“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Unknown

Eyewitness news.

Perspective is hugely important when judging statements made by suspects and witnesses. If you’ve followed our podcasts or read previous Lessons Learned, you will certainly know that our stance is to be cautious and suspicious of all ‘eye witness testimony’. Things like Confirmation bias and Observation & Perception Bias can rule us if we don’t learn to rule them. This dangerous paradigm can only be changed with training, practice, and rehearsal.

“The question is, do I believe it when I see it, OR SEE IT WHEN I BELIEVE IT?” – Greg Williams

Imagine the potential biases that can influence your perceptions of an observation. Vision, smell, hearing, taste, touch – hell, we can’t agree on what we saw and heard on the evening news or in a recent film – why would you suspect that I can trust your recollection of a horrific incident that involved killing or death? In addition to your five senses having the ability to be fooled during moments of heightened stress. Your perceptions often run the gamut of your, 1) previous experiences, 2) known or suspected scientific certainties, 3) logical considerations and, 4) your faith.

Let me explain. Let’s consider my first point, above. Consider that you have never smelled the residuals from the bullet fired from a gun that has been fired inside of a bedroom or perhaps a building and now you find yourself at a suspected suicide by a gun scene in a residential bedroom or at a local 7-11 where a robbery reportedly just occurred. A police detective is at the scene and just outside of the yellow tape he asks you about your observations.

He asks, “What do you smell?”. Having never encountered cordite, Sulphur, or burning gunpowder at a crime scene before, you would hasten to put together a description using your olfactory system and memories of things you have smelled in the past.

But what if the Detective asks you, “Can you smell cordite, Sulphur, and the burning gunpowder from the shots that were fired?”, you’ll likely say yes, and then remember those associations even though you’ve never experienced them firsthand.

Let’s look at my number two, above. Now that the detective has mentioned a gun and gunfire, you now have both of those images in your Working Memory (what scientists used to call your Short-Term Memory). It’s very likely that in any of your future answers relative to the bedroom in the residential area that you will put together the idea that the person you saw on the bed was shot. Perhaps because there was no one else is in the room and you didn’t immediately see the gun, this is a homicide scene, not a suicide.

For number three, above, let’s say that you were in the parking lot of the 7-11 about to head in and get a Yoo-hoo and some Nilla Wafers when you notice that the place is surrounded by evidence tape. You look around and see shell casings on the ground with those little plastic number placards next to them. You mentally start thinking about other breakfast location options and jump to the reasonable conclusion that the 7-11 had been robbed. Later that night you find out from the evening news that there was a carjacking in the parking lot with ‘shots fired’ that had nothing to do with anyone inside of the 7-11. Had you been interviewed before you knew the entire story, you would have been happy with your initial, reasonable conclusion.   

Finally, let’s discuss an aspect of your faith. Let’s just consider your faith regarding a specific religion. If you are a member of a religion where suicide is a sin, then you might be biased to think less of the person who committed suicide in the bedroom. Images of the victim character would likely be altered in your mind and perhaps you would discount other evidence that the decedent was reported to be a ‘good man’ because of your faith-based bias. I’m just messing with your brain now, but seriously, these are the same issues that would come up when you are subsequently cross-examined by defense counsel. It’s now YOU who is on the stand defending your observations and perceptions.

The Tristate Tornado.

Investigate the reports of the 1925 Tristate Tornado. It’s an amazing read. This was history’s most destructive weather event inside the US up to that point (that we know of, of course). It happened on 18 March 1925, a Wednesday, when a huge tornado touched down in Missouri, remained on the ground through southern Illinois, and stopped after destroying parts of southwestern Indiana making it the longest and farthest-reaching tornado ever recorded. A single tornado went 235 miles on the ground destroying everything in its path, injuring five thousand, killing 695 people, and obliterating 15,000 homes. The damage in 2020-2021 dollars would be estimated at $1.4 billion dollars. That’s with a ‘B’.

Now, let’s look through at the event from a logical and scientific perspective (2 of the 4 potential biases I asserted earlier) while wearing our 2020-2021 “Faith pants” and considering that we have never survived such an event AND that we weren’t there so we have to rely on reports from the time (now we have enlisted all four of the earlier biases from a list of hundreds of potential external influences). Looking back, we now know a few things that folks didn’t in the 1920’s.

First, many of the injuries could have been prevented from the distant early warning systems that are now commonplace, used to detect severe weather before it strikes populated areas. Next, news travels at the ‘speed of thought’ now, not so much in 1920’s America. Each little town back then had its own version of a news pipeline. Even an event as large and as devastating as this would have taken time to report. It would have taken people, time, and effort to report accurately. It would have taken even more time to spread across more states, then the entirety of the United States, and finally the remainder of the world.

What really happened, is that ONE SINGLE bad weather system created a tornadic weather outbreak that spawned at least 12 large tornadoes which struck the states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana separately, but in such a manner that these individual instances were seen collectively by the victims as having been one, long event. Research today demonstrates the damage was caused by multiple tornadoes rather than one massive tornado.

In retrospect, the fact that one massive tornado caused all this death and destruction defies logic and science, one like that hasn’t been recorded before or since and (trust me, have faith!) is not as likely as the more logical conclusion that a dozen tornadoes breaking out in front of a fast-moving, destructive weather event caused this death and destruction.

The sad tale of Tammy Jo and Bryan.

Brett Parker’s wife Tammy Jo and co-worker Bryan were dead. On the witness stand a few years back, Brett Parker told the Judge and the jury, “I would never hurt Tammy and I never have”. I decided to dig into the case based on those words from Brett alone. Brett was lying and I knew it because of the words he chose. I would never hurt her. I have never hurt her. No, Brett, you are correct – you didn’t hurt her – you KILLED her. Words matter.

Brett told both the 911 operators and first responders that he heard a loud commotion and multiple gunshots coming from his wife’s office. Before he could even process what was happening, he comes upon the body of his wife, dead and in a pool of blood. He is then confronted by one of his trusted employees, Bryan Capnerhurst who is armed with the still smoking 9mm handgun used to kill Brett’s wife Tammy Jo.

From left to right, Tammy Jo, Brett Parker, and Bryan Capnerhurst.

By Brett’s own admissions to police, Bryan Capnerhurst burst into the Parker home from a side door, raced to the second floor, and immediately shot Tammy Jo Parker dead. Brett stated that his security cameras would show that it was Capnerhurst that showed up that day, carrying a suspicious bag over his shoulder. After killing Tammy, Capnerhurst pointed a gun at Brett and ordered Brett to walk up the stairs into an attic where Brett’s safe was located.

Brett said he knew that Bryan Capnerhurst was deep in gambling debt. He assumed that Bryan Capnerhurst was going to force him to open the safe, steal all his money, then, after killing Brett, stage the scene to look like a burglary or robbery gone bad. Brett told police he knew that it was only a matter of time after he opened the safe that Bryan Capnerhurst would kill him too. Once in the attic standing in front of his safe, Brett Parker reached for his concealed firearm, a .410 caliber Taurus revolver he kept wrapped in a blanket above the safe and turned quickly to shoot Bryan Capnerhurst in self-defense. Even though Bryan had already killed Tammy Jo and had his pistol at the ready, Brett got the ‘jump’ on Bryan and shot him dead.

Police found the Taurus ‘Judge’ revolver with four rounds out of five fired, lying on the family room floor downstairs. A .410 Taurus much like the one that killed Bryan Capnerhurst. Police also found a 9mm semiautomatic pistol clutched in the deceased Bryan Capnerhurst’s hands. This was interesting to investigators when the autopsy determined that the gunshot wounds inflicted on Bryan by Brett were so severe to Bryan’s right arm that there was no way he could have maintained a grip on the 9mm handgun in that hand.

The autopsy report on Tammy Jo showed that she had been shot 5 times. Four times at an intermediate-range while she was turning and presumably running from her attacker, one time at close range in her head. Interestingly enough, Bryan Capnerhurst’s autopsy showed that he had been shot 4 times. Three in the chest and once in the head with Brett’s Taurus .410. So why would I suggest that Brett was lying? He had a front-row seat. His first-person eyewitness account was the only one available – the two other people in the house were dead.

Ahhh, but there’s the rub. There’s always a silent witness. The artifacts and evidence with which to form a reasonable conclusion.

Who to believe?

Brett was a legitimate businessman but he also ran an illegal business on the side. Brett was a bookie. A person to whom you went when you wanted to place a bet on the outcome of a sporting event. Brett was deep in debt. To add complexity to Brett’s story, Bryan Capnerhurst was also a bookie. In fact, he worked for Brett and worked many times out of Brett’s home and Tammy Jo’s office where the attack occurred.

The evidence in the case compared to Brett’s testimony means that there are only two possible stories.

Story Number One.

Bryan Capnerhurst goes to Brett Parker’s home with a duffle bag and a gun. His plan is to kill Tammy Jo Parker, a woman who he had known for years, further, a woman whose family had intertwined with Bryan’s own for over a decade. Bryan Capnerhurst is armed with a 9mm handgun that belonged to Brett Parker. Conveniently, Parker told investigators he had given Bryan the gun for Bryan’s personal protection just a week or so ago.

Bryan Capnerhurst arrives in broad daylight. Bryan has worked at the home before, so remember, Bryan knows about the surveillance system yet enters the home from the side door in full view of the camera anyway. Although Bryan knows Tammy Jo and has been to the home countless times, on this Wednesday he “rushes upstairs” and immediately shoots and kills Tammy Jo without apparent remorse, at near and point-blank range, fully knowing that Brett Parker, a gun owner, is also somewhere in the house. Bryan then confronts Brett Parker only feet from Parker’s dead wife. Bryan orders Parker to walk ahead of him into the attic and open the safe. Clearly, Bryan had planned to take the money from the safe, money that would get him out of crippling debt.

Story Number Two.

Most of the crippling gambling debt owed to Capnerhurst was from his own bad bets, oh, and also from money owed to him by his boss Brett Parker. The gun that Bryan Capnerhurst used to kill Tammy Jo Parker was a 9mm owned by Brett Parker.

Either Bryan Capnerhurst was planning on killing two people who knew well and whom he had worked closely with and had decades-long social relationships with for the unreasonable conclusion that the safe he knew would today hold enough money to cover his over $12,500.00 in debts, or much more reasonably, Brett parker needed a ‘fall guy’, and Bryan Capnerhurst was the perfect stooge.

Brett Parker had incurred huge debts. Brett Parker’s wife Tammy Jo was insured for well over a million dollars. Allegedly both Brett and Tammy Jo Parker were having affairs outside of their marriage which would indicate that the marriage was in trouble. Brett is the likely killer here and he made sure that no one was alive to state the contrary.

The defense attorney would have us believe that on 13 April 2012, Bryan Capnerhurst launched a plan to commit a double homicide to clear his debts. I choose story number two. I think you need to look at the evidence before, during, and after listening to the words from ‘witnesses’.

Additional damning evidence.

Upon reviewing the tape from Brett Parker’s surveillance camera, police investigators noticed an anomaly. Someone from inside the Parker home had moved the vertical blinds seven minutes before Bryan Capnerhurst was recorded walking down the street to the Parker side door.

Not only does this suggest that someone within the Parker house was expecting Bryan Capnerhurst, but also that someone predicted the entrance that Bryan would use. Remember that Brett told investigators he was surprised by the loud sounds in his home and only knew it was Bryan Capnerhurst after he confronted his armed business partner on the second floor of the Parker home.

Suspecting foul play, performed a GSR gunshot reside kit on the window blinds which returned with high amounts of gunpowder being present along with small, round lead fragments. Someone who had recently fired a weapon was standing at those blinds looking out 7 minutes before Bryan Capnerhurst arrived at the Parker home.

If you and I were building an explanatory storyline, it would seem logical that Brett Parker killed his wife with the 9mm handgun (his handgun, the one he owned) a little more than seven minutes before Bryan Capnerhurst arrived. Tammy Jo is already dead on the floor when Capnerhurst arrives at the Parker home.

Once Bryan is in the home, Brett shoots him fatally. Unknown to Brett, his gunshots create so much damage that it is medically and physically impossible that Bryan would be able to hold a gun, yet first responding officers find the 9mm used to kill Tammy Jo (Brett’s 9mm) clutched in Bryans’s hands. By making Bryan Capnerhurst the suspect – and then killing him – Brett Parker would be rid of his wife, and have an airtight alibi. Plus, he wouldn’t have to pay Bryan Capnerhurst the money he owed him. Brett Parker was the only witness left standing. Brett Parker would soon become one million dollars richer from his wife Tammy Jo’s life insurance.

So What?

Let the evidence show you the truth. Remember that training can help you be a better witness and better at detecting when a witness is lying or under the influence of a bias in their testimony.

History demonstrates that artifacts and evidence are much better used to determine the truth of an incident than are the statements of eyewitnesses. A trained observer knows what to look for. A trained observer won’t rush to a judgment only to later try and force a round peg into a square hole.

A trained observer will stick with the facts and not be swayed by Confirmation Bias.

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg
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