On October 5, 1980, two black men, one armed with a pistol, entered a gas station in Hammond, Indiana. One of the men put a blue denim bag on the counter and demanded that the clerk, a 20-year-old white woman, put the money inside. Then the men, one of whom was noticeably taller and heavier than the other, forced the woman into their car. After driving around and taking turns raping the woman both orally and vaginally, the men dumped her onto the street and drove off.
The victim sought help and was taken to a hospital where a rape kit was completed. She told police that only the shorter attacker ejaculated.
Five weeks later, on November 14, 1980, two men attempted to rob a hotel in Hammond. Larry Pucalik, an off-duty Hammond Police Officer, was working as a security guard. When he intervened, he was shot and killed. The robbers fled, but left behind a blue denim bag matching the description of the bag used in the gas station robbery.
Detectives discovered that victims of a robbery of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, which occurred prior to the gas station robbery, said two men came in and one had a blue denim bag. Detectives also learned that earlier in the year, two women reported to police that they were raped after being picked up while hitchhiking toward Chicago on Interstate 80-94 outside of Hammond. The women said that two cars had stopped, but that the driver of the second car told them to get in that car because the other car was not working well.
The women reported that the two cars went to a home where the poorly functioning car was dropped off. The women said they were driven around in the other car and two men raped them.
Because of the similarity in the description of the two rapes, detectives re-interviewed the women in the double rape and learned the location where the malfunctioning car was dropped off. The woman who was listed as the owner of the car told police she didn’t drive it, but her brother did. Police then interviewed the brother and realized he did not fit the description of either of the rapists given by the women. The brother, however, said that his nephew, 17-year-old James Hill sometimes drove the car. The brother said that Hill was a student at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana. Police went to the school, obtained a photograph of Hill and put it in a photographic lineup.
Multiple victims—including from the Kentucky Fried Chicken robbery, the hitchhiker rape victims, and the gas station clerk—identified Hill as one of the men who robbed and raped them. Hill was charged with armed robbery, kidnapping, and rape.
In the meantime, an informant told police that the gas station robbery was committed by Mike Deneal and 30-year-old Larry Mayes
. Police put a photograph of Mayes into a photographic lineup and the gas station clerk identified him as the smaller of the two men who robbed and raped her. Mayes was then charged with rape, robbery and kidnapping for the gas station crime.
Hill and Mayes were tried separately in Lake County Circuit Court. At Hill’s trial the victim identified him as the taller robber and said he raped her. A classmate of Hill’s, Arthur Ezell, testified that he had seen Hill carrying a blue denim bag. He said Hill told him he had made it himself, suggesting that it was one-of-a-kind and that only Hill had such a bag.
The victim identified Mayes at his trial and said he was the smaller of the two robbers and that he had ejaculated. The victim admitted that she had been unable to identify Mayes in two live lineups, but she eventually picked his photo out of a photo array. She had previously described her assailant as having a gold tooth. Mayes had a gold tooth.
Hill and Mayes were convicted at their separate trials. Hill was sentenced to 35 years in prison and Mayes was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Charges against Hill in the other two cases were then dismissed. No one had been charged with the murder of the off-duty police officer during the attempted robbery at that time.
The Innocence Project, based in New York, accepted Mayes’ case in 1996. Project students assigned to his case spent years searching for the rape kit used at trial, only to be told that it had been lost. A persistent summer intern convinced a diligent court clerk to search again in the evidence room of the courthouse. The rape kit was discovered and the Innocence Project moved to have it preserved. The Innocence Project was joined by the Innocence Project at the Indiana University School of Law, which filed a motion to have the evidence in the case subjected to DNA testing.
In response to the motion to test the DNA, the new prosecutors on the case contacted the victim. She revealed that the police had hypnotized her prior to her identification of Mayes and Hill from the photographic lineup—a fact that had never been disclosed to the defense.
DNA testing was performed in 2001 and excluded Mayes as the source of the biological evidence from the rape kit. In December 2001, the charges against Mayes were dismissed and Mayes was released.
Meanwhile, Hill had been released from prison on parole in May 1998. In 2005, four years after Mayes was exonerated, Hill filed a post-conviction motion to vacate his conviction. Hill claimed that the prosecution had withheld evidence of a statement by an informant that others committed the crime and a statement by Ezell to police about the blue denim bag. In that statement, Ezell said that Hill told him he got the bag from a friend. Ezell never said in the statement that Hill had said he made it himself.
On October 6, 2009, Lake County Circuit Court Judge Salvador Vasquez granted Hill’s petition. Vasquez vacated Hill’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The Lake County District Attorney’s Office then dismissed the charges.
By that time, Mayes had won a $9 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against Indiana and Lake County law enforcement officials. The suit was later settled while on appeal for $4.5 million.
Hill filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that was still pending as of December 2013.
In June 2012, Hill, Mayes and another man, Pierre Catlett, were charged with the November 14, 1980 murder of Hammond Police Officer Pucalik, the officer who was slain while working off-duty in the motel in Hammond. All three defendants pled not guilty and the case was still pending in December 2013.
– Maurice Possley