September-October 2010

A murder too close to home

The path of one Texas prosecutor crossed with a career criminal twice—and the second time, she put him in prison for life.

Rachael Jones

Assistant Criminal ­District Attorney in Dallas County

As prosecutors we’ve all had cases that touch our lives, that hit too close to home. The State of Texas v. Charles Eden was mine. Eden’s trail of mayhem and destruction that would eventually lead to my Dallas courtroom began across the road from my childhood home in Oklahoma when I was 7 years old. That’s where he shot our neighbor, Terry Ingmire, in the small town of Enid. Little did I know then that my path would cross with Charles Eden’s almost 30 years later.

Small town, small world

One typically sultry Dallas July afternoon in 2008, I was called upstairs by our Homicide Intake Prosecutor, Andrea Handley, to review a new murder case coming to my court. As I skimmed the file to familiarize myself, I noticed the defendant, Charles Eden, had been convicted of shooting with intent to kill in 1983 out of Garfield County, Oklahoma. What a coincidence! The Garfield County seat is my hometown of Enid.

    Enid is small town America. It has a population of about 40,000 and is truly a community where most folks know—or know of—each other. It is timeless; a place where several of my high school friends have returned from the big city to raise their children in a small town with the values and lifestyle we grew up with. It is a town where people hand out flags on street corners on the Fourth of July. It is farm country where one can see for miles, through “amber waves of grain,” to sunsets over family farms passed down for generations. It is a place I loved growing up; my mom was an avid volunteer and homemaker and my dad was a lawyer. In Enid, men take off their hats when introduced to a lady or when sitting down at the local lunch counter. It’s a town where cars still pull over to the side of a highway when a funeral procession moves toward the cemetery. In Enid, any shooting is big news.

    As I sat there, I thought how strange it was that this man, now a defendant in my court, had been convicted in my hometown, where I graduated from high school, where my dad has practiced criminal law for 40 years. Before going any further, I needed to make sure my dad hadn’t represented Eden, which could pose a potential conflict of interest for me. The judgment did not reflect my dad’s name, but to be sure, I made a phone call home. I should have sensed this case would get even more interesting when he answered my question with, “No, I didn’t represent him, but that name sure sounds familiar. I just can’t place it.”

    With that inquiry out of the way, I started building my case. I sent an e-mail to the elected district attorney of Garfield County, Cathy Stocker, requesting her case file. The e-mail subject line read, “Your former defendant is now my defendant.” How’s this for a small world? It turns out that Cathy’s first job as a lawyer was working for my dad in 1975, the year I was born. She later became an assistant district attorney and then the elected DA for Garfield County in 1983, a position she still holds today. When I was growing up, she was jokingly known as “the enemy” because my dad was often opposite her, and I enjoyed watching them spar in the courtroom over the years. She used to needle my dad and teach me to say the word “pro-se-cu-tor” when other children were learning the names of dinosaurs. Cathy was the first prosecutor I ever knew and often the one I think of as I do my job.

    Cathy is very organized, and she did not disappoint in this case. In response to my inquiry about Eden, Cathy sent me the DA file for his 1982 offense, and it arrived the following week. In it, the victim’s name was handwritten on a series of intra-office notes regarding my request identifying the file as “the Terry Ingmire case.” Of course this raised my curiosity, so I did what any red-blooded American would do: I Googled Terry Ingmire. Turns out, he had gone on to become a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

    This information warranted another phone call to Dad. I told him who Eden’s victim was, and my father started recounting the details of the offense. I interrupted him midway through the story: “Are you telling me this is the shooting that occurred across the street from our house? The reason you and Mom always warned us never to open the door to strangers?” He replied that it was. This defendant, Charles Eden, had been convicted of shooting Terry Ingmire across the highway from my childhood home. He was sent to the penitentiary in Oklahoma and eventually paroled, and later came to Dallas and murdered a man named Willis Green. Out of 230 prosecutors in Dallas County, his case was randomly assigned to me.

The Enid shooting

In 1982, Terry Ingmire was a recent college graduate, a former college baseball player, and the manager of an Enid sporting goods store. He lived in the bunk house on the grounds of the Martin Garber farm north of town. Mr. Garber, former Oklahoma Highway Commissioner, was a prominent man in the community—his father had been a congressman—and he owned half the local newspaper. Terry’s brother, a Ponca City, Oklahoma, police officer, had given Terry a .357 pistol as a college graduation present. Terry enjoyed target shooting on the spacious grounds of the Garber farm. His brother insisted Terry had to practice turning and shooting from the hip because all too often, when one has to use a gun in self-defense, there isn’t time to get into position to point, aim, and shoot. Terry did as his big brother instructed, practicing several times a week. Little did Terry know, his brother’s advice would one day save his life.

    On August 16, 1982, Terry was awakened by a knock at his front door just before dawn. He wondered who it was, since Mr. Garber had recently died, leaving the big home on the farm uninhabited. The family had left after the funeral the previous day. Terry picked up his pistol and walked to the door, holding the gun at the small of his back, just in case of trouble. (In small towns like this it would not be unreasonable to answer your door with a weapon in hand or close by, especially if your home is outside of town and not visible from the highway, like Terry’s was.)

    At the door were Charles Eden and Coyalita Humphrey, claiming to have car trouble. They asked to use the telephone. He allowed them in, all the while keeping the pistol hidden behind his back. Eden talked to Terry while Humphrey used the phone. In retrospect, he was  sizing Terry up. After a few minutes, she hung up saying she was unsuccessful reaching anyone. They said they would just wait on their friends, who were hopefully not far behind. As they left, Terry, being the nice guy, said, “Well if your friends don’t come soon, let me know and we can handle it when the sun rises.” Little did Terry know that the pair was planning on breaking into Mr. Garber’s home and stealing whatever they could put in a U-Haul trailer they had parked out of sight.

    Terry shut the door behind them and returned the 10 steps to his bedroom to go back to sleep. Just as he laid the gun next to his bed, Terry heard another knock at the door. This time, he didn’t look out the door as he did before, and he didn’t pick up his gun from the bedside table. After all, only a few seconds had passed, and he was sure it was the two people who had just left. As he opened the door, he was greeted by a shotgun blast to his stomach. Humphrey fired the shotgun while Eden stood off to the side holding the screen door for her—pretty smart plan, because if one were to look out the peephole, one would be more likely to open the door to a woman.

    Terry managed to slam the door shut and ran for his bedroom. As he was running, he felt another shotgun blast to his left arm, almost separating his hand from his body at the wrist. He knew they were close behind him. He reached for his gun and, in one motion, swung around and fired from his hip, hitting Humphrey, just as his brother taught him. Humphrey, having been shot in the lower abdomen, fell to the floor and crawled out the door. Terry lay on his bed, critically wounded, waiting with gun in hand until he was sure they were gone. After a few minutes, he heard the sound of a car leaving the driveway. Holding his large intestines with one hand, with his other hand barely hanging on by a couple of tendons, he crawled to the phone and called for help. Terry was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital, and in the emergency room he described what happened to him, including that he’d managed to shoot one of the robbers. Incredibly, a nurse who overheard realized that Humphrey was being treated in the very next room—Eden had thrown her out of the truck at the hospital door and left.

    Terry survived with the pellets from the first shot only perforating his liver (the one damaged organ that would grow back), and skilled physicians managed to save his hand. He believes he owes his life to his brother’s shooting advice.

    The assailants were prosecuted by Cathy Stocker’s office. Humphrey was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and Eden pled to a 13-year sentence.

    When Terry was shot, I lay in my bed across that old Oklahoma highway, a 7-year-old little girl. While I have no memory of the event, I do remember Mom and Dad’s cardinal rule: “Never open the door to strangers, even if you’ve seen them out front and they seemed nice and return to the house later. Remember what happened to that guy across the road.”

    Charles Eden went on to become a career criminal. He made parole in about four years and was soon convicted of, among other things, assault with a dangerous substance with intent to kill and forgery. He spent the majority of the next 25 years in and out of prison until one day, in May 2008, he used a hammer to beat 67-year-old Willis Green, cracking his skull, praying blood on the walls of a dismal, weekly-rental motel room in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie—all so he could steal Mr. Green’s Social Security check to buy more crack. Charles Eden’s path would once again cross mine.

    The Dallas police quickly arrested Eden and filed the case with our office. It became what I refer to as “my calling.” After all, how often does a prosecutor get to travel back to her hometown, out of state, to build a punishment case? I jumped right in with both feet and soon received the Garfield County offense reports. They were extensive, with no detail left untold. As police departments used to do, every officer who did something on the case had written a report. As I prepared for trial, it was very helpful to know the exact role each witness played in the 26-year-old case. DA Investigator Edith Santos and I traveled to Oklahoma to interview witnesses. We met with Rick West, one of the responding officers who is now chief of police and married to DA Cathy Stocker; he remembered the case well. Rick had just recently run into another witness when he was on the way to his deer lease—and who was more than happy to talk with us. Only in a small town!

    We continued digging for punishment evidence, always finding something more. DA Investigator Eddie Salazar and I had heard that Eden had an ex-wife, Jane (not her real name), whom he conned out of a bunch of money and left for dead. One cold winter morning, we again made a trip to Oklahoma to talk with her. We learned that Eden targeted Jane after discovering that she was coming into approximately $300,000 (her share of her husband’s retirement from a divorce settlement).

    One thing Eden perfected in prison was how to con people. In the span of 90 days, Eden had introduced Jane to crack, had gotten her addicted, convinced her to marry him, and persuaded her to put that money into a joint bank account. As the bank officer and the woman’s sons watched helplessly, Eden spent the last of the money on his new truck, a mobile home, and crack, and left his new wife psychologically damaged and physically wasted on the side of a road in Dallas. Her money was gone and so was Eden, the man who had professed to love her.

Set for trial

By the time Judge Don Adams called the case to trial, we were ready. Eden thought about trying to disqualify me from the case given my personal connection, but I was prepared for his motion, having considered it myself early on and discussed it with our First Assistant Terri Moore. There was really no reason for my recusal because I didn’t know the victim personally, was not a witness, and had no memory of the case; furthermore, in small towns prosecutors often know a lot about an offense or even know people involved because of the size of the community. At the last minute Eden decided not to pursue the issue.

    With other prosecutors in my court on medical leave, my dear husband, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Robert “Mac” McClure, stepped in as my trial partner. I have to admit, it was rewarding to have Mac by my side while trying a man who started his criminal career across the highway from my childhood home. We put on the case in chief, and the jury quickly found him guilty. It was time for the Oklahomans to enter the courtroom.

    On the first day of punishment evidence, we called Jane to testify first, then her sons, and finally the bank officer who oversaw the cash withdrawals but was unable to stop it. She described how Eden belittled Jane and that he was impatient while she processed the transactions—she could never give him the cash fast enough. She described how she had a feeling that Eden intended all along to leave the marriage as soon as all the money was gone. When she testified about Eden going through almost $300,000 in less than 30 days, several members of the jury let out audible gasps and dropped their heads in despair.

    On day two, we called Garfield County DA Cathy Stocker to testify about Eden’s prior convictions. She also explained some quirks and differences in the Oklahoma penitentiary packets. Our second witness was Rick West, the original responding officer. He described in complete detail what he found that day, setting the stage for the motive of the shooting with his discovery of the U-Haul tire tracks. Our final witness was Representative Terry Ingmire, the shooting victim from so long ago. He talked about his injuries and showed the jury some of his scars. He also described the preliminary hearing in Oklahoma in 1982. (In Oklahoma all defendants are entitled to a probable case hearing which requires the victim to testify.) Terry recounted how Eden sat and laughed at him as he testified about the events of that August morning. Terry’s scars and description took the jurors back in time to that August morning in my hometown. So many people whose involvement with Eden spanned decades had been located, and though some were not willing to relive the trauma again by testifying, all were glad to close the Eden chapter of their lives.

    The jury took less than an hour to deliver a life sentence. Eden had finally been stopped in Dallas, 27 years after shooting his first victim that August morning across from my childhood home. I often think about how much we all worked on that case: the travelling, driving, digging, interviewing, it seemed as though it would never end. Many nights I knew we would get only a few hours sleep only to start all over again the next day. Several people questioned whether we really needed all that “extra” evidence. To which my answer was always, “we have to try because you never know what one fact will make a difference for each individual juror. At the end of the day we have to say we did our best.”  In that moment when Judge Adams read the verdict “Life,” you know all your efforts were worth it, and you know you will do it again.

    Rick West recently retired as chief of police. The last time he testified was in our Dallas County courtroom—ironically, beginning and ending his distinguished career discussing this same case. Cathy Stocker is retiring in December after serving as district attorney for 28 years. Terry Ingmire retired from the Oklahoma Legislature, serving a full, term-limited 12 years. He is now a successful lobbyist and was recently able to return the life-saving favor to his brother by giving him a kidney. As for me, once a little girl across that Oklahoma highway, I continue to go on not opening doors to strangers and prosecuting criminals like Charles Eden.