Justice For James Harry Reyos
“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
The alibi issue
The evidence showing James had
an alibi, and was around two hundred miles from the Sand and Sage Motel in
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
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
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
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
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
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?