Fiasco in Tallahassee: The Weak Case Against Henry Segura Limps On
June 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Tallahassee was rocked almost five years ago by the brutal murder of Brandi Peters and her three young children at their home on November 20, 2010. The capitol of Florida had not endured a scene like this since Ted Bundy, though granted it’s hard to top Ted Bundy.
The investigation into the quadruple murder led to little solid evidence, and the suspects ranged from unpaid drug dealers to the two fathers of her children to an inmate that she had agreed to marry for $25,000 and a Mercedes, but then reneged.
Almost a year later, a suspect was finally caught. Henry Segura, the father of Brandi Peters’ youngest son, was working as a welder in the backwaters of Minnesota when he was arrested. He was extradited to Florida in September 2011, where he has been awaiting trial since.
Segura’s case has garnered very little attention outside of Florida’s capital city and, owing to the paint-by-numbers journalism that exists at the local paper, the Tallahassee Democrat. Although the court has apparently released numerous case documents, all that can be found online is a cursory synopsis.
The relevant evidence against Mr. Segura amounts to the following: In September 2010, he was ordered to pay $800 per month in child support to Peters. The day before the murders, Segura and Peters allegedly argued about the child support issue. An ex-girlfriend in Savannah, Georgia, claims that Segura came to her home looking for a “street gun” (she did not have one) days before the murders and that his face was “all balled up.”
That’s it. Suspicious? Certainly. Proof? Certainly not.
What about the previously mentioned drug dealers and slighted fiancé? The Tallahassee Police found no evidence linking the two suspected drug dealers to the crime, except for the evidence that one of the men had talked up his role in the murders to a number of people. As to the betrothed inmate, though several jailhouse snitches said that he had ordered a hit on Peters after she backed out of their marriage arrangement, he told the Police he had not.
At this point, if we were scoring, it would seem that the evidence against the drug dealer and non-husband are at least as circumstantially incriminating as that against Segura. However, the Tallahassee Police Department decided to arrest Segura after the apparent expenditure of 7,400 hours of investigative resources, as per Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones. Yes, the same Chief Dennis Jones who left the post in disgrace after presiding over the debacle that was the rape investigation involving Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
In early 2012, apparently unsatisfied with the airtight case they had against Segura, Leon County sheriff deputies seized Segura’s journal from his jail cell. The deputies were in charge of the jail where Segura was held, and their boss was Larry Campbell. Although there was no indication that Segura’s journal contained anything of value, the prosecutor on the case authorized the seizure. The prosecutor’s name? Jack Campbell, son of Sheriff Larry, the guy in charge of Segura’s jail . But don’t worry:
“My father and I are father and son but he runs the jail and I prosecute cases. I don’t tell him how to run the jail he doesn’t tell me how to prosecute our cases.”
Segura’s defense attorney, Chuck Hobbs, asked that Segura be moved to a facility that was not run by his adversary’s father. That request was denied. When asked about his reasons for seizing the journal, Jack Campbell said, “we want to collect all the evidence we can to make the strongest case we can.” It sounds just like a call to justice if you close your ears hard enough.
As the case approached trial in 2014, Segura’s attorney attempted to get the DNA sample found at the murder scene tested against the DNA of an Illinois inmate and “former” member of the Vice Lords gang, Leon Smith. Smith was implicated during the March 2014 testimony of James Carlos Santos, another “former” Vice Lord, a Chicago-based narcotics and gun trafficking enterprise.
Santos’ testified that Peters was a drug courier for the Vice Lords. Smith had told Santos that Brandi Peters’ life was in jeopardy because she had lost $80,000 worth of the Vice Lords’ drugs. The hearing court ruled that Santos’ testimony was not credible and could not be used at Segura’s eventual trial, even though his testimony was in line with the initial police suspicions that the murders were over an unpaid drug debt.
The judge did urge prosecutor Campbell to see if Leon Smith’s DNA was in the national database and compare it to the DNA sample found at the crime scene, but Campbell ignored the judge’s advice. Of course, if it turned out to be Smith’s DNA, it wouldn’t do a thing to strengthen the case against Segura. As Segura was the guy being tried, there was little reason to take a chance and create evidence that the killer was someone else.
Aside from the lack of evidence to go along with the Campbell boys’ textbook appearance of impropriety, the case marched toward trial. Before getting there, however, Segura found his case back in the local news for textbook impropriety by a completely different law enforcement organization.
Last week, Jo Ellen Brown, somehow still a crime lab analyst at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), was deposed regarding the “unmatched” DNA sample found at the murder scene. She testified that her supervisor (somehow still a supervisor) told her to ignore a request from the FBI to obtain a further sample from Colombian drug-runner, Angel Antonio Avila-Quinones, who had been released 8 months before the murder of Brandi Peters and her three children. Why the interest in Avila-Quinones? The FBI had determined in 2013 that his DNA was a partial match to the DNA found at the murder scene.
Brown admitted that she not only failed to disclose this partial DNA match, she actively hid it. In her official report, she wrote that the DNA sample found at the crime scene was “not interpretable.” She fessed up that this was a lie, and that she had testified about similar partial DNA evidence in many other cases.
Hobbs, Segura’s attorney, asked prosecutor Campbell and the court to dismiss Segura’s case due to this bombshell of exculpatory evidence on the eve of trial. Unless that seized jailhouse journal is filled with a detailed confession of the murders, Hobbs’ request would seem to be eminently reasonable. But that would require a prosecutor who values fairness over conviction, and a judge willing to do what is right, regardless of the gruesome nature of the case. Or maybe because of it.
From all appearances, this case was an instance of the cops needing to close out an ugly quadruple murder by making an arrest, and Henry Segura was left holding the short straw. The prosecution had a motive, to get out of paying child support, which provided not only a ‘why’ but also plenty of this-defendant-is scum ammunition needed to cover for the glaring lack of evidence.
There are many things that should happen. The prosecutor could apologize for the wealth of law enforcement failures and dismiss the case against Segura. The court could move away from its normal indifference to the non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence and impose appropriate sanctions (like dismissal or the release of Segura pending further investigation). Jo Ellen Brown should be fired and criminally charged for filing a false report in a criminal matter.
While accountability (with actual consequence) can repair the pervasive dishonesty of our system, it doesn’t do much to help the defendant. The only thing that matters to the wrongfully accused is exoneration. The truth of who murdered Brandi Peters and her children may be lost forever, but tying a wrongful conviction around Henry Segura’s neck helps no one. It just closes a case.
The thing that sets Henry Segura apart from so many other cases where the government has lied and cheated their way to victory is that the government has not won . . . yet. Sure, they have locked up Henry Segura on weak, circumstantial evidence for almost three years. But if enough people start paying attention to all the battles that Henry Segura has lost, maybe he can still win the war.
Main image via Flickr/Chris Gent