Justice For James Harry Reyos

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The Evidence

“In a criminal case it is simply not enough to establish even a high probability of guilt.” Those are the words of three British appeal judges when they quashed the wrongful conviction of a mother jailed for killing two of her children. Although James Harry Reyos was convicted in the USA the same principle (that a conviction cannot be justified unless it is certain the individual is guilty of the crime for which he or she was convicted) should hold true. As the following demonstrates, there was no and is no proof that James murdered Father Patrick Ryan, or was even in the vicinity of the scene of the crime. Indeed it is clear, upon studying the full facts, that it is most likely he was 200 miles away from the crime scene at the time of the murder.

 

The alibi issue

 

The evidence showing James had an alibi, and was around two hundred miles from the Sand and Sage Motel in Odessa, Texas, at the time of Father Ryan’s death, is strong.

 

Father Ryan, a medical examiner determined, was murdered between 19:00 and midnight on the night of 21 December 1981.

 

Father Ryan checked into the Sand and Sage Motel, under a false name, at around 20:00, which further reduced the time of death to between 20:00 and midnight (a period of four hours). At this same time James was, according to a friend, sat drinking with him in a bar in the town of Roswell, two hundred miles away from Odessa. The friend had no reason to lie because the two men had not seen one another in years. They were not close at the time of the murder. They had been roommates several years earlier and just happened to bump into one another and got talking. Petrol receipts confirm James was in the Roswell area on that night, and that he had been there from 19:00 onwards the previous hour. Although James cannot prove his whereabouts from shortly after 20:00 until midnight, he was caught speeding at 00:15 on 22 December only fifteen miles outside Roswell. Could James have travelled two hundred miles to kill Father Ryan, commit the crime and then drive approximately two hundred miles back all in four hours? He would have needed to be travelling an average speed far in excess of one hundred miles per hour.

 

The man who was in the room next to that in which Father Ryan was killed, checked in at 21:00. He heard nothing from the neighbouring room all night. The ferocity of the murder suggests that there was a large amount of noise created, although Father Ryan could have willingly had his hands bound in some form of sex game. This, therefore, suggests that the murder probably occurred between 20:00 and 21:00, implying Father Ryan met his killer soon after arrival, when James Harry Reyos was in Roswell, two hundred miles away.

 

When James was caught speeding he was driving in a very erratic manner. He could not drive properly due to drunkenness. It is therefore unlikely he travelled any great distance between meeting his friend and 00:15. James accounts for this time period by saying he had been drinking for most of the night.

 

Another important point was the presence of Father Ryan’s car outside of Odessa. The car had been at that location since the morning of 21 December 1981 yet it is known Father Ryan arrived at the motel in that car. If responsible how did James move Father Ryan’s vehicle a considerable distance (from Odessa to Hobbs) and then travel back to Odessa where his own vehicle would have been, before returning to Roswell in the time available? Quite simply it would have been a remarkable feat if he could have carried out all these tasks in the limited time available.

 

Even if one is to argue James could have travelled to and from the scene of the crime in the time available (at a constant speed of at least 117 miles per hour over a large distance), or that the estimated time of death might have been slightly wrong, there are other aspects of the case that show he could not be involved.

 

The hairs and prints

 

At no point in time has any forensic evidence been presented to show that James Reyos committed this crime or that he was present at the scene of the crime, prior to the murder, whilst the murder was being committed, or following the murder.

 

The following is taken verbatim from Trial Transcripts:

Q. [Defense Attorney] Did you have the opportunity to obtain Mr. Reyos’ fingerprints?

A. [Odessa Police Detective] Yes, Sir, I did.

Q. Did you compare these fingerprints to any prints found in the room?

A. Yes, Sir, I did.

Q. Did you find any prints in the room that matched his fingerprints?

A. There was none that we could positively say were his.

Q. So you didn’t find any fingerprints that you could say were his in the room where the body was found?

A. No, sir.

(Trial Transcript, v3, p10).

 

Q. [Defense Attorney] All right. Now, fingerprints were taken in the room. Is that correct?

A. [Odessa Homicide Detective] Yes, sir.

Q. Fingerprints – they tried to get fingerprints off the beer cans also, didn’t they?

A. Yes, sir, that’s correct.

Q. Those proved negative, as far as James is concerned, didn’t they?

A. That’s correct.

(Trial Transcript, v5, pp57 & 58).

 

An FBI lab report dated April 27, 1983 stated: ‘The five latent fingerprints and the two latent impressions are not the fingerprints or palm prints of Reyos,' the FBI examiner wrote. The Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Midland wrote, on May 30, 1983, 'None of the numerous hairs from the scene previously examined resembled head or pubic hair from the suspect (Reyos).’

 

Verbatim from the Trial Transcripts:

Q. [Defense Attorney] Okay. Now, at a future date on May 5th, 1983, did you receive some blood, hair and saliva samples from the Ector County District’s Office which had been taken from Mr. James Harry Reyos here?

A. [Chemist, Texas DPS] Yes, I did.

Q. Okay. And did you compare these hair samples with the hair samples found in the bedding in the motel room to determine whether or not they matched?

A. I made such a comparison, yes.

Q. Did the hair samples found in the bedding that didn’t match the deceased, did they match the hair given to you from James Harry Reyos?

A. No, they didn’t.

(Trial Transcript, v5, p65).

 

The presence of these unidentified hairs and prints is important because it is most likely they belong to the man who was responsible for this horrific crime. When one considers the nature of the murder, it would be expected that the killer would leave a forensic trace (every contact leaves a trace) at the scene. Clearly there was no trace of James at the scene.

 

It is clear that the forensic evidence does not link James to this murder and, indeed, it seems to suggest the involvement of a third, unidentified, individual. In conjunction with the ascertained fact James was two hundred miles away on the night in question, with no eyewitness testimony contradicting this, the absence of any physical evidence linking him to the scene of the crime (or indeed any evidence being able to place him in the vicinity of the offence) is suggestive he was not there. If he was not there then he is unquestionably innocent.

 

A false confession, a polygraph test and the opinion of psychologists

 

James made a confession, one year after the murder, claiming responsibility for Father Ryan’s death. Mr Reyos alleges this was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, which he has known to have had problems with at that point in time. I am sure checks of custody records would show he was drunk at the time of his arrest.

 

He cannot recall what he said, but was later informed he had asked to speak to someone in connection with the murder of a priest in Odessa, before adding, “You are talking to the killer.” Less than two hours later he retracted his confession saying, “In the name of God, I didn’t do this.”

 

Whilst it would seem damning that he made a confession at any point in time please, for a moment, pretend the confession did not occur and consider all of the other facts. I ask this because it is an unfortunate fact that people do occasionally confess to crimes they never committed, especially those who, like James, were experiencing grave difficulties at the time and who have a troubled background.

 

Taking the alibi issue into consideration, along with the lack of any evidence placing James in the vicinity of the crime, and with evidence suggesting the involvement of another individual, it would seem that without the confession there is nothing at all linking Mr Reyos to the murder. The reliability of the confession should therefore be questioned. If it is unreliable then there is nothing to suggest James is a murderer.

 

James volunteered to undergo a lie detector test during the police investigation. A report written by Detective Jerry Smith, the primary Odessa Police Department investigator, six days after the death of Father Ryan stated that ‘At about 5:30 p.m., Det. Casey completed Reyos polygraph. Det. Casey advised that he felt Reyos was truthful and was not involved in the homicide.'

 

Whilst the accuracy of polygraph tests has been questioned by some, it is indisputable that false confessions have occurred in the past.

 

James has, subsequent to the confession, consistently denied any involvement in what he calls a great miscarriage of justice.

 

Psychologists who have studied James have been of the opinion that he could not have been responsible for this highly brutal murder. His demeanour and personal characteristics are, they feel, entirely inconsistent with their view of the type of individual who was responsible for Father Ryan’s death.

 

Verbatim from the Trial Transcripts:

Q. [Defense Attorney] Doctor, based on having listened to all of these statements that Mr. Reyos made in Albuquerque on the 18th and 19th of [November 1982] and based on your background and experience in studying the area of false confessions, do you have an opinion based on reasonable scientific certainty as to whether or not the confession by Mr. Reyos to killing Father Ryan was a true confession or a false confession?

A. [Dr. Samuel Roll, professor of psychology and psychiatry and an expert in forensic psychology from the University of New Mexico] Yes, I do have.

Q. What is your opinion?

A. My opinion is that the confession that Mr. Reyos made to killing Father Ryan is a false confession, and that is my opinion with a high degree of scientific certainty.

(Trial Transcript, v8, p28).

 

Q. [Defense Attorney] Is it your opinion then, Doctor, based on reasonable scientific certainty that Mr. Reyos, based on your tests and evaluations and background, did – is it your opinion that it was likely or unlikely that he could commit a crime of this nature?

A. [Dr Samuel Roll] It is my opinion that it would be extremely unlikely that Mr. Reyos would be capable of committing a crime of this nature.

(Trial Transcript, v8, p28).

 

Why was James convicted?

 

You might ask why, if the evidence against him was so weak, was James Harry Reyos found guilty of this horrific crime? Remember that juries are composed of ordinary people, many of whom will not be educated in forensic science or psychology. Therefore juries cannot be expected to always reach the correct verdict. Additionally the issue of prejudice must be considered. James is a full-blooded Native American. He was also an alcoholic who had a drugs problem and was a closet homosexual. Furthermore the victim was a well-respected member of the clergy who, it was alleged by James and the defence team, sexually abused men. The evidence for this was compelling, and it is now certain that Father Ryan was a practicing homosexual. The suggestion the victim assaulted men would have been difficult for many people to believe and so it is unsurprising most chose not to believe James who was already viewed in a negative light due to his ethnic background and lifestyle. This, coupled with the fact that the jury would have been confused by all the arguments and details of the case, and the unfortunate false confession under the influence of alcohol and drugs during a troubled period of James’ life, resulted in a tragic miscarriage of justice occurring.

 

So who killed Father Ryan?

 

In December 1982, one year after Father Ryan’s brutal death, and three weeks after James Harry Reyos was charged with murder, a man entered the Sacred Heart Church in Boise, Idaho, USA. He wanted to take confession and, whilst waiting his turn, swallowed a cyanide tablet. Within seconds he died. It is presumed he underestimated the time it would take for the cyanide to take effect.

 

In the man’s pocket was a note, signed with the false name ‘Wm. L. Toomey’ (it is known the name was false because of the way in which the signature was written. It did not appear that the man was used to signing that name) and a large amount of money ($1900), which, the note explained, was to cover the costs of his funeral with any excess money being donated to the church. The man’s identity remains a complete mystery, although it was determined his distinctive belt was bought from a gift ship in Arizona, but those who have studied the curious incident believe the man was responsible for killing another priest, whose murder has remained unsolved.

 

The unsolved murder of Father Benjamin Carrier was very similar to that of Father Ryan. Father Carrier was found in a motel room in Yuma, Arizona in November 1982. He was lying face down with his hands bound behind his back and had died through asphyxiation. Was he killed by the same man as who killed Father Ryan?

 

It has also been suggested that the Boise Doe, as the unidentified man is known, was responsible for killing Father Patrick Ryan. Was he responsible for the crime for which James Harry Reyos has been punished for? If not, who is he and why did he commit suicide using a false name?