Thursday, September 11, 2014

Belief: The Darryl Tindol Case

On January 23rd of 2013, a woman named Susan Harper was seen getting out of her car at Irvington (AKA Robertson) Park in North Houston.  Her shirt and upper torso were on fire.  Two witnesses helped extinguish the fire and called for help.

As they were helping to extinguish her, my client (and Susan Harper's boyfriend), Darryl Tindol came walking up to them from the opposite side of the park from the fire.

Two Houston Police Department officers arrived and asked her what had happened.

"I dropped a cigarette on my blouse and it caught fire," she told them.

They did not believe her.

They asked her what really had happened and noted that their belief was that she had been the victim of an assault.  
"She at first would not say that she was [sic] victim of assault other than she was smoking and caught herself on fire."
But, they persisted with their belief.
"The Complainant was asked by this officer what had really happened to her and they were there to help her and who had done this to her." Emphasis added.
It was then the officer noted that the complainant changed her story and stated that her boyfriend had punched her and thrown a cigarette on her, causing her shirt to catch fire.

Suffering from severe burns over the upper half of her body, Susan Harper would survive in a hospital for another nine months before finally, mercifully, dying in September of 2013.

During those nine months, the police suspected that Darryl Tindol was responsible for her death.  Darryl was a quirky man.  Sometimes homeless, his demeanor was odd to them.   Despite the fact that Darryl had no burn marks (or any other signs of having been near a fire) on his clothes or body, they remained suspicious.  In their belief, he wasn't appropriately upset over what had happened to his common-law wife.  He met with the officers whenever they asked to speak with him, but that still was not enough.
"I did not observe any tears come from the suspect Darryl's eyes at any time while I spoke to him throughout this interview."
Despite their belief that he wasn't showing appropriate remorse, Darryl Tindol's story remained the same each time he talked to the authorities.

Walking around Irvington Park was a regular event for him.  He and Susan would drive there in her car.  She would sit in the car and have a cigarette or two while he walked around the perimeter.  On the morning of January 23rd, as he began his walk, he told her to lock the door.  She told him to pull his pants up.  He was on the diagonally opposite side of the park when he realized something was going on where he had left Susan.  He immediately began heading back that way.

It was the same explanation he would tell me on the day I met him.

Understandably, Susan Harper's family would not let him visit her in the hospital, nor would they update him on her condition.  Why would they?  Their belief was that he had committed the most heinous of acts against their family member.

It wasn't until shortly before Susan Harper's death that charges of Aggravated Assault were filed against Darryl Tindol.  Immediately following her death, those charges were upgraded to murder.

As usual, the commenters on the news websites reacted with bloodthirsty fervor to their belief that Darryl had committed an unspeakable act.  Most advocated that he too be burned to death.  Some argued that he be placed in a woodchipper.  The most creative comments came from London's Daily Mail website:

But the problem with all of these beliefs was that they were wrong.

Darryl Tindol didn't kill Susan Harper, nor did he have anything to do with her tragic and painful death.  Susan Harper died as the result of an accident.

From the day I was appointed to represent Darryl, he told me the same thing.  Every time we met.  He loved Susan.  He didn't kill Susan.  He believed that low blood sugar had caused her to faint and drop the cigarette on herself.  He would answer any question the police had for him and he would take any polygraph.  He would cooperate to the fullest extent humanly possible.

And my belief was that Darryl Tindol was telling me the truth.  His case was set for trial in November.

Assistant District Attorney Greg Houlton would ultimately become the prosecutor handling Darryl Tindol's murder case.  I had dealt with him on a few minor cases here and there over the years and always found him to be a reasonable guy.  He listened to every last thing I said about the Tindol case.  He pulled every last record and report and read them from start to finish.  He listened openly when I told him that I thought it would be physically impossible for Darryl Tindol to have set Susan Harper on fire and then run to the completely opposite side of the park and return to the scene of the fire within a matter of seconds.

It isn't an easy thing for a prosecutor to dismiss a murder.  The victim's family is guaranteed to be devastated and angry.  The police investigators won't be happy either.  Dismissing a murder case is rarely a popular decision.

With such horrible circumstances as a death by burning, it is only human nature to believe that another person must surely be held accountable for it.

But Greg and his Division Chief, Lance Long, set those beliefs aside and looked to where the evidence led them.  They met with arson experts.  They went to the crime scene and met with the witnesses who had first seen Susan Harper.  They had them point out where in the park they had seen Darryl Tindol coming from.

Greg called me yesterday afternoon to tell me they were dismissing the case.  As much as I would like to take credit for a dismissal on a murder case, it was his open mind and willingness to look into the facts independently that brought this sad case to the just resolution.

At some point today, Darryl Tindol was released from the Harris County Jail.  I doubt I'll ever hear from him again.  Like I said earlier, he's kind of a quirky guy.

He was in custody for just shy of a year for a crime he didn't commit.


jenesp said...

Yes, the prosecutor's ability to set ego aside to make the unpopular but just decision to drop the case is admirable. He couldn't have done that though without all of the information that you gathered and made available. You both deserve a lot of credit for seeking the truth with an impartial eye rather than stopping at the police officers' potentially biased report. Ms. Harper's suffering and death are beyond tragic, but nothing done or not done to Mr. Tindol would change anything for her.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is a "dissimissal "?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Murray.

Anon 9:35 PM

I have no idea what a "dissimissal" is. It sounds like something an angry, narcissistic father who is hated by his own children would write.

Jim Bell said...

I'm old enough to remember Carol Vance, who I regard as one of the finest men who ever ran the DA's office. I interviewed him once, and he told me he expected his prosecutors to always seek the truth and be ready to accept the truth, even if it meant dismissing charges. After all, he said, isn't finding the truth of a case the real job of a prosecutor?

Anonymous said...

"One negative comment equates to four posts..."

Of those four posts, how many will be written in complete sentences? Will at least some of the words be spelled correctly?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Well, damn. Now you've done it. That EIGHT, count them EIGHT negative posts that Don has to do.

No, seriously, please count them out. Don needs your help.

I don't know how he is going to manage his busy dual career of being an energy trader AND Republican activist if we keep piling on all of these comments that make him write more posts. By the time he is done with me, I won't have a deep dark secret left.

Kind of wish he would lose his fascination with my privates.

Oh crap, now he has to write TWELVE posts. Here, Don, let me help you -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Happy writing, jackass.

Anonymous said...

I hear Hooked on Phonics is having a sale.

Anonymous said...

He bought Hooped on phonics instead.

David Singer said...

Great war story Murray. One question. Did the prosecutors dismiss the case because they believed your client to be innocent, or because they believed they couldn't prove it BRD? When I have been in that situation, especially with a serious case like yours, I get "we still your think you guy did it, but.... I think your work demonstrating you could show reasonable doubt if there was a trial had more to do with the result than the benevolence of the prosecutors. But it is nice to have prosecutors that will fairly examine the evidence and accept what it does and doesn't prove. Not try to woodshead their way around it to get a conviction at all costs.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there have been several burglaries in the apartments at 1400 McKinney

Anonymous said...

What the heck is this?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:58

Do we know if Baker Hostetler "volunteers" ?

Anonymous said...

With Hooper on the board of directors and vice president of these organizations - I hope no one is donating (time or money) to these affiliated charities.
*America Family Law Center
*Children First Always
*America Family Law
*America Family Law Center
*Fathers for Equal Rights
*Texas Volunteer Attorneys
*Volunteer Attorneys
*Fathers Resource Center
*National Fathers Resource Center
*Texas Fathers for Equal Rights
*Children First
*Fathers for Equal Rights
Thank you Houston Press for acknowledging there might be a problem.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain the difference between "worse" and worst to Hooper. Jesus his butchering of the English language is embarrassing for other oil and gas executives, activists and would be lawyers.

Anonymous said...

So, I have to buy a membership to have an attorney NOT represent me? Sounds like a great deal! Oh, and who makes "don't say naughty things" rules other than someone who hears that he is a douchebag all the time?!