies. Fugett admits that he beat up Davis "six or seven times."

Fugett describes Davis as easily manipulated, a trait evident long before he ended up in a police interrogation room. "He's weak minded," Fugett says. "You're with him 10 minutes, and you can get him to do anything you want."

More here

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