An Open But Shut Case

Paul Beauchamp's death was ruled a homicide. So why isn't the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigating?

Paul Beauchamp's body was discovered in Connelly's jurisdiction in southern Montgomery County, and it was her responsibility to go to the pond and investigate the scene. When she arrived, the corpse was still in the water. Almost immediately, she doubted that this was simply an accidental drowning.

One of the first things that bothered Connelly was Minnich's story about shooting at turtles -- something she found just short of fantastic. But it was the physical evidence that Connelly found even more troubling.

When the rescue team reached Paul's body, it was in an upright position. Connelly thought that odd, since most drowning victims float face down. Additionally, the body was stiff, and rigor mortis had already set in. Yet, she noted, there was swelling and bruising around the gunshot wounds to the back of the victim's head.

"You're usually not going to have swelling if the body had been dead that long," says Connelly, noting that hemorrhaging is caused by the pumping of blood. If Paul had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to begin to set in -- anywhere from one to seven hours, depending on the conditions -- his heart had obviously ceased to pump blood through his veins by the time Minnich claims to have mistaken him for a turtle. Nor, she adds, would the gunshot wounds have produced much blood, because lividity would have caused the blood in Paul's body to pool in his lower extremities, not his head. At that point, Connelly also believed that Detective Hidalgo shared her misgivings about Minnich's story.

"I left the scene with the impression that this was a homicide investigation," says Connelly. But by the next day, Connelly realized her reading of the sheriff's department's take on the case had been wrong. (Hidalgo, who now works for the Atlanta office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, refused to comment, saying it would not be proper.)

In his autopsy report, Dr. Vladimir Parungao, a Harris County assistant medical examiner, noted that Beauchamp did have some water in his lungs and a blood alcohol level of 0.26 percent, and downplayed the significance of the bruising and swelling around the two gunshot wounds.

But despite his official ruling of death by accidental drowning, even Parungao was less than certain of his own diagnosis. According to the sheriff's office's report, Parungao was concerned about the hemorrhaging around one of the bullet wounds, and he urged detectives to have Minnich take a lie-detector test in order to eliminate the possibility of foul play.

That same day, Minnich voluntarily submitted to a polygraph examination. Kelly Hendricks of Hendricks Polygraph, Inc. administered the test. The examination and accompanying bull session, which were also videotaped, resembled a conversation between the backwoods sitcom character Gomer Pyle and his auto mechanic cousin, Goober, from Mayberry, RFD, with Minnich telling Hendricks how he liked to make guys with car problems look stupid in front of their girlfriends and wives.

At the time of the interview, Minnich worked as a mechanic at an Exxon station in the county. A skinny guy, with a thick drawl and backwoods demeanor, Minnich is the nephew of the late Weldon Locke, a former commissioner of Montgomery County. Locke died in May 1986 when he stepped in front of an oncoming cement truck on Interstate 45 -- the same day he was scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he stole more than $220,000 from the county in a bogus invoice scheme. The medical examiner later ruled his death a suicide.

While hooking Minnich up to the truth machine, the examiner asked if Minnich had ever taken a lie-detector test. Minnich answered that, yes, he had -- back when he was 16 years old and authorities suspected him of starting the fire that burned down his grandmother's house. Instead of saying that he had passed the test or that he was innocent, Minnich added proudly that he had "walked." Similarly, when the examiner zeroed in on the events of December 26, 1993, Minnich displayed some intriguing body language while giving his response.

During the question-and-answer session, with Minnich wired for any irregular heartbeat or sudden breath that might spike the chart and indicate a fabricated response, Minnich was asked if, before he fired the shots, he knew that there was a dead man in the pond.

"No, sir," Minnich replied, while nodding his head up and down in an affirmative fashion.

Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the session, Hendricks informed Minnich that he had passed the test.

"Well, Tom," said Hendricks, "that's about as pretty a set of truthful charts as I've seen in a long time."

And, in the opinion of JP Edie Connelly, at that point the sheriff's office simply decided to follow the path of least resistance.

"They had the polygraph and they had [the autopsy report]," says Connelly, "and I found myself as the only one believing that this wasn't a drowning."

The Paul Beauchamp case was not the first time Edie Connelly had found herself butting heads with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

In 1993, Connelly -- the first female detective to serve with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office -- appeared as a plaintiff's witness in a $2 million dollar federal sexual-harassment lawsuit that had been filed by a woman who claimed she had been raped by Deputy Anthony Klonaris. Connelly testified that, while serving as a deputy with the sheriff's department, she was regularly hit on or discriminated against by her superiors and fellow deputies because of her gender.

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