Hard Time

The evidence points away from Roy Criner's guilt in a savage crime. But the state still has what counts most -- a conviction.

Moreover, Pitts says, he repeatedly informed investigators of his opinion, yet no mention of this appears in any police report or other document. "We told them son-of-a-bitches that there was no way Roy Criner coulda done it," he says.

The "we" includes Pitts's wife, Tonya, who was present during at least two interviews with investigators and confirms her husband's story. Any details that supported the state's murder theory or otherwise reflected badly on Criner made it in the record, Tonya Pitts says. But if a statement was positive, she says, "They didn't write it down. They didn't want to hear anything good; only the bad."

The Pittses aren't the first to claim that statements favorable to Criner's case disappeared into the void. Son Cross, the hunting camp caretaker whose testimony that Criner never left camp was dismissed by the prosecution as unreliable, said at trial that he'd told investigators the same story -- two weeks after the murder, when his memory of the weekend in question would have been quite sharp.

Those investigators, Sherman Sauls and Texas Ranger Stan Oldham, who was assisting the sheriff's department with the murder probe, denied that Cross had given Criner an alibi when they interviewed him. As for the charge that the interviews with Pitts were selectively edited, Oldham has his doubts, though he can't recall the specifics. "Someone would have written that in his report had [the Pittses] been stating that each time," he conjectures.

But Oldham, now the police chief in Llano, concedes that the reports are generally spotty or filled with gaps, including his own. "This is a shitty report, it really is," he says of his collected entries. "I guess what I'll do is keep this record out and give it to my guys here at the police department and tell them if they ever write a report like this, they're fired."

Sauls refused to discuss the fine points of the case without first reviewing his records. (No longer with the force, Sauls works as a security guard. According to David Walker, he was fired for sexual harassment, though Sauls blames racial discrimination for his departure and has filed suit against the county.)

Various other police reports have simply turned up missing. At trial, Sauls noted a discussion he had with the medical examiner about the source of the victim's wounds, but when challenged could not provide the report he admitted should have been written to document the conversation. Three other reports referenced in the record, including two by another deputy who was later expelled, are nowhere to be found. And former prosecutor Walker says today that an examination of the phantom screwdriver allegedly found in Criner's truck turned up nothing. But that, too, was apparently never documented.

It's not clear if those reports might have pointed toward Criner's innocence. But one piece of evidence withheld from the defense most certainly would have -- the cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime.

During the trial, both Walker and Sauls declaimed any knowledge of the butt's exact whereabouts. Asked by Hocker why he didn't introduce the butt as evidence, Walker answered that he had no reason to believe it was especially important. "I didn't think it was anything that was beneficial necessarily to me or unbeneficial either way," he said.

The Press requested a look at the evidence but was rebuffed by the district attorney. A photograph of the crime scene in the files, however, clearly shows a lengthy butt lying three feet from Ogg's body. The filter was brown. According to her friends, the victim smoked Marlboro Lights, the same brand she bought at the convenience store just before her murder. Marlboro Lights have a white filter.

Roy Criner didn't smoke.
Walker can't explain the cigarette butt, or the pubic hair found in the victim's panties that matched neither her nor Criner. As for the screwdriver, which he calls "a critical piece of evidence," he has no idea what happened to it. "That's certainly an embarrassing aspect of the case," he says.

On the other hand, Walker says, not having the screwdriver is a relatively minor point. "When you have something that can't be forensically connected to the crime, then it's no different from any other screwdriver," he says. "Its absence is a bigger embarrassment to me, and a bigger detriment to the state's case than its absence is [a detriment] to the defense."

Those blithe comments overlook a distinct possibility: Unless it had been meticulously wiped clean, the screwdriver would likely have had traces of grease or other buildup from regular use. In that case, the negative test result Walker recalls would have eliminated it as the weapon that helped put Criner behind bars, since any blood or flesh would have stuck to the shaft and been detected.

The absence of any forensic connection between Criner and the crime is also more than an inconvenience. The police dusted the truck so heavily that it took weeks to clean off the talcum, but they discovered not one fingerprint, drop of blood, clothing fiber or hair of Ogg's, though there was no shortage of other people's microscopic leavings to be found. A murder that brutal would surely have left something in the vehicle, says Jim Cooper, the investigator and attorney who assisted the defense at trial. "Unless you steam-clean it," he says, "there's gonna be trace evidence, and they didn't find any trace evidence in the truck."

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