Some believe there is a thumb on the scales of justice held by the blindfolded lady. Go to this link written by Nicole Flatow/Think Progress. Google 10 Most Appalling Failures of the American Justice System and read about one side of the scales from her perspective. As you read my story, you may conclude a thumb may have been on the scales in this murder case as well.
A.J. Price and I often teamed up on felony investigations. We were working graveyard shift in the investigations division that Saturday night. Around midnight, patrol officers requested we respond to a double stabbing call at the Captain Shreve High School football stadium parking lot. We jumped in our ugly, unmarked detective unit and rolled to the scene. While in route, I talked with the crime scene officer on a private channel on the police radio. A crowd of 40 or so high school kids were gathered in the parking lot near the football stadium. Two young men had been stabbed and currently being transported to local hospitals. Officers were keeping the kids separated and instructing them to not talk to one another. A.J. and I knew this was an impossible task. Traffic was light that time of the night and we arrived on the scene in a matter of minutes. We met with the officer in charge of the investigation and was briefed in detail.
The kids, mostly age 17-18, had been drinking beer and liquor. They were clustered together visiting and hanging out when a blue, older model Chevy pickup truck rolled up and four young men exited. One went to the tailgate, lowered it and sat down. The other three men from the truck joined the crowd and began socializing. Soon a fight broke out between one of the men in the truck and a couple of the boys from the crowd. Darrell Floyd, white male age 18 and Shreve graduate, was stabbed in his chest and transported to Riverside Hospital in Bossier City. The second stabbing victim was Kenneth Kay, white male age 17. He had been stabbed in the back and taken to a different hospital. Members of the Shreveport Fire emergency medical division reported both stabbing victims were in serious condition.
A.J. and I walked the entire crime scene and saw two large pools of blood on the pavement. Both victims had lost a tremendous amount of blood from the attacks. We noticed numerous empty beer and whiskey bottles scattered around the scene. Also leftover wrappers and bandages used by our E.M.T’s as they treated the victims before they were rushed to the emergency rooms.
I asked the officer in charge of the scene to have the kids load up in their cars and drive to the station for witness statements. He instructed the kids not to drive if they had been drinking. I knew this request would not be followed and many of the kids were possible DWI’s. I crossed my fingers they would make it to the station without causing an accident.
Soon kids started pouring into our division offices. It was a major challenge to keep them separated and keep them from growing impatient and leaving. We needed to interview about 40 kids. Each interview would take fifteen to twenty minutes to record. By the time the sun came up, we had a clear picture of how this double stabbing occurred.
When I was a kid in Cedar Grove, I attended Atkins Grades 1-6, Linwood Grades 7-9 and Woodlawn High School. It did not happen often but we did have our share of schoolyard fistfights. The response was always the same. Two people would tie up in a fight. In seconds, every kid on campus rushed in and formed a tight circle around the fight to watch. They stood in amazement watching the two fighters beat one another. Our teachers and coaches had to pry kids out of their way to get inside and pull the fighters apart.
This case reminded me of those days. As we finished our interviews, we were reminded how flawed “eye witness” statements can be, especially those impaired by liquor and personal emotion. We had 20 good witnesses and 20 bad witnesses. It was confusing and frustrating to interview the bad ones once we determined the truth.
We came away with two totally different scenarios.
- The truck drove up and four young men got out. One sat on the tailgate and the others mingled with the Shreve students. One of the men from the truck had attended Shreve and knew many of the kids. He was nice and polite to his former classmates. One of the other men from the truck went into the crowd and began talking to a student he did not know. They talked about their common passion for karate. At one point without any provocation, this suspect became aggressive. He wanted to show off his martial arts skill for the crowd. He spotted a small, young boy standing about fifteen feet from him and decided he would be a good example to prove his kicking skills. This suspect bolted into a full run and quickly closed the fifteen foot distance to the smaller kid. He jumped high in the air and spun his body so his feet were even with his head like professional wrestlers do. The smaller kid was unaware of what was happening. He was struck forcefully in the center of his chest by the foot of the aggressor. His breath was knocked out of his lungs as he flew backwards through the air landing on the pavement gasping for his life. A big football player in the crowd witnessed this attack and went to the defense of the small boy. He grabbed the suspect and tossed him to the ground. He put the suspect in an armbar choke hold and held him down. He ordered the suspect to get up and leave. When the big football player released him, the suspect stood and appeared to follow the orders. The ball player turned his back on the suspect and walked to check on the smaller boy. The suspect turned and bolted at him. The suspect jumped on the back of the ballplayer and began choking him. The ball- player flipped the suspect over his shoulders on to the pavement. He pinned down the suspect and began to beat him in the face. The good witnesses stated while the suspect was being beaten, the suspect sitting on the tailgate jumped up and ran to the passenger’s side of the truck. He opened the glove box and took out a large “Buck” folding blade knife. He opened the knife and ran into the crowd. The crowd was packed tightly around the football player and the aggressive suspect. The suspect with the knife could not get to his friend so he shoved the knife into the right lower back of an innocent bystander named Kenneth Kay. A.J. and I were able to interview Kenneth. When he was stabbed, he felt the shooting pain of the blade in his back and spun around. He was face to face with the tailgate suspect holding a bloody knife. This wound caused Kenneth’s lung to collapse. Several other witnesses standing next to Kenneth at the time of the assault gave identical statements. Kenneth and many other witnesses stated the suspect continued to fight his way through the crowd of innocent onlookers. He encountered another young man who was merely watching the fight. The suspect stood directly behind the young man later identified as Darrell Floyd. Suddenly the suspect reached his hand around in front of Darrell holding the knife with the blade near the heel of his fist. He shoved the knife into the chest of Darrell just below the bottom of his ribs. The suspect buried the entire knife into Darrell working the handle in a circular motion causing additional pain and injury. Darrell fell to the ground. The ball player released the aggressive suspect from the ground and the four men in question ran to their truck and fled the scene.
- The twenty or so remaining witnesses gave this statement. Many were drinking at the time of the stabbings and were friends of Darrell Floyd and Kenneth Kay. The truck drove up. Four young men got out. The main aggressor, who kicked the small kid in the chest, had a knife and was seen stabbing Darrell and Kenneth before he ran to the truck and left the scene. Several witnesses stated after the kicking and two stabbings, some of the kids in the crowd yelled racial slurs at the fleeing black males. Several tossed beer cans and bottles at the vehicle. None of the suspects were hit or injured.
When A.J. and I finished the interviews, we learned the name of the suspect, Marcus Jackson, age 17. He once attended the school and was well known by many of the witnesses. Using a high school yearbook, we identified him. Once we had his name, it took only a short time to track him down and bring him into our offices for questioning. He stated he was not involved in the fights or stabbings but he was present with his friends, Alonzo Zachary age 17, Anthony Fredrick age 17 and Regis Rhyns age 17. He and his friends had attended a similar parking lot party at Huntington High School in the western portion of town where they learned of the event at Shreve. They drove Jackson’s old truck to Shreve to hang out with his friends from his previous school year. He stated Regis Rhyns did sit on the tailgate and did not socialize with the kids from Shreve.
He stated Fredrick had been drinking more than his other friends. Fredrick kicked the smaller boy in the chest resulting in the big football player grabbing him. He confirmed Fredrick was ordered to leave by the ballplayer but when he stood he jumped on the back of the player. The big player put Fredrick on the ground and punched him several times. Jackson told us the crowd closed in with most of them screaming at him and his friends. They ran to the truck and drove away. All four of the young men were crowded into the cab of Jackson’s old truck. Rhyns announced he may have stabbed a couple of them. He was holding a large, folding blade type knife covered in fresh blood. Jackson dropped off his friends at their homes and went to his house.
I asked if he called 911 to report the possible stabbings when he got home. His answer was no. He was afraid of Rhyns.
We checked on Darrell Floyd at the hospital. He was undergoing multiple blood transfusions. He was listed in critical condition and the attending doctors informed us he may not survive. We visited Kenneth Kay again and went over his statement. We wanted to be certain he had his facts straight. He recited the events as before. The primary aggressor was not the man who stabbed him and Darrell. It was the one who sat on the tailgate. We had a photo lineup that included Rhyns. Darrell picked him out as the suspect who stabbed them.
Within two days of the stabbings, A.J. and I had positively identified Regis Rhyns and obtained an arrest warrant for two counts of attempted 2nd degree murder. We hit his home and took him into custody. We searched his house but did not find the large knife.
Once we had him dressed out in jailhouse overalls spending time in his new surroundings absorbing the seriousness of his charges, A.J. and I had him removed from his cell and placed in the interrogation room located on the first floor of the city jail. After reading him his rights, he signed the card indicating he understood them. At first he denied the accusations of the stabbings. Once he learned of the numerous witnesses lined up to testify against him in court, he confessed. He stated they did drive up to the Shreve parking lot and get out to visit with those kids. Since he did not know any of them, he lowered the tailgate and took a seat. When asked about the stabbing, he attempted to justify it. He stated the big football player was beating his friend Fredrick and he went to defend him with the knife. He feared the big player would seriously injure Fredrick, or kill him, so he tried to fight his way through the crowd. The crowd was so tightly gathered he could not reach his friend. He must have accidentally bumped into a couple of the bystanders with the open knife.
I pressed him further. I asked if he saw Fredrick drop kick the smaller boy in the chest. He stated he did. I asked what he thought about it. He only shrugged his shoulders. Then I stated. “Oh, it was O.K. for your big friend Fredrick to run up and mule kick a much smaller white kid? That was O.K. with you. But once the big ball player stepped in to defend the smaller kid, and began to whip his ass, you didn’t like that! Only when your friend was getting a dose of his own medicine did you act.”
Rhyns confirmed I was right. He was O.K. with Fredrick kicking some innocent kid. Only when the big ball player started defending the little guy did Rhyns become angry. He got the knife from the glove box, ran into the crowd and started stabbing those in his path to clear his way to the fight. Before he could reach his friend, the fight was over. They ran to the truck and left. He told his friends he thought he got a couple of them. When he got home, he hid the knife in a large flower pot on his front porch and went to bed. He never called the police to report his involvement because he was afraid and did not want to be arrested.
A.J. and I went to his home and recovered the bloody knife from the pot. We typed our investigative reports and went home after working around the clock for a couple of days. On the third day, Rhyns was transferred to the parish jail on felony charges of attempted second degree murder. Darrell Floyd died from his stabbing wound to his chest. Rhyns was informed in court his charges were upgraded to murder. His bond was set for $50,000. His family bonded him out as he awaited his trial.
A.J. and I compiled the complete investigative file in a three ring binder. We delivered it to the D.A.’s office and waited to be subpoenaed to the grand jury hearing. About a month later, we took our turns testifying before the secret body. The next day we learned Rhyns was indicted by the jury to face trial on one count of second degree murder and one count of attempted second degree murder.
Months later, A.J. and I were called to testify in a preliminary hearing. The court appointed lawyer Giddens accused us of wrongfully arresting Rhyns and coercing his confession. Giddens accused us of interrogating Rhyns without permitting his parents to be present. Weeks later, the state judge ruled in our favor. We had not wrongfully arrested Rhyns nor had we violated his rights to have his parents present. He was of legal age to be held as an adult.
About a year after the murder of Darrell Floyd, the case was set for a jury trial in Louisiana state court. Once the jury was selected, the trial began. I testified, then A.J. Price. We were followed by the crime scene technicians, nurses and doctors who attended Darrell and the witnesses we interviewed. The trial lasted for days. I was present in the halls of the court monitoring the progress. Finally the state and defense rested. The case was handed over to the jury to decide guilt or innocence. Hours went by. Questions were presented to the judge who passed them on to the lawyers and their answers returned. At the beginning of the trial, A.J., myself and all other witnesses were called into the courtroom and sequestered. This means the judge gave us a direct order to not talk to anyone except the prosecutor or the defense attorney about the case. I did not need the instruction regarding the defense attorney. After he attacked us for making a bad arrest and accused us of coercing a confession from the defendant, I did not want to see him let alone talk to the honorable Mr. Giddens. Once the jury filed back into the courtroom, A.J. and I were permitted to return and hear the verdict. Not Guilty rang out from the mouth of the jury foreman. I did not know him personally but knew of him. Alan Stonecipher was a well know civic leader in our city and was well respected. He was selected to head the jury by his peers within the jury. When he announced the not guilty verdict, I was caught totally off guard. I glanced at the mother and father of Darrell Floyd. They were aware of every detail of our case. We told them every step we took during the investigation. They knew we had the correct suspect. They knew we had a full blown recorded confession. How could this group of jury members find this scumbag not guilty? Everything was a blur and I am sure it was for the Floyd’s. The crowd of friends and family supporting Rhyns cheered in the courtroom. They were quickly chastised by the sitting judge to behave themselves. Under their breaths, they snickered and gave one another high fives as they exited the lavish courthouse. They gathered on the steps of the grand historic building and met the news media. Regis Rhyns gave his first formal interview. He announced he was innocent of the stabbings. He had been wrongfully arrested and eluded to the only reason he was arrested was because he was a black man. He announced he never held faith in the American judicial system but today changed his mind. Justice had prevailed and, being an innocent man, he was found not guilty.
I offered my condolences once again to the Floyd family, walked to my ugly unmarked detective unit and headed back to the division offices. It was mid-afternoon and many day-shift detectives were present when A.J. and I walked in. They knew we had been in this major trial and wanted to know the outcome. When they learned the jury let Rhyns off, they too became angry. Questions bounced back and forth but no answers. All the other detectives in our division were aware of the details and evidence we had against Rhyns. They too could not believe the not guilty verdict.
This was on a Friday and I was off the next day. I had to know what went wrong in my case. The appointed assistant D.A. who was the primary prosecutor in the case was known as a second string player in the D.A.’s office. At best, he was weak. The office had many veteran assistants who were well respected by the rank and file of our division and even the public. Somehow a second stringer had been selected to present this major case. I needed answers and I was determined to get them. I called the young assistant at his home and asked him to meet me at McDonald’s on Line Avenue for coffee. He was a likable guy and easy to get along with but everyone in my department knew he was a minor league player.
We talked about the case. We went through it from beginning to the very end. He too seemed dumbfounded with the verdict. I was angry and my heart was hurting for the family of Darrell Floyd. Not only had they lost their only son who was loved by all, they lost the case against the confessed murderer. How could this be?
It took me several days to link up with Alan Stonecipher but eventually I did. We met in his downtown office and went over the details of the case. We went over the testimony of each witness. He finally told me why the jury was not able to find Rhyns guilty. The jury could not determine if the murderer was Rhyns or Fredrick. The state put on twenty or so witnesses that clearly pointed out Rhyns as the suspect who stabbed the two boys. Mr. Giddens called the twenty or so witnesses who testified that Fredrick was the one who stabbed Darrell and Kenneth. With nothing to dispute this conflicting testimony, the jury had no choice but to find him not guilty. The state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Rhyns murdered Darrell and attempted to murder Kenneth Kay.
I have never been accused of being intelligent by my colleagues. It took a few minutes for this to sink in. I was reaching for the door to leave Alan’s office when it hit me.
“What about the recorded confession I took from Rhyns, Alan? Wasn’t that enough to convince you all of his guilt?”
“Pat, we heard you testify you had taken a recorded confession but the D.A. never played it to us or provided us with the transcribed version. If we had heard the suspect confess in his own words he killed Floyd and tried to kill Kay, we would have convicted him!”
My next stop was just down the street. I still needed answers and was not going to rest until I had them. I was buzzed into the secure area within the courthouse that protected the district attorneys. I was permitted to pass his gatekeeper and finally sat across from the D.A. I asked him directly why my recorded confession from Rhyns had not been introduced to the jury during the trial.
He told me they listened to the recording and Rhyns seemed to weep, sniffle and show remorse during his confession. If the jury had listened to this, they would have felt sorry for him and let him off. It was a strategic decision by his office to withhold the recording from the jury. This was the answer I was seeking. To this day, I do not like or respect it. When I informed the Floyd family of this strategic decision, they too did not agree with it It was too late to go back and present it. Rhyns had been tried in a state court and because of a double jeopardy law could never face this charge again.
The following Monday I was back in our division offices with A.J. and many other detectives talking about this case. A.J. was always level headed while I was known as a hot headed Irishman with a quick trigger. He was intelligent and methodical in everything he did. When he spoke, everyone listened and respected him.
“Hey guys, it’s over. Nothing we can do about it now. All our complaining and bitching won’t change anything. Here’s what I think. This case is quite simple. You have a group of white kids at Shreve. Four black men roll up and one starts a fight without any provocation. When the big ball player body slams this punk, his buddy on the tailgate, aka Regis Rhyns, becomes angry and gets his knife to get the ballplayer. Since he can’t get to him, he stabs two innocent bystanders, killing one. We arrest him and learn we have twenty witnesses who misidentify Fredrick as the murderer. The D.A. is up for reelection and needs the minority vote. He can’t afford to lose it and doesn’t want to send Rhyns to prison for the rest of his life for killing a white boy. He picks his weakest assistant to handle the case. They know the value of the confession and decided to withhold it. They knew the conflicting statements of the witnesses would become the stick in the spokes and derail a guilty verdict. The outcome was predictable from the start. As I said Pat, nothing we can do about it. Let it go!” I have considered what A.J. had to say. He was able to move on in his own way. Not that he approved of what happened, but he knew it was over and done. Perhaps the D.A. was right. If the confession had been played to the jury and they heard Rhyns crying with remorse, they may have been reluctant to convict him. But the words A. J. spoke that day still ring in my ear. “It’s too late now. Nothing we can do about it so move on with your life.”
The murder of Darrell was a long time ago. Most cops would have forgotten about him but not me. I will never forget the tragic loss of this young man’s innocent life. I will never forget the look in the eyes of his mother and father when they learned he died and the day they heard the verdict in state court. I know these wounds will not heal in this life but I pray for them. One day after this time on earth, they will find peace and happiness. They will be reunited with their innocent son, Darrell.
A note from the Author:
By now you know I write unfiltered and from my heart. If you have read my stories, you know me better than my closest friends who have not read them or seen this deep into my heart. This is short story number 41 in the series under the four titles I publish. I have several more stories yet to write. I thank you for taking the time to read my work and I ask that you share them with your friends and family. Pat McGaha