True Confessions?

Seventeen years ago, Charles Raby said he killed an old lady. Now he's not so sure.

It is unclear — perhaps even to Raby — when he came to believe that he was innocent of Franklin's murder. He signed his confession after little more than two hours at the police station. Before confirming its accuracy on the stand, he did the same in his pre-trial sanity and competency evaluation. The county psychologist reported that Raby said he entered Franklin's house and used the telephone on the night of the murder: "After this he, 'tripped out, I guess.' " According to the report, Raby also said he did not read his confession, but, "he believes it is reasonably accurate."

"As the years went on...I don't know. It just don't feel right," Raby says, in an unhurried drawl that seems preserved in his isolation. "I done a lot of messed-up stuff. I'm not a good guy. I broke the laws. I just don't feel dirty, man. I just don't feel dirty. I just don't feel like there's blood on my hands."

Grim details of Raby's former life are scattered throughout trial transcripts, affidavits, county records and interviews. A family friend sneaks him food when he is made to live in a shed behind a stepfather's house. His grandmother sits in a chair and stares, for hours on end, then butchers a teddy bear with a kitchen knife. She and his mother drift in and out of nervous breakdowns and mental hospitals. A caseworker struggles to keep Raby in group homes and state-run schools. A schizophrenic uncle regularly threatens the family with knives and ninja stars, and feeds 12-year-old Raby alcohol and weed. A police helicopter thunders overhead, and Raby flees to Franklin's house. Rose lets him in through his bedroom window.

No physical evidence tied Charles Raby to the murder. He and his lawyers found out only recently that someone else's blood was beneath the victim's fingernails.
No physical evidence tied Charles Raby to the murder. He and his lawyers found out only recently that someone else's blood was beneath the victim's fingernails.
Attorney Sarah Frazier thought she'd be little more than a rubber stamp on Raby's impending execution. Instead, she has found blood and DNA evidence that suggests someone else may have killed Edna Mae Franklin.
Chris Curry
Attorney Sarah Frazier thought she'd be little more than a rubber stamp on Raby's impending execution. Instead, she has found blood and DNA evidence that suggests someone else may have killed Edna Mae Franklin.

Franklin was known as a friendly woman with a welcoming home where her grandsons and their friends, like Raby, could get away with drinking and smoking pot. Kenneth Gaddis remembers Raby as a heavy drinker with a quick temper who stood out in a rough group.

"Gang members, drugs — bunch of drugs everywhere. It's just a bad neighborhood," Gaddis says. "I was wild, man. Buster, he just took it to the next level. He saw himself as an outlaw. I think he even got that tattooed on his stomach."

By late 1988 Raby and Wright had moved with their newborn daughter to Deer Park to be with Raby's mother and her new husband, and for a short time Raby had an apartment and a job. The next summer, he was drunk and holding a steak knife during an altercation with his stepfather. He knocked out four of the man's front teeth, and in the ensuing scuffle his mother's false teeth as well. He spent six months in jail, and was out about six weeks when, in February of 1990, he pulled a knife on a convenience-store manager who had caught his friend stealing two 12-packs of Budweiser. They sped off and, with a police cruiser chasing, ran through a red light and into a light pole. Raby, with cuts on his face, climbed out of the passenger's seat and tried to take off down the street.

"I do know I'm crazy. But killing crazy?" Raby says. "I'm not gonna lie. He [Sergeant Allen] planted the seed: Did I do that? A long time I was walking around with that guilt — did I do it?"
_____________________

On the morning of the murder, Raby woke up at his grandmother's house, about five miles from the Franklin place, and began to drink. He walked a mile and a half closer to visit his half-brother Harry Robert Butler. Butler remembers lending Raby his pocket knife, which had a two-inch blade that he kept "real sharp." He pedaled Raby on the pegs of his bicycle to visit his friend James Parks, closer still to Westford Street.

Parks wasn't home. Parks's mother, Shirley Gunn, testified at trial that Raby visited twice that day, first around 3 p.m., with his brother, and then at 5 p.m. alone and on foot. She visited with him on the porch and noticed alcohol on his breath. He had a dark vinyl jacket slung over his shoulder and cleaned his fingernails with the pocket knife. He wondered aloud whether he might find Parks at "Grandma's house." He left at 6 p.m., when Roseanne was coming on TV.

Benge testified that he left for his evening shift at Ace K-9, where he transported guard dogs to and from local businesses, just before 4 p.m. He dropped Rose off at a corner store along the way.

Rose returned home with some new bike parts around 5 p.m. He and Phillips sat outside for about an hour, then left together for Phillips's house and spent the rest of the evening drinking and doing drugs at different spots around the neighborhood.

The neighbor across the street, Donna Espadas, told police that, as she was getting home from work just before 6 p.m., she saw a white male in jeans and a T-shirt at Benge's bedroom window. She thought nothing of it, since the house was being painted, and didn't get a good look. Espadas did not testify at the trial.

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