Clockwise from the Top (Clifton Bloomfield, Travis Rowley, and Michael Lee)
In December 2007, Travis Rowley and Michael Lee were arrested and charged with a brutal double murder in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The two men were accused in the deaths of Tak and Pung Sil Yi, an elderly Korean couple. The police brought the men in for questioning after several neighbors told them that a man who had been selling magazines door to door had been in the area and had been acting creepy. Rowley appeared to match a composite drawing circulated by police. After several hours of interrogations, during which Rowley repeatedly denied any involvement in the crime, he was persuaded to admit being present at the crime scene as his friend Michael Lee beat the couple. It was a reluctant admission, one secured with a mix of promises of leniency and false evidence ploys. Notably, Rowley did not admit to the one critical fact that the police held back -- that the female victim had been sexually assaulted. Both men were charged with capital murder and the State declared its intent to seek the death penalty. Early in the investigation, however, questions began to surface about the guilty of the defendants. Both had alibis that placed them far away from the scene of the crime and not a shred of physical evidence, including the DNA, linked the men to the crime scene. And then came a huge break in the investigation. DNA testing linked a third man, Clifton Bloomfield, to the crime. Bloomfield was a suspect in several murders in the area, all of which involved attacks in people's homes. And there was no connection between Rowley, Lee, and Bloomfield. Case closed, right? Police and prosecutors admitted their mistake and released Lee and Rowley, right? Keep dreaming. According to information published by the Albuquerque Journal, the police tried to get Bloomfield to agree that he committed the crimes with Rowley and Lee, in exchange for a plea that took the death penalty off the table. Bloomfield, to his credit, has refused to implicate the men. Efforts to get the case dismissed by the defendants have, to date, failed. The case is set for trial on March 16 and guess who is testifying for the defense -- Clifton Bloomfield. Unless prosecutors can legitimately link the three men, they should cut their losses now, rather than later. Each day these probably innocent men sit in jail for crimes they did not commit may end up costing taxpayers big money down the road in judgments from civil lawsuits. This is the second high profile rape murder case from Albuquerque in which a confession has been proven false by DNA evidence -- the other one being the case of Robert Gonzales about which I blogged last summer.