In March of 2006 I arrived in my office to work the night shift. When I walked into the office, Ed Striedinger approached me.
“A guy got arrested at a Rite Aid on Broadway for shoplift,” he said. “When he was arrested, he gave the name Donald Witt. They ran his fingerprints in AFIS and found out that he was really Joseph Roubideaux. He’s wanted out of Rapid City, South Dakota for Capital Murder.”
Capital Murder is a charge that potentially carries the death penalty.
“Cool,” I said. This was an issue for the detectives in Rapid City, not us.
“We contacted Rapid City PD today,” Striedinger continued. “They asked if we’d interview him.”
“What?” I said. “We don’t know anything about the case. Why don’t they just fly out here and do it?”
If I had a murder, especially one that carries the possibility of the death penalty, I wouldn’t want some other agency to interview my suspect; I’d be on the next plane out to do it myself. We do it all the time.
We called Rapid City PD. I spoke to Kyle Akers, a detective with the PD there.
“Are you sure you guys don’t want to come out here to interview this guy?” I asked.
“They won’t fly us out,” he said. “The bosses think he’ll just lawyer up.”
That’s the real problem with administrators. They’re so worried about spending a dime, but they don’t know a thing about investigations. Most of the time, they just fuck things up.
It’s never a good thing to have someone who knows nothing about a case interview witnesses, let alone the suspect. He could make some comment that means nothing to the person doing the interview, but if the person who knows the case in and out hears the same fact, he or she would recognize it as important.
As it was, we were on the hook to do the interview. I didn’t blame Akers; he wasn’t the one making the decision.
We’d give it our best shot.
I had no stake in this case. I wasn’t involved in any way. But when outside agencies ask me to do something for them, I pull out all the stops. I take on the case as my own. It’s the way Seattle Police do business, and it’s definitely the way I roll. I would hope if the roles were reversed, I would get the same dedication in return.
My partner Jason Kasner and I talked with Kyle Akers over a speakerphone for about ten minutes, trying to get as much information about the case as we could. When we finally got all that I thought we were going to get, we ended the call.
“I’ll call you when the interview is done,” I told Akers. “Hopefully, we’ll have some good news.”
When Roubideaux was brought over from the jail, we placed him in an interview room. The interview was audio and video recorded.
When we entered the room, I took my place on the same side of the table as Roubideax. Jason sat across from us.
“We just want to talk to you and find out what’s going on,” I said.
We talked for a few minutes, just breaking the ice, playing it lowball.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“I’m from Montana,” Roubideaux said.
“Where in Montana?”
“Browning,” he replied.
We talked for awhile about Montana, and the tribe Roubideaux belonged tol
“Have you ever been to South Dakota?” we asked.
Roubideaux yawned, a sign of deception, and said, “No.”
We carried on the conversation for several minutes, before I said, “I thought we saw that you got a traffic ticket in South Dakota.”—I was totally making that up.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I forgot.”
We chatted for several minutes more before I dropped the bomb.
“We have a problem, Joe.” I said.
“We found your fingerprints at a house in Rapid City of a guy named Lloyd Redbull.
“I think you know there’s a problem,” I continued. “You see, Lloyd was found stabbed to death. You see, we’re not shoplift detectives. We’re homicide detectives.
“We found your fingerprints at his house.” I was totally making that up.
“Maybe you were there,” I said, “and you left and someone else came and killed him. I think you heard about it and panicked and left.”
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said.
“That’s not going to work, Joe,” I said. “There’s a warrant out for your arrest out of Rapid City. It’s for murder. If there’s some innocent way your fingerprints showed up at Lloyd’s house, you have to tell us now.”
Joe felt the noose wrapping around him. His left leg bounced up and down continually; he rubbed his head so much I thought his hair would soon fall out.
I upped the ante a little more.
“The problem is,” I said, “is your fingerprint was found in blood.”
Again, I was totally bullshitting.
I produced a copy of his arrest warrant. Written on it were the words, Death Penalty Offense.
“What we have to do, Joe,” I said, “is find ways to get this down to something less than the death penalty.
“Just tell me mitigating circumstances,” I said. “Those are things that make it better for you. I’m not even asking for anything that makes it bad for you.”
“I guess this wasn’t the perfect crime,” he said.
“No Joe,” I said. “This couldn’t have been worse for you if you’d planted evidence yourself trying to be convicted.
“You’re the only one alive today who was there when this murder happened”
The interview lasted more than three hours. Though Roubideaux didn’t explicitly confess, he wrapped himself in so may knots, it was as good as a confession.
We booked him for the murder.
Almost a year later, I traveled to Rapid City to testify in his trial. The prosecution was thrilled with the interview. It was played in the trial.
Roubideaux was convicted of the murder, though he received a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
While I was there, I went to Mount Rushmore on a Tuesday evening.
I’d been there before several summers earlier, but this time I was the only one there who wasn’t at work. It was fabulous.