Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Louis Wallace

A Twist and a Trial

Suddenly, in November, 1994, eight months after Henry Louis Wallace confessed to his crimes, he filed a motion to suppress the interviews. His claim was that he was coerced into making the confession. A hearing was scheduled to review his motion, which threw the court trial schedule into a dither. His trial date needed to be postponed pending further investigation.

Examiners studied the case and, in April of 1995, announced their findings. (These would be printed formally in a document to be published for Wallace's trial in 1996.) Wallace's argument rested chiefly on the objection that he was not administered the Miranda rights until 10 p.m., more than three hours into his interview the night of March 12, 1994. According to the published report, however, the attending officers who met with Wallace at the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) spent the earlier part of the night casually questioning him about his larceny charge, his drug habit and his whereabouts at the times the Charlotte women were strangled. He was charged only after the detectives felt there was enough suspicion warranting a charge and before he taped his official Statement of Confession. At that time, reads the summary, detectives "advised defendant of his Miranda rights, which defendant said he understood and chose to waive."

Officers had not asked questions that would "elicit an incriminating response," the report goes on. As well, Wallace had been given refreshments and snacks and allowed to take appropriate rest breaks. He was not brutalized, threatened or in any way pushed into a predicament where he might have felt compelled to fear for his life unless he responded in a pre-designated fashion.

Once Wallace began confessing, he continued to take breaks, continued to be fed on a regular basis, and was given duration to sleep. According to the taped transcript, there is evidence throughout that the prisoner is speaking at his own will, at-random and at his own pace. His tone is neither beleaguered nor frightened.

Wallace's motion also cited that he was "induced" to confessing by a promise from the detectives to let him visit with his daughter, Kendra, and his girlfriend, Sadie McKnight. The interrogation team denied this accusation, explaining that Kendra and Sadie's names came up after Wallace had already agreed to talk. The transcript supports their explanation in the following taped dialogue between Sgt. Patrick Sanders (Homicide) and Henry Wallace:

Sanders:  Has anybody threatened you or

Wallace:  No.

Sanders:   coerced you or made you any special promises?

Wallace:  No, I just want, I just want an opportunity to maybe for the last time to hold my daughter. I'd like to say goodbye to Sadie. I really can't speak with my family right now. I think I've caused them enough problems in my lifetime. My mother did the best job she could to raise me.

Sanders  You've asked, and I want to clarify that, you've asked us to see if we can arrange for you to see Sadie and your daughter and we've said that we will try to do that.

Wallace:  Yes.

Sanders:  But, aside from that, was that an exchange for you talking to us?

Wallace:  Was that in exchange?

Sanders:  Yes.

Wallace:  It was a condition. I wouldn't necessarily say it was an exchange. I wanted, like I said, for the last time to say goodbye to those people.

 Sanders:  Do you feel like we've used that to get you to talk to us?

Wallace:  No. No, I mean I hope not anyway. I mean, I don't feel that way.

A third charge alleged by Wallace concerned the delay in presenting him before a magistrate. He was brought before Magistrate Karen Johnson who came to the LEC just before noon on March 13, the morning following his confession. The defendant challenged that had he been taken before a magistrate earlier, he might not have felt cornered and, therefore, obliged to confess. The police stated that the delay was due to the fact that the transcripts of the confession required time to be made and that the defendant needed time to sleep (which he did from 7:30 a.m. to almost noon of the 13th). After his appearance before Johnson, he continued to talk openly and without hesitation about his crimes.

The hearing concluded that 1) Wallace had been given the Miranda rights in due and proper time; 2) that he made his confession voluntarily, without any trickery from the police; and 3) that the delay in bringing him before a magistrate was not based on any off-handed motivation by the police.

*****

Wallace's trial for murder, which took place at the Mecklenburg County Superior Courthouse, lasted nearly four months. Court convened in September, 1996, and concluded in late January, 1997, with the jury's judgment of death for all nine murders.

Heading the prosecution was Mecklenburg's tough female prosecutor, Anne Tompkins, fresh from her victory in sending high-profile child killer Fred Coffey to prison for life. Not an obstinate hardhead, Tompkins is noted among her peers as a believer in the truth. As she told her staff, "Our ethical obligation is to justice not necessarily to get a win."

Public Defender Isabel Scott Day served as Wallace's chief attorney. According to the Charlotte Observer, "It's not unusual for Day to give clients money" to help them out. Her humanity towards those she defends sets her apart as a hero in the legal system. She once defended a woman charged with stealing meat in a grocery store. When she asked why she did it, the woman said she had never tasted steak before. Day handed her money to buy some. She told the Observer that, concerning her defense of Wallace, "All I could do is care about him as a human being...I did not see in him the monster that other people saw."

For Day, defending Wallace was an uphill, never-a-break, tiring task, and she had expected it to be. After her failed attempts to suppress her client's confession statement, there was little she could do but fight to save him from death. Assisted by the prestigious law firm of Kennedy-Covington, the team's strategy was to cast a doubt in the jury's mind as to Wallace's sanity. Two impressive witnesses for the defense included a pair of experts on the subject of serial killings, Colonel Robert K. Ressler from the FBI's Behavior Science Unit, and Dr. Ann W. Burgess, a specialist in psychosocial development. Ressler testified that he believed the defendant's actions displayed both organizational and disorganizational characteristics, which meant that Wallace exhibited signs of psychological instability. Burgess was of the opinion that Day's client was unable to separate reality from fantasy, thus suffering from mental illness.

But, the jury was unmoved. The defense could not weaken the impression made by the State, with its long line of official witnesses who talked about the fingerprints on Baucom's automobile, who played back the tape of Wallace's confession, who recalled Henderson's ten-month-old boy who was almost strangled to death, and who described in detail the ghastly expressions on the dead girls' faces.

On January 7, 1997, the twelve jurors found the defendant guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder, according to the Appellate Report, "each on the basis of malice, premeditation and deliberation". Three weeks later, on January 29, the jury likewise ruled that Wallace should pay for his crimes with his life. Presiding Judge Robert Johnston's declaration of nine death sentences included in the punishment penalties for rape and the multiplicity of other charges for which he was convicted.

The Charlotte Observer, the Fayetteville Observer and other newspapers across North Carolina headlined Wallace's handwritten statement that he had read in court to the families of the deceased. In the statement, Wallace conceded to the horror he created, but asked the families for their forgiveness. Quoting the Book of Mark, he prayed,

"'And when you stand praying, forgive if you have nothing against anyone: then your Father also which is in Heaven will forgive you and your trespasses...'"

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