At about midnight on April 22, 1997, three people were fatally shot and two others were wounded in a drug-related shooting in Center, Texas.
Vivian Watts and her daughter, Calandra, heard the first shots, which were fired in the house in front of their trailer in Center, Texas.
Vivian, 42, opened her front door and saw her brother, 25-year-old Percy Keith Moore, run out of the house, chased by a man with a long gun. When Moore stumbled and fell, the man shot and killed him. The gunman then ran back through the house where he joined another man in the front yard. Moments later, gunfire sprayed the trailer, wounding both Vivian and 15-year-old Calandra.
Inside the house, police found 13-year-old Christy Calhoun, the younger sister of Moore’s wife, Bridgette, lying on a couch. She had been shot dead. Sprawled on the floor was 26-year-old Brian Keith Brooks. He also had been fatally shot.
Bridgette told police that her husband was a drug dealer and that when she left for work on the day of the murders, there was cocaine in the house and a shoebox containing about $5,000. After the shootings, the cocaine and the shoe box were gone.
Because of the drug-related nature of the crime, witnesses were reluctant to come forward. Prior to the shooting, Moore had been arrested with cocaine in his possession. He was out on bond and there were rumors that he planned to cut a deal with police and implicate his supplier, Eltroy McCowin. McCowin was the son-in-law of a Columbian drug dealer who distributed cocaine out of Houston.
Although McCowin was a logical suspect in the murders, police focused on 22-year-old Kenneth Wayne Boyd, Jr. after an anonymous caller reported that he was the killer. At the time, Boyd was living in Jacksonville, Texas—about 70 miles west of Center—and was on parole after serving nearly five years of a 12-year sentence for a manslaughter conviction.
After witnesses claimed that Boyd recently had been seen in Center with a handgun, Shelby County law enforcement issued a warrant for his arrest. Boyd was arrested in Jacksonville on April 24, 1997. He denied involvement in the crime and passed a polygraph examination.
Police showed a photographic lineup to Anita Ross, Moore’s sister, and she identified Boyd as having been in Moore’s house about two hours before the shooting.
Other witnesses subsequently said that around the time of the murders they saw Boyd in an apartment complex more than two miles from Moore’s house.
Boyd and three other men—Rodney Moore, Jacarro Keion Bennett and Ricky Lathan—were ultimately charged with the shootings.
By the time Boyd went to trial in May 1999 on a charge of capital murder, Moore had been convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to life in prison. Charges were later dropped against Bennett and Lathan and they were released.
Shelby County District Attorney Karren Price presented more than 40 witnesses—many of whom admitted they were drinking alcohol or using drugs or both on the night of the crime.
Some said they saw Boyd at the apartment complex more than two miles away both before and after the murder. One witness was unable to identify Boyd in the courtroom despite her claim prior to the trial that she saw him outside Percy Keith Moore’s house on the night of the shooting. Some witnesses said they saw Boyd at the complex on the day of the shooting, while others said it was the day before the shootings.
Anita Ross, Percy’s sister, testified that she saw Boyd in Percy’s house two hours before the shooting.
Derrick Brown testified that while he and Rodney Moore were in the Shelby County jail, Moore told him that Boyd was pressuring him to admit to killing Christy Calhoun.
Eltroy McCowin, the supplier of Percy Keith Moore’s drugs, testified that he spoke to Percy earlier on the day of the shootings. He said that Percy told him he was planning to sell some drugs to Boyd that day. At the time, McCowin had recently pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and had been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
Vernon Garrett testified that when he and Boyd were cellmates in Shelby County Jail, Boyd admitted that he killed Christy Calhoun and Brian Keith Brooks and that Rodney Moore had killed Percy Keith Moore and shot Vivian Watts.
Another jail inmate, Michael Ethridge, told the jury that while he and Boyd were in jail, Boyd admitted that Moore killed Brooks, Percy Keith Moore and Christy Calhoun.
There were no fingerprints, clothing fibers, hair samples, DNA or other physical evidence linking Boyd to the crime. Recovered shell casings did not match guns linked to Boyd or the others charged in the case.
Several defense witnesses testified that Boyd was in Jacksonville, 70 miles away, at about the time the murders occurred.
Boyd testified in his own defense and denied any involvement in the crime. He said he was in Jacksonville at the time of the shootings. He also denied telling anyone that he took part in the crime.
Boyd was convicted on June 10, 1999 and was sentenced to life in prison.
The following year, Rodney Moore’s conviction was reversed because District Attorney Price had failed to disclose to defense lawyers that some witnesses had testified after their memories were hypnotically refreshed. Moore pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was released from prison.
After District Attorney Price left office in 2000, her successor had discovered a binder full of materials relating to Boyd’s case. In the binder was a report that showed Derrick Brown had told police that McCowin claimed he intended to kill Percy Keith Moore so that Moore would not testify against him in the narcotics prosecution. The binder also contained a report showing that Anita Ross, who testified that she had seen Boyd in Percy’s apartment two hours before the shooting, had failed a polygraph examination when asked if she saw Boyd there.
The binder also contained a statement from jailhouse snitch Garrett saying his testimony was a lie. There were also letters from the other snitch, Etheridge, who said the state was reneging on their deal with him to arrange from his release from jail.
Boyd’s trial attorney who was handling the appeals did not use the materials to file a post-conviction challenge to the conviction. In 2011, long after Boyd’s direct appeals were rejected, Longview, Texas attorney Gena Bunn was appointed to handle a renewed petition for a new trial and began re-investigating the case.
In April 2012, Bunn filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that Price had withheld scores of pages of exculpatory evidence. By then, Bunn had obtained affidavits from both jailhouse snitches recanting their testimony. Moreover, one of the witnesses who said he saw Boyd at the apartment complex near the shootings at the time of the crime also recanted, saying he had not seen Boyd at all. The District Attorney also began a separate re-investigation.
On June 20, 2012, Shelby County Criminal District Court Judge Charles Mitchell, after reviewing the documents and the writ, recommended that the writ be granted and that Boyd receive a new trial. The judge found that substantial exculpatory evidence had been hidden from Boyd’s trial lawyer and that Price had knowingly presented false evidence.
On November 14, 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Mitchell’s ruling, vacated Boyd’s conviction and ordered a new trial.
On November 19, 2012, Boyd was released on bond. In February 2013, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss the case.
– Maurice Possley