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Crime Case of North Texas woman stabbed, set on fire rests on 'blade of grass,' lawyer says

01:45  17 february  2020
01:45  17 february  2020 Source:   msn.com

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North Texas case of woman stabbed , set on fire rests on ‘ blade of grass ,’ lawyer says . By Kaley Johnson. February 16, 2020 05:30 AM. Maxwell’s lawyer , Barry Green, said Wise County’s case against Maxwell is insufficient and based almost entirely on “a single blade of grass ” that had

Two correctional officers, identified only by their surnames, Faye and Dalton, laughed as the four black inmates were brutally stabbed in June 2017, the suit says . The incident was captured on surveillance footage and viewed by millions.

In the pre-dawn hours of July 5, 32-year-old Lauren Whitener was stabbed 18 times and set on fire while lying on her bed in her Lake Bridgeport home.

a close up of an airplane: Police tape at a crime scene.© Ivan Bliznetsov/Getty Images Police tape at a crime scene.

Two months later, Whitener’s neighbor, Rodney (Aric) Maxwell, was arrested and charged with her murder.

Maxwell’s lawyer, Barry Green, said Wise County’s case against Maxwell is insufficient and based almost entirely on “a single blade of grass” that had Whitener’s blood on it.

Green filed a motion to reduce Maxwell’s bond on Feb. 4. The Wise County District Attorney’s Office was reviewing the motion.

“The brutality of the crime makes it unusual, and I’ll certainly admit that,” Green said. “But the fact that this is truly a whodunit, and to this day remains a whodunit mystery, makes it unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

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The stabbed woman , who police said was covered in blood, was expected to survive her multiple wounds, Garcia said . Detectives said earlier in the day that their investigation was focused on finding on one particular person in connection with the fire , homicide and attempted murder.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin says investigators are confident they have the right man, and are looking forward to making their case against Maxwell in court. Whitener’s family and best friends firmly believe Maxwell killed Whitener.

“We feel our hearts have completely been ripped out,” Whitener’s mom, Julie Johnson, said. “He completely took from us something so valuable and God-given that will never be replaced.”

Whitener’s life revolved around her then-8-year-old son. and she loved her job as a surgical tech, her best friend, Ashley Fowler, and her mother said. She had been in the military and served a couple of tours overseas, but she did not talk about it much. She was charismatic, made friends easily and “would lay down her life for her friends,” her mother said.

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Fowler and Whitener both worked in the surgical ward at Wise Health System hospital. Whitener made friends with everyone at work, whether it was her coworkers in surgical tech or with strangers in the elevator.

“The people that she loved, she loved very, very hard,” Fowler said.

Johnson said her daughter had overcome a lot to get to where she was.

“She was living in the best place she had ever lived, had the best friends she had ever had, the best job she could hope for,” Johnson said. “And it was all ripped out from under her.”

Whitener’s murder

Whitener spent a good amount of time with Maxwell and his common-law wife, Ashley Hill, according to neighbors and friends. Johnson said her daughter had barbecues with them, and her son played on the neighbors’ trampoline with Maxwell and Hill’s children.

The day before Whitener died in her home, she spent the Fourth of July with Maxwell and Hill. Her roommate, Jessica Bishop, was not home and her son was out of town. Maxwell, Hill and Whitener spent the day drinking and eating Chinese food in their adjacent duplexes on North Main Street.

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" Blade of Grass " is the forty-fifth episode in the fifth season of Adventure Time. It is the one hundred and forty-ninth episode overall. When Finn tries to replace his broken sword with a grass sword, he learns the new one is cursed.

Amazingly, Blades of Grass turned around and subsequently repeated the same scenario with "I Love You Alice B. Toklas," competing with the version by Harpers Bizarre, leading one to wonder if it wasn't bad management rather than bad luck that ultimately haunted them.

That night, Maxwell and Hill got into an argument. A neighbor later told detectives the three had previously had a threesome, and Maxwell was jealous of Hill and Whitener’s relationship, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The neighbor told detectives Maxwell went to his house on July 4th after this argument and talked to him about it. Maxwell said he had grabbed Hill by the jaw during their fight, and Whitener jumped between them, according to the neighbor.

The neighbor told detectives he “felt in his heart Rodney killed (Whitener)“ based on the way Maxwell looked during that conversation.

After the argument with Maxwell, Whitener and Hill left and went to Whitener’s house to watch fireworks. Afterward, Whitener asked Hill to stay, but Hill decided to go back home, according to court documents.

At 4:20 a.m., the man in the adjoining unit to Whitener called 911 because his wife smelled smoke from Whitener’s side of the duplex.

Firefighters found Whitener’s body inside her bedroom on top of a severely burnt mattress, according to a police report. She had stab wounds across her upper back and neck. Someone had removed smoke detectors from the walls and doused Whitener in lighter fluid and set her, the mattress and pieces of furniture in the house on fire.

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Both of Whitener’s cats and one of her two dogs also died in the fire.

Fowler was working at the hospital when one of the doctors said there had been a fire at a house by the lake, and police found a woman’s body. Fowler called Whitener and her roommate, Jessica, but didn’t hear back.

Ten minutes later, the doctor came back.

“She said it was the duplexes at the lake and it’s the last house on the left, and my heart sank to my toes and I started calling Lauren and Jessica over and over and over,” Fowler said. “Jessica answered and she said, ‘It’s bad. Lauren didn’t make it.’”

Fowler called Whitener’s mom and told her something was very wrong. Johnson rushed to her daughter’s house.

“I had an absolute meltdown whenever I found out my daughter had been there burning for hours,” she said. “The funeral director said he had never, ever seen anything like it in his life.”

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation because Lake Bridgeport does not have its own police department.

“I’m a retired Texas Ranger,” Sheriff Akin said. “I’ve worked quite a few murders in my career, and this one was as complex as any I’ve ever worked before. I give a lot of credit to the investigators who worked so hard as well as the Texas Rangers, who worked with us.”

Wise County detectives collected items of interest, swabbed for DNA and searched for traces of blood in Whitener and Maxwell’s homes, according to arrest and search warrant affidavits. They took a red can of gasoline and a bottle of lighter fluid from Maxwell’s house and tested both for human blood.

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According to the arrest warrant for Maxwell, the lighter fluid bottle tested positive for the possibility of blood.

But Green said detectives did not test the lighter fluid bottle — according to the list of items sent to a forensic lab, the swab was actually from the pantry floor next to the bottle. The swab tested negative for blood, Green said. .

Five other items were also sent to forensics to be tested for blood. Four of those were not enough of a sample to test for blood, and one tested negative to human blood.

“Thus nothing — absolutely nothing — taken from (Maxwell’s) home on July 11th had been confirmed to be blood at the time” that Maxwell was arrested, Green wrote in a motion to reduce Maxwell’s bond.

Maxwell was also charged with two counts of attempted murder because the fire that was set could have spread to the adjoining unit, where Whitener’s neighbors — a man and his pregnant wife — were sleeping. He was also charged with attempted capital murder of the woman’s unborn child.

‘A single blade of grass’

On July 17, about two weeks after Whitener was killed, detectives returned to her house to test the area for more blood. Using a chemical that lights up blue when it reacts with blood, the investigators sprayed the back yard of Whitener’s house to the edge of Maxwell and Hill’s fence.

The area illuminated, showing a “path” of blood leading the 50 feet from Whitener’s back door to her neighbor’s back gate, according to the arrest affidavit. The grass in that area tested positive for blood.

A blade of that grass was sent to a lab in California. On Aug. 30, an article in the Wise County Messenger said detectives were still awaiting that lab result.

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On Sept. 4, an arrest warrant was issued for Maxwell. The warrant said the California lab confirmed the blood on the blade of grass belonged to Whitener.

Green said this timeline shows the bloody blade of grass, which returned from the lab just before Maxwell’s arrest, was seen as “the break in the case” that led detectives to arrest him.

However, Green argues the grass in that area had been contaminated by “any number of people who trampled in and out of the house and crime scene during and after the fire.”

Firefighters, onlookers and investigators had been through the area. In that two weeks, it had also rained, Green said.

“If this were a true crime novel, ‘A Single Blade of Grass’ would be an apt title,” Green wrote in the motion. “But this is not a novel. A single blade of grass is what is keeping a man presumed to be innocent in jail on bonds totaling over three-quarters of a million dollars.”

When asked about possible contamination of the crime scene, Akin said that was not a concern, and he did not believe that was the case. He also said investigators have additional evidence against Maxwell.

“There are interviews as well as additional data that has been developed, reviewed and analyzed,” he said. “Some of that has not been made public.”

Green said the Wise County Sheriff’s Office felt “an enormous amount of pressure” to solve Whitener’s murder.

“I cannot remember a murder case in Wise County that remained unsolved after 48 hours to a week,” he said. “There may have been one, but I don’t recall one in the last 25 years.”

Other evidence

Fowler said Maxwell acted suspiciously the day of Whitener’s murder, and she believes he killed her best friend.

“I absolutely think that Aric Maxwell did this,” Fowler said.

Fowler said the day of Whitener’s murder, she, Maxwell, Hill and others were sitting outside the crime scene on Whitener’s porch. Each time Maxwell described what happened the day before, his story changed, Fowler said.

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“And I just remember Aric — his fingernails looked like he had a fresh manicure,” she said. “They were so clean, more than a normal clean. And I remember that stuck in my head.”

The three smoke detectors in Whitener’s house were taken down by “the person who was involved with the cover-up of the murder,” according to the arrest affidavit for Maxwell. The smoke detector batteries were removed and thrown in a trashcan, presumably to prevent alarms from sounding when she was set on fire.

When interviewed by police, Maxwell originally said he had not touched the smoke detectors. When detectives suggested his DNA might be on them, however, he said he may have changed the batteries at some point, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The lab tested the devices and batteries for DNA, but there was not enough DNA on most of the items to determine who may have touched them.

Only one of the batteries contained enough DNA to create a DNA profile. When compared to Maxwell, Hill and another person of interest in the case, the test concluded the DNA did not belong to any of them.

Instead, the DNA was determined to belong to an unknown woman.

Akin said while investigators fully believe Maxwell is the “right person in jail,”there may have been “accomplices to this person in one way or another that would make them culpable.”

Green said Wise County detectives interrogated another person of interest after arresting Maxwell.

“It is shocking that they continued to interrogate others while saying there was probable cause to arrest Mr. Maxwell,” Green said. “That leads me to believe they aren’t convinced who murdered Ms. Whitener.”

However, Akin said it is not unusual for detectives to continue investigating right up until a trial.

“We’re a busy sheriff’s office. We don’t have that many people,” he said. “But we’re going to make sure we’ve covered all the bases and make sure nothing is left undone.”

A trial date in the case has not been set. The District Attorney’s Office was reviewing Green’s motion last week.

After his mom’s death, Whitener’s son moved with his dad to another state.

Fowler is still dealing with the death of her best friend.

“I’m still going through everything about it,” she said. “Shortly after that, I was having nightmares, I couldn’t sleep, I was scared to be home alone. I was scared to walk to my car by myself. I’m constantly just imagining her death in my head and how horrible it must have been.”

Johnson said she misses her daughter every day and wants to see Maxwell given life in prison or the death penalty — “whichever is worse.”

———

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