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Old 02-20-2005, 10:23 AM
Jade01 Jade01 is offline
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Default Article: Man wants apology for time in jail

Excluded by DNA tests, man wants apology for time in jail
Hurd was held 9 months in slaying before charges dropped

A.D. Hurd is a free man today, but the Helena native says he’s owed an apology for the nine months he spent in a county jail, facing a possible death sentence before murder charges against him were dropped.
"I have five kids," Hurd, 39, said in a recent interview. "I missed every birthday, every holiday. ... The time I lost, ain’t no amount of money or nothing they can give me to replace it."
The state has dismissed all charges against Hurd, but no apology is in the offing.
The prosecutor and police in Phillips County still consider him a potential suspect in the March 30, 2004, slaying of Nermie "Jean" Liddell, a sheriff’s office secretary.
Suspicion fell on Hurd the day after Liddell was killed, when a convicted felon implicated him.
O.T. Graves III, who served five years in state prison for robbery, told sheriff’s deputies he was standing on a curb in front of his home when Hurd walked up to him wearing a bloodstained shirt and latex gloves, took a drag off his marijuana cigarette and confessed to killing Liddell. This was six hours after police say the crime occurred.
Graves later disappeared, and prosecutors were unable to produce him for defense attorneys to question.
Meantime, Hurd was booked on charges of capital murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery, based in part on Graves’ report. He was transferred from the county jail in Helena to the Monroe County lockup in Clarendon as a safety precaution.
On Dec. 31, Hurd was released after DNA testing pointed to another suspect.
The state has always maintained it had enough to hold Hurd, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Todd Murray of the First Judicial District said.
Other evidence included an eyewitness who said he was 80 percent sure that Hurd looked like the man he saw shoot Liddell, and microscopic shards of glass found on a pair of pants at Hurd’s home that were similar to the glass found at the crime scene.
But the question is whether prosecutors had enough evidence to move forward with a trial, particularly once the state Crime Laboratory excluded Hurd as being a contributor of DNA evidence secured by authorities, contends Public Defender Ray Waters.
"Cases get filed on probable cause, and sometimes they get better and they get beyond a reasonable doubt," Waters said. "That never happened in this case. It never got any better. It got worse. ... This is what they call a public defender’s worst nightmare — an innocent client."
The nightmare began with Liddell’s death.
On the evening of March 30, when Hurd said he was at a fish fry at a friend’s house, Liddell, 59, reportedly was kidnapped from her home in Helena and driven to a remote area outside the West Helena city limits. Police believe she struggled with her abductor during the drive.
Her body was found near her wrecked Jeep. She had been shot, and her abductor had fled on foot, authorities said.
For almost 24 hours, sheriff’s deputies and officers from nine other state and local agencies searched the woods with bloodhounds but came up empty.
The next day, officers had a name: A.D. Hurd, a Helena native who had moved back to town a few months before, after living for several years in Minnesota.
At 11:30 that night, Hurd and Nia Thomas, the mother of his five children, had just crawled into bed when a loud knocking took Thomas to the door of their Helena home.
While her children slept in their beds, Thomas said, more than 15 officers from the sheriff’s office and other agencies surrounded her house with guns, screaming at her to open the door.
"I’m wiping my eyes, thinking I must be hearing something wrong," she said. "I kind of peeked out the window, and I see all these guns pointing at me. I thought they might have the wrong address."
They didn’t.
Officers told her to step outside, then demanded to know if Hurd was in the house. Eventually, an officer handed her a cell phone to call Hurd and tell him to come to the door.
"I called him and told A.D. to come outside. ... I said, ‘The police are out here.’ He started laughing like, ‘Nia, quit playing,’" she said. "He came out, and it wasn’t fake. It was reality. They were looking for him."
Hurd was placed in the back of a patrol car and driven to the Phillips County sheriff’s office, where Hurd said he repeatedly asked officers to explain why he was being arrested.
"They kept telling me, ‘You know you did it, you might as well confess,’" Hurd said. "I said, ‘Confess to what?’"
Though Hurd said he didn’t have a mark on him, and the suspect was believed to have suffered a serious facial injury when Liddell’s Jeep crashed, officers told Hurd they had two witnesses who could connect Hurd with the murder.
One was Cody Pruett, a purported eyewitness to the shooting.
According to the affidavit for Hurd’s arrest, Pruett called the sheriff’s office at 6:51 on the night of March 30.
Pruett told officers that as he was heading north of Storm Creek Road, he stopped to help after seeing a vehicle run off the road and hit a tree.
Once he stopped, Pruett told officers, a man approached his car and told him his mother had been in an accident. Pruett saw a woman fall out of the vehicle on the passenger side, crawl around to the back and say, "Help me, Help me." The man then yelled for Pruett to leave several times before he pulled a gun from a holster.
As he sped away, Pruett told police, he looked in the rearview mirror and saw the man shoot the woman.
The next day, investigators showed Pruett a six-person photo lineup, which included a photo of Hurd taken from his driver’s license. Pruett identified Hurd as the person he saw shoot Liddell, according to the affidavit.
In a written statement Pruett provided to Danny Glover, Hurd’s attorney, on Aug. 23, Pruett wrote: "When the police showed me a photo lineup, I told them the man in the lineup looked like the shooter. I did not tell them I thought he was the shooter."
Pruett wrote that police pushed him to put a percentage on his confidence that the man he picked out was the shooter.
"I finally told them he looked 80 percent like the shooter, but not necessarily was the shooter," Pruett wrote.
The officers followed proper procedure, Murray said.
"The officer did a good job," he said. "Their job is just to present the facts and not try to convince somebody to say one thing or another. ... They wanted him to quantify how sure he was, which is good. That’s what I want them to do."
The other witness was Graves, who told police Hurd approached him about 12:30 or 1 a.m. the day after the shooting, telling him that he "killed the lady that worked at the sheriff’s department," according to the affidavit.
Graves told police that Hurd was wearing blue tennis shoes with a white Nike design, black pants, a light-colored shirt with stripes, a brown jacket and white latex gloves. Graves also said he saw a large spot of blood on the left bottom of the shirt, according to the affidavit.
Later, when Graves was scheduled to appear before a judge for a hearing, sheriff’s deputies said he could not be located.
"I thought that was kind of odd," said Hurd, adding that he had never met Graves. "My life being up on the line and they can’t find the [person] that said I done all these horrible things."
That fact that Graves was believed was ridiculous, Waters said.
"[Graves] is fresh out of prison; he is a registered sex offender. He is not a guy you would believe anything he told you," Waters said.
"Except in this case, they so desperately wanted an arrest that they took that as being, you know, gospel."
Liddell was a favorite around the sheriff’s office, where she had worked with Phillips County Sheriff Ronnie White since he became a deputy in 1988. Days after her death, White said his department was having trouble dealing with her loss, describing Liddell as a much-loved mother figure with a ready smile.
White declined to comment for this story, citing a gag order put in place in advance of Hurd’s expected trial.
Murray acknowledged that Graves has a criminal record, which he said could be used to impugn his credibility. But the fact remains that he named Hurd, who was later picked out of a lineup by an eyewitness, Murray said.
The affidavit filed in support of Hurd’s arrest also noted that Hurd had been charged in Minnesota with two drug violations, one assault in the second degree and a weapons charge.
As for Hurd’s alibi about the fish fry, the prosecutor said that "didn’t hold water." He declined to elaborate, saying he didn’t want to hurt the state’s case if he refiled charges against Hurd.
Hurd said the fish fry was a small gathering of four or five people, and that he arrived about 7 p.m., or about 10 minutes after Pruett reported the murder to police.
Waters said he was not sure what problems prosecutors had with the alibi — whether they were questioning the timeline or the credibility of the witnesses, who were Hurd’s friends.
During a recent interview, Murray spoke of another witness who told police he had seen a car similar to the one Hurd drives following Liddell’s Jeep. That witness was not mentioned in the affidavit.
Glover said he vaguely remembered a reference to such a witness but that, to his recollection, the time frame the witness mentioned didn’t match the time frame for the murder.
"[Prosecutors] never argued it in court, so we never bothered to refute it," he said.
The glass shards found in a pair of pants taken from Hurd’s home during the execution of a search warrant sealed the case for police, Murray said. A report from the Crime Laboratory said the shards were similar to the safety glass found in Liddell’s wrecked Jeep.
But similar is not the same, Glover said.
"The crime lab report is real clear," he said. "This is not saying it is the same glass. It is saying it is similar."
The evidence against Hurd, particularly the information from the two witnesses listed in the affidavit, was enough for probable cause for arrest, Waters said. But once Hurd was excluded from having contributed the DNA evidence found at the scene, Waters said, the state’s case was "shot."
In Liddell’s Jeep, at the crash scene, officers found blood on the interior front-passenger door and front-passenger floorboard, as well as blood on a Crown Royal whiskey bag found at the scene, according to the affidavit. Officers said there was an indication that the front passenger received an injury causing substantial blood loss and used the Crown Royal bag to wipe away the blood.
At Liddell’s home, blood was found in the bathroom, where someone entered the home by breaking a window and climbing through it. Blood also was found in the kitchen, on the bed in Liddell’s room and on towels used in an attempt to clean the crime scene, according to the affidavit.
The last DNA sample came from saliva in a bite mark on Liddell’s cheek.
A May 22 lab report from the Crime Laboratory stated that A.D. Hurd was excluded as a contributor of the DNA from the saliva.
A July 21 lab report stated that the DNA obtained from blood samples found in the car and on the Crown Royal bag, and from blood samples from a bath towel found at the house all came from the same male.
A.D. Hurd was excluded as a contributor of the DNA found in the blood samples, according to that report.
Once the DNA evidence came back excluding Hurd, Waters said, he should have been released.
"If you read the affidavits, there is never one hint that there was more than one person involved," said Waters.
"So then the DNA comes back, and it’s not [Hurd]. So what do they say? Well, gee whiz, obviously there were two people involved."
But Murray said there was always an indication, because of the violent nature of the crime, that more than one person might be involved.
"If you just look at all the circumstances surrounding both crime scenes, it would certainly give rise to the idea that police should look for other suspects," he said. "You have a violent crime scene where there was a lot of violence, an abduction and all the other things."
Besides, Murray said, even after the DNA results came back excluding Hurd, defense attorneys were unable to convince First Judicial District Circuit Judge Harvey Yates to set a bond for Hurd, much less drop the case against him.
"We had a hearing in front of Judge Yates where the defense was arguing that the judge should turn A.D. Hurd loose, but the judge, hearing all the evidence, decided that there was still enough to go forward at that time," Murray said.
Things changed Dec. 2, when David Lee Grant, 19, of Helena, was arrested on unrelated charges of aggravated robbery. He later was implicated in Liddell’s slaying after DNA evidence collected from him matched the evidence in the case, said Barry Roy, an Arkansas State Police investigator. A blood sample was collected from Grant after he was "developed as a suspect" in the Liddell shooting, Roy said on Dec. 31.
Roy declined comment for this story, also citing the gag order. Murray agreed to comment for the story, because he said he believed the gag order was lifted after the case against Hurd was dropped.
Grant now faces the same charges Hurd did in the death of Liddell. He has not been arraigned before a circuit judge, Murray said, adding that will happen as soon as he gets the full investigative file.
"Grant’s DNA was at both crime scenes — the scene of the crash and Ms. Liddell’s house, and he confessed to being at the scene," Murray said. "He also has similar characteristics to A.D. Hurd."
At first, Grant told officers he was alone but later said there was at least one other person involved, he said.
"He could very well be hedging and trying to distance himself from responsibility, which is very common in a confession," Murray said.
In light of Grant’s confession and because his DNA matched that collected at Liddell’s house and the crash site, the prosecutors office dropped the charges against Hurd with the condition that they can refile them within a year.
"That does not mean that he was not involved in the crime, and it does not mean that the state won’t elect to refile charges at a later time," Murray said.
At this point, it’s absurd that the state refuses to exonerate Hurd, Glover said.
Hurd said he would like an apology from someone for causing his family so much grief, ruining his reputation, and taking away nearly a year of his life.
Since his release on New Year’s Eve, Hurd has lived with Nia Thomas at her home in Jacksonville, and spent time with her, his children and his mother. Though he doesn’t fear going back to jail for Liddell’s murder, he said he is never completely at ease.
"I’m still real nerve-racked," he said. "Every time I see a police car or something like that, it makes me touch on what went on with me, and it’s not a nice feeling."
Hurd said he didn’t want to go back to Helena.
"To tell the truth, I wanted to get so far away from Clarendon and Phillips County, I couldn’t move fast enough," Hurd said. "I truly love the town. ... I had a bunch of fond memories, but that one night took it all away."
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Old 02-20-2005, 10:54 AM
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cwmram cwmram is offline
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How sad is that? The prosecutors office and the Sheriff's office would rather ruin a man and his family's life then to admit they may have made a mistake. I don't know why I am the least but surprised though. Sad, sad, sad is all I have to say.
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Old 02-20-2005, 01:35 PM
haswtch haswtch is offline
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For Godsakes apologize already! They act like they would lose credibility if they say sorry. In any sane person's eyes they would GAIN (much needed) credibility.
Saying sorry and admitting mistakes seems to be a lost art in the United States
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Old 02-20-2005, 03:48 PM
babygirl350 babygirl350 is offline
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I agree the man deserves an apology and much more than that also along with his family included in the apology for what they had to endure.

It is terrible when people can not or refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes. It is as if our judicial system makes no mistakes. My opinions of course.

A very sad story indeed. May something good come from this story.
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