|Birth: ||Aug. 10, 1964|
|Death: ||Aug. 23, 1980|
This is a paper about a murder case I wrote for a class in college. It may help add some information. You can use it as long as you give proper credit. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
People deserve to know who she was and what happened with her case. Her killer has never been brought to justice.
This story begins on August 23, 1980 in Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas. In his novel Nick Davies describes Conroe as "a town that the civil rights movement had all but forgotten" (pp 39; 1991)
Sixteen year old Cheryl Dee Fergesen went missing during a volleyball tournament being held at the school. Upon hearing of the disappearance some of the janitors joined in the search to find her. Clarence Brandley and another one of the janitors at Conroe High, Icky Peace, found her body in the loft above the auditorium. It was clear she had been raped and strangled. Clarence was the only black custodian, the others were white. Police initially interrogated Brandley, and the other janitor Henry Icky Peace together, and according to Peace said "One of you's is gonna have to hang for this," and looking at Clarence said "cause you're the n**ger, you're elected!"
The investigation or lack thereof primarily consisted of the Sheriffs office predetermining that of all the janitors present at the school that day Clarence had the most means and opportunity. Thus they set upon making him the focus of their investigation from the get go, instead of including Clarence within a larger pool of suspects, checking out everyone until they were left with the person with the most means, and opportunity for whom evidence actually existed. I mean who would have thought that crimes could be investigated in such an objective manner?
Clarence was effectively arrested less than 7 days after the victim was murdered. The results from the autopsy, hair samples, saliva samples, as well as Cheryl's vaginal swabs had not yet been returned to the police at this point, so they were of course going on their gut by arresting him. When later asked in a court of law why he did not demand saliva and pubic hair samples from the other janitors so they could be tested against the hairs found on Cheryl Fergesen's body, Ranger Styles said "I dunno why, I guess it wasn't done I just didn't do it." Apparently that remark was good enough for DA James Keeshan to believe that Clarence solely committed the murder. However its funny that of all the hairs that were found on the dead girls body none matched him, nor the victim. There were two Caucasian pubic hairs found, as well as blood on the victims sock and blouse which when tested proved to be Type A. It should be held for the record and stated in the novel, that Clarence was blood type O. …So how did this case against Brandley ever get to trial?
Nick Davies powerfully recounts in his novel how the labyrinth of false justice continued to build up against Brandley. It began with the acceptance of an illegal bail bond amount by Judge Sam Robertson when the original had already been decided upon in court. The recusal of one judge to the acceptance of another version more racially bias than the original predecessor.
Nick Davies describes to readers how Brown and Morris had a hell of a time getting the judges to enforce the most basic of discovery laws in evidence against the prosecution so they could build an effective defense. They could not get the autopsy report, nor the results from the rape kit done on Cheryl's body. James Keeshan stonewalled and deadpanned until he finally admitted the swabs had been lost and destroyed. REALLY?? In trial Brown and Morris placed a Houston detective on the stand whom had investigated over 200 rapes in his career. They asked him how common it would be for vaginal swabs taken from a rape-murder victim to be destroyed either before or after the report was filed? The Houston special victims cop told Brown and Morris that this would be "highly irregular." Even back in the early 1980s, the procedure for such swabs was to preserve and protect them at all costs, hence they would be needed at a later date."
I concur. As an amateur consumer of forensic science literature and love of all legal, I can ascertain myself personally that any citizen with a basic grade twelve education would have the capacity to conclude that both sides of the coin, defense and prosecution, should have high vested interest in the safeguarding and preservation of such swabs for future validation of guilt or innocence. I don't know about the feelings of Nick Davies, however I personally find it hard to believe that a Harvard-educated forensic pathologist with the reputation put forth by Nick Davies in his book, would come close to losing such precious evidence or not properly preserving it for future analysation. I just find this beyond the law of averages for a man's education and experience in conducting over 2000 autopsies for which many of them were suspected sexually related homicides. I mean, how many coincidences does it take to constitute a conspiracy?
By the end of Clarence's two trials, the first which ended in a hung jury, the second which at the helm of Judge John Martin, ended in the conviction and the sentencing of Clarence to Huntsville's death row where he would remain for a solid decade, the judges had effectively ruled against defense motions to provide reasonable doubt for their client 199 times out of 205 motions. Those remaining motions in favour of the defense had to be fought for tooth and nail in separate closed hearings for which the jury would not be allowed to participate. This jumping through hoops to present your case, was an activity only extended to the defense, the prosecution was allowed to present any evidence it wanted at trial, even if it was later found that Keeshan knew this information to be blatantly false. The prosecution was never challenged.
Anytime Brown and Morris, Clarence's attorneys tried to question the prosecutions experts on where the vaginal swabs from the rape kit disappeared to; where were the victims clothes that had been retrieved from the dumpster and taken to the lab to be tested against Clarence's voluntarily blood and saliva samples; where were the socks that were tested to not be consistent with Clarence's blood type and the report to the effect; and where were the photographs from the crime scene. The prosecution jumped up and objected to each and every evidentiary question to which both Judge Sam Robertson and Judge John Martin, acquiesced and said to the effect - the jury shall not hear that information! The judges objected to the jury hearing the most basic information for which they had a fundamental responsibility to take into deliberations with them before sentencing a man to his death.
In truth Clarence Brandley never had even the slightest of chance to fairly present his defense to the jury of Conroe in either trial. By 1982, he was effectively both a silenced, and a condemned man. The walls were closing in.
In this case what shocked me was the lengths that District Attorney James Keeshan would go to win, and sustain his win throughout the years. This ranged from deliberately misleading the jury, losing and misplacing important scientific evidence and court documents, and attempting to hide this from the defense. Hiding other valid tips that witnesses had called in, and totally pretending they never existed. Tips that would have provided more than reasonable doubt for Clarence in the eyes of a jury. This sort of evidence in law is known as exculpatory evidence, and thus evidence which must be passed on to the defense. Jim Keeshan knew this, but did not do so. The latter included.
The defense attorneys found out 6 years too late that a woman named Brenda Medina had told her lawyer that her then live in boyfriend, a James Dexter Robinson, had confided in her that he had killed a girl and placed her body in the loft above the auditorium. He told her he had to get out of town quickly and left for South Carolina. It is important to mention that James Dexter Robinson, as well as his father were employed at Conroe High School as part-time janitors. Icky Peace in his original interrogation had told Ranger Styles that more people than Clarence had master keys to the auditorium. He had in fact loaned Clarence Robinson, James' father, a set which he never got back. James Dexter Robinson later told authorities when this came to light that he had nothing to do with the murder of Cheryl Fergesen, he had been referring to another case and had only said that to scare Medina so she would get off his back about child support.
Ed Payne, one of the janitor's father-in-law, told defense investigator Ray Reyna, that his daughter's husband - Gary Acreman, had come home from work on the day of that woman's murder hysterical and very nervous. Saying a woman had been killed at the school. This was interesting for the fact that Gary Acreman insisted on the stand to the jury and Ranger Styles, that he had not known a murder had even occurred at the school until the following Monday as Clarence had let him go before the search party started. He also told Ed Payne that he saw the murderer dump the victims clothes in a trash bag in the dumpster behind the school and place broken tiles over them. This was in fact an aspect of the case not published in the papers.
*Gary Acreman, one of the four janitors, had originally said that Clarence had come down the hall with paper towel in his arm, missing Cheryl by a good 20 minutes. They had been waiting by the staircase, him and John Sessum for Clarence to come and give them their next assignment for the day. He originally told Ranger Styles that Clarence told them he would be having a smoke and for them to go over to the conference building and he would be over to open it up within five minutes. The janitors all agreed in their original statements that Clarence took ten minutes tops. In his refined version however, Acreman states they waited a good 45 minutes for Clarence, hence according to the prosecutions theory giving him opportunity to commit the rape and murder.
*James Keeshan knew full well that it was in fact not Clarence who last had contact with the victim, but one of the four original janitors Gary Acreman. John Sessum one of the original four told Wesley Styles he had been at the bottom of the stairs when Cheryl Fergesen had gone up to use the female washroom. Gary Acreman followed up behind her. He heard Cheryl say, "NO, DON'T" and Gary Acreman and another janitor with a crease down his face (later identified in pictures as James Dexter Robinson), who no longer worked at the school pulled Fergesen into the girls washroom and locked it. A good ten minutes later Clarence came down the hall with the paper towel and Gary came out of the washroom and told Clarence not to go in there, there was a girl in there. Clarence said he would not, placed the paper towel in the men's washroom and went on his way. Sheriff Styles told him if he did not change his statement to Acreman's version he would also become a suspect quick. Sessum did what he was told and changed his statement from the original 5 minute wait for Clarence, to the 45 minute wait, including Cheryl being within sight of Clarence when he came down the hall with an armful of paper towel.
*Cheryl Bradford a volleyball player on the Conroe High team on the day Cheryl went missing had called Conroe Police to tell them that she had seen two men exit from the back of the stage during the match, cut across the auditorium and exit the gym only a good two to three hours before Cheryl's body was found. Between the two, these men had black shaggy hair, and brownish reddish hair respectively. Her lead was never followed nor was she ever contacted again after giving her name and phone number to the police. Years later CBS 60 minutes did an expose on the case including Gary Acreman and James Dexter Robinson's photos. Cheryl called both Conroe Police again, as well as Clarence's defense attorneys and told them without a doubt the man with black hair was definitely one of the two men she had seen exiting behind the stage on that day due to the fact that the man with black hair had looked her way and she found his dark screechy eyes unsettling.
She told Brown she had never forgotten them. John Sessum also described Robinson's eyes as being "dark, deep set and screechy like." This is the first person, outside of the the individuals concerned, who can possibly place Robinson at the school that day. What's more provoking is since according to his own testimony he had already left his job with Conroe High School, he had no business being at the school on August 23rd, 1980, therefore his presence is more noteworthy and corroborative than Clarence Brandley's was. What in fact was he doing there? Visiting Acreman? Prowling the premises? I find it important to mention that the notorious James Dexter Robinson, just as the noteworthy Brian Dugan in DuPage, has a documented history of violence against women.
Another janitor that had not been at the school the day of the murder refuted Dexter Robinson's account of him having left for South Carolina by August the 5th as he told prosecutors and Clarence's defense attorneys. He said he had a run in with Robinson on August 21st, 1980, over money owed for Amway products. This was a mere two days before Cheryl was killed. This fits in with Medina's earlier assertion and giving credibility to Cheryl Bradford's sighting of James Dexter Robinson on the day of the murder.
All the above noted evidence was presented to Judge Perry Pickett during an evidentiary hearing into both trials. After hearing all the information, reading endless trial transcripts, notes, evidence, recantatations, admissions, lost evidence, the video taped admissions of Henry Icky Peace, John Sessum, Gary Acreman, and finally listening to the testimony of James Dexter Robinson himself, whom denied he had been anywhere near Conroe on the day of the August 23rd, 1980. Judge Perry Pickett produced a scathing 126 page report directed to the court of appeals, recommending Clarence Brandley's conviction be overturned, and that he be freed from death row. It is to me, the up most of irony that in a little racist town, in the heart of Texas, the first politically conservative judge to stand on the Brandley trial would be the one to overturn his conviction and kick precedent in the face. Despite his conservative stance on violent crime and the death penalty, Judge Perry Pickett was described in Nick Davies' novel as being "no sufferer of fools" by his colleagues on the bench. He outright labelled colleagues James Keeshan and Sheriff Wesley Styles "complete and unequivocal liars" in his report. His final statement to the court during the hearing is taken literally word-for-word straight from Nick Davies' book "White Lies" page 392.
"The litany of events graphically described by the witnesses, some of it chilling and shocking, leads me to the conclusion that the pervasive shadow of darkness has obscured the light of fundamental decency and human rights."
He also continued to say;
"In the thirty years this court has presided over matters in the judicial system, no case has presented a more shocking scenario of the effects of racial prejudice, perjured testimony, [and] witness intimidation. The continued incarceration of Clarence Lee Brandley under these circumstances is an affront to the basic notions of fairness and justice." Judge Perry Pickett. Galveston, Texas, 1989.
The criminal court of appeals took Pickett's advice, and in a split decision of 6-3 overturned Clarence's conviction and advised he be allowed a new trial. He was released from Death Row and has since become a minister of God and a licensed electrician. Due to legal debts and lost wages he has tried his best through the years since his release to get minimal compensation, but that has been denied him due to "excuses of prosecutorial immunity". I was not aware prosecutorial misconduct was an immunity issue.
According to Nick Davies in 1996 he got married and left Conroe for good. He has never returned. Neither Gary Acreman, nor James Dexter Robinson have ever been pursued for further questioning in the death of Cheryl Fergesen. Her murder remains unsolved though technically still attributed to Clarence Brandley, in absentia of other suspects.
Whether James Dexter Robinson has any culpability in the death of Cheryl Fergesen remains to be seen. However I personally have no doubt that the mystery of this poor young woman's violent end lays in the lap of Gary Acreman, and the original four janitors at Conroe High, who conspired at the behest of Styles and Keeshan, to cast Clarence in an ill light during trial, despite having made original statements exonerating him. What I do find interesting is that Acreman is a blood type A, same type found on the blood on Cheryl's socks and blouse. Had his DNA been collected sufficiently and compared with Cheryl's in the earlier days of the investigation perhaps this miscarriage of justice onto Clarence Brandley would not have occurred. Today using his blood, and the blood taken from Cheryl Fergesen's socks and blouse, as well as the lost vaginal swabs scientists would have been able to extract and amplify from the nucleus a pattern of uniqueness in human DNA, known as polymorpshisms. Using a technique known as Short Tandem Repeat and Polymerase Chain Reaction, ampify these extractions for comparison to identify the donor of the semen and blood. This is the result of technology we refer to as RFLP, or DNA analysis.
However there is a good chance today due to the degradation and age of the forensic samples in the Brandley case, that the best possible chance of producing any DNA comparison would be through a process scientists term Mitochondrial DNA analysis. The process is the same, however the material is taken from mitochondrial of the cell instead of the nucleus. This technique is particularly suited for cases where time has been an essential issue, and DNA may have become degraded in the nuclei. (Biochemistry, An introductory Manual. 1997)
This case has been so tragic, so sad a novel to read, so much information collected through the years, evidence lost. I truly believe that evil flourishes when good people sit back and do nothing. In this case there was a lot of ignorance, but there were many people towards the end who mustered up enough courage to tell the truth and laid their safety and reputations on the line to help Clarence Brandley. I believe them to be a symbolism of the eventual light in despite of the pervasive darkness in this case spoken so eloquently by Judge Perry Pickett. In his report to the District Court of Appeals in 1989.
In regards to the present status quo in this case... it now stands in the same legal foot hold of near absolute dissolution according to law, but the unclear fuzzy moral space that Rolando Cruz occupied in 1995 when his final conviction was overturned and Chicago judges had declared that justice had been denied in Du Page. In the end it was the people, the people of Chicago who fought and protested in the streets for Du Page politicians and attorneys to bring Brian Dugan back to the drawing board, start from scratch and make a case against him without his confession, which was deemed not legal in court because it had been made to his attorneys during plea bargain negotiations.
In the pursuit of justice we must hold ourselves to high standards, for if we become like the James Keeshan's of the world, subjectivity enters the picture, our own taste for vengeance and blood leads us down the road to something darker, not justice, but more like personal ambition and all loss of objective logic. We must treat all defendants, whether we believe them to be guilty like Brian Dugan, or innocent like Clarence Brandley and Rolando Cruz with the same standard of treatment and due process in the law.
For if we demand a high standard from the prosecution, and the defense makes it's case with the jury hearing every story, any probability that he might not be guilty, and after all that... we still, according to the laws of probabilities, find he is guilty? The justice system has worked. Those are the tenants of the law that our system was built on. As unredemptive as Brian Dugan is, when I heard he had finally been indicted of capitol murder in the Jeanine Nicarico case, I prayed for nothing but a fair trial for him. He got it. He had the best technical and psychiatric experts that money could buy. Sadly and ironically, he got a fairer trial than the innocent men that had preceeded him. Brian Dugan was effectively tried, found guilty due to his DNA being matched to Nicarico, excluding the chance that anyone else could have commited the crime, and sentenced to death by a group of his peers for the brutal and tragic death of a ten year old little girl, for which he had stood by and allowed an innocent man to take the blame for ten years.
I wish in the deepest core of my soul, and with every fabric of my being, the same fate of Cheryl's killers and in turn good fortune for Clarence Brandley in so that his name may finally be cleared, free to step out of the shadow of legal dissolvement, into light of dissolvement to an absolute moral certainty. I believe the last chapter of Clarence Brandley's story has yet to be written.
Just as in Du Page … it's up to the people!
Cleveland Lee Fergeson (1930 - 2010)
Sylvia Ruth Timmerman Fergeson (1939 - 1979)
Oak Knoll Cemetery
Created by: Geno-seeker
Record added: Feb 19, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 33992186
We were the same age when you died and I have over the years wondered about you and your family. I pray they found peace.|
Added: Apr. 25, 2016
I remember your sweet disposition and the fun times we shared. R.I.P.|
Added: Mar. 7, 2016
Added: Nov. 23, 2015
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