Friday, August 10, 2012

Tyrone Washington

Tyrone Washington
The sky glared hot and blue over Portland, Oregon, on Sun­day, July 20, 1986. Cecil Hoyette Higgs Jr., 41, peered out from the fash­ionable, comfortably air-conditioned department store where he worked in the southeast corner of the city. Even though he loved and excelled in his work, he was clearly bored on this par­ticular day. He yearned to make the two- hour drive to the beach for a much-needed break from the store’s tailoring department where he was the assistant manager. It was a trip he had been plan­ning to make for some time.
The temperature must have been near 100 degrees when Cecil walked out of the store and headed for his car, a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which he usually parked in a far corner of the mall’s lot designated for employee vehicles. He had left the windows open a crack, but it hadn’t helped much. No sooner had he slid behind the wheel than beads of per­spiration began to pop out all over his face. As soon as he started the engine, he turned the air conditioning on high and headed for home, a small Southeast Portland apartment he shared with an­other man, Bruce Gagnon, who had been his roommate and friend for the previous five years.
Bruce was home when Cecil arrived. Cecil promptly told him that he was going downtown for a few hours later that evening, just to do something sim­ple to relieve his boredom. He asked Bruce if he wanted to go with him, but Bruce politely declined and told him to have a good time without him.
Cecil then took a cool shower, changed clothes, and prepared a small meal for himself. When he had cleared his dinner dishes he said goodbye to his roommate, unaware that he would nev­er see him again. It was shortly after 8:00 p.m. when he finally left the apart­ment for the last time.
When he arrived downtown, Cecil spent only a few minutes in the area. He walked around a bit and. finding that there wasn’t much happening on a Sun­day night and seeing no one that he knew, headed back to his car.
Unknown to him, however, he was being watched by three young men who followed a short distance behind him. It wasn’t until he reached out to open the door of his car that they attacked him, taking him fully by surprise.
But Cecil wasn’t the type to become anyone’s victim easily, at least not with­out putting up some type of resistance. He struggled angrily with his attackers, who’d made it clear from the outset that they intended to do him bodily harm, but he didn’t fight with them.
Cecil, by his very nature, simply wasn’t a fighter. Aware of their inten­tions he broke away and ran. But the young men chased and caught him, knocking him down only a few yards from his car. He got to his feet and ran again, only to be caught and knocked to the asphalt once more. Their knives drawn, they demanded that Cecil turn over his keys. When he complied, one of them opened the trunk and together they forced their terrified victim inside, and then sped away from the scene in Cecil’s car.
When Cecil didn’t return home that night, Bruce naturally became a little worried. But since Cecil was planning to go to the beach the next day Bruce decided, incorrectly, that his roommate must have left town a day early. He thought little else about Cecil’s absence until two days later.
On Tuesday, July 22nd, a farmer in North Portland was walking toward one of his cucumber fields, looking towards the ground to check the progress of his labor, when he saw what appeared to be a small picture of someone encased in plastic. It was lying in the grass and, upon closer inspection, he could see that it was someone’s Oregon driver’s license. When he picked it up he noticed another plastic card nearby, a membership card to an athletic club. Both bore the name Cecil Hoyette Higgs Jr.
The farmer thought it was a bit strange that these two pieces of identi­fication should be found on his farm. This prompted him to pick them up and place them in his pocket. When the farmer had finished his day’s work he thought over what he might do about the mysterious identification. Although he had never heard of Cecil Higgs, he felt it was his civic duty to at least try and get the identification back to its rightful owner.
After striking out with the Portland telephone directory, he decided to call the athletic club. They would likely have Cecil’s home telephone number, the farmer felt. The club’s number was listed, along with its address, in small print on the back of the membership card. Moments after dialing the number, the farmer reported what he’d found to the club’s manager.
The club manager politely declined to provide the caller with Cecil’s telephone number, explaining that it was against club policy to do so. But when he had finished talking with the farmer, he promptly called Cecil’s home where he reached Bruce Gagnon.
Naturally, Bruce told the manager that Cecil wasn’t home and explained that he didn’t expect him for a couple of days. The manager then informed Bruce of the mysterious circumstances sur­rounding the discovery of Cecil’s identi­fication. Bruce was at a loss for words as to why his roommate’s identification should be found in a North Portland cu­cumber field, but the implications ap­peared to him to be indeed sinister.
The news brought back the same un­easy feeling Bruce had experienced when Cecil failed to return home from downtown on Sunday evening, except this time the foreboding wouldn’t go away. If Cecil had merely been robbed, Bruce reasoned, he would have shown up and reported the incident to the po­lice. A gut feeling told Bruce that some­thing more dreadful than robbery had happened to Cecil.
The Portland Police Bureau promptly responded to Bruce Gagnon’s request that they look into the growing mystery surrounding his missing roommate and friend. First they sent a team of officers around to speak with Gagnon, hoping to learn more about his last contact with Cecil.
“When he didn’t return home that night, I became concerned, but I thought he may have run into a friend,” Gagnon told the investigating officers. “He had planned to go to the beach the next day, which was his day off. When he didn’t come home I thought he may have left town already. But two days after he left home, I called the police,” he said, ad­ding that he made the call to authorities after receiving the telephone inquiry from the manager of the athletic club where Cecil was a member.
In response to additional probing by the officers, Gagnon said Cecil had taken less than $20 with him when he left the apartment. A subsequent inquiry with acquaintances on the Oregon coast revealed that Cecil had not shown up where he was supposed to; he had not arrived at the beach.
After reporting their findings to their superiors and writing an official report of the interview, the investigating offi­cers went to North Portland to interview the farmer who found the pieces of identification. It was the trip to the farm that produced the most significant re­sults; it also brought on a grim outlook for all those concerned. The farmer took the officers to the location where he found the identification.
“I wasn’t too concerned about find­ing the identification,” said the farmer as he pointed to the spot where he found it. “I just thought it was a little strange finding something like that out here.” The officers agreed.
After poking around the field for a few minutes one of the officers called over to the other one, who was still talk­ing to the farmer. He pointed out what he thought looked like blood. His part­ner agreed; it did look like blood, he said. But where had it come from? Was it human or animal blood? There was no way for them to make such a determina­tion by mere observation. The farmer told the officers that he hadn’t been in­jured and that he didn’t know of anyone who worked for him who had recently been hurt. So where had the blood come from?
After collecting some blood samples and surrounding materials, mostly soil and vegetation, for analysis, the officers continued their examination of the field and adjacent areas. However, there was no body to be found there, no evidence of any recent digging and, as best as they could tell; there was no more blood anywhere else in the field.
The only thing they did find was a broken jar, and there was no way to de­termine at this point if it had any bear­ing on the case. After all they were, for now, only investigating a missing per­son. But the implications surrounding Cecil’s disappearance were getting more and more mysterious — that couldn’t be denied.
A few hours later, the test results of the samples submitted by the officers were sent by the crime lab to the miss­ing-persons detail. The report stated that the blood found in the field was defi­nitely human, but from whose veins it had spilled continued to remain un­known.
At this point little else could be done. Investigators made all the usual contacts in a missing-person case, including all known relatives, friends, and co-work­ers. Unfortunately, though, nobody could shed any light on Cecil’s sudden disappearance. And in what they hoped wouldn’t be a futile effort, the lawmen issued a multi state APB for Cecil’s Cutlass. Now all they could do was wait for a new lead to come in, one that they hoped would take them down the right path.
As they continued with their inquir­ies, the investigators learned that Cecil was a soft-spoken man, well-liked by -everyone who knew him. A human­itarian, he was known to take in stray cats and attempt to find homes for them. He was also described as a master tailor who had a keen interest in costume-making for the theater, and he was known to make many of his own clothes. He had, in fact, made the shirt he was wearing the night he disap­peared, detectives learned.
Nearly a week passed, and no new in­formation surfaced regarding Cecil’s disappearance. His car hadn’t been spot­ted. With no new leads, it seemed as if he had simply vanished from the face of the earth.
The cops knew that he hadn’t, of course. They knew that sometimes a person who has a special reason to dis­appear, such as someone with too many bad debts, a marriage or love relation­ship that has gone sour, a bitter child custody dispute, or simply enemies for any number of reasons, will vanish of his own choosing. But Cecil simply didn’t fit into such a profile. He had no reason to disappear, at least none that the cops could uncover. Instinct told them that he had met with foul play, and that he would likely turn up as a corpse sooner or later.
It was Monday, July 28th, before any­thing new surfaced. As it turned out, three children walking through the woods to their grandmother’s house near Carrolls, Washington, some 50 miles to the north of Portland in rural Cowlitz County, would provide investi­gators with the next piece to their diffi­cult puzzle.
It was hot, another scorcher, and the children thoroughly enjoyed the shade provided by the forest trees. It wasn’t very far to their grandmother’s house, and the beaten path they took was their regular shortcut. They weren’t in a par­ticular hurry — not yet, anyway — to get to their grandmother’s house.
At one point along the path, as they neared a steep embankment, one of the youngsters in the lead noticed a strong, unpleasant odor coming from the woods. He quickly brought it to the at­tention of the others. It was unlike any­thing they had ever smelled before, and the children clustered together to try in their own fashion to figure out what the odor might be. But no matter what they guessed, they couldn’t have been further from the truth. Finally, they decided to press on toward grandma’s house.
But as they got nearer to the embank­ment the odor turned into a definite stench, like something rotten and decay­ing. It seemed to be coming from the bottom of the embankment, near a nar­row creek bed some 50 feet below. One of the children decided to take a peek over the embankment to see if he could spot a dead animal, perhaps a deer or a bear, but when he got a little too close to the edge, he lost his footing.
He screamed as he slid and tumbled down the embankment, and his voice echoed through the woods. The children above him were frightened out of their wits, and they didn’t know what they could do to help their friend. They just watched in terror as the boy continued his hapless descent to the bottom.
The entire fall had taken only a few seconds, but it had seemed like eternity to the boy who had made the rough and unplanned journey. When he finally reached the bottom, however, he knew he wasn’t far from the source of the hor­rible odor. The stench was nearly un­bearable. After he regained his senses and determined that he had not been se­riously hurt, that he had sustained only a few scrapes and bruises, he turned over to get up, grateful that nothing had been broken. That was when he saw the dead body lying next to him, almost touching him!
The boy began to scream when he saw the decomposing corpse. Shaken, he got clumsily to his feet and moved’ away from the body. His eyes frantically searched for a way up the hill. He soon found it a few yards upstream from where he’d landed. After a tiresome climb, the youngster finally reached the top where his friends waited.
After he told the others what he’d en­countered, the petrified children ran back the way they had come, finding sanctuary at a nearby store where they told the clerk what they’d discovered. The clerk in turn notified the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Department.
A few minutes later, Detective Ser­geant Dave Smith, accompanied by a team of deputies, arrived at the store. In a soothing manner he began asking the children, who had by this time calmed down somewhat, about their gruesome discovery. After he got as many details out of them as he could, the children led Smith and the deputies to the forest lo­cation, about a half-mile east of Inter­state 5.
The lawmen had no difficulty finding the body: the stench of putrefaction led them right to it. They carefully made their way down to it, careful not to dis­turb any evidence. When they ap­proached the body they covered their faces with handkerchiefs.
At a glance they could tell the body was that of a middle-aged male. Decom­position had done its damage, though, and they knew it would be difficult to make a visual identification. The body was only partially clad, a clear indica­tion that he had been a victim of foul play. There was no identification on or near the corpse.
From the position in which the body lay — face down — it was not possible for the lawmen to immediately determine what type of injury the person had sus­tained. None of the investigators dared to touch or move the body at this time; they would have to wait until it was re­leased by the medical examiner.
Instead of concentrating on the corpse at this point, the investigators surveyed the area and attempted to de­termine the dimensions of the crime scene. Preliminary examination of the site indicated that the victim had been thrown over the embankment. There were clearly two sets of marks made in the earth, a few feet apart. One they de­termined was made by the victim when he was tossed over the side and the oth­er by the youngster’s unexpected tum­ble.
Detective Smith instructed the depu­ties to cordon off the area and to desig­nate it as a crime scene, and asked them to stand by as sentries until additional personnel arrived. In the meantime, Smith radioed his findings to headquar­ters and requested that a coroner and a crime scene crew be sent to the area as quickly as possible.
He then contacted the children who discovered the body and, after obtaining their parents’ permission to question them again, attempted to obtain addi­tional details surrounding their terrify­ing ordeal. However, Smith soon concluded they had told him everything they knew and he returned to the crime scene, where he found Cowlitz County Coroner D. F. Winebrenner examining the body.
Detective Smith would have loved to determine the exact time of the victim’s death. He knew that was impossible, however. Experience had taught him there was no accurate way to accomplish such a thing. The most he could hope for was the coroner’s best estimate based on the victim’s body temperature, state of rigor mortis, and degree of de­composition.
The victim’s body temperature, the coroner told him, was consistent with someone who had been dead for several days. Rigor mortis, he said, had quickly come and gone, completing its cycle rapidly due to the hot outdoor tempera­ture. The scorching heat also accounted for the rapid decomposition and the fact that the body had actually swelled up and burst in certain anatomical sections, he said. Given these conditions, the cor­oner said his best estimate of the time of death was approximately a week earlier. Had the victim been there any longer, he said, especially in the hot outside tem­perature, the state of decomposition would have been much more advanced.
When the body was turned over on its back, everyone present at the crime scene could easily discern the telltale V-shaped wounds on his chest, the type of wounds consistent with those made by a single-blade knife. There were sev­eral such wounds on the victim’s chest, leaving the investigators with little doubt that he had been stabbed to death.
After the body was thoroughly photo­graphed at the crime scene from every imaginable angle, it was placed inside the body bag and sealed. It was taken to the Cowlitz County Morgue, where the coroner conducted a thorough, defini­tive autopsy shortly after its arrival.
His conclusions hadn’t changed. The victim had died from multiple stab wounds, seven in all. Three wounds penetrated the lungs and liver, causing the victim to bleed to death. Some weren’t all that deep. There were also five slash wounds to the victim’s throat, none of which would have been fatal. Someone had clearly tried to cut the vic­tim’s throat but had failed. Because the victim had bled to death and, judging from the amount of blood found at the crime scene, it appeared likely that he was still alive, perhaps even conscious, when the perpetrators dumped his body down the embankment.
The next problem confronting the Cowlitz County lawmen was identify­ing the victim. There was no one on missing-person reports within their ju­risdiction that even vaguely fit their John Doe’s description. That didn’t automatically rule out that he could have been from their area, though. With little to go on, the sleuths decided to begin checking missing-person reports that covered the northwest region.
They began with those from Portland and Clark County, Washington, simply because that was the largest and closest metropolitan area within their prox­imity. Fortunately for them, there weren’t many. After ruling out all the females they were left with only a few males. Only one of them came close to the description of their homicide victim. His name was Cecil Hoyette Higgs Jr.
After studying the sketchy informa­tion contained in the report, Detective Smith promptly got in touch with Port­land authorities and asked for their as­sistance in verifying identification.
Dental records were promptly driven up from Portland. There was no longer any doubt: the forest murder victim was definitely Cecil Higgs Jr.
Cecil’s roommate had expected the worst. Just the same, he was grief- stricken upon receiving the grim news. Even though he never expected Cecil to turn up alive, he said, he had held out in hopeful anticipation.
“I called the police (when Cecil dis­appeared), and they went out to the cu­cumber field and searched the area, but couldn’t find (much),” he said, choking back tears. “A week later they found Cecil’s body. Now that I know what happened it makes me sick.”
Within hours, Cecil’s body was re­leased to the Oregon State Medical Ex­aminer’s Office and transported back to Portland. There Dr. Larry Lewman, state medical examiner, reviewed the autopsy report and examined the body. He concurred with the Cowlitz County Coroner’s findings as to the cause of death.
A short time later, the Portland Police Bureau received word from the Mount Vernon, Washington Police Department that they had arrested three youths driv­ing Cecil Higgs’ Oldsmobile. Accord­ing to Henry Groepper, information officer for the Portland Police Bureau, a team of homicide detectives was promptly sent to Mount Vernon, some 60 miles north of Seattle.
One of those arrested while in posses­sion of Cecil’s car was under 18, and his name was not released. The other two said they were both 18, and they were identified as DePaul E. Jackson and Ty­rone Washington, both of Portland. Fol­lowing interviews with the suspects, the investigators indicated they had re­ceived information that was useful to their case but they would not be specific at this point. All three suspects were re­turned to Oregon, and Jackson and Washington were each indicted on charges of aggravated murder, robbery, kidnapping, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. After additional inquir­ies, the juvenile was charged with un­authorized use of a motor vehicle and turned over to juvenile authorities.
“It was totally random,” said Port­land Police Bureau Detective Larry Findling shortly after the suspects’ ar­rests. Findling said their investigation, which consisted primarily of interviews with the suspects, revealed that Cecil, a native of Houston, Texas, who moved to Portland five years earlier, was attacked at knifepoint and then kidnapped while attempting to get into his car in down- town Portland. “It could have been you, it could have been me. It was a mugging by people who needed some money. (The victim) didn’t know his attackers and he never fought with them. He ran from them twice and was knocked down twice.”
According to Sergeant James Cun­ningham, also of the Portland Police Bureau’s homicide division, Cecil was caught shortly after attempting to run, was thrown into the trunk of his car and was driven to a cucumber field in a re­mote part of North Portland. From the interviews, said Cunningham, it appear­ed that Cecil was taken from the trunk, robbed, and then stabbed, after which his assailants loaded him back into the car’s trunk and drove him to Washing­ton. Although investigators did not yet know if Cecil was still alive when he was loaded into the trunk a second time, Cunningham said criminalists found blood in the car’s trunk that matched Cecil’s.
During a routine background check of the suspects, detectives learned that Jackson had no known prior criminal history. He lived in the 4100 block of Northeast Eighth Avenue, an area re­plete with gangs, drugs, and prostitutes, and had earlier worked at the Union Av­enue Disco located nearby, a commu­nity eyesore frequented by pimps, dealers, and the like.
Washington, on the other hand, had a history of fighting and had been ex­pelled from the Job Corps for such be­havior, the detectives learned. The suspect had described himself as a “wild street-wise kid.” At the time of his arrest, he had been living in the 5800 block of East Burnside Street and, aside from the fighting; he had no prior crimi­nal history. The detectives subsequently learned that Washington was only 17 at the time of his arrest for Cecil Higgs’ murder, making him, under Oregon law, ineligible for the death penalty if con­victed. Nonetheless, Washington was remanded to adult court.
In the meantime, Jackson, who could be sentenced to death if convicted, worked out a plea agreement through his attorney, Bradley Grove, with Mul­tnomah County Deputy District Attor­neys Patrick K. Callahan and Charles R. French to avoid such a possibility. Un­der the plea negotiations, Jackson agreed to testify against Washington and to provide additional details of the crime in return for the state’s assurance that they would not seek the death pen­alty, and a promise that charges of kid­napping, robbery and car theft would be dismissed. On Friday, January 9, 1987, the plan was presented to Multnomah County Circuit Judge Robert W. Red­ding, who accepted Jackson’s guilty plea to aggravated murder. Redding then sentenced him to 30 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Washington’s case went to trial six months later, in July, almost a year after Cecil Higgs was kidnapped and mur­dered. The trial lasted five days, and ju­rors heard evidence from detectives, a coroner and a medical examiner, crime lab technicians and criminalists. They even heard testimony from acquain­tances of the defendant, who said Wash­ington and Jackson had bragged to them about the killing. But the most dramatic testimony came from Jackson, who pro­vided intimate details of his and Wash­ington’s sordid activities.
Jackson explained how he and Wash­ington randomly selected Cecil as a rob­bery victim in downtown Portland and how they attacked him on the street. Af­ter loading him into the trunk of his own car, said Jackson, they drove him to a cucumber field in North Portland where they beat him repeatedly and forced him to strip naked. After taunting him for a while, they robbed him of $10, took his watch, a bracelet, and his car.
Jackson said that after the victim had been knocked unconscious in the cu­cumber field, he and Washington took turns throwing a knife into Cecil’s chest. A short time later, said Jackson, he and Washington loaded Cecil’s bleeding body back into the car trunk and drove north on Interstate 5 to Cowlitz County, Washington. They turned off the free­way near Carrolls and drove into a se­cluded, wooded area.
After selecting a spot to dispose of the victim, Jackson said he and Wash­ington dragged him to the edge of a steep hill. He was still alive, said Jack­son, and moments before he and Wash­ington tossed him over the 50-foot embankment, Jackson said he felt Cecil grabbing at his arm. After dumping him over the embankment, said Jackson, he and Washington heard him call out for help at least twice. After hearing the cries for help, Jackson said he and Washington turned up the car radio to drown them out and drove away.
Washington, at one point, took the stand in his own defense and denied any involvement in the stabbings. However, he admitted that he had pulled a knife across the victim’s throat in an attempt to slash it, but had failed because it was too dull!
The jury was not out for long. When they returned, the foreman announced that they had unanimously convicted Tyrone Washington of aggravated mur­der, robbery, and kidnapping. After rul­ing that the death penalty could not be imposed because of Washington’s age at the time of the murder, Judge Harl H. Haas set sentencing for Friday, August 29, 1987.
At his sentencing, Washington’s de­fense lawyers, Hap Wong and Gary Car­lson, argued that Washington should not receive a longer sentence than Jackson. Wong said that Washington had a men­tal age of 10 or 11 and was impression­able. Otherwise, said Wong, Washington behaved well while in the company of others.
Judge Haas, however, disagreed.
“This was a case of gay bashing…of calculated torture, humiliation and kill­ing…and intentional robbery,” said the judge. “But that wasn’t enough for these defendants. They had to kidnap him, take him to a remote field, and humili­ate him by stripping him naked. Then they repeatedly stabbed him.” The judge said the defendants showed no re­morse, evident by their actions of driv­ing their victim to yet another remote location where they dumped him over an embankment, still alive, then drove away.
After speaking his mind, Judge Haas sentenced Washington to life in prison for aggravated murder, setting a 30-year minimum before eligibility for parole. He also imposed consecutive sentences of 10 to 20 years for the kidnapping and robbery convictions, bringing Washing­ton’s total to 50 years.
EDITOR’S NOTE:
Bruce Gagnon is not the real name of the person so named in the foregoing story. A fictitious name has been used because there is no reason for public interest in the identity of this person.

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