Monday, November 09, 2015
This is a stickup
I was watching an episode of 48 Hours the other night. This particular episode was about an inmate in a New Mexico state prison that was tried and convicted of a murder when he was 18. He had been in prison for 19 years and his conviction was based solely on a confession he signed after being grilled for 9 hours. The confession contained facts that did not match the actual facts of the crime. He was innocent of the crime.
I might have been in his shoes, even though the crime was robbery and not murder. I was a student at Texas, and Austin in the 60’s was much different than the Austin of today. There were only two sources of good employment, The State of Texas government and The University of Texas. I had landed a job for the summer at a Jack Ritters service station as the night attendant working from 7:00 PM until 7:00 AM. The job paid 50 cents an hour. My duties were to pump gas, this was before self service, soap, scrub and rinse off the driveway. I did the driveway chores after midnight because there were almost no customers after 11:00 pm. The gas station was on Ben White Boulevard about a mile or so east of I-35. There were no other buildings between the station and I-35 and probably nothing going East until Bastrop.
I had been on the job for several weeks and was into the driveway washing duties when a man. a pillow case with eye slit cutouts over his head, stepped out from behind the Jack Ritters’ billboard, pointing a shot gun at men. I was petrified but was determined to offer no resistance in order to survive the holdup. I readily gave him all the money from the cash register and when he asked me for my billfold, I readily complied. I volunteered to disable the only phone at the station by ripping the phone away from the main unit attached to the wall. I did this so I would not be a threat by calling the police. However, much to my horror, He told me to start walking through the weeds behind the station. He was pressing the shot gun into my back. I though he was going to kill me when we got away from the station. We had gone about a hundred yards when he told me to take off to the West and I started running through the weeds as fast as I could go, zig zagging. I expected him to shoot at any moment.
I finally came to the Austin IRS office located on the corner of I-35 and Ben White Boulevard. I called the sheriff, we were outside of the Austin city limits. The sheriff called for dogs to try and track the holdup man but they were unable to track anything, I do not know why. There was nothing the dogs could use as an example of the scent they were to track. A road dead ended into Ben White just west of the station. I guess the man had parked there and walked through the weeds to the billboard. I never found out those details.
I tried to continue working the gave yard shift at the gas station, but after a couple of more nights, I had to quit, I was just scared of a repeat of the holdup, especially when the sheriff told me that there were other holdups in the area and some of the attendants did not survive. I was taking 6 hours in summer school and did find another job working in a liquor store from 2:00 pm until 10:00 PM. My ordeal from the holdup at the gas station was far from over, the events coming were how I related to New Mexico prison inmate. The worst was yet to come.
Two detectives started showing up about every other day at my apartment with photos of possible suspects. I told them each time that he had a pillow case over his head and I had no idea what he looked like. They kept asking me if he had any distinguishing scars or what rings he had on. I repeatedly told them the only thing I could tell them was that he was black and he had this shot gun pointed at my chest. I could not tell them anything else about the man. After a week or so of these photo identification sessions another detective came by and asked me to come down to the station. This new detective read the details of what I had relayed about the night of the holdup and asked me if there was anything not right or needed to add anything. I could not offer any additional details so he typed it out and asked me to read and sign the document. After I had signed it, he told me that they were going to check out each detail and if anything was not exactly as described, “the monkey was going to be on my back”, his words. I realized that I was in the same situation as the kid that has signed the false confession in New Mexico. He had just signed the confession to stop the grilling from his detective.
After a couple of more days, the detective came by my apartment and asked me to take a lie detector test. He did not give me any choices, so in effect, he told me to come down at a specific day and time and take a lie detector test. No options were offered. I now realized that they were trying to pin the robbery on me to clear the case. I was alone 20 years old, alone and without any idea about what to do. I went to the Catholic Church and talked to a priest about my situation. I guess out of desperation, I thought about my early days at the Catholic school in Kingsport, Tennessee. The priest was the ultimate authority at the school. He told me that he was sure the police would do the right thing and dismissed me, I was not Catholic. The only other person I could think of was my Business Law professor, Sidney Purser. I relayed everything that had happened, and my coming lie detector test, to him. He said he wanted to go with me when I took the test.
The detective was visibly annoyed when at Mr. Purser’s presence. When I was through, the test was interrupted as I was guilty. However, Mr. Purser then told the detective that he did not want me being questioned or sign anything else unless he was present. The daily visits by the sheriff stopped. The phone calls stopped. I knew that despite this, I was their one and only suspect. The stress was almost unbearable.
I was surprised when my monthly Texaco credit card bill with evidence that would totally cleared me of any crime. I had totally forgotten I had the card because I did not use the, it was only to be used in case of an emergency. I did not usually get a monthly bill. The Texaco bill contained more charges than I would make in years. Tires, battery and many gas station fill ups. In those days, your bill also had carbon copies of each charge on the monthly statement, this is what made it so thick. One copy had a license plate number for $1.50 gas purchase, the smallest charge in the bill. The tires, battery, car repairs did not have this critical bit of information. I took the bill down to sheriff’s office and gave it to the detective that was trying to rail road me for the robbery. I did not hear from him so I called in a week or two and he told me that they found the guy using the one purchase copy with the license number. He had confessed to the robbery. No I’m sorry for all the harassment. No I should have called you.
There was also collateral damage from the ordeal. I was taking Intermediate Accounting, and my major was Accounting. I had an “A” on the first quiz. My grade on the second quiz was 40, or an “F”. I went to see the professor, who also happened to be my advisor. I explained to him what had happened and the mental anguish I was experiencing at the time of. I even showed him a newspaper clipping about the robbery as proof that my story was true. He told me not to worry about that test. I made an “A” on the third quiz and the final. The final test score and the overall course grade were posted on the professor’s door, with your initial for identification. I could not believe he had given me a “B” as my grade. In all fairness, he probably didn’t process the grades, he had a grader for that task. He probably not told his grader. I did not go back and ask him why he had given me a “B”. I realized this later because I was a grader for two professors after that summer.
I have one regret about the ordeal, I did not go back and tell Sidney Purser that I indeed was innocent and that his assessment of my character was correct. I am sure he is gone now or that would be on my bucket list.