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Discarded Evidence in the Case of the Murdered Priest

November 26, 2019

Imagine this. You have been arrested, tried, and convicted for a crime you did not commit. If you could not afford a lawyer (the vast majority of criminal defendants cannot) a lawyer was provided for you. Despite your innocence, the evidence was mishandled, lost, or destroyed; which means the evidence tracking system, and the people responsible for the integrity of the evidence, have failed you. So… you’re convicted. Now you’re behind bars, without a glimmer of hope for ever getting out. 

Think it doesn’t happen often? Think again. According to the Innocence Project of Texas, 4% of the more than 141,000 Texas state prison inmates have likely been convicted of crimes they did not commit. That’s a staggering 5640 people, living their own personal hell because either law enforcement officials failed them, they didn’t have an evidence management system, and/or didn’t establish a proper chain-of-custody. 

Take the case of the murdered Catholic priest… 

According to an article by the Austin Chronicle, the crime scene, inside room 126 of the Sand and Sage motel in Odessa, revealed the aftermath of the violent and bloody death of Father Patrick Ryan; a well-liked Catholic priest stationed in the tiny Pan­handle town of Denver City. Two years after the 1981 murder, James Harry Reyos, who was friendly with Ryan – and says he’d had a sexual encounter with the priest days before he was murdered – was sentenced to 38 years in prison for Ryan’s killing. 

murdered priest

Reyos is adamant that he is innocent, and virtually everyone who knows the case well agrees. Importantly, Reyos had a solid alibi for the time of the murder that included a speeding ticket issued to him in New Mexico, hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime. 

Unfortunately, Reyos, an alcoholic who has expressed deep shame over his homosexuality – and the unexpected sexual encounter he had with Ryan – later told law enforcement officials while in a drunken stupor that he was “responsible” for the crime. That was considered a confession and was apparently enough for jurors to ignore other concrete details that point to Reyos’ innocence. 

Related: THE CASE OF THE MISSING BLOODY JACKET

Ryan was found inside the motel room naked and badly beaten, his hands bound tightly with a white sock. There was blood spatter and bloody fingerprints throughout the motel room, open beer cans on a dresser, and discarded cigarette butts littering the floor – evidence that today would be subjected to DNA testing that could definitively reveal the identity of his real killer. Unfortunately, none of that evidence still exists; Ector County mistakenly discarded it long ago.

Related:  Who Killed Father Ryan?

Of course, it’s hard to know exactly how many people may be serving sentences for crimes they did not commit, and that worries Gregg County Com­mis­sion­er, Darryl Primo. He’s struggling to get his county to upgrade to a digital tracking system and enact policies that will prevent these types of outcomes in the future. “The issue becomes, how many other cases could have, or would have, been resolved in a more just manner if the evidence had been handled and managed properly?” 

To think that the state could be preventing miscarriages of justice but simply isn’t because of a lack of will or even a minimal amount of funding for training and preservation, disturbs Primo. 

“We ought to be looking 5 to 10 years down the road, toward scientific advancements and should be working toward them,” he said. “We ought to know what’s coming.” 

Related: NO JUSTICE FOR ALL – LOST EVIDENCE BOTCHES 43 CASES IN A DAY

Dallas D.A. Watkins agrees. He says, “Texas needs to act now to ensure compliance with evidence laws and to mandate proper training for all evidence handlers. Science will progress, and science allows us not only to find mistakes that were made in the past and to make them right but also to go forward to ensure that we don’t repeat these mistakes in the future.” 

To simplify, streamline, and secure physical and digital evidence management, it’s imperative that ALL law enforcement agencies use state-of-the-art digital tracking software and establish sufficient intake, processing, and movement protocols in order to maintain the integrity of the evidence and ensure sustainable evidence operations. 

With Tracker Products, the intake process can be as simple as inspecting the package and two or three scans later, it’s ready for storage. It’s just that simple. Every action after that is securely recorded; maintaining an unbroken, unimpeachable chain of custody. 

It’s also important that your system provides easy access to those who need it while denying access to those who don’t. With Tracker software, all stakeholders can access and view all the files associated with the case from anywhere in the world. 

If evidence needs to go to the lab for analysis or to court for trial, users can transfer items, capture stakeholder signatures, or add attachments in the system; that includes outside agencies or entities. 

Tracker’s software will also send the submitting officer a retention review request to approve the disposal of the item, if appropriate, or request to keep the item for a specified period of time before the next review. That means, the evidence is not destroyed prematurely, but it also doesn’t clog up storage facilities unnecessarily. 

Our SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, Tracker’s SAFE Product is an end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today.

If you would like to improve your evidence management protocol – using a state-of-the-art evidence tracking system – contact Tracker Products today to learn more, or even ask about a free trial. 

Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training Classes with our sister company, VISIT EMI HERE.