Who could forget this picture? Could Jerry Hobbs be innocent of capital murder?
Hobbs was taken into police custody at 10:00a.m. on May 9, 2005 and interrogated for at least 16 hours until police claim he confessed at 4:45 a.m. on May 10th. Hobbs had not slept the night before (he was out searching for his daughter) and did not sleep once in custody. While in custody, he was subject to the full battery of psychological techniques by teams of detectives in a tag team fashion. Hobbs's interrogation was not recorded (a new law requiring recording had passed in 2003 but would not become effective for a month or so), although police did prepare a typed statement which Hobbs signed.
I've always had my suspicions about Hobbs's confession. It is, to say the least, bizarre. He claims that he went looking for his daughter because she had been grounded and had left the house to play against his wishes. (He had however, been with her and her siblings flying kites earlier that day so why would he care if she went out?) When he found her, he grabbed her arm and she pulled away. At this point, Krystal pulled a little knife ("a potato knife") on him (really? sounds like police suggested this "minimization" theme of self-defense to him) He then snapped, took the knife from her, and repeatedly beat and stabbed Krystal. He then went over to Laura and stabbed her in the face and the eyes and dragged the two girls into a grassy meadow opening about thirty feet off of the trail. The confession closes with an apology for what happened, claiming that "things got out of hand." (police are trained to write such expressions of remorse into their statements).
Throughout the time he was in custody, Hobbs's face was always on the news and reporters were talking about him as a "person of interest" or "being questioned by police" and detailing his criminal history. The confession is the only evidence the police have against Hobbs. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime and no murder weapon was recovered. Although Hobbs was wearing the same clothes when arrested as when he found the girls, no blood was found on him, his clothes or his shoes. Although some of the details in the confession are consistent with the wounds on the girls' bodies, without a recording of the interrogation, there is simply no way to know whether these details were suggested to Hobbs by the police during the questioning, whether he knew the information because he saw the girls when he found the bodies, or whether he knew the details because he was there when they were killed.
New evidence, however, suggests that Hobbs's confession is false and that police tunnelvision may have let the true killer or killers go free. DNA testing has found semen on swabs taken from Laura Hobbs's body cavities as well as fabric on her jean skirt. The semen is not from Hobbs. Hobbs is moving for a new bond and to have the DNA loaded into state and national databases to see if a match can be made to another perpetrator. When called by Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills, Lake County prosecutor Mike Mermel disputed the results, claiming that none of the semen was found in Laura's body, and downplayed their significance: "None of the sperm was found in a significant place."
Mermel's response is stunning. Whether the semen was in her body cavity or not, it was found on a dead eight year old girl's body and it was not from the man the police believe killed her. Morever, Hobbs's confession does not mention any sexual contact with either of the girls -- he describes an impulsive stabbing not a planned rape.
If the semen is matched to a specific perpetrator and that perpetrator cannot be linked to Hobbs, Lake County prosecutors should admit their error and release Hobbs, rather than try to come up with a new theory to explain away the semen. But don't count on it. In the case of Juan Rivera, which Lake County prosecutors are taking to trial in February, DNA test results on semen found inside an 11 year old victim caused prosecutors to suggest that the 11 year old must have had consensual sex with another man or boy within hours or days of her rape and murder by Juan Rivera. Maybe they'll suggest that 8 year old Laura Hobbs had consensual sex on the day of her murder? Or perhaps they'll argue that some unknown man came upon the dead girl's body, excited himself, and left his DNA on her?