If I wanted to write a fictional novel about a murder, as creative as my mind can be, I could never conceive a story as fraught with deception and raw injustice as this story is … and sadly, it is all true.
This is the Year of Our Lord AD 2020. This is the modern age of advanced forensics, slick lawyers, and a contemporary knowledge of justice. Sitting here with the comfort of my laptop (and my 85-pound lap pitbull … my third “baby,” Danny), I have spent the better part of a week researching every scrap of evidence, interviews, and transcripts from a murder trial in Roanoke, Virginia, that took place way back in October of 1995.
I was six months pregnant with my son when Mr. Eric “Nike” Jones, 21, was murdered by a fatal shot to his chest. The crime upon the second victim, however, continues to this day and my son is nearly 24.
You may wonder, as my kids have … why is she doing this? I have more to do than time to do it. Well then, WHY would a 40 … something … rural gal set everything aside to tell the story of a 25-year-old murder case in Roanoke?
The answer to that question is like a lightning bolt that strikes at everything I hold dear and important in life. Mr. Eric “Nike” Jones was forever silenced with the force of a bullet to his chest when he was 21 years old. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His mother will forever have a void within her heart that will never allow her to experience life as she did prior to October 3, 1995.
As I begin the journey of understanding and explaining this story, I need to convey a personal message to the family of Nike Jones. There are no words that I can type, or even consider, to properly explain the heartfelt condolences I send to Ms. Jones, her son (JJ) and the entire family. I have two kids, and my mind refuses to even consider the pain they have endured. I also want them to understand that by telling this story, it is my sincere hope that they might someday receive the true justice and a whisper of closure that will only come with the arrest of the person who actually murdered Nike.
And, as if that alone does not compel the truth … this story has still another victim.
Since the start of my research into this case, every night as I get up to lay down in the bed and start wrestling with my Danny for my quilt, I realize Mike Crump is in prison at the mercy of rules that he had no vote on. Mike does not enjoy the freedom of deciding what type of bed he has … nor the freedom to wrestle with a dog over a quilt … or even choose when the lights go out.
As I stumble to the coffee pot in the morning, I think about Mike not having the freedom to stumble through a pile of items slated for a yard sale on his way to his gourmet coffee with Hazelnut creamer. He doesn’t have the freedom to discuss (ha) whatever emergency (read, “Mom …I need money, Mom, I need the other car … Mom!!!”) with family.
Mike Crump does not have any freedom at all. He has been in prison since October of 1995 (he was 18) for the murder of Nike Jones. But here is the rub … Mike Crump DID NOT kill Eric Jones.
This story is a trifecta of despair. Nike Jones’ life was taken before it really began; his family is forever devastated. Mike Crump’s freedom was taken during the very best years of his life; his family is devastated as well … and a cold-blooded murderer has had 25 years of freedom he doesn’t deserve.
It is not my intent to lay blame on anyone; that is what happened to Mike Crump. I’ll touch on some of the different theory’s that have surfaced but throughout this story, with the exception of Mike Crump and Eric Jones, I will use initials instead of names to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. I endeavor only to show you the gross injustice that was evident to me even before I finished the transcript.
In that vein of heart and mind … on to the story.
In order to understand 25 years of confusion, suggestion, and wrongful identification that has been mislabeled as justice, you need some details. This case is inundated with details and even more contradictory details … but scarce in actual fact and totally void of ANY evidence.
The Crime: On October 3, 1995, at roughly 1:00 AM, there were eight adults and a few small children in a scarcely lit house on Signal Hill in the City of Roanoke, Virginia. (RH) and (CT) were sleeping in the bedroom with their children; (SB) was sleeping on the loveseat; (AJ), (WT), (AT) and Nike Jones were chatting between the kitchen and the living room. Depending on the version of her story you hear, (TT) was somewhere between lying on the sofa with her toddler to being in the kitchen cutting strawberry cake.
One of the men (AJ) had never been there before. He went to the house looking for (RH). When (TT) told him that (RH) was sleeping, he made a couple of phone calls and left. (TT) fell asleep on the sofa for a few minutes. She woke up to find that he had returned. She questioned why he was there. He made a few more phone calls and started talking to (AT). He was, by some accounts of others, acting “strange”. A few moments later Eric “Nike” Jones and (WT) came in after spending the evening celebrating a new job Nike was about to start. Then, not five minutes after Nike and (WT) arrived, the outer screen door started to “rattle,” as it was known to “stick.” Someone was trying to get into the house, and they were not expected … or knocking.
For most people, 1:00 AM is not a normal time for a visitor to just walk on into a house without knocking. So when the screen door started to rattle, Nike got up from a chair and went over to the door. When he reached the door, he was greeted by the back of a hand trying to force the door open. The hand grabbed Nike by the arm, and as he wrestled in confusion, he managed to pull himself loose.
A split second later, a single shot was fired. The shot hit Nike in the chest, and the shooter took off. (TT) left the baby on the sofa to help get Nike to the bedroom, and she called 911. During that call, (TT) stated nine different times that it was dark, and she did not see the shooter. Nine times.
Tragically, Mr. Jones died at the hospital. There is no argument about this chain of events, but that is where the agreement ends, along with the truth and any expectation of justice.
The Investigation: Almost anyone who has ever seen an episode of Law and Order knows that detectives try to get as much information as soon as possible when a witness’s ability to recall the events is best. Small details that can make or break a case are forgotten and tend to run together as more time passes. The police took statements from all the people in the house that night. Every single one of them said they could not see or identify the shooter, and that it was dark. One of the witnesses, (AJ), said the intruder was wearing a mask.
The police also took statements from other individuals who had knowledge of the events. There are 30 pages of detective’s notes in this case. In those notes are the names of suspects that were given by members of the community, as well as several theories behind what was happening. Anyone who is street-wise can tell you how the street works. The street always knows, and it does not give a damn.
The police received the names of five people who were identified, by name (some by more than one individual), as either the shooter or an accomplice: (AB), (JL), (WR), (MW), (FW), and even a tip from DEA/ATF that a possible “hitman” had come down from New York. All these people were named as suspects before the first mention of Mike Crump.
Before I get to Mike, it should be noted that (AB) was inside the house and was cleared as the shooter. He gave a statement to the police … and then disappeared. The trial was even continued in an effort to find him, to no avail.
By the next day, October 4, 1995, the Roanoke Police Department had six named suspects to investigate … when the phone rang. A woman who refused to identify herself called RPD and told them that “a friend of hers, named Mike Crump, was the culprit.” The RPD took a full page of notes from this anonymous caller related to Crump’s height, weight, skin color, and what she believed to be the story. With a baby screaming in the background of a phone booth, this woman relayed information as if she was reading it straight off of a script. She refused to give her name; she refused to go to the station to give a statement.
But the significance of this call cannot be overstated. The end of the call (and the information from it) marked the starting point of the miraculous memory of the prosecution’s only witness, (TT). The same woman that is recorded saying (nine times) it was too dark, and she did not see the individual who shot Nike Jones.
The RPD now had seven people to investigate in what should have been a comprehensive search for the murderer of Nike Jones. Both the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Roanoke Police Department had a sworn duty to fully investigate every lead … every possibility. The very nature of that oath precludes them from crafting the scene to fit any individual. They are supposed to go wherever the evidence takes them … but what do they do when there is a complete lack of evidence?
This is the point where it becomes very important to carefully unpack some of these statements. You might ask why is understanding the chronology of statements so important?
The answer is this: There was not one single piece of evidence in this case. Not a hair, not a fingerprint, not one fiber, not a shell casing …nothing … at all.
Before I get into the statements, I need to explain that I can certainly understand how easily anyone who witnessed that horrible crime would be emotionally distraught, even so far as to have PTSD. Everyone can understand that. But the ends of justice require the truth, as scary as it may be.
Mike Crump has been in prison for 25 years, with no evidence against him, without ever having the the benefit of a trial by a jury of his peers … all based on one individual who has changed her story so many times it would make a Chameleon rethink its identity. He had three alibi witnesses that were never called to testify, even as they sat outside the court and waited to be called.
As previously mentioned, the prosecution had one witness (TT). She was the only person in a house full of eight who was willing to say that she had anything to say, after saying she had nothing to say.
She was interviewed three times by the Roanoke Police Department. But the timeline of events that was noted by the detectives themselves raises some serious questions as to the credibility of the prosecution’s only witness. Her first statement was given 9.5 hours after the murder on October 3, 1995, at 10:35 AM.
I am only highlighting a few points from the first statement that directly address the witnesses’ ability to identify the intruder or the lighting conditions in the home at the time of the murder.
October 3, 1995, at 10:35 AM.
In one of the questions, (TT) and the detective had a conversation prior to the start of the recorded statement. As a note to file in your head … I do not understand why every word was not recorded. What was discussed, and why was it not recorded?
But more specifically to sight and light:
(TT) was asked if she “didn’t get any better look at the guy.”
She said “NO.”
(TT) was asked “…do you have any idea who this might have been?”
She said “NO.”
(TT) was asked about the dark color of the “jackets” both (AJ) and Nike were wearing
She said, “… we didn’t have much lights on because the baby was asleep,” and, “The only light was on was the one in the kitchen and there was one little light on in the ceiling fan above him.”
In the second installment of this injustice, we’ll dive into more of these statements. I am pausing here to allow time for this information to sink in….