Saturday, July 14, 2012

Coincidental capture of the suspected child murderer

Continuing our crime and criminal postings, with a local case lately much in the news in Utah.

Six-year-old Sierra Newbold was stolen from her home in West Jordan, Utah during the night of June 26, 2012. She was taken to a nearby burned field, raped, strangled, and left in a canal where she was found.

How her alleged killer was caught is a story of a series of coincidences, and according to the West Jordan police chief, “divine intervention.”

Three days after the murder, Terry Lee Black, 41, a neighbor of the Newbold family, stole a Jeep Grand Cherokee from the parking lot of a Deseret Industries thrift store on south Redwood Road. The woman who owned the car came out to find it gone. She called police and then her boss to tell her the car had been stolen. Black took the stolen car a few blocks south to a Wells Fargo Bank, where he walked in, told the teller he wanted $100, and that it was a robbery. He showed no weapon. The teller was puzzled, and then he held up four fingers. “You mean $400?” He responded that he now wanted $4000. She told him she needed to go to the vault, and when she turned he walked out of the bank.

At that time, by coincidence, the boss of the woman whose car was stolen arrived at the bank. She recognized the stolen car and saw Black attempting to get in. She told him to stay away from the car. He turned and walked away. She took a cell phone video of him. He turned his head to look back and his face is plainly seen on the video.

The call went in to police. When he heard of it detective James Bigelow, who was investigating Sierra's murder, and using what his police chief called his instinct, “felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up.” Black was stopped and arrested three blocks away. Bigelow noticed that even though Sierra had been killed three days before, Black's pants showed black soot on the knees. Bigelow suspected Black had knelt down in the burned grass, and forensic tests showed he was correct. They also swabbed Black's penis and DNA tests showed that Sierra's DNA was present. Black was arrested for the murder. What luck for the cops that Black hadn't showered in the three days since the murder.

If you wrote a script based on the synchronicity of events no one would believe it.

Unlike West Jordan police chief Douglas Diamond, I don't believe it was divine intervention,* but a bunch of lucky breaks that all came together like the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Black, with his attorney on the charge of robbery.

Black, as a neighbor of the Newbolds, would have seen Sierra. Black’s family attended church at the local Latter-day Saints ward with the Newbolds, and Black occasionally attended with his family. His neighbors also knew him to disappear for weeks at a time, going on alcoholic binges.

Black has been arraigned for the robbery and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail. Another hearing is set for July 31, at which time he may be charged with murder. Prosecutors are being careful, but say that a penalty for first degree murder can be death, and that they would decide whether they would seek that penalty.

On a personal note, a week ago we brought our granddaughters, ages seven-and-a-half and six-years-old to stay with us for a month. I looked at them in a whole different way after what happened to Sierra. I will never understand a mind that could conceive of or carry out a crime like that, but unfortunately it happens more than we like to admit. Black had been in trouble with the law before, but never for crimes that rose to the level of those with which he’s charged. Was alcohol a factor? Saying he disappeared for weeks to go on alcohol-fueled binges would give him something of an out for a claim of diminished capacity, and maybe it would be true. Regardless of a defense, a home surveillance video at the Newbold's home shows someone entering their house at 3:05 a.m. on June 26, and leaving with a bundle under his arm at 3:13. It shows calculation. Even if drunk or of a diminished capacity he knew enough to gain entry.

Black's family is said to be in shock over the arrest and charges against him.

As part of a written statement, the Newbold family said: “We offer our sympathy to the Black family during this sad time since they too are grieving a loss. We want everyone to plainly understand that we hold no animosity in our hearts toward Terry Black’s wife and children. We fully recognize that they played no part in this tragedy, and hope that the community and the media will be sensitive to their pain and gentle in their treatment of them.” That's a long way from forgiving Terry Lee Black, but it shows an attitude of kindness, not revenge.

*A letter in the Salt Lake Tribune “Public Forum” said if it was divine intervention it would make sense the intervention would have occurred before the murder, not after it was committed. It's like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It makes more sense to just believe that a crime was committed and a killer caught, and leave opinions of divine intervention to private, not public, conversation.

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