Waco – There are multiple players in the drama of the murder of Juanita White, mother of David Wayne Spence, who was convicted for the murder-for-hire of the wrong girl, a young woman from the nearby county seat of Waxahachie, who just happened to show up in the right place, at precisely the right time, with a remarkable similarity to the victim prosecutors, police, and jailhouse snitches alleged was his intended for-profit prey.
A spurned lover, Mohammed Muneer Deeb, a convenience store operator who allegedly bargained for the girl’s death with a promise of half the value of a life insurance benefit on the victim, had in a separate trial been convicted on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch who gave jurors a hearsay account of how yet another jailhouse snitch related her son’s bragging about the insurance caper involved, and the brutality of the killings. In frustration, his attorney had finally entered a “running objection” to the entire line of questioning of the witness when the trial judge repeatedly overruled his objections. When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the testimony was hearsay and thus inadmissible, Deeb received a new trial and was acquitted in a proceeding in which the previous testimonial evidece was suppressed.
Jurors convicted Spence partly on the strength of the expert testimony of a forensic odontologist regarding physical evidence that the mark of his dentition was “consistent” that the bite marks the attacker left on the body of Jill Montgomery – along with numerous slashing defensive wounds made with a knife to her hands and arms, her torso, shoulders and back. A medical examiner’s testimony carried the intelligence that one of Jill Montgomery’s nipples had been incised from her breast, ostensibly by a human bite.
Ms. White is not the least of the players, because just before a night stalker came to her door to beat her to death, raped her, and left her for dead, she contacted the prosecutor’s office with the revelation that yet another jailhouse snitch who testified against her son for the brutal slayings of three teenagers at Lake Waco had come to her begging her forgiveness and prepared to recant his previous testimony.
The bite marks left by a savage attacker in the flesh of the victims is a brightly colored thread that runs through the tangled tales; it bears evidence of the brutality of the series of events that led to her death. After one hears all the stories, the first reaction is to scratch one’s head and ask, “Who done it?”
It is a tale of errors, etched in tears, lit by the blazes of bonfires of terror, as if Old Scratch himself played lead gaffer-for-the day in a sick and twisted Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
A New York “Times” reporter called it a “nightmare investigation,” a “New Yorker” Magazine writer reportedly paid $10,000 out of his own pocket for DNA testing to exonerate the two men who drew life sentences for her murder; both were eventually thereby exonerated, and the state paid large sums in compensation for the years they spent in Texas penitentiaries.
But that was many years after Ms.White approached then-District Attorney Vic Feazell with the story of her encounter with the snitch who testified against her son. Feazell told her the case was in the charge of Truman Simons, a former Waco Police sergeant who worked the crime scene of the triple slayings at the lake, quit his job and took a huge cut in pay to work as a jailer so he could get next to her son as he awaited his turn on the legal treadmill for a knife attack he and a party to the killings of the teenagers had perpetrated on a young boy they forcibly sodomized, and was now the gatekeeper for new evidence in the lake murders case.
Her revelation about the jailhouse snitch who recanted his story to her fell on deaf ears.
But, after her death, she attracted the full attention of a receptive listener in a Waco Police Investigator named Jan Price, now retired. Detective Price had many suspicions about the case made against Spence and two Hispanic brothers named Melendez.
Numerous informants in the jails and on the streets alleged Simons made promises in return for information the veracity of which is suspect. There were also allegations of special favors of conjugal visits with spouses and girlfriends, treats of pizza, and the like. Price deposed that one informant who was held on a “blue warrant” from the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice made the streets easily after informing on the two suspects who were eventually exonerated, Calvin Washington, who in 1986, the time of the killing, was 25, and Joe Sidney Williams, 19.
She had a much more credible suspect in mind. Benny Carroll, who lived in the neighborhood near Ms. White’s home, had been convicted of a nearly identical beating and sexual assault of an elderly woman.
The simple truth is that Juanita White probably knew her attacker and willingly let him inside her home, else the death struggle would have probably occurred at the front door. The crime scene tells the story of an assault that took place in her bedroom, located at the rear of her residence. In her final moments of life, she had been forced face down on her bed, her undergarments forcibly removed, raped, and left to die. Her face, according to a source close to the investigation, was “a bloody mess.”
Forensic examiners usually interpret the meaning of that kind of sign that the attacker had some personal relationship with the victim, that it was attack motivated by rage.
The most chilling detail in the macabre scene: Her buttock, according to the source, bore the mark of a human bite. It’s been so many years, the person who contacted The Legendary does not remember if it was the left or right buttock.
In her deposition, the veteran detective said she feels the investigation became “seriously misdirected” after Vic Feazell decided to transfer the lead duties to Simons.
The Sunday evening after crime scene investigators cleared the scene, she deposed, a neighbor called to say that someone had broken into the house. Further investigation revealed that the burglar had gone through papers Ms. White had been collecting in her own independent “investigation” of her son’s case in the lake murders. A box of material was open on the bed in a front bedroom, the room David used when he was at home. Papers were strewn on the floor.
She also recalled that in the early days after the Juanita White killing, Truman Simons and Vic Feazell had called on her to obtain a key to the home, that they met her there and climbed into the attic, where they looked for some item neither ever mentioned to her.
After DNA evidence showed neither of the convicted suspects could have possibly committed the murder and sexual assault, and that Benny Carroll did, Price’s sworn statement carried the strenuous objection that she felt Feazell and Simons were “very concerned” to see that the public perceived the murder and rape of Ms. White had nothing to do with the lake murders.
There is always a catch when you deal with fundamental evil.
Benny Carroll committed suicide in 1990.
The entire affair took place before Spence made his date with the executioner. As he awaited his fate on Death Row and his appeals were turned down one by one, his ex-wife told an interviewer for “Texas Monthly,” he would sometimes stand in the exercise yard and scream at the heavens, “Are you real? Is my mother with you?”
“Those people’s whole lives were based on lying,” said Detective Price when the magazine writer interviewed her.
A video clip of Spence’s booking for the murders of the three teenagers at the lake contains a portentous series of frames. Smiling, familiar with the deputy who is taking down the information as he fills out a form on a typewriter, Spence suddenly apprehends that the remote lens of a television news camera is pointed directly at his profile.
He suddenly shuts his mouth and covers it with an open hand, a haunted look in his eyes.