A homicide detective reveals something unexpected about the practices of the Houston Police Department. He says he cleared the alternate suspect in the murder of Edna Franklin — but it turns out the suspect’s alibi was a lie.
A quick listener note: This podcast contains adult language and descriptions of violence.
Jeff Hattenbach: No, I ain’t gonna talk about all that. I mean, y’all are some reporters. I ain’t doing all that. That’s 22 years ago. I’m still waiting for the dude to die. I thought this phone call might’ve been telling me that he was up for death, for his sentence, I thought.
Liliana Segura: You mean his execution?
Jeff Hattenbach: Yes, yes.
Liliana Segura: That’s Jeff Hattenbach. He was good friends with Eric Benge, one of Edna Franklin’s grandsons. In fact, Hattenbach was the first person Eric called the night that he found his grandmother murdered.
His name is mentioned in an affidavit provided to Charles Raby’s lawyer, Sarah Frazier, by a woman Eric worked with. This co-worker told Sarah that Eric had also called her that night. He was hysterical, she said. She went over to the house.
Here’s what she told Sarah back in 2002: “That night, Eric was saying that some junkie must have been looking for some money to buy drugs with. He seemed to have an idea of who it might be and why. I think he mentioned that the person who killed his grandmother might have been someone to whom he owed some money.”
This woman never responded to our requests for an interview. But we thought that Hattenbach might be able to shed some light on all of this. Turns out, he wasn’t interested.
Jeff Hattenbach: The guy said he did it, so there ain’t no changing it now. He did it that night. Everybody knew he did it.
Liliana Segura: From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith. Welcome back to Murderville, Texas. Episode 9, “The Other Suspect.”
We talked to Hattenbach while he was driving, so the connection was a bit noisy at times. He told us what he remembered about the night Franklin was murdered.
Jeff Hattenbach: I was the first one he called. He was like my brother. Ms. Franklin was like my grandmother, so I was there every day. At that time, we were kids at the time, and that’s kind of like where we hung out at.
Liliana Segura: Yeah. And did you go over there that night?
Jeff Hattenbach: Yeah, we were there. Everybody was there.
Liliana Segura: It must have been really traumatic. One thing that — did the police ever talk to you?
Jeff Hattenbach: No. There was no reason for them to talk to me. I wasn’t there till after everything had happened. I was at work that night, same as Eric. He was at work as well.
Liliana Segura: I started to ask him about some of the other people who had been hanging around Franklin’s house in the days before the murder, including Edward Bangs — the other guy Franklin’s grandsons named as a potential suspect.
Jeff Hattenbach: All right. I’m done. I see where this is going. I’m done.
Liliana Segura: No, I’m not trying to —
Jeff Hattenbach: Thank you guys! I know, y’all trying to make it seem like it’s somebody else. The guy already admitted he did it. I mean, he’s pulling all the straws he can because, like I said, he’s getting to the end of his time. So you know what? The next phone call I need is to know whenever they’re putting this dude to death. And if y’all ain’t got that information for me, I can’t help y’all. Thank you.
Jordan Smith: So there are a couple notable things about this conversation. The first is this police thing. There was every reason to think that the police would want to talk to Hattenbach. As you heard him say, he was the first person that Eric Benge called after finding his grandmother. But, as with so many other things, there’s no indication in the police report that investigators ever talked to him. There were plenty of people they never bothered to interview. And witnesses they never followed up with, like John Allen Phillips.
He arrived at the house that night with Lee Rose, Edna Franklin’s other grandson. We’ve never been able to reach Phillips. But Mike Giglio, who covered Charles’s case in the Houston Press, did speak to him, back in 2010. What Phillips told Giglio was pretty shocking.
Phillips said that when he and Lee arrived at the house, Eric was in his grandmother’s bedroom, rummaging through her purse in search of $300. This is a big deal because, if true, it undercuts the state’s argument that whoever killed Franklin was trying to steal from her. At Charles’s trial, the prosecutor pointed to her purse, which had been emptied out, as proof of this.
Liliana Segura: Now, both Eric and Lee told Giglio that Phillips was wrong about this. Eric said money was the last thing on his mind that night. But between what Phillips said and the recollections of Eric’s co-worker, there are some unsettling questions about Eric lurking over this case that we’ve never been able to shake.
Just to be clear: It’s not that we think Eric might have been the real killer. He was the first person to find his grandmother. And she did have strands of Eric’s hair clutched in her hand. As you might recall, the state tried to explain this away by saying that Eric lived at the house, so it wouldn’t be surprising for his hair to be on the living room floor and end up in Franklin’s hand after she was attacked.
Regardless, the DNA found in blood caked under Franklin’s fingernails wasn’t Eric’s. Still, there is this nagging feeling that Eric knew more than he might’ve let on.
Jordan Smith: The other thing that we found so strange about our brief conversation with Hattenbach was his reaction when we brought up Edward Bangs. It’s logical that we’d want to know about Bangs.
It’s not that we thought Hattenbach had any particular knowledge about him, but Bangs was also in their friend group and hung around the house on Westford Street. In the weeks leading up to Franklin’s murder, he’d been working there, painting the outside of the house. But again, other than what Lee and Eric told the cops about Bangs, there’s nothing in the police report about him.
Obviously, we wanted to talk to the police investigators directly about this. There were two main detectives on the case: Sgts. Waymon Allen and Wayne Wendel. Allen, who extracted the confession from Charles, died in 2019. But Wendel is still around.
Liliana Segura: We caught up with him in mid-March 2021. He’d recently been released to a rehab facility after spending time in the hospital, sick with Covid.
Jordan Smith: Sgt. Wendel?
Wayne Wendel: Yes.
Liliana Segura: We didn’t have a lot of time before he had to go to some kind of appointment. So we tried to cut to the chase. He brought up Edward Bangs first. He said Bangs was an alternate suspect, but that they’d cleared him.
Jordan Smith: How did you clear Edward Bangs?
Wayne Wendel: He had an alibi for when — the time of death. I think that’s how we cleared him. He had an alibi.
Jordan Smith: Do you remember what it was?
Wayne Wendel: He was somewhere else and witnesses that verified it.
Jordan Smith: Huh. I’m just curious. It’s not in the police report, so would it normally have been in there? Do you have any idea why it wouldn’t be in there?
Wayne Wendel: It normally would be in there.
Jordan Smith: Huh. Yeah, there’s nothing about him in there, other than that the grandson, as you noted, mentioned his name. But the report is silent other than that.
Wayne Wendel: Well, is his written statement in there?
Jordan Smith: No, there’s no statement.
Wayne Wendel: We would have taken a written statement from him.
Jordan Smith: No, there isn’t any.
Wayne Wendel: Well, I would have taken a written statement.
Jordan Smith: Do you remember taking a statement from him?
Wayne Wendel: Yeah, I do.
Jordan Smith: Huh.
Liliana Segura: Although Wendel seemed certain that Bangs had an alibi, there’s nothing in the police report to suggest that investigators ever talked to him or to anyone else about his whereabouts the night Franklin was killed. And Wendel revealed something pretty astonishing in the process.
Liliana Segura: You said you don’t recall precisely what the alibi was for Edward Bangs. Is that correct?
Wayne Wendel: No, I don’t —
Liliana Segura: Or any of the folks who might have provided that alibi?
Wayne Wendel: Well, why don’t you ask him?
Liliana Segura: Oh, we’ve tried.
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.
Liliana Segura: Since it seems like not everything is in the police report that you all did, at any point —
Wayne Wendel: Well, some things are left out of there on purpose, because I really don’t want the defense to know everything. This is relayed in orally to the district attorney. So some of it is left out on purpose, intentionally.
Jordan Smith: You heard that right. He’s basically saying the cops would deliberately withhold information they didn’t want the defense to know. This becomes a problem when police and prosecutors fail to disclose evidence that’s favorable to a defendant. That’s called a Brady violation: conduct that runs afoul of a Supreme Court ruling that requires the state to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense.
But it’s not every day that a state actor just comes out and says they withhold evidence. And here, Wendel was telling us that the cops themselves had a policy of keeping certain information out of the record — before it even reached the DA’s office. This isn’t just screwed up because they’re purposely hiding things from the defense; it also undermines their own work. The whole point of a police report is to document every step of an investigation. So it would be especially weird to eliminate any mention of clearing an alternate suspect.
Liliana Segura: We wanted to know if the information about Bangs was something they would’ve withheld.
Jordan Smith: Would the Bangs stuff be among that content?
Wayne Wendel: I’m sorry?
Jordan Smith: The Bangs, sorry, the Edward Bangs stuff. Because it’s not in there.
Wayne Wendel: Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t recall that.
Jordan Smith: We pressed him on this apparently informal policy of withholding information. And it seemed like he was trying to walk it back a bit.
Liliana Segura: You’re saying that you all didn’t necessarily put everything in writing specifically because it was stuff that you didn’t want the defense to have?
Wayne Wendel: No, just not in writing because we — it should be in the written statement. If it’s in the written statement, I may not put it in the body of the report. I would just tell the district attorney, the prosecuting attorney, “Well, why don’t you just read the written statement?” Sometimes you have to hold it in front of their eyes for them to read it because they want the whole case handed to them on, like, a piece of cake. I may have left it out of a report, but it was in the written statement.
Jordan Smith: Yeah, that’s the thing: There’s just no written statement. There’s nothing about Bangs at all.
Wayne Wendel: Well, they might not release it to you.
Liliana Segura: Wendel suggested that maybe there were documents the police department just didn’t give us. That’s possible, but we have no reason to believe that’s the case. In fact, we got a lot from the HPD, including Wendel’s and Allen’s investigator notebooks.
Jordan Smith: Spoiler alert: They didn’t take many notes.
Liliana Segura: We also wanted to know if Wendel had any idea what happened to Edna Franklin’s nightshirt: the one she was wearing when she was killed, which was covered in blood and which disappeared the day before Charles went to trial.
Liliana Segura: There’s sort of this mystery around what happened with that nightshirt, why it hasn’t been found. Obviously, Mr. Raby’s defense attorneys would like to do some testing on there. Do you remember that issue, that problem of the missing nightshirt or what might have happened to it?
Wayne Wendel: No, I don’t. It should have been part of the evidence at trial. If they called for it in court, then it’s in possession of the district attorney’s office. If they didn’t call for it for trial, it should be in the property room. And it may not be in the property room because those things are destroyed once their shelf life or —
My session is about to start. So I got to let you all go.
Jordan Smith: OK.
Liliana Segura: Wendel was wrong about at least one thing, and that’s his idea that Franklin’s nightshirt would have been destroyed after so long. That’s not supposed to happen. In Texas, evidence in death penalty cases is stored for decades — sometimes even after a defendant has been executed.
And while there’s no evidence that Wendel and Allen got a statement from Bangs that cleared him, we do know that Bangs claimed to have an alibi for October 15, 1992. He told reporter Mike Giglio that more than 10 years ago. According to Bangs, he was with his girlfriend, Alicia Overstreet, the night that Franklin was killed.
Jordan Smith: The problem? Alicia Overstreet said that wasn’t true. She told Giglio that she and Bangs hadn’t been together for months when the murder took place, in part because she said Bangs threatened to kill her. “He was psychotic,” she told Giglio.
We knew that Bangs had a long rap sheet: theft, burglary, robbery, criminal trespass, and various drug charges. But the most serious was from 1993, the year before Charles’s trial.
In August of that year, Bangs was arrested for robbing a 63-year-old woman, who told police that he had stolen her purse after threatening to kill her. Bangs pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years.
We wanted to talk to Bangs. We found him in prison, serving time for drug possession. We wrote him an email, and he sent a letter back in February 2020. In all, we got three letters from him. And generally speaking, he was polite and seemed pretty eager to talk. Actually, he was surprisingly eager.
Let’s face it: If he was the real murderer in this case, why would he be so interested in speaking to reporters about it?
Liliana Segura: Bangs wanted to know what “motive” we had for telling this story. And he didn’t want to answer any questions in writing, which is how he’d communicated with Giglio. He said Giglio had used him as a “scapegoat” in the Houston Press piece.
He told us he was getting ready to be paroled and would be going back to Houston once he got out. He said he would get in touch. Several months went by, and Bangs’s parole date kept getting pushed back because of Covid. And then, quite unexpectedly, on May 1, 2020, we got an email from him. He said he was back in Houston and recovering from a bad case of Covid. He picked it up in prison and then gave it to his brother and nephew after he was released. We asked if we could set up a time to talk when he was feeling better.
Jordan Smith: But then, his tone shifted in a pretty stark way. He wrote that he had a lot to tell us but that he wanted to be paid for the information. “I would gladly speak to you, tell you of several odd things I saw, but I feel as if I should be compensated for my time.” We told him that ethically, we couldn’t do that. That journalists don’t pay for interviews.
He retorted that it would be unethical not to pay him. “I would be truthful in the interview,” he wrote. “So if you want truth, facts, the real on your story, I will help. Because I was there painting for a month and a half beforehand, I witnessed the crazy stuff going on.” After that, we emailed him a couple more times but never heard back.
Liliana Segura: We figured we’d keep trying to get in touch with Bangs. But we also decided we should find Alicia Overstreet, his ex-girlfriend: the one who told Giglio that she was not with Bangs the night Franklin was killed. We sent her several emails but didn’t hear from her. Then, in April 2021, at the end of a long workday, I finally got a response. And it was not what I expected.
Jordan Smith: Yes.
Liliana Segura: Hey, sorry to bother you. Do you have a second?
Jordan Smith: No problem. Yeah, what’s up?
Liliana Segura: You’ll never guess who just emailed me.
Jordan Smith: Who?
Liliana Segura: Alicia Overstreet.
Jordan Smith: No!
Liliana Segura: I read the email from Alicia to Jordan over the phone. “Good afternoon, I did know Charles when we were teenagers. I remained in contact with Edward on and off until he passed away in September last year.”
Jordan Smith: Wait, what? Wait, did he die?
Liliana Segura: We looked online to see what we could find about what had happened. We found a Facebook post written by Bangs’s brother. Bangs had been found unresponsive in his car on September 2, 2020. He had a temperature of 110. He’d apparently had a series of massive strokes.
He was brain dead and on a ventilator at a Houston hospital for a couple weeks. The hospital had been trying to find Bangs’s family. He was apparently homeless and had no ID on him. His brothers had to go to the hospital to take him off life support. He was just 50 years old.
Jordan Smith: We called Alicia. We asked her how she found out that Bangs had died.
Alicia Overstreet: Well, he spent most of his life locked up, on and off. He had been out of jail for maybe like six months. It’s my daughter, he was my daughter’s dad, so she found out and she let me know.
Liliana Segura: Wow, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had a child with him.
Alicia Overstreet: Yeah.
Jordan Smith: She said she knew Bangs and Charles growing up. They all ran in the same circles.
Liliana Segura: I guess, how would you describe them sort of individually?
Alicia Overstreet: Charles, well — both, God, just wild, like delinquent. What’s the word I wanted to use? Yeah, delinquent teenagers just robbing stores. I remember one night, Charles came running over to my house from the gas station like two blocks away, saying they had just robbed them. So yeah, he came over to my house with a bunch of things they had stolen out of the store. I remember once he got into a fight with my brother-in-law and my dad. I don’t remember details, but I remember these things happening.
And then with Edward, he was the same, bipolar. He would have just outbursts, and he was violent with me. And I know that I had told the Giglio person that, yeah, either one of them could have done what Charles is accused of, because I had to get away from Edward because of the abuse and the mental stuff he put me through. I found out I was pregnant, and I was like, “I can’t bring my child up like this.” So I left him.
Jordan Smith: After that, she didn’t see Bangs for years. He was in and out of jail. But when they finally did reconnect, she said he was still the same: violent with her.
Liliana Segura: One of the big questions we’ve had, do you remember, did the police ever speak to you or do you remember them speaking to Edward?
Alicia Overstreet: Nope, neither one of them, I don’t think. Not me, not Edward. Because I had asked Edward did he do it, and he was like, “No.” But this was years later, this was, God, like, past — about four or five years ago when I asked him did he do that, and he said, “No.” But I was thinking, well, of course he’s going to say no, but I don’t know.
Liliana Segura: One of the things that just jumped out at us in the Giglio story was that Edward had claimed to have an alibi, that he said that he was with you.
Alicia Overstreet: Oh yeah, no, no, I was not with him. He was not with me. Yeah, I didn’t even know that that had ever been said because no one ever asked me.
Jordan Smith: What Alicia is saying here means that Bangs had no alibi for the night Franklin was murdered. Because she was his alibi.
Alicia Overstreet: I don’t even know why Edward would have even said I was with him. I was in another relationship with — I would have never been with him, not since I left him.
And Edward would — He would snap, if someone looked at him the wrong way or if they looked at me when we were together. He would get in lots of fights and be beat up and just trouble.
Liliana Segura: Man, did it sort of freak you out I guess to learn from that story that you’d been used as an alibi? I know we already discussed it, but, man, that must have been a little bit chilling.
Alicia Overstreet: Yes, because it was a blatant lie.
Jordan Smith: We were surprised that she’d confronted Bangs and asked him if he’d killed Franklin.
Alicia Overstreet: Because I had told him, I said, “Well, you know” — we talked about a lot of stuff — and I was like, “I feel like you might have killed me or that you’re capable of killing somebody and did you?” I guess it was probably along the lines like that, that I asked.
Liliana Segura: It sounds like you did fear that he might —
Alicia Overstreet: Oh yeah, when I was with him, yeah, that’s why I left him. And then even later, when he was coming around visiting me and we were just friends, and he got mad at me one day here at my house — because I would help him out every once in a while with his laundry or whatever because he was homeless — and he kind of got crazy with me. Well, not kind of, he did: pushed me and shoved me and slammed doors. I had to call the cops. He had me by the neck. He said he was going to kill me.
Jordan Smith: In case you missed that, she said she called the cops because Bangs had her by her neck, saying he was going to kill her.
Liliana Segura: Alicia’s account of Bangs’s abuse was pretty sobering. And his volatility, his capacity for violence — a lot of it sounded like Karianne’s descriptions of Charles.
If Charles’s behavior made him a good suspect for murder, it certainly seems like the same might have applied to Bangs. Yet police never spoke to Alicia.
In any event, finding out that Bangs was dead it was a real blow. It’s always shocking to have been in touch with someone who suddenly dies, especially in such grim circumstances. And for all his obvious flaws, there was a part of me that felt bad. Unlike Lynn Hardaway, the former Harris County prosecutor who told us an interview would require payment, Bangs had just gotten out of prison. He needed the money.
From a reporting standpoint, of course, his death left so many unanswered questions. As Jordan and I went back and read our correspondence with Bangs, we were struck by a couple of things. One, he clearly had some knowledge about things going on around Edna Franklin’s house before her murder. “Crazy stuff,” as he put it. We really wanted to know what he was talking about.
Jordan Smith: The other thing that jumped out from the emails: Unlike so many other people who were around at that time — and who insist that Charles is guilty — Bangs never once said this to us, even though Bangs knew that he himself was the only other suspect whose name was given to police. For what it’s worth: Charles has never pointed a finger at Bangs either. Here’s Charles talking about that when we visited him in 2019.
Jordan Smith: You don’t have any idea who you think might — I mean, you’ve had a lot of time to think about it.
Charles Raby: I don’t want to point no fingers at nobody.
Liliana Segura: Even James Jordan, Charles’s friend from childhood — who’s the most outspoken about his doubts when it comes to Charles’s guilt — was hesitant to accuse anyone in particular, including Bangs.
Jordan Smith: Do you think he could have been capable of this?
James Jordan: Man. [sighs] Personally, I’m one that — I don’t make accusations lightly, so I won’t speak one way or another about it. I don’t know because I don’t know that side of him. I’ve seen him when he was drunk, and I’ve watched him act a donkey. I watched him kick all the windows out of his house because he was throwing a temper tantrum with his mom. Edward was a very, very angry young man when we were growing up. And he could be a fool. He could be a fool.
But like I told you, I won’t sit there and tell you something negative about him that he hasn’t been found guilty of. They’ve never acknowledged him as any part of that. So I wouldn’t do that to him or anybody else. But you never know what’s inside of one’s heart, especially when there’s alcohol or drugs involved. And at that point in time in our lives, all of us were strung out on some type of dope.
I hope that, when it’s all said and done, that Charles gets what he has coming to him — be it freedom, be it death. But I just hope he goes in peace.
Jordan Smith: So in the letters and emails that Bangs wrote to us, he never once threw shade on Charles or anyone else. But what he did say was pretty intriguing, which was that there was all this crazy shit going on around Franklin’s house. That at least suggests that there was more to the story and that whatever was going on might’ve played a role in what happened to Franklin.
Which brings me to another point: one that Charles has made over and over again, not only when we talked to him back at the end of 2019, but in numerous letters he’s written to us since then. And that is that he hadn’t been around the house on Westford that much. He actually hadn’t hung with this group in years because he’d been in prison. And once he was out, he was spending time with Merry Alice. So it’s hard to figure out why Charles would suddenly turn on Franklin in such a brutal and seemingly personal way, and why the only evidence left behind at the crime scene would point to someone other than him.
Liliana Segura: So many people pointed to the fact that Charles was in prison to suggest he was capable of murder. Whereas Charles looks at it in an opposite way: He was in prison. And so for years, he had no connection to whatever was going on over there, which would cut against the idea that he had a motive to kill Franklin. Charles isn’t the only person who’s pointed this out.
Tyme Martin, James Jordan’s ex-girlfriend, who was good friends with Eric Benge, told us this too. She hung around there all the time. She said Charles didn’t.
Tyme Martin: Me and Eric grew up together in the same neighborhood. So yes, I spent many of my days in that house with those people.
Charles was not like a part of our everyday group or every-other-day group. He would come around once in a while with Karianne.
Liliana Segura: You still might say: Charles confessed to the crime. But there’s actually another reason to distrust Charles’s confession, one we haven’t told you about yet. And it’s information that came to us from an unlikely source: Linda McClain, Edna Franklin’s daughter.
Jordan Smith: You might recall that Franklin had bad arthritis and that she couldn’t get around the house without her shoes on. You might also remember that in his confession, Charles said that he walked in the house, sat on the couch, and then heard Franklin behind him in the kitchen — at which point, he said he got up, grabbed her, and killed her in the living room.
But Linda told us this couldn’t possibly be right because her mom’s shoes were in her bedroom, which was in the back of the house, behind the kitchen. In the crime scene photos, you can see the shoes next to her bed.
Jordan Smith: There is a picture with them by the bed, by her bed.
Linda McClain: She did not walk without her shoes on.
Jordan Smith: This bothers Linda, but not because she thinks it is any indication that Charles is innocent. She thinks it’s because he lied in his confession. That he left that out on purpose.
Jordan Smith: Have you ever tried to figure that out in your head, why she’s in one room and her shoes are in the other?
Linda McClain: Yeah, because he went in the back bedroom and drug her out of the bed and murdered her. That is what he probably did.
Jordan Smith: There’s nothing about the shoes in the police report or the fact that Franklin couldn’t walk without them. Linda told us it wasn’t until after Charles’s trial that she saw any crime scene photos. And that’s when she spotted the shoes.
Liliana Segura: In one of our last conversations with Linda, we asked if she’d heard anything about Edward Bangs.
Linda McClain: I think he’s in jail.
Liliana Segura: Actually, we found out a little while back that Edward Bangs died.
Linda McClain: Oh my God. No kidding. Why? What happened to him?
Liliana Segura: We told her what we knew and listened as she processed this information. She’d never believed that DNA cleared Charles. But news of Edward Bangs’s death brought her back to the question of why he’d never been tested for DNA.
Linda McClain: I mean, 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.
Liliana Segura: But she couldn’t figure out a motive for Bangs. Among other things, she pointed out, he was getting paid to paint her mother’s house. So why would he kill her?
Linda McClain: Because after she got murdered, I don’t think he got paid anything else. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. So that doesn’t make any sense either — to me. I mean, I don’t know what he got out of it; he wasn’t mad at her.
So what would he do it for? Well, no one can ask him. I kind of wish I’d known he’d gotten out of jail, so I could’ve gone and found him. Because he’s the only other likely suspect — would be him. Buster was the only person that I know who was angry at her, so. He’s still my prime suspect, DNA or no DNA. The one that confessed to the murder, that’s the one I’m going with.
Sarah Frazier: I do have a little bit of an update for you guys.
Jordan Smith: That’s Sarah Frazier, Charles’s lawyer. We got on a Zoom call with her in early May 2021, and she told us something that Charles had mentioned in a recent letter: that the state of Texas, after a long pause, was gearing up to restart executions. Sarah told us that Charles was one of the longest serving people on Texas death row out of Harris County who was still eligible for execution. Meaning, no pending appeals or other factors that would make an execution unconstitutional.
Of those who are eligible, there was only one other guy out of Harris County who had been there longer, and he was on the verge of getting an execution date. So this would also make Charles vulnerable to having a date set — except, there was actually a bigger piece of news Sarah had to share.
The Harris County DA’s office had agreed to another round of DNA testing. The new prosecutor on the case told Charles’s lawyers that they could test whatever they wanted to.
Liliana Segura: This was pretty mind-blowing. Sarah had gone from a situation where the state had fought tooth and nail against DNA testing to one in which the state was saying, “Sure! Go ahead. Let’s do DNA testing!”
Sarah Frazier: I was not expecting him to say that. It’s sort of like wait, wait, wait, wait. I mean, because there are just so many things about this case that test your notion of reality. And so that was just another thing, it was like,“Wait a minute. Am I talking to the Harris County DA’s office, did you say I can test whatever I want?”
Liliana Segura: This is a really big deal because there’s a lot of evidence that has never been tested. And it certainly could shed new light on this case — particularly if any of the new DNA testing reveals the same unknown male profile found under Franklin’s fingernails. In other words, if the same male profile comes up on multiple pieces of evidence.
Jordan Smith: Among the things that will be a part of this new round of DNA testing are a pair of Franklin’s pants, that were found near her body, and her purse and credit cards, which were found scattered on the floor by her bed. The state has also agreed to do another search for the missing nightshirt that Franklin was wearing when she was killed. If they can finally find it, it will be tested too.
Liliana Segura: Of course, we don’t know how all of this will play out. But whatever the DNA results, it will be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide whether any of it matters.
Jordan Smith: Over the course of reporting this story, we asked pretty much everyone how they felt about the death penalty. And in particular, how they’d feel if Charles were executed. And what we found was that almost no one seemed to be pushing for that.
Frankly, no one thought that would change anything. You might recall that Franklin’s grandson, Lee Rose, told us he had to forgive Charles in order to move on with his life. And Linda has told us from the beginning that even though she’s convinced Charles is guilty, she doesn’t necessarily want to see him executed.
Linda McClain: I don’t personally care what they do with him. I don’t care what happens to him. I don’t care if he drops dead tomorrow, in the next five minutes, in the next 40 years.
Jordan Smith: And even people who worked within the system, like Sgt. Wayne Wendel, don’t believe the death penalty prevents violent crime.
Liliana Segura: I’m curious because obviously Mr. Raby’s confession was very powerful evidence against him. And on the other hand, we know that there have been cases over the decades where people are wrongfully convicted or even confessed to things that they didn’t do. I just wonder to what extent that has concerned you, over the years, just in general. Does that give you pause at all about the death penalty?
Wayne Wendel: Well, if you’re asking my opinion about the death penalty, I never thought it’d be a deterrent to crime, to murder. I think more appropriately life without parole is a much harsher sentence. That’s just my opinion.
Liliana Segura: How about the question of innocence? How much does that have to do with that?
Wayne Wendel: Innocence? I think a jury of 12 people who listened to the evidence and a prosecution and a defense can make that decision. That’s who it should be.
Jordan Smith: Charles is approaching his 30th year on Texas’s death row. In that time, he’s seen nearly 500 others sent to the execution chamber, including innocent people.
Liliana Segura: We often hear death penalty supporters blame people like Charles for dragging out their cases, pursuing endless appeals, just to game the system. This isn’t really accurate; it’s more complicated than that. But there’s a more fundamental problem that we’ve seen over and over again. And that’s the fact that the system often gets these cases wrong, in ways that can take years to uncover.
Look at Charles’s case: The cops never really investigated the crime and instead became fixated on him from the start. At trial, the state withheld crucial blood evidence that pointed away from Charles. And when DNA testing came back that also didn’t match him, the prosecutors just shrugged it off. And the courts have been happy to rubber-stamp it all.
Right now, Charles has hope that this round of DNA testing will finally prove his innocence. But he’s had hope before. And every time those hopes have been crushed, it makes it harder to keep moving forward.
Jordan Smith: Even after all these years, Charles cannot accept that the state wants to kill him for something he swears he did not do. But he’s had to learn how to live with the fact that it may happen anyway.
Liliana Segura: I think a lot of Americans don’t think about the death penalty, but what do you think people really need to know, not just about your case, but about what it’s like to be here, to live here, and to live like you have?
Charles Raby: What do you mean, like knowing you’re going to die one day? That isn’t easy. But it’s something like, I don’t know, you come to terms with it. It’s just — I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t really give it much thought. You would think I would think about that stuff all the time, but I do everything I can not to think about it.
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, and to Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee, for recording the whole series.
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.
You can read show transcripts and see photos at theintercept.com/murderville. You can also follow us on Twitter: @lilianasegura and @chronic_jordan.
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Thanks, so much, for listening.