Charles Raby’s early life was defined by abuse and neglect. His own behavior later took a toll on the people who knew him, many of whom remain certain that he killed Edna Franklin. No one is more convinced than his ex-girlfriend, who has a surprising story about Charles that she says proves his guilt. Charles is adamant the story isn’t true. But memories are complicated things.
A quick listener note: This podcast contains adult language and descriptions of violence.
Karianne Wright: I am Charles Raby’s ex-girlfriend and also the mother of his child. The only thing that I can bring to the table is the way that he treated me, which I guess that could give you some insight to who he was before this crime happened.
Jordan Smith: Karianne Wright met Charles Raby in the mid-’80s at an apartment complex in Houston where a friend of hers lived. They were both teenagers back then. And the only thing she could bring to the table now, she told us, was how Charles treated her before the crime that would send him to death row. As you can probably tell, our connection with Karianne was a bit spotty.
Karianne Wright: I met him just on the grounds of the apartments one day. A bunch of kids, unsupervised, had the freedom to do whatever they want, and we just sort of took a liking to each other pretty much right away.
Jordan Smith: It was a volatile relationship. During the penalty phase of Charles’s trial — where the jurors had to decide whether to sentence him to life or death — Karianne was almost certainly the most damaging witness.
Liliana Segura: She’s aware of the DNA and blood evidence that point away from Charles as being responsible for Edna Franklin’s murder. None of that matters to her.
Karianne Wright: As probably the single person that knows him better than anybody did back then, even than his own mother, just know that if you’re beating down a path to try and prove this man’s innocent, you are wrong. You are wrong.
Liliana Segura: From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: I’m Jordan Smith. Welcome back to Murderville, Texas. Episode 8, “Memories.”
Early on in our reporting, we knew that we needed to try to reach Karianne. All these years later, she is still unsparing in her view of Charles.
Liliana Segura: She left Houston almost two decades ago. She’s married, has kids and grandkids. Her life seems genuinely happy. Charles represents a dark and ugly chapter from her past.
Karianne Wright: Anytime these memories come up, they’re kind of something that I have to remind myself to think past. Like, “Get your mind out of that time frame,” and bring it to the happier parts of my life.
Jordan Smith: Karianne was 13 when she met Charles, who everybody called Buster. He was 15. At first, he was charming, but things quickly changed. Not long into their relationship, she said, he turned violent — yelling at her and flying off the handle, as she testified back in 1994. This led to pushing and shoving, then slapping “and things like that,” she said.
Karianne Wright: The amount of violence that would come out of him from a look, from a sigh — it didn’t matter.
Liliana Segura: She was 15 when she got pregnant. Her relationship with Charles did not improve.
Karianne Wright: It didn’t calm him down, it didn’t. I’m sure there were moments when he would be excited about being a dad and really liked the idea of it all, but it didn’t make him a better partner to me.
Liliana Segura: And after their daughter was born, she said the abuse continued. She told us a story that she’d told at trial. It was winter, and their daughter was just a few months old.
Karianne Wright: I was sitting on the foldout couch with Amber, bundled up with her, trying to keep her warm. He was standing next to a dresser, and he said, “Can you give me a pair of socks?” And I looked at him and I said, “You’re standing at the dresser, get ’em.” And there was a knife on top of the dresser and he grabbed the knife and he threw it across the room at me and I cupped the baby, turned my head, and the knife stabbed me right in the head and stuck in my head.
Liliana Segura: In your head?
Karianne Wright: Stuck in my head.
Jordan Smith: If you didn’t catch that, Karianne said that Charles threw a knife at her after she told him to get himself a pair of socks. On the stand, Karianne described what he’d thrown as a multitool, like you use for camping. It had a can opener on it, and a fork and spoon. It was chrome in color.
According to Karianne, she left Charles for good in 1989 after he’d gone to jail for getting in a fight with his mom and stepdad. She’d met another boy whose family took her in.
Karianne Wright: He’d gone to jail, and it was my way out. I thought, “This is it. I’ve got a way.”
Liliana Segura: In legal filings, Charles’s lawyers describe the circumstances of the breakup a bit differently. They say Karianne actually left Charles before the fight that sent him to jail, and that Charles spent some months taking care of their daughter on his own, with the help of his mother, Betty.
Jordan Smith: Regardless, it was while Charles was in jail for the fight with his mom and stepdad that he met Merry Alice Gomez, who has a very different story about Charles. He was loving and caring with her and her baby. We’ve thought about this a lot. This isn’t a question of who you believe. They’re not mutually exclusive experiences.
Abusive relationships often have a honeymoon period, where an abuser is charming and lavishes attention. Could that be what Charles was doing with Merry Alice? Sure, it’s possible. But it’s also possible that theirs was an entirely different relationship.
Liliana Segura: No one, not even Charles, has denied that he had a violent streak. And knowing what we know about intimate partner violence, it isn’t surprising that Karianne told us she felt lucky to get out of that relationship alive. But none of this means that Charles killed Edna Franklin. And there’s no physical evidence to show that he did.
But the way that Charles behaved — toward Karianne and others — is precisely why people think that he’s guilty. It’s maybe an obvious point, but an important one: If Charles hadn’t had a reputation as a violent jerk, Edna Franklin’s grandsons, Eric Benge and Lee Rose, wouldn’t have been so quick to name him as a suspect. In our experience, this is often the case, in some form or another, with wrongful convictions.
Almost everyone we’ve ever written about had something in their background that either put them on law enforcement’s radar or gave them some kind of negative reputation. These are the kinds of things that can drive cases.
Jordan Smith: We also know that Charles wasn’t the only one among the group of kids that Eric and Lee ran with who was violent, including toward their girlfriends. So if you consider Charles’s behavior as the key to singling him out as the most capable of killing Franklin, then he wasn’t the only suspect the police should’ve considered.
Jordan Smith: Can you describe how you know Charles, and what growing up around him was like?
James Jordan: [laughs] Well, it was an adventure, I’ll give it that. There was never a dull moment. He was actually probably my closest and best friend at the time. We went through a lot of things together, so to speak.
Jordan Smith: That’s James Jordan, Charles’s friend from childhood. He lived in the same apartment complex as Karianne’s friend. James was the person Charles was hanging out with when he met Karianne.
James has been in and out of prison for most of his life. When we talked to him, he’d just gotten out months earlier. He was having a rough time getting back on his feet. Right after he was released, he came down with Covid and was super sick. But he was open to talking with us and gave us some insight into Charles’s problems as a teenager.
James Jordan: Man, Charles was a very angry young man. He was a handful because he had problems that he hadn’t addressed, that I guess made him like a little Roman candle. But if he was your friend, there was probably nothing he wouldn’t ever do for you.
Liliana Segura: As James describes it, Charles seemed to be something of a walking contradiction. Charles did beat up Karianne, he said. But James also said that when he was violent toward his own girlfriend, Tyme Martin, Charles would intervene. Tyme remembers this too.
Tyme Martin: Yeah, yeah. He was always a helpful hand when it came to being around James Jordan, having issues with him. So, yes, he was very helpful to me in many ways, in certain times. Man, everything’s just so long ago. He was even kind of the defender, but I don’t think that was so much the case with Karianne. I don’t remember them having a very good relationship.
Liliana Segura: It’s like Charles tried to protect people in certain situations, but it made him controlling. James told Charles’s lawyer, Sarah Frazier, that Charles disapproved of hard drugs and would beat him up over it. “Once Charles attacked me when he found me sniffing paint,” he said.
And then there’s the story about the sunflower seeds, which Karianne told on the stand. She said Charles once beat up James for eating sunflower seeds because he was concerned that they were bad for James’s blood pressure.
James Jordan: It’s not to say that he was a dangerous individual, but he’s somebody you really wouldn’t want to get on his bad side because he didn’t have a problem showing you how he felt, or telling you how he felt. He was a little bit outspoken. But he was a great guy! If he was your friend, he was a great guy.
Liliana Segura: Ultimately, Charles’s behavior took a toll on the people he knew. And they basically lined up to testify against him during the punishment phase of his trial.
James Jordan: The whole neighborhood testified against him. I was probably one of the only ones that didn’t. Even though I was subpoenaed, it was against my will, and I never got on the stand against him. But everybody else we knew did. Do I believe that he killed that lady? No, I don’t.
Liliana Segura: We asked James if he remembered where he was when Edna Franklin was murdered.
James Jordan: I was in jail, and I’d seen it on the news. And I told myself then, if you did it, you deserve to fucking die. But if you’re innocent, then I pray to God that you come home. And I told him that. When I got out of jail, I came and seen him. He didn’t have the face of somebody who had just killed a 72-year-old lady.
Jordan Smith: When James went to visit Charles in jail, not long after Franklin’s murder, he said Charles just didn’t have the face of a killer. That may be how James saw it. But it wasn’t how others saw it — including James’s mom, who also testified against Charles.
She said Charles had hit her once after she caught him and Karianne in her home without her permission. James disputes his mom’s account. He said he’d told them they could hang out there, but his mother didn’t like that and threatened to call the cops. James says that she hit her head on the wall when Charles tried to push past her to get out of the house.
Many of the people who testified about Charles’s violent streak remain convinced of his guilt. Yet, according to James, the DNA evidence pointing to another killer disturbed his mom.
James Jordan: That’s the first time I’d seen my mother cry. Because that’s a bitter pill to swallow, to think that you might have helped put somebody on death row that is innocent.
Liliana Segura: And there’s another reason James questions Charles’s guilt. It’s because of a guy named James Falcon. They met in the Harris County jail.
James Jordan: I didn’t know James, but we had gotten cool in jail because he was from the same neighborhood I’m from. Conversation started up: Who do you know? Who’s this, who’s that? You know how it goes. And Charles’s name come up.
Liliana Segura: Falcon told James that he’d seen Charles the night that Franklin was murdered.
James Jordan: He had told me, “Yeah, I seen Buster and he was drunk but he didn’t have blood on him. He didn’t look like he had been fighting. He didn’t look like he had been doing anything he shouldn’t have been.” And I tried to encourage him to seek out Charles’s lawyer, but when Sarah went to look for him, she told me that he had passed away.
Jordan Smith: We didn’t know who Falcon was, so we wrote to Charles to ask. Charles knew Falcon but wasn’t friends with him. Falcon was actually friends with Karianne’s brother — so it’s not like he had any reason to help Charles.
Charles told us that he didn’t remember seeing Falcon that night. But he said that Falcon had written him a letter in which he “swore up and down” that he’d seen Charles. Despite the fact that James Jordan was Charles’s best friend, he said that Charles’s trial lawyers never talked to him to see what he might know. If they had, maybe they could’ve tracked down Falcon. It seemed like another missed opportunity.
Liliana Segura: James knows that Charles had anger issues. But he also thought that the witnesses who testified against him overstated things on the stand.
James Jordan: They basically got up there and just either told lies or told things about him that it’s normal for kids to do when you’re angry or you’re running the streets or not doing the things that productive growing children do.
Liliana Segura: James said this included Karianne.
James Jordan: But a lot of things she probably said about him were probably true. The rest of it, hey, you know how it goes in court. They coach you along, tell you what they want you to say.
It’s not about your guilt or your innocence in Texas. It’s hell to be fucking poor and broke in Texas, and it’s all about who puts on the best show. When you got somebody you’re getting ready to juice up on that gurney, why wouldn’t you want to know the truth?
Jordan Smith: When we started going through the files in Charles’s case, we were struck by how many documents there were from Child Protective Services, Texas’s child welfare agency. There were hundreds and hundreds of pages. And they’re really hard to read — but also illuminating.
They paint a picture of a person whose childhood was shaped by violence and neglect. Charles lived with his mother and grandmother, both of whom had mental health problems. His mother had a series of dysfunctional relationships. Charles was abused and abusive. From the time he was pretty young, he was repeatedly removed from home and shipped off, typically to a group home or wilderness camp.
Liliana Segura: Charles really didn’t want to talk about any of this with us, especially anything about his mom. He made clear early on that this stuff was off-limits. This wasn’t surprising.
Almost every death penalty case we’ve ever written about contains some level of childhood trauma or abuse. Violent family situations are extremely painful to revisit. So a lot of times people just don’t want to talk about it, even where it could provide important context that helps others understand how they ended up where they did.
Jeff Page: Out of all the cases I’ve had, Charles’s is probably the one I remember most.
Liliana Segura: As we read through Charles’s files, one name kept popping up: a guy who worked for child welfare and was one of Charles’s case workers.
Jeff Page: My name is Jeffrey Page. In 1982, I began working for Harris County children’s protective services. I worked in a specialized unit — an institutional unit — which dealt with kids who had emotional problems and had to be institutionalized all over the state. And that is how I came into contact with Charles.
Liliana Segura: Page’s job was to try to reunite children with their families. And if that couldn’t be done, to seek a termination of parental rights.
Jeff Page: Charles, he had to be removed from his home. It was a neglectful supervision.
Liliana Segura: Page really liked Charles.
Jeff Page: I really connected with him because I felt like, if he only had a chance, maybe he could do better. But in the environment he lived in, I said, “He really doesn’t have a chance.” And it was very sad.
Jordan Smith: He put in a lot of work, trying to find a safe place for Charles to live. But Charles frequently ran away, always trying to get back to Houston to his mom. After months of work, Page thought he’d found the right spot for Charles.
Jeff Page: He ended up at a place — and I’m cutting through months — called New Horizons in Goldthwaite, Texas. I know he didn’t necessarily like it there, but that was probably the best place for him because they treated him well. He had a horse. He really kind of straightened up. He had problems there, don’t get me wrong.
I placed him there, and I said, “Oh, this isn’t going to work, because he’s a city boy.” When I came back up there, about three months later, he was a cowboy. He had his boots on and he had his horse and he really liked it; there were things he really liked, and he told me that he liked it there.
Liliana Segura: Charles had a girlfriend at New Horizons and a teacher who’d finally taught him to read. Then Page was told that the folks there were ready to send him home. Page did not think he was ready.
Jeff Page: I told them, I said, “I think he needs to stay here.” But one day, I get a call and they’re like, “He’s well. He needs to be brought back to Houston.” I said, “That’s the worst place you could ever bring him back to. He cannot come back here.” I told my supervisor, I told my supervisor’s supervisor — because I was very concerned about that. And I told them, “If he came back here, he was going to get into some trouble. He’d either be killed, or he would kill somebody.”
Jordan Smith: To Page, it was a turning point for Charles. Page finally saw Charles thriving — and at that moment, Charles was sent back to Houston.
Jeff Page: He needed stability, and that’s why I wanted him to stay where he was. He needed a job. He needed somebody to at least tell him which way to go. He never had that; he never had that. That was maybe the saddest thing about him, because I could see him working on a ranch. I could see him married and with a family. But it wasn’t to be. And part of that, you can’t just blame everybody else; he has some responsibility in that too. But like I said, the deck was stacked against him.
Jordan Smith: We asked Page what he meant when he said that Charles might kill or be killed. Page said that it wasn’t that he thought Charles had it in him to go out and kill someone, but that without structure, he had impulse control problems.
Jeff Page: I grew up in a pretty rough — I grew up in Detroit, and I knew people like him, and I said, “Something’s going to happen to him, if nobody intervenes.” I just knew he was headed for trouble. I don’t know. Did I think he was a murderer? No, I didn’t think that. I didn’t think he would think things through. I just thought something might happen.
Liliana Segura: Page was called to testify by the defense during the sentencing phase of Charles’s 1994 trial. But he told us that Charles’s lawyers didn’t prepare him before putting him on the stand. So he wasn’t able to fully describe the trauma and neglect Charles had lived through in his youth.
Jeff Page: They put me on the stand. The attorney said, “Do you know him?” And I said, “Yes, Charles.” They just asked me stuff. They never asked me what I thought they were going to ask.
Jordan Smith: The questions were just “weird,” he told us. And under cross-examination, it seemed like the prosecutor, Roberto Gutierrez, was trying to steer him in a certain direction: to weaponize what Page knew about Charles’s background in order to paint him as a lost cause.
Jeff Page: It seemed like they were asking me for something I couldn’t give them.
Liliana Segura: Of course, as a prosecutor questioning a witness at sentencing, Gutierrez’s goal was to show why Charles should be sentenced to death — not to get Page’s genuine feelings about Charles. At one point, Gutierrez asked Page about all the resources that had been spent trying to help this one kid. Here’s the actor reading Gutierrez.
Roberto Gutierrez (Actor): The system, the state of Texas, spent thousands and thousands of dollars to try and help Charles Raby, isn’t that true? … And one of the sad things about your job is that you try to save them all and you can’t?
Liliana Segura: Page told us he couldn’t speak to whether Charles was innocent or guilty of murdering Edna Franklin. But he understands enough about the system to know that it’s fallible.
Jeff Page: It just seemed like everything was a foregone conclusion. Why am I sitting there? I always like to think back, because when I was Charles’s age, maybe a little younger — I told you, I grew up in Detroit — I was walking down the street with a friend one day and got arrested for suspicion of armed robbery. They locked me in a cell. My parents were out of the country, and I was 17. They put me in a holding cell, tried to make me confess to a crime. When I was sitting there giving answers, that’s what it felt like to me: Here he is, we’ve got him, and he’s going down for whatever he’s going down for. I guess that’s why I could relate a little bit to that.
Liliana Segura: Page’s dad was a juvenile probation officer. And when he got back to the city, he pulled the report of his son’s arrest and found out that the cops had been looking for two Black kids wearing jeans.
Jeff Page: And I said, “How many people in Detroit could that be? 300,000?” So when I see Charles, it’s just like: Here’s this kid, maybe he did something. I don’t know what he did. I haven’t seen the evidence. But they certainly got him for what they said and he was going to be convicted. And I guess he had already been convicted at that point.
Jordan Smith: Karianne remembers being at court every day until it was time for her to testify. When she finally took the stand, she just tried to concentrate on the task at hand.
Karianne Wright: I think, if anything, I probably felt a little bit sad for him because it’s got to be hard having your mom there, not only my mom but his mom and his whole family just knowing what had happened. You can’t take it back; you can’t undo who you are.
Jordan Smith: We asked about how she reacted to hearing that Charles had been sentenced to death. She described mixed feelings but mostly sadness for their young daughter.
Karianne Wright: I cried. And I cried for our daughter, for knowing that some day that, regardless of how well I try to raise her, there’s going to be an absence and sadness and a horrific reality.
Jordan Smith: Days after Charles was sentenced to death, Karianne went to see him one last time. He was in jail, awaiting transfer to prison. She took their daughter with her. Karianne’s description of this visit was by far the most surprising part of our conversation.
Karianne Wright: I remember asking him, in these exact words, “Why did you do that? Why did you do it?” And we got our hands touching on the glass, and Amber had her little hand up there, and he shrugged and shook his head and he says, “I don’t know, I just snapped.” And we just sat and cried and cried and cried.
Jordan Smith: This was the first time we’d ever heard about this. That Charles had supposedly confessed — again — after he was convicted.
Liliana Segura: But it turns out she’d told this story before. Years after she left Texas, Karianne caught wind that Charles was fighting his conviction, claiming he was innocent.
Karianne Wright: It was one of those things where my mom reached out to me, and she said, “He’s fighting this. He’s trying to say he’s innocent, blah, blah, blah,” and I said, “Well, he’s not innocent.” And I said, “He actually told me, he confessed to me. We talked about this.”
Liliana Segura: Her mother had apparently read about this in the newspaper in 2009 after the DNA results came back, pointing away from Charles. The article included the name of the Houston prosecutor who was handling the case. It was Lynn Hardaway: the prosecutor who argued to the Court of Criminal Appeals that the DNA results linking the murder to an unknown male weren’t important.
Jordan Smith: So Karianne called her. She wanted Hardaway to know that Charles had confessed to her.
Liliana Segura: We sent the Harris County DA’s office a public information request, asking for records related to this call. We got a recording of a conversation from June 2009, which seemed to be the phone call Karianne told us about.
Lynn Hardaway: Hi, Kari. This is Lynn Hardaway at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Karianne Wright: Oh, hi. Sorry for the babbling message.
Lynn Hardaway: Oh, no, that’s OK. I understand.
Liliana Segura: The phone call confirmed Karianne’s recollection about talking with Hardaway.
Karianne Wright: So I started asking him. And in the beginning, he wouldn’t answer me.
Lynn Hardaway: This is when you went and visited him at the jail, right?
Karianne Wright: Yeah. And he kept shaking his head, like, “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it.” And then I just said, “Then we’re going to leave.” Because I wanted to hear him say he did it. And he looked at me and I said, “Why did you feel like you had to kill her? Why? She was old.” And I was just talking to him, and he just broke down and started crying and said, “I just cracked. I snapped.”
Lynn Hardaway: Wow. Did you ask him anything else?
Karianne Wright: I asked him a lot, but that’s the only answer he gave. The only other thing that he mentioned was rinsing blood off his hands. That’s it. In dirty water.
Lynn Hardaway: So he didn’t deny that he did it.
Karianne Wright: He did not deny it.
Lynn Hardaway: OK, that’s good.
Karianne Wright: He did not deny it.
Jordan Smith: Obviously, we had to write to Charles to ask him about this. “You caught me completely off guard with this one,” he wrote back. He said the exchange with Karianne never happened. He was pretty pissed off and worried about how this story might be used against him in the future.
He remembered Karianne and his daughter coming to visit. He also recalled something Karianne had described to us: his lawyer, Felix Cantu, coming in during the visit and standing behind Karianne as they talked. But he swore he never said anything about his case to Karianne.
Liliana Segura: We asked Cantu about this, but he didn’t remember the visit.
For much of their call, Karianne and Hardaway discussed the potential impact of the DNA results on Charles’s case. They also discussed the serology work from 1992 that Charles’s defense hadn’t known about.
Lynn Hardaway: Well, OK, the way that — I’m not a scientist, and I don’t really understand it. The bad thing about the blood evidence is this other blood type is showing up. But —
Karianne Wright: Couldn’t be a mix of her blood and his blood making some weird strain, right?
Lynn Hardaway: No, no.
Liliana Segura: Hardaway acknowledged that this evidence could make a difference for Charles.
Lynn Hardaway: But I don’t know what the judge is going to do. I don’t know. I just don’t know. But you know what? What you have told me could be very helpful.
Liliana Segura: Hardaway asked Karianne if she would be willing to give an affidavit recounting her story about the jail visit. Karianne agreed and eventually traveled to Houston to give a video statement.
Jordan Smith: We’d reached out to Hardaway for an interview weeks before we ever talked to Karianne. She’s now in private practice. She responded quickly, saying she would be happy to talk with us about her work on Charles’s case, as soon as the following morning.
We followed up with a few more details about what we hoped to cover: specifically, the DNA evidence that didn’t match Charles. She responded the next morning, and she’d changed her tune. “When I said that I would speak to you about Mr. Raby’s case, I meant on an informal, non-recorded basis,” she wrote. She said that if we wanted to do a “formal” interview, she would need to prepare. That would take time and, it turned out, money. “I require a retainer to proceed with a formal interview,” she wrote. “My rate is $250/hour, and I estimate five hours of prep time.”
Liliana Segura: In other words, we’d have to pay her $1,250. Needless to say, that wasn’t happening. And as someone who dealt with the media as part of her job, she must have known that we don’t pay for interviews.
We asked if she’d be willing to answer some questions via email instead. Sure, she said. Hardaway told us that she remembered meeting with Karianne and taking her statement. But she said she never used it in any legal proceedings.
Jordan Smith: We found this odd. Hardaway had argued in court — first in Houston and then at the Court of Criminal Appeals — that the DNA evidence wasn’t strong enough to overturn Charles’s conviction. And she leaned heavily on his confession as proof that the DNA didn’t matter and he was clearly guilty. So it would seem reasonable that Hardaway would have seized upon Karianne’s story as further evidence of his guilt. Why wouldn’t she use Karianne’s account if she found it credible?
Liliana Segura: We asked Hardaway why she never used Karianne’s statement. Hardaway said she wasn’t sure whether she had the statement at that time. In fact, she did.
Karianne provided her statement in August 2009 — as the DNA hearing in Houston was still going on — and Hardaway didn’t go before the Court of Criminal Appeals until 2013. Regardless, she said that Karianne’s story didn’t fit into what she was trying to do.
Jordan Smith: All of this left us with a lot of questions.
Liliana Segura: Karianne’s story about the jail visit was obviously unsettling. She clearly believes it happened exactly as she remembers. She even told Hardaway that if there was a recording of the visit, Hardaway could confirm her account. Those records are long gone, of course. So there’s no proof, one way or another. Regardless, we don’t see why Karianne would make this up.
Jordan Smith: But also, why would Charles deny this if it happened? He’s never denied that he confessed. And he’s been straightforward about questioning his own memory of the night Franklin was murdered. He even said that, for a time, he wondered whether he might actually have done it. And this brings us back to the whole problem of memory.
Kara Moore: When we recall a memory, we aren’t just pulling this neat package of information from our brain. Instead, we’re pulling lots of details back together and basically reconstructing the memory from scratch.
Liliana Segura: That’s Kara Moore. She’s a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. She studies memory.
Kara Moore: In reality, our memories reflect a blend of information contained from our memory, our existing knowledge, our expectations, our beliefs, and information derived from other sources. As a result, no memory is a perfect recall of the past.
Jordan Smith: We’ve seen this play out over and over again in our reporting. People will tell the cops one thing, shortly after a crime. And research tells us that these are the most reliable statements. But by the time a case goes to trial, those statements have often evolved — sometimes in really dramatic ways, with lots of new details.
Liliana Segura: The thing is, the older the memory is, the more likely it is to be corrupted because memories get weaker over time. And memories of traumatic events are especially prone to distortion, Moore said, because mental imagery and imagining also play a role in the reconstruction of memory.
Jordan Smith: She gave us an example involving Desert Storm veterans. Researchers found that over time, the number of traumatic events they remembered experiencing during combat multiplied.
Kara Moore: The most important finding from that study is that the majority of the changes were from “No, I did not experience any of these types of events” to “Yes, I did experience one or more of these types of events.”
Jordan Smith: All the factors that impact memory — time and trauma in particular — are at play in this case.
Liliana Segura: The reality is, when it comes to this case, everybody is an unreliable narrator — at least insofar as their memories are concerned. The only thing we know for sure is what the science tells us. The serology and DNA evidence point to a different killer.
Jordan Smith: Next time on Murderville, Texas: “The Other Suspect.”
Linda McClain: I don’t know why they wouldn’t have DNA tested Edward Bangs. Why wouldn’t they have done that? He was in jail for assaulting someone, an old lady or something, which certainly is weird.
Sgt. Wayne Wendel: I know he was eliminated, and it was because he had an alibi. He was somewhere else and could not have killed Mrs. Franklin.
Alicia Overstreet: He was not with me. Yeah, I didn’t even know that that had ever been said because no one ever asked me.
Liliana Segura: Murderville, Texas is a production of The Intercept and First Look Media.
Andrea Jones is our story editor. Julia Scott is senior producer. Truc Nguyen is our podcast fellow. Laura Flynn is supervising producer. Fact-checking by Meerie Jesuthasan. Special thanks to Jack D’Isidoro and Holly DeMuth for additional production assistance. Voice acting on this episode by Vincent Thomas.
Our show was mixed by Rick Kwan, with original music by Zach Young. Legal review by David Bralow.
Executive producers are Roger Hodge and Christy Gressman. For The Intercept, Betsy Reed is the editor-in-chief.
I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith.
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