I have debated on putting this case together just yet for a few reasons. The case was just decided in September of 2016 which means there has not been time for an appeal to be ruled on as of yet. I have stated before I like seeing the decisions of an appeals court because in my opinion they give the most accurate information about that was presented at a trial, how a jury came to a conclusion and what the appeals court thinks of the case. Newspaper and media accounts are not always accurate and often either keep out key details or exaggerate facts that are less important than they really are. It is not necessarily the media's fault. Society seems to thrive on sensationalism and admittedly I cannot disagree with that. The more “twisted” or drama filled a case is, the more interesting it becomes to people. It is just simply human nature.
On the morning of June 23rd 2012 a couple went to The Violet Andrew Park in Portland Texas, a small town just east of Corpus Christi, to do some bird watching when they came across the bodies of two naked young girls. One, nineteen year old Mollie Olgin had been shot in the neck and had died. The other, eighteen year old Kristene Chapa was alive but just barely. Kristene had been shot in the head and while she would survive it was not without life long scars and disabilities.
Initially Kristene could not tell investigators anything about what happened. Within a few days, despite being paralyzed on her left side and being left unable to talk she was able to describe, at least the best she could to authorities what had occurred. According to Kristene, she and Mollie were out on a midnight stroll when they were approached by a masked man. Kristene would always describe him as being about the same height as her. The girls were forced to take off their clothes and then Kristene was ordered to put duct tape over Mollie's eyes and then her own. The masked man then sexually assaulted both women before shooting them. Kristene had attempted to crawl for help but her injuries had made it impossible.
Newspapers widely reported that the two women had been lovers and speculated that the crime was based on hate. This was Texas, a place in which homosexuality is not always embraced. While today Kristene still believes that the crime against her and her girlfriend was a hate crime, authorities claim they could not prove that was the motive, although admittedly I never found an instance in which they gave a motive. It seems that prosecutors were more worried with being able to find an impartial jury who would not judge the women on their lifestyle. I cannot say that I disagree with their assumption in a state that bleeds red and I gander to guess this may have also played a role in failing to charge as a hate crime.
Within a few days authorities had their eyes on a suspect. His name was Dylan Spellman. Spellman lived in Nevada but in the summer of 2012 he was in the Portland area. Several things had them looking at Spellman. For one they found him near the crime scene at least twice in the days after the murder. For two, authorities had gathered evidence around the scene, including cigarette butts and beer cans and DNA had been linked to Spellman. Spellman was also later convicted of a home invasion that had taken place in Nevada. In the home invasion that he had been involved with, Spellman and his accomplices wore masks and forced their victims to wear duct tape. All of these things had the Portland police officers looking hard at Spellman but it seems they could never find enough to conclusively link him to the crime again Mollie and Kristene.
Then, nearly two years after the crime the police department received, or got a hold of a letter that was said to be addressed to Kristene's father. It was reported that the letter indicated things about the crime that only the killer, or someone they told would know and had not been released to the public. I dug through the research to see if I could figure out how this letter led them to David Strickland and his wife, Laura, but it did. Authorities would later claim that they believed the letter to be written by Laura and it was stated several times that “portions” of the letter were found on the Strickland home computer. The couple would be arrested in June of 2014. David would be charged with capital murder, as well as aggravated sexual assault and aggravated assault. Laura would be charged with tampering with evidence as they accused her of helping David cover up the crime. Her charges would later be dropped but it is unclear what led to this.
David would go on trial in September of 2016 and as you can guess by my comment above about an appeal, a jury found him guilty. The prosecutor had not asked for the death penalty so he was automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. By the time of the trial prosecutors would claim that bullet fragments found at the scene matched samples taken from a .45 caliber Glock that Strickland owned. The defense harped on Dylan Spellman and they even had a Portland police officer testify that Spellman had confessed at some point.... or did he? Despite the guilty verdict and my belief that a majority of the time the jury gets it right, I was left searching to find some answers to some questions of my own before I can say I conclusively believe the jury was correct.
One of the first questions that I have pertains to the sexual assault. I found the evidence that stated that fingerprints and DNA belonging to Spellman were found on cigarette butts and on beer cans at the scene but I found nothing that discussed DNA from the assault on the two girls. Was there any? If so, what were the results? Did they match Strickland. If there was not any, why not? I get the man was wearing a mask, and it was reported he also wore gloves, but something tells me his penis was not covered!
My next question came on the so called confession of Spellman. If there was an actual confession as it appears the defense attempted to elicit from a Portland Texas police officer, and they had the DNA from him on the other items why was he never arrested and charged? Why was he never raised above the status of person of interest or number one suspect? According to the officer that testified Spellman was given a polygraph test in which he failed and that after this he had “confessed to murdering a girl.” That was the best I could find... “a girl.” So, with that I question just what sort of confession he allegedly made.
And speaking of confessions it does seem that after his arrest David Strickland made one of his own. Like many who make confessions it seems he quickly retracted it but this was one more place I was left with questions. In the trial it seems that the defense brought up the fact that it was possible the the confession had been elicited illegally and it was said that Portland officers were fired and demoted for their actions in the case when it related to Strickland. I did a search on that but I could not find any more information on this. This is another area in which I suspect an appeal would address and hopefully there will be one in the future.
The defense also questioned the identification of Strickland by Kristene Chapa in the courtroom. She had obviously suffered a brain trauma on top of the fact that the perpetrator by her own assessment wore a mask and gloves. The defense pointed out that Kristene had never picked Strickland out in a line up and only identified him at the trial and once again began pointing the finger at Spellman. The prosecution pointed out that from the beginning Kristene had stated that the perpetrator was near her height and that Spellman was over a foot taller than her. The defense seemed, at least in my mind, to be a bit successful when they called a witness who stated they were told that the height dependency was not important when they were investigating Spellman because the difference in the land terrain could have made things appear differently. While I truly sympathize with Kristene, her family and the family of Mollie Olgin, I have to say that due to her injuries and her lack of proper memory I have to agree with the defense on this issue. This is why it leads me back to the any DNA that may have been recovered in the sexual assault of the girls.
Without the full answers to some of the questions that I have posed I have to believe that the jury got enough information, and maybe some of those answers, and made a just and adequate judgment of Strickland's guilt.
It is said that after extensive physical therapy Kirstene Chapa has began to recover physically and emotionally. She is able to speak now although she still has at least some paralyzation to her left side. Prior to the attack Kirstene had kept her sexual orientation a secret from most people, including her family. Remember this was the deep south where being conservative is not just a word but a way of life. Since the tragedy Kirstene has learned that she need not keep the secret, especially from her family and has become and advocate in the LGBT community where he is lauded as a hero. Some may argue against the hero status but no one can argue she is a survivor!!