|Re: 3/7/97 - Charlotte Observer: Rush to Judgment|
I was alerted to a very similar high-profile murder investigation in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the local police zoned in on one person and totally ignored what many consider overwhelming evidence of who the real killer was (including a tip by his brother-in-law less than 24 hours after the murder). And what evidence that may have been at the crime scene the police likely destroyed through botched testing procedures. If nothing else, it shows the mentality a police force can develop when they perceive that admitting a grievous error will destroy their credibility rather than enhance it.
Rush to Judgment
Nearly seven years after the murder of his wife Kim Thomas, Dr. Ed Friedland's ongoing battle to clear his name continues
BY JERRY KLEIN
Editor's Note: Several attempts were made to contact Charlotte police for comments on numerous assertions made in this article. By deadline, no one had returned Jerry Klein's calls.
UPDATE -- Friday, March 7, 1997
Creative Loafing has learned that attorneys for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department filed papers yesterday (Thursday, March 6) with the court asking for sanctions to be placed on Dr. Ed Friedland and his attorney, David Rudolf of Chapel Hill, alleging that they are in violation of a protective order in the ongoing investigation into the murder of Friedland's wife, Kim Thomas, in July of 1990.
According to police spokesperson Keith Bridges, "With Dr. Friedland and his attorney talking as freely as they apparently are, we have asked for these sanctions because we feel this is not something anyone is supposed to be talking about. That's what the protective order is for, and if we can't talk about it, we don't feel anyone else should be talking about it either."
Reports indicate that the request for sanctions from the court includes allegations that Dr. Friedland's appearance on the Jerry Klein show on WBT-AM, scheduled for this coming Monday night at 8pm, will, according to a source who asked not to be named, "compromise an ongoing investigation."
Dr. Friedland, in response to the filing, said, "The police are trying to keep me from exercising my First Amendment right to free speech." -- Jerry Klein
He came up to me in the grocery store late one evening about a year ago, and introduced himself as "Ed." A little above average in height, slim, with an angular face and dark features, he said he wanted to talk about something I'd been discussing the night before on the radio. This is a relatively common occurrence for me these days, but there was something different about this encounter, something just a little bit odd in his demeanor. Something furtive, cautious.
He said something like, "You've probably heard about me," but it didn't register until after I was already on the way back home. He was Ed Friedland, the doctor who'd killed his wife, Kim Thomas, in the summer of 1990 -- or at least almost everybody in town assumed he did. Including me. And it felt more than a little strange to think that we'd just had a friendly little chat in the breakfast cereal aisle.
I thought about him all night. He didn't seem like a man who had slashed his wife's throat and left her lying in a pool of blood on the floor of their home for more than 14 hours, with her hands cuffed behind her back, while he went to do his doctor work for the day -- leaving their adopted infant son unattended, crying in his crib in the next room.
Eventually, though, my brief encounter with Friedland faded away. Then last fall, at Friedland's request, I began to look into the case. I talked to him, then to his attorney Dave Rudolf of Chapel Hill, and I've read a mountain of documentation, much of it coming from the investigations prior to Friedland's criminal trial; some of it never having been publicly disclosed before now.
At times I've felt as if I was reading a Kafka novel. Only this is real life -- Ed Friedland's life. A nightmare. From the earliest moments after Friedland found his wife's body, evidence appears to have been grossly mishandled by investigators with little or no homicide case experience, focusing on a man for whom there seems to be no concrete evidence of guilt. Meanwhile, as was reported a year and a half ago in a four-part series by Elizabeth Leland in the Charlotte Observer, a mountain of leads, tips, eyewitness assertions and other evidence against a different man -- much of it available to the police from the earliest hours of the investigation -- appears to have been largely ignored or dismissed, with little or no rational justification.
This isn't a fugitive's quest, a wild goose chase for a mysterious one-armed man. There is an overwhelming evidentiary case pointing directly to one person. Not to Ed Friedland, but to a man with a long criminal history named Marion Gales.
Friedland's quest to clear his name and regain his reputation goes on. He has filed a wrongful death civil suit against Marion Gales, which his attorney hopes will come to trial next September.
Friedland and Rudolf made available to me parts of the evidence and testimony that's been gathered as they prepare for the civil trial. Much more, including depositions taken from numerous Charlotte Police Department investigators who've been involved with the case, remains sealed by court order, at the request of the police.
After reading the evidence and the testimony made public so far, what comes into focus is a picture of a police force understaffed and poorly trained, with inadequate co-ordination of its investigative efforts and a capacity for irrational conclusions -- and of prosecutors left in the dark about critical facts known to the police.
Maybe I wouldn't have been so inclined three years ago to accept such a tale of bungling and injustice. But after what we've all learned from the OJ Simpson case about the underside of our legal system; after questions have been raised as to the operation of the Charlotte Police Department Homicide investigative unit -- why did it take them years to figure out Henry Wallace was a serial killer? -- and after watching what law enforcement, and the media, did to Richard Jewell, falsely accused of last summer's Olympic bombing -- Friedland's nightmare seems to be all too real. And it's lasted six-and-a-half years.
The most disturbing aspect of this case, as I've read those reports which have thus far been released, is the picture of the police investigation in deciding to focus on, and pursue charges, against Friedland. It's important to note that the police have admitted that at no time has Marion Gales ever been officially ruled out as a suspect in the case -- even when Friedland was indicted for murder.
When Friedland was finally charged, the essence of their case -- there is absolutely no physical evidence to incriminate him -- was their contention that he had a motive, and that he acted suspiciously in hiring a lawyer to represent him, several weeks after the murder. But Friedland didn't hire a lawyer until he had first voluntarily given the police several opportunities to question him, even after he had already been told he was a suspect.
They've focused on several things they thought were "strange." For instance, Friedland called his office on the way to work that morning and pushed back his scheduled appointments, something the police found suspicious. But they apparently never checked to find out whether that was a common, almost everyday occurrence -- which it was.
They've mentioned as significant that the couple's dog's bedding had been moved from one room to another. (The police presumably reasoned that no thief or killer would bother to do that, which means Friedland must have. But why?) Even if this was a significant event, there's no evidence that the bedding was removed on the day of the murder.
There are serious questions as to whether the crime scene was contaminated from the beginning of the investigation. Specifically, investigators used a luminol test to reveal footprints and handprints in dried blood instead of waiting until a luma-lite test had first been performed to locate hair and fiber. The luminol test is known to scatter or disperse any hair and fiber, thus meaning that the crime scene was changed significantly, leaving investigators unable to collect possibly valuable hair or fiber evidence. This is important because police have said that Gales, who is black, is a less likely suspect because of the fact that no Negroid hair was found at the scene.
There is a crime scene photograph which is clearly a "docksider" shoeprint impression, in dried blood, which means that none of those involved in the investigation left that imprint. (The blood had dried by the time she was found, more than 12 hours after the murder.) But it took Rudolf's experts to point out that, in that same photograph, there is the distinct impression of a second, different shoe, a fact the police completely missed. Could there have been two people present when Kim was killed?
At the time of the murder, the Homicide unit had only eight investigators assigned to it. Today, there are 22 to handle essentially the same work load. Because of that shortage of manpower, individuals with limited experience were pulled in to help interview witnesses and track down leads. Some of the men initially assigned to the case -- it's hard to determine exactly who was in charge at any particular moment -- had virtually no specific training in homicide investigations.
And there was, at best, only a haphazard shell of a system to pull together the voluminous information that came from informants, friends and relatives of Thomas, Friedland, and Gale, much of it available almost immediately after the murder. Police would interview someone, hand-write some notes on a legal pad, and then, in effect, drop them in an "in box," or a file, assuming something would be done with it. Besides relatively casual conversations among those involved, there is no evidence that there was any systematic process to "staff" the case. There was never, apparently, any specific sit-down meeting, chaired by someone in charge, in which everyone would share leads, thoughts or hunches. They thought they had their man -- Friedland -- and virtually nothing seemed to sway them from that focus, regardless of how much information came in pointing to Marion Gales. And there was plenty of that, which will be detailed a bit further along in this story.
Take the handcuffs which bound Kim Thomas, for example. No one, it appears, ever tried to track down the lead concerning handcuffs Gales admitted buying at a local Army/Navy store, until after the criminal charges against Friedland had already been dropped. And only after Rudolf gave them the information from the store's owner, gathered by Rudolf's investigator, Ron Guerrette -- that the store had once sold handcuffs essentially identical to those found binding Kim Thomas. But all that officer did, in July of 1995 -- after publication of the Observer series -- was to go to the store where Gales said he'd purchased his handcuffs, and interview a clerk, who hadn't worked there very long, and who was unable to give him anything concrete to go on. Rather than asking the owner, or at least pursuing this important evidence, he just dropped it.
Or take the information given by several fellow inmates of Gales', who, with no promise of special favors for themselves, contacted those involved with the case to say Gales told them he killed Kim. Rather than treating that information delicately -- no prisoner wants to be labelled an informant -- police investigators apparently went to Gales first, telling him about the report. Not surprisingly, that informant has, since then, refused to discuss the allegations any further.
Friedland has always said he'd left their home that morning at around 7:30, and that Kim was alive when he left. The police attempted to refute that, in proceeding to trial, by offering the opinion of forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden, who came to greater public attention by his testimony in the OJ Simpson criminal trial.
In an unusual move, Charlotte police went outside their normal channels -- bypassing local and state forensic experts -- to get a letter from Baden saying that, using a physical test of a certain compound found in the human eye, it was "far more likely" that Kim had been killed before Friedland left for work, rather than later that day. It appears to have been largely on that opinion that prosecutors moved on to a trial. But Baden's opinion was specifically contradicted as baseless and vague by North Carolina experts. One said there was no way he'd ever sign his name to the letter containing Baden's conclusions. Baden, in pre-trial hearings, stated that he couldn't say, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, when the death had occurred. The judge refused to allow Baden's testimony to be included. Six days later, charges against Friedland were dropped.
It gets worse. During the criminal case pre-trial hearings in March of 1995, it became clear that the prosecutor had never been told by the police about the evidence pointing to Marion Gales. The prosecutor may have never even heard his name! When that was revealed in court, the prosecutors voluntarily dropped the charges. In some legal circles, this is considered to be a characteristic practice of the Charlotte Police. Since exculpatory evidence -- information gathered in the course of an investigation that points away from the defendant -- must be revealed by the prosecution prior to going to a trial, the police simply don't tell the District Attorney's office about anything that doesn't "fit."
Further, there seems to have been considerable confusion among the police who've been involved over the years with this case, as to who had actually been assigned as the lead investigator. No one seems to want to take responsibility. In fact, it's been re-assigned several times, and re-investigated -- with hints that no one ever seriously considered Gales a viable suspect. Even now, the same people who appear to have mishandled this case from the beginning are the ones charged with continuing the investigation.
But that investigation would have died a long time ago, if Friedland hadn't chosen to continue to try to clear his name. Police have consistently dragged their feet in releasing notes, tapes, evidence, etc., to Dave Rudolf, and, even then, the case has moved forward only at Friedland's expense.
One example: the police never did any DNA testing on blood found at the scene. Only in October of 1995, five years after the murder, did they finally take a blood sample from Marion Gales. Even then, those samples weren't sent to the FBI for another three months. As late as July, 1996, the police were still fighting Friedland's attempts to have the samples released to him for his own testing -- which he has to pay for himself. Finally, when ordered to by the court, the police handed over the samples. In addition, human hairs, not matching Ed or Kim, were found at the scene -- but they've never been tested for a match with Gales. And, to this day, the police still insist on keeping other evidence sealed from public scrutiny.
The police continue to say they're still investigating. But little or nothing seems to happen without pushing from Friedland and his attorney or media attention. Why? It seems apparent that someone, at least, in the Charlotte Police Department knows there's a real possibility that huge mistakes were made, from the first instance of the investigation -- and it's safe to say the officials are afraid that, before this is all over, they could be sued by Friedland -- both as institutions, and personally. With that in mind, what incentive do the investigators have to proceed, if one day they find conclusive proof that Friedland was wrongly targeted?
By indicting Friedland in 1994, the possibility of ever charging Gales with Kim's murder was severely compromised. Having charged one man -- just that one factor -- may, in fact, forever establish reasonable doubt about someone else's guilt, in the minds of a jury.
A Shock To The City
I remember the feeling I'd had that Saturday morning, July 28, 1990, as I drove around the bend on Wendover Road and saw the yellow tape strangely wrapped around the trees, while a patrol car sat parked on the street just beside the wooded lot.
You couldn't see the house, but right behind the wooded area was a nice, upper-middle class neighborhood, where Kim Thomas had been found dead the night before in her Churchill Road home. I'd driven around that curve on Wendover a thousand times. Across the street was the Grier Heights neighborhood -- poor, rundown, and rough, an area where Mecklenburg County had years before built its Social Services Department, the Mental Health Center, and other human services buildings, which stuck out like sore thumbs among the poor housing. Driving to work at Mental Health in the 70s and early 80s, I'd often seen the neighborhood's residents hanging out, sometimes fighting with each other. It was common to see a police car parked on one of Grier Heights's narrow, curbless streets. But just a few hundred feet away, with the four lanes of Wendover as the only physical separation, a twirling blue light and yellow tape couldn't have been more out of place.
The news of the murder was a shock to the city. Women especially were stunned; candlelight memorial services were held and "how-to-protect-yourself" seminars organized. Almost immediately, suspicion fell on Friedland, and the police did little or nothing to discourage that notion, before finally confirming it a few months later. There were stories floating around that Friedland had been having an affair, and that police wondered if he'd killed his wife because he might be afraid she wouldn't give him a divorce without a fight over money. The story began to be mentioned outside of Charlotte; even the tabloid TV program Hard Copy got into the act. No one else was ever mentioned publicly as a possible suspect. We were told Ed Friedland was cold, manipulative. Friends who had never considered him as the potential killer suddenly changed their minds and began to shun him. Kim's family, his in-laws, were convinced that he was their daughter's murderer.
Friedland, though, wasn't charged with her murder for almost four years. By then he'd become a pariah in town, but he'd also re-married -- not to the woman he'd been having an affair with -- and the new couple had started having kids of their own. But the sky finally fell in when a grand jury indicted Friedland on July 11, 1994. Television news coverage showed him being led away in handcuffs. Shortly thereafter, he was forced to resign from, and sell his interest in, his medical practice.
By the time the prosecutors dropped the charges, more than seven months later, in March of 1995, everyone thought Ed Friedland had gotten away with murder; that the police simply hadn't been able to put together enough evidence to convict him. He couldn't find a job in his specialty, and, although he was free, the police never cleared him. To this day, as far as the police are concerned, Ed Friedland is a major suspect in the butchering of his wife.
I'd always thought Friedland had beaten the rap. Except for a few momentary doubts, in the summer of 1995, when I read Elizabeth Leland's Charlotte Observer series, in which she included information about another possible suspect, Marion Gales, which made me question, for the first time, if this was as cut-and-dried a case as I'd always thought.
Ed Friedland and his second wife, Lisa, live in a large, upper-middle class house in an affluent Charlotte neighborhood, with his wife Lisa and their five children, ranging in age from one to eight years old. The oldest is Lisa's, from her first marriage. Ed and Kim's adopted son, the one who'd been left crying in his crib, is now seven.
Kim Thomas had been only 32 years old when she was murdered, but she'd begun to make a name for herself in her four years in town. She'd become a leader of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, and a vocal supporter of abortion rights; she and her friend Nancy Verruto had written A Charlotte Child: A Guide for the Pregnant Woman. An article in the Charlotte Observer on September 3, 1989, described her as representative of, "a new breed of NOW activist -- less militant, more comfortable being a wife and mother, and interested in women's issues at the grassroots level."
Friedland, a kidney specialist, had set up his own practice, Carolina Nephrology Associates, and they seemed to be doing well, a bright, attractive young couple. The only hang-up was kids; Kim couldn't become pregnant, even after three operations, fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization, so they'd adopted an infant boy, less than a year before she was killed.
Friedland admits, though, that the couple had problems with their relationship. He doesn't deny that he'd been having an affair. He even admits he and his wife had used cocaine for a time, years before, while living in Miami -- something they'd discontinued upon moving to Charlotte. But there had never been any sign, their friends initially thought, of a potential for the type of crime of which he's been accused.
Even so, a review of the record makes it startlingly clear, in what appears to be a real "rush to judgment," that the investigators who first worked on the case focused intensively on Friedland as the target of their suspicions. In fact, police early on told reporters, according to the Charlotte Observer, that "the crime apparently was not committed by someone who would strike again and called a meeting to calm worried neighbors." They made that assertion while in possession of numerous leads pointing towards Gales, a man with a violent criminal record.
A History Of Violence
Here are the allegations against Marion Gales, compiled from various police interviews and court records:
A longtime resident of Grier Heights, Gales had an extensive history of criminal activity, violence and drug abuse.
In 1979, he'd made an unforced entry into the home of another Churchill Road woman and shot her. He'd gone to jail for that offense. But that wasn't the only time he'd broken into houses, especially in that neighborhood. Friends, relatives and acquaintances have testified that he'd broken into more than 20 homes, there and elsewhere, in the first half of 1990 alone. His methodology seemed to include getting to know his targets first, both the layout of the house and area, as well as the residents, often by offering to do yardwork for them. At times, he would even steal from their homes while the owners were outside.
He stole from his friends and relatives, too, and once set his sister's boyfriend's house on fire after breaking in. In the weeks prior to Kim's murder, Gales had been hanging around her Churchill Road neighborhood doing odd jobs. Gales had a drug problem, and had reportedly escalated to injecting cocaine. His friends and relatives were worried about him, describing him as "acting crazy." They thought he'd gotten too far into the coke, that he'd "never been this bad before." In fact, when he was arrested less than a month after the murder, for stealing a truck from a Charlotte company, he'd been carrying a syringe. At various times, Gales has denied, and then later confirmed, his cocaine use.
Gales had a long history of violent acts against women. He once tried to strangle and drown a girlfriend, then raped her twice. He beat another girlfriend so badly her face was unrecognizable by her parents; he broke her ribs and put her in the hospital for a week. He'd raped and beaten one of his own sisters and beaten two others, striking one in the face and grabbing her about the neck. He'd used a knife, a pliers, and a gun as weapons. He's admitted assaulting seven different women. He'd been charged with assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon. He's described himself as having a bad temper, especially when high. Gales has denied carrying and using a knife with a 6-to-8-inch blade -- consistent with the weapon used to kill Thomas -- although one former girlfriend says he did carry such a knife. Kim Thomas had been found handcuffed. The handcuffs Gales has admitted he owned are the same type as those found on Thomas -- the same type links, finish, lock, markings, and country of origin.
In the weeks prior to the murder, Gales had, according to various witnesses, become acquainted with Thomas, doing odd jobs around the house -- although he's denied ever having met her. One of Kim's best friends, who early on identified a photograph of Gales, told police that Gales had once come walking through the woods behind Kim's home -- from the direction of Grier Heights. The friend described an occasion where Gales came to the door of Kim's house, where he could watch the direction she took to her office, where she went to get cash to pay him for his work. Later, the police would find that her office had clearly been searched by the killer. Gales apparently had lots of cash the day after the killing, offering his brother-in-law $500 to drive him out of the area that evening.
At 5:30am, on the morning of the murder, Gales knocked on the door of a neighbor of Ed and Kim's, apparently high on drugs, claiming to be an undercover police officer, trying to get the homeowner to come out of the house. He was identified by that neighbor as having a disfigured jaw, the result of a gunshot wound. He was wearing, according to that neighbor and others, a red shirt and tan pants, and was wearing "docksider" shoes -- consistent with a shoeprint found in Kim's house. He was seen that morning wearing gloves; there was a gloved handprint found in Thomas' office. Later that day, he stole clothes from his brother-in-law, who described him as "acting strange, worried, and tore-up," and wearing the same type of clothing described by Thomas' neighbor.
On the evening of the murder, Gales was identified by friends and relatives as having scratches and blood on him. Later, Gales left the Grier Heights area to stay for several weeks in another part of Charlotte across town.
There is much more. Too much to be fully recounted here. Gales' photograph was identified by friends and neighbors of Thomas; his brother-in-law called the police, less than 24 hours after the murder, to tell them he thought Marion had killed her. Other friends and relatives suspected his involvement within days after the murder. And Gales has no alibi for the time period of the killing. The circumstantial evidence goes on and on.
If Ed Friedland killed his wife, and has gotten away with it -- why wouldn't he just drop all of this and go away? If you were guilty, would you continue to push for investigations, at great emotional and financial expense, when there was a possibility something might point back at you? Would you take that risk?
Friedland has been unable to find employment in his specialty since leaving his practice in 1994 -- virtually anywhere in the country. He's a marked man, and has been forced to commute each week to Charleston, SC, where he works Monday through Friday at a clinic as a staff physician, while his wife stays home to care for their children. He wants his life back.
Maybe soon, he'll get it. Rudolf is tenacious in his efforts to pursue Marion Gales as well as questions involving the police handling of the investigation. Depositions in Friedland's civil suit against Gales have continued to be taken as recently as two weeks ago. Last week, Rudolf went to depose Gales in prison, but Gales refused to say anything. He says he's hiring a lawyer.
And so I continue to ask myself, over and over, whether I'm missing something, whether Ed Friedland has managed to con me -- but I just don't see it. It would be easy to resort to some kind of journalistic shield of detachment, of impartiality, to qualify my remarks. But, after reviewing mounds and mounds of documentation -- I can't do that. Put plainly, I started out believing Ed Friedland was a murderer who'd gotten away, but I don't anymore.
I think he's innocent. And I think he's been horribly treated by investigators -- I use that word guardedly -- who don't seem to have been able to see the plain truth in front of them, who've needed Dave Rudolf to show them, logically and in great detail, what should have been obvious from Day One.
Next Monday night, at 8pm, Ed Friedland will be my guest on WBT radio for his first live broadcast interview. You'll get to hear his story, in greater detail than is possible here, as I have -- from his own mouth. I know it's hard to give up impressions we've all shared, judgments we've all rendered, about this case, for years.
But we owe it to him, finally, to listen. And the police and other law enforcement officials around here owe him the effort -- the courage -- to own up to their mistakes. I don't think there was anything intentionally done of harm to Friedland, but that doesn't excuse a gross injustice. It's time, I think, for the police to clear his name, once and for all. It's the least they, and we, can do. After six-and-a-half years.
Jerry Klein's talk-show on 1110AM WBT (99.3FM) airs Monday-Friday, 8-11pm, and Sunday 9-11pm. Check out Jerry's Internet web-site at: jerryk.com
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