Preface by TLB contributor: Lucille Femine
I have a close family member who has been incarcerated in Tennessee for over a year now with little or no evidence against him. His lawyer is missing in action and rarely answers my numerous communications. She is pro bono and more politically inclined than defending her clients, it seems.
The fact that he has been locked up for so long without a trial does not speak highly of “speedy trial”, supposedly guaranteed by the constitution, that outdated piece of paper, as it is tossed off these days in certain quarters, particularly in Common Core history lessons.
So I have been quite motivated to do something, as I learn more and more about the outrageous injustice existing in the Criminal Justice system here in Tennessee and elsewhere. Since I live here, I am focusing my attention here but my tentacles, hopefully, will reach far and wide.
My relative has been in close contact with a fellow inmate, the man who very articulately wrote his story here, very moving in its honesty and factual presentation. It is a tragic example of corruption where no corruption should ever exist – in our right to a fair and speedy trial. More accurately, it is vivid example of the prison for profit system in this country – a gross crime in itself and one deserving the utmost attention.
John Hernandez is also raising funds for his bond online. I have not been able to find that but if you care to write to him and maybe send some financial or other help (money order or cashier’s check only) it would be greatly appreciated. If not, your help in making others aware of these holes in the judicial system would be a powerful blow toward restoring this country to its ideals.
Here is his address:
John Hernandez, #79340
Criminal Justice Center
P.O. Box 196383
Nashville, TN 37219-6383
In the summer of 1983, a twenty-six year old army veteran named John S. Hernandez became a single father of three after his wife of almost four years abandoned them. Shortly thereafter, he and his mother, the late Rhonda Marshall, entered into a custody dispute.
In Feb 1984, Hernandez was arrested by MNPD (Metro-Nashville Police Detectives) for the 1978 kidnapping, robbery and shooting murder of Vanderbilt University professor Dr. Eric Engle as well as the murder of Dr. Donald Cook, a man who tried to help the doctor. John was implicated in this crime by his mother, with the help of his brother, Alex Hernandez, so that Ms. Hernandez could gain custody of the children.
From the start, the MNPD Public Relations department sensationalized the story, making it sound like Hernandez had actually been caught in the act of the six-year-old crime in order to help taint the jury pool. With little to no investigation, collaboration or verification of the facts, MNPD set about fabricating what little evidence they could. They coached witnesses and cobbled together what sounded like a “confession” after six and a half hours of tape recorded interviews with Hernandez. They thought they had a “slam dunk” – except for a few flies in the ointment.
First: the only print they recovered from the crime scene – a partial palm print – did not belong to Hernandez. Second: their star witness against him, his younger brother Alex, was arrested in 1979 in Cave City, Kentucky with the gun used to kill Dr. Engle and Dr. Cook while attempting a similar crime. Hernandez’s trial judge, A.A. Birth, absolutely forbade any mention of this fact to the jury.
In the spring of 1985, a circus of a trial ran for three weeks through Easter. Try as they might, the two public defender were admonished several times for attempting to bring Alex’s involvement in the crime to the jury’s attention. However, the jury still was not convinced of Hernandez’s guilt. After three days of deliberating, they settled on a compromise verdict, convicting him of assault with intent to commit armed robbery and sentenced him to ten years.
Here’s the tragedy: the jury was less than pleased to learn of Alex’s full involvement, saying they would have acquitted John had they known.
Shortly after his conviction, Rhonda Marshall was awarded custody of the children. Forty three days after the conviction, it was overturned on appeal. In August of 1886, on the eve of a custody hearing to regain custody of his children, Rhonda fled the state with his children. Nashville Juvenile Court issued a kidnapping warrant for Rhonda., The FBI told John they could locate, recover and return his children to him in just a couple of weeks. All they required was a guarantee from Nashville District Attorney, Victor “Tory” Johnson, they would extradite and prosecute her.
But it appeared that Johnson felt Hernandez, an honorably discharged Vietnam-era veteran and a working, tax-paying citizen of Tennessee, was not worthy of the protection of the law and refused to cooperate. Hernandez believes to this day that the DA’s attitude toward him was a direct result of the Eric Engle episode.
Hernandez started a business in Nashville, spending every dime of profit he earned searching for his children. It took him nearly three years to find and recover them. Rhonda Marshall was allowed to return to Tennessee because Tory Johnson refused to prosecute her on the kidnapping warrant. In 1995, Hernandez left Nashville for good. Or so he thought….
John Hernandez was extradited from Austin, Texas on April 4th, 2014. He was charged with the 1993 murder of his mother-in-law. The Tennessee’s case is founded solely on MNPD speculation and conjecture, based on the fact that he was “most likely” the last person known to see her, Annie L. Szekley, alive.
Hernandez had been closer to her than his own mother and always called her Mama, even after he and his wife divorced.
Once again, little to no actual investigation was done by MNPD. Here’s what they had: nearly 24 hours before she was murdered, Hernandez stopped by her residence, the lease of which was in his name, to check on her and have a cup of coffee while they visited. A major point of conjecture by MNPD was Hernandez said he had coffee but that she drank tea, not coffee. But if he had said he stopped by for tea, they would still have said, “But you had coffee, not tea.” They created a tempest in a teacup.
Due to this “evidence” and the Eric Engle episode, MNPD immediately focused their investigation exclusively on Hernandez. According to the official record of investigation, at no time since the day of Szekley’s murder did MNPD ever even consider anyone other than him as the perpetrator. Even the news accounts at the time focused more on his connection with Eric Engle.
According to the official record, MNPD out-sourced DNA testing to Orchid Cellmark in Dallas, Texas. Between Sept 2010 and June 3013,MNPD spent approximately $58, 275 on forty-five tests, nine specific items from the crime scene. All but one test came back with an exclusion probability – between 98.4% and 99.3%. Only one out of forty-five tests came back with a 61.1% exclusion probability. To put it in the simplest terms, while Hernandez could fit the DNA profile of the perpetrator, according to this one test, so could seven of the twelve jurors selected to judge him, as well as the expert hired to interpret the test results. Aside from that one test result, they have nothing.
However, the most curious aspect that Hernandez sees is, in a house he used to live in and was a frequent visitor and had been in a mere twenty-four hours before her murder, one would think the place would be swimming in his DNA.
But again, according to official records, since August 2001, MNPD had been colluding with Kentucky State Police, trying to find murders similar enough to Szekley with which to charge Hernandez. Based solely on their assumption that he murdered his ex-mother-in-law, Pudacah Police detectives decided that Hernandez must have murdered his sister-in-law too. Never mind he had only ever met her once and may have seen her a couple of other times.
Kentucky State Police and MNPD have been exchanging physical evidence, desperately trying to find anything to link Hernandez to his ex-sister-in-law’s murder. To date, they have come up empty-handed. However, in December 2014, the Kentucky State Police Crime Lab in Paducah attempted to present fabricated DNA evidence to the McCracken County Circuit Courts. But the court rejected it.
Hernandez remains incarcerated at the Criminal Justice Center in Nashville while he tries to raise his bond online. He and others are willing and eager to talk with the media outlets about their cases. They firmly believe that getting their stories out through the media is the best way to combat the excessive abuse of citizens by the Judiciary and Police department detectives.
John S. Hernandez
Read more great/pertinent articles on this topic right here at The Liberty Beacon.