Derrick Stricklin was convicted of two counts of murder following a jury trial and is serving a life sentence in Nebraska. He is completely innocent.
On December 2, 2012 Carlos Morales and Bernardo Noriega, two notorious drug traffickers, were found dead in Morales' auto body repair shop by Morales' fiancée, at approximately 2.15pm. Both men had been shot.
The Crime Scene
Morales was laying on a shell casing, and Noriega had an entry wound in his face. One of the victims was bound at the wrists, the other had a cord around one wrist. There was blood spatter at three different locations, at three different heights, and a bullet hole in the other room. There were signs of a struggle within the area marked off as the "crime scene", and a large handprint in blood on a table, within the scene area as though someone had tried to wipe it off. Outside the scene area, blood was found at the bottom of a wall, far away from where the bodies were located.
Members of Noriega's family went to the police, telling them that they believed that Jose Herrera-Gutierrez, another drug dealer, had killed the men. He had been coming around, threatening them, giving differing versions of what he claimed had happened, saying that the "Mexicans" or "the Blacks" did it.
Two days after the killing, the police eventually contacted Gutierrez by telephone, telling him they believed he was "a victim" and invited him to come and give a statement. Gutierrez, who is a member of the MS-13 gang, told the police a story about what happened:
He claimed that, Morales had asked Gutierrez to get him some cocaine, as he had a buyer; that Gutierrez and Noriega arrived at Morales' body shop at about 11.30am with the cocaine, and when they went in, two men that he claimed to have recognized from their prior visits to the shop, were already in the office when they got there.
Further, Gutierrez claimed that the men had cash in a clear plastic bag, but instead of going through with the deal, they pulled guns, ordered all three men to get down on the ground, tied Gutierrez’s wrists, wrapped plastic around his face, and pulled a plastic bag over his head.
Gutierrez testified that, they had tied the other two men, and pulled bags over their heads as well. He then heard 2 or 3 shots, screaming, then another shot.
Gutierrez testified that the men had shot the two in the back of the head, "execution style". They then took the bag off his head, untied his wrists and left.
Gutierrez left the shop in a panic, got picked up by a passing car, and went to see Noriega's family to tell them what had happened, telling them a variety of stories.
At Trial, the Prosecutor claimed that when provided with a photo array, Gutierrez eventually picked out Derrick Stricklin and Terrell Newman as the men he claimed to have seen previously in the shop, 3 or 4 times. The investigation then turned to Stricklin and Newman.
Derrick Stricklin #79759
Nebraska State Penitentiary
PO Box 2500
Lincoln, NEBRASKA 68452
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The evidence against Stricklin and Newman consisted of the identification by Gutierrez and cell phone records. The records showed that calls to and from a cell phone had "pinged" off a tower located in a parking lot near the crime scene. The cell phone was owned by a former girlfriend of Newman, and purportedly showed calls between Newman and Morales, and Newman and Stricklin, on the morning of December 12, 2012.
The State asserted that Stricklin and Newman had been at the crime scene from between 11.42am and 12.36pm. Stricklin had a prior record for a drug offense, and the Police ran with the theory. However, the evidence caused problems with the story.
The story told by Gutierrez did not fit the evidence.
· The blood spatter evidence does not match his description of the shootings, with spatters in different locations around the shop, completely inconsistent, with two men having been shot in the back of the head execution style, while face down on the floor
· If Noriega were face down on the floor when shot, he could not have an entry wound IN HIS FACE
· If Morales were face down on the floor, there could be no shell casing found UNDER HIS BODY.
· No plastic bag or cords were found at the crime scene, to corroborate Gutierrez's claims, of having been tied up and his head wrapped and bagged
· No marks on his wrists from having been tied up and struggling
· Only one of the men had his wrists tied, the other had only one tied, and these cords were subjected to DNA testing, where a single male donor was determined to have touched the cords. The donor was neither Stricklin nor Newman, both of whom are excluded by the DNA evidence
· The evidence at the crime scene showed only three men went into the shop, and only one went out. The only person known to have left the shop was Gutierrez. There were no corresponding footprints to even suggest that anyone except Gutierrez, Morales and Noriega were present.
Other Evidentiary Conflicts
· The cell phone was purchased by Newman's ex-girlfriend, who was investigated and charged with drug and weapons charges. Thereby, she was forced to testify against Newman by stating that she had purchased the phone "for him". The fact is that Newman used the phone only once or twice (well over a month prior to the shootings), and it remained IN HER POSSESSION ever since. The call supposedly linking Stricklin to having been in phone contact with Newman, was to the ex-girlfriend, with whom Stricklin was friends.
· Falsified line-up at Trial - it was proven that despite the prosecutors claims, no line-up ever occurred. A video was shown purporting to be the line-up, but on cross examination, it was admitted that someone other than Stricklin had been in “spot number 1”, but he was pulled out, and it was alleged it had been Stricklin in spot number 1. The identity of the person who was in that spot, was never revealed, but it was revealed that no actual line-up had ever been conducted. Further, it was admitted that the police committed misconduct relating to the falsified line-up video.
· Stricklin's cell phone records proved he was miles away at 12.34pm, making a call, 2 minutes before he allegedly left the crime scene, a physical impossibility.
· Newman's cell phone, the one that was his, and which he had on him, when he was arrested. proved he made a call that pinged off the "crime scene tower”, however the call also pinged off succeeding westerly towers, at 40th Street, 60th Street, 90th Street and 156th Street, miles away from the crime scene during the timeline he was purportedly at the scene (and in the opposite direction from Stricklin).
· To this day it has never been truly revealed how Stricklin and Newman got dragged into this case in the first place.
During Trial, the Prosecution relied solely upon Gutierrez and the records from the girl's cell phone, to attempt to implicate Stricklin and Newman in the crime. The Defense Attorneys' performance was minimal and pathetic. They failed to put up an adequate Defense in many ways.
Counsel failed to question Newman's ex-girlfriend about the truth of the cell phone, or to properly challenge the State's case at all.
Both Stricklin and Newman have alibis. Stricklin took his stepson to the barbershop, in downtown Omaha, miles away from the crime scene, at approximately 10am. After the haircut, they left about noon. They then drove to his grandmother's house, near 36th Street, using the North Freeway, and made a phone call along the way at 12:34pm, both the time and place of this call are established by his cell phone records, and clearly show that he was miles away while he was supposedly at the crime scene. Counsel brought no witnesses to prove this, despite having been told about them.
Newman has a solid alibi with multiple credible witnesses during the time period in which the crime occurred. Newman has two witnesses, Kevin Riley and Janet Mariscal who place him at Clayton's BBQ Shop and following that, he went to Chubbs Food store where both the service counter employee and the cashier identified him as having been there, right in the middle of the time the crime was occurring.
Trial Counsels failure to properly investigate and present these witnesses at Trial, has resulted in a Court Order for an Evidentiary Hearing by the Appellate Court which is pending at this time in the Trial Court.
There were issues with the jury in the case. Not only did one of the jurors know both Defendants and have a bad prior history with them. Another juror was visually intimidated, by a woman in the gallery, who knew the Defendants, and blamed Stricklin for the death of a family member. Stricklin was not involved in this crime, and was cleared, but she still blamed him, and glared at the woman on the jury. Even having conversations with jurors during trial breaks in the courthouse hallway.
A Hearing was held on these issues, and the Trial Court found "no errors". Notably, after Trial, juror Affidavits confirmed all these facts. They further stated, the only reason the jury found them guilty, is because they did not testify. This is a clear constitutional violation, mandating reversal, as it is absolutely prohibited, for a jury to consider the fact that a Defendant does not testify at Trial.
The Court refused to follow the law and vacate the tainted convictions on this point as well, despite it being confirmed at a Hearing.
The Police and Prosecutors ignored and withheld the fact that there were other suspects in this case. A confidential informant provided information, that was initially withheld from the Defense, that Morales was being targeted by a local gang, who wanted a "drug tax" for operating in their territory, and that he had refused to pay, and was being threatened. The informant said that the person tasked to kill Morales was named "Sip", a nickname that neither Stricklin nor Newman ever went by.
In addition, the Police had information that Marcus Jefferson and James Main had committed the killings and had motives to do so. The Police ignored these suspects. None of this was brought out at Trial.
The convictions for Stricklin and Newman were upheld on Appeal, and a Post-Trial motion about the juror misconduct resulted in a Hearing, which confirmed all facts. However, after the judge decided in a ruling to ignore the substance of the Affidavit, and provided counsel to the jurors, the judge eventually refused to grant relief.
A subsequent Post-Conviction Petition which raised claims including ineffective counsel, for failing to present the alibi evidence, failing to present other witnesses for the Defendants, and other areas of error by counsel, as well as other issues, was also denied without a Hearing. On appeal, the Nebraska Court of Appeals determined that the Trial Court erred in denying the Petition without a Hearing, on the points relating to alibi witnesses, and evidence, as well as other witnesses excluded from Trial, and remanded for a Hearing, in August of 2018. (Published decision at 300 Neb. 794, 916 NW2d 413)
A similar ruling was made for Newman.
Derrick Strickin and Terrell Newman still await the promised Hearing on the evidence to prove their innocence.
Terrell Newman's web page is in the process of being built, and will appear in the next few days.
Documentary evidence to support Messrs Stricklin and Newman's innocence will be uploaded during the course of the next few weeks.