On January 23rd of 2013, a woman named Susan Harper was seen getting out of her car at Irvington (AKA Robertson) Park in North Houston. Her shirt and upper torso were on fire. Two witnesses helped extinguish the fire and called for help.
As they were helping to extinguish her, my client (and Susan Harper's boyfriend), Darryl Tindol came walking up to them from the opposite side of the park from the fire.
Two Houston Police Department officers arrived and asked her what had happened.
"I dropped a cigarette on my blouse and it caught fire," she told them.
They did not believe her.
They asked her what really had happened and noted that their belief was that she had been the victim of an assault.
"She at first would not say that she was [sic] victim of assault other than she was smoking and caught herself on fire."But, they persisted with their belief.
"The Complainant was asked by this officer what had really happened to her and they were there to help her and who had done this to her." Emphasis added.It was then the officer noted that the complainant changed her story and stated that her boyfriend had punched her and thrown a cigarette on her, causing her shirt to catch fire.
Suffering from severe burns over the upper half of her body, Susan Harper would survive in a hospital for another nine months before finally, mercifully, dying in September of 2013.
During those nine months, the police suspected that Darryl Tindol was responsible for her death. Darryl was a quirky man. Sometimes homeless, his demeanor was odd to them. Despite the fact that Darryl had no burn marks (or any other signs of having been near a fire) on his clothes or body, they remained suspicious. In their belief, he wasn't appropriately upset over what had happened to his common-law wife. He met with the officers whenever they asked to speak with him, but that still was not enough.
"I did not observe any tears come from the suspect Darryl's eyes at any time while I spoke to him throughout this interview."Despite their belief that he wasn't showing appropriate remorse, Darryl Tindol's story remained the same each time he talked to the authorities.
Walking around Irvington Park was a regular event for him. He and Susan would drive there in her car. She would sit in the car and have a cigarette or two while he walked around the perimeter. On the morning of January 23rd, as he began his walk, he told her to lock the door. She told him to pull his pants up. He was on the diagonally opposite side of the park when he realized something was going on where he had left Susan. He immediately began heading back that way.
It was the same explanation he would tell me on the day I met him.
Understandably, Susan Harper's family would not let him visit her in the hospital, nor would they update him on her condition. Why would they? Their belief was that he had committed the most heinous of acts against their family member.
It wasn't until shortly before Susan Harper's death that charges of Aggravated Assault were filed against Darryl Tindol. Immediately following her death, those charges were upgraded to murder.
As usual, the commenters on the news websites reacted with bloodthirsty fervor to their belief that Darryl had committed an unspeakable act. Most advocated that he too be burned to death. Some argued that he be placed in a woodchipper. The most creative comments came from London's Daily Mail website:
But the problem with all of these beliefs was that they were wrong.
Darryl Tindol didn't kill Susan Harper, nor did he have anything to do with her tragic and painful death. Susan Harper died as the result of an accident.
From the day I was appointed to represent Darryl, he told me the same thing. Every time we met. He loved Susan. He didn't kill Susan. He believed that low blood sugar had caused her to faint and drop the cigarette on herself. He would answer any question the police had for him and he would take any polygraph. He would cooperate to the fullest extent humanly possible.
And my belief was that Darryl Tindol was telling me the truth. His case was set for trial in November.
Assistant District Attorney Greg Houlton would ultimately become the prosecutor handling Darryl Tindol's murder case. I had dealt with him on a few minor cases here and there over the years and always found him to be a reasonable guy. He listened to every last thing I said about the Tindol case. He pulled every last record and report and read them from start to finish. He listened openly when I told him that I thought it would be physically impossible for Darryl Tindol to have set Susan Harper on fire and then run to the completely opposite side of the park and return to the scene of the fire within a matter of seconds.
It isn't an easy thing for a prosecutor to dismiss a murder. The victim's family is guaranteed to be devastated and angry. The police investigators won't be happy either. Dismissing a murder case is rarely a popular decision.
With such horrible circumstances as a death by burning, it is only human nature to believe that another person must surely be held accountable for it.
But Greg and his Division Chief, Lance Long, set those beliefs aside and looked to where the evidence led them. They met with arson experts. They went to the crime scene and met with the witnesses who had first seen Susan Harper. They had them point out where in the park they had seen Darryl Tindol coming from.
Greg called me yesterday afternoon to tell me they were dismissing the case. As much as I would like to take credit for a dismissal on a murder case, it was his open mind and willingness to look into the facts independently that brought this sad case to the just resolution.
At some point today, Darryl Tindol was released from the Harris County Jail. I doubt I'll ever hear from him again. Like I said earlier, he's kind of a quirky guy.
He was in custody for just shy of a year for a crime he didn't commit.