Preston Craig Hughes III, 46, was executed by lethal injection on 15 November 2012 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a 15-year-old girl and her 3-year-old cousin.
At about 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, 26 September 1988 in Houston, a Fuddrucker's restaurant employee flagged down Houston Police Officers Cook and Becker, who were in the vicinity, and alerted them that he found a female laying in the field behind the restaurant. A dirt path through the high weeds led from Fuddrucker's to the Lakehurst apartment complex. The officers proceeded down the path and found Shandra Charles, 15, laying face down, bleeding from the neck. In their report, they noted she was "breathing deep but was unconscious." They then spotted 3-year-old Marcell Taylor, who was dead. He had large stab wounds on his chest and neck and was covered with blood.
Sergeant Hamilton arrived about ten minutes later. According to his report, he asked Shandra if she wanted to roll over onto her back. She replied that she did, and he helped her do so. He then observed that she was also bleeding from the upper chest. He noticed that her shorts were unbuttoned, unzipped, and partly pulled down, and her underwear were also partly pulled down. He asked her what happened. "He tried to rape me," she answered. Hamilton asked, "Who tried to rape you?" She answered "Preston" and said that she knew him. Hamilton asked Shandra to say Preston's last name, but he didn't understand her answer. He asked if she knew where Preston lived. Hamilton thought here answer sounded like "Lakeside". Hamilton could tell that her speech was becoming more slurred and less understandable. He asked if she was alone. According to Hamilton's report, she "then became upset and began stating, 'where is [what sounded like Marshell or Marchell],'" her cousin.
Shandra was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
The police went to the Lakehurst apartments and asked the manager for a list of tenants. The only tenant named Preston was Hughes, then 22. They went to his apartment around 2:30 a.m. Hughes went with them to the police station. He gave a statement in which he admitted stabbing Shandra. He said that he had been carrying a knife with him because a man whose wife he had slept with had threatened to kill him. He said he left his apartment at 10:30 p.m. to walk his dog, taking the path to Fuddrucker's. When he got there, he turned around and began walking back home, but he ordered his dog to go ahead without him "to see if she knew the way." As he was walking down the path, someone came up behind him and touched him on the shoulder. He turned and "just started sticking with the knife." He could not tell who was there because of the darkness. After the first two strikes, he saw that he was stabbing Shandra Charles. He then said, "I was [messed] up and I just got scared and kept sticking."
Sergeants Ferguson and Yanchak conducted a search of Hughes' apartment. They recovered a pair of eyeglasses which were stuffed between some couch cushions. They also recovered a knife, a pair of blue jeans, and three shirts.
Ferguson and Yanchak then interviewed Shandra's friend, Evelyn Brown, who was with her shortly before her murder. Brown told them that Shandra had visited Hughes' apartment in the past, and he would make sexual advances toward her. She said she told Shandra several times to stay away from him.
The sergeants, realizing that Hughes' confession made no mention of Marcell, decided to question him again. In his second statement, Hughes said he saw Shandra, who he called Shawn, walking with a little boy toward him on the path through the field. When they met in the middle, Shawn told him that she was on her way to his apartment to borrow his contact lenses. He told her that she could not wear his contacts. She then kissed him and started rubbing his crotch. She unbuttoned his jeans and unzipped her shorts, and exposed both of their genitals. They rubbed against each other, but did not have intercourse. When his penis caught on her zipper, he abruptly stopped the activity. Shawn then asked him for $50, but he refused. She then threatened to accuse him of rape and hit him. He hit her back, and she tried to hit him again. He then pulled his knife and began stabbing her. Her little cousin then looked up at him and started crying. When the boy ran between Hughes and Shawn, Hughes stabbed him several times.
At Hughes' trial, Evelyn Brown testified that she was with Shandra and Marcell on the night of the murders. They went to an apartment complex where Shandra's mother was visiting a friend. Shandra's mother asked her to go to the store. Shandra, Marcell, and Brown then went to the Lakehurst apartments, where Brown was going to find a ride home from some friends. Shandra was planning to walk across the field to the store, taking Marcell with her. Brown last saw Shandra at about 9:45 p.m.
Brown testified that the glasses found in Hughes' apartment were Shandra's and that she was wearing them when she last saw her. They were nonprescription, with clear lenses, and Shandra wore them as a fashion accessory. She also testified that she knew Shandra well and they spent much of their free time together, and she did not believe Shandra was sexually active.
The defense cross-examined Brown to show that the glasses found in Hughes' apartment could merely have been a pair that looked like Shandra's. Brown testified that the glasses under discussion were cheap, common, and easy to find in several local stores.
A woman who lived with Hughes in 1988 and another who was his girlfriend testified that Hughes and Shandra knew each other well as friends, and that she came over to his apartment frequently to "curl her hair or iron her clothes or listen to his stereo" because her mother didn't have electricity in her home. Both women said they didn't believe Hughes and Shandra had any kind of romantic or sexual relationship.
James Bolding of the Houston Crime Lab testified that a vaginal swab taken from Shandra Charles' body confirmed the presence of semen, but the sample was insufficient to provide a blood type. He also testified that the knife and some of the clothing recovered from Hughes' apartment tested positive for the presence of blood. On cross-examination, he stated that the test did not distinguish between human and animal blood, nor did it indicate how long the blood had been there.
Hughes' lawyers argued that he was uninvolved in the killings and that the police obtained his confessions by beating and threatening him and causing him to fear for his life. They argued that the search of his apartment was illegal and that the police forged Hughes' signature on documents and mishandled physical evidence.
Mikal Klumpp testified that he was Hughes' probation officer at the time of the killings. On 27 September 1988 at about 7:30 a.m., he received a call from Hughes, informing him that he was at the police station, being questioned regarding the stabbing deaths of a "girl and a little boy" and that he had given the police a statement. The account Hughes gave to Klumpp on the phone followed his first confession, wherein he stated he felt a tap on his shoulder and began stabbing blindly out of fear. Klumpp testified that Hughes did not mention any mistreatment or threats by the police or any kind of coercion to sign a false confession. "In fact," Klumpp testified, "it surprised me that he seemed surprisingly calm."
Elizabeth Stroman testified that she was answering the phones at Hughes' workplace on Monday, 27 September and that she received several collect phone calls from Hughes at the jail that day. In the first phone call, Hughes told her that he gave a statement to the police saying that he stabbed someone after he felt a tap on the shoulder. In a subsequent call that morning, he told her he was being told he had to change his statement. In the afternoon, he called back and said he had changed his statement. Stroman testified that Hughes sounded upset, but he did not tell her he was being beaten or threatened.
During the punishment phase of the trial, Tracy Heggar testified that in May 1985, when she was 13, Hughes came over to her mother's apartment. She answered the door and spoke to him. She said goodbye and began to shut the door, Hughes stuck his foot in and barged inside. He then raped her. Heggar further testified that about a year later, while she was on her way to school, Hughes pulled up in front of her and threatened her not to testify against him. When she turned to run away, he fired a gun at her. Hughes was subsequently convicted of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault and given two 10-year terms of probation.
Given a chance to respond, Hughes denied that the rape and assault on Heggar ever took place.
Hughes had also been charged with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl in New York, but the charge was dropped when the victim did not appear in court.
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