Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Two Days Are the Same

by Connie Park

As an investigator in Homicide, it didn't take me very long
to realize that no two days are the same. I have been proud to serve as a police officer with the Houston Police Department, having spent time in Patrol, Major Offenders, and for the past seven years or so as an investigator in the Homicide Division.

In 2001, I was one of two investigators in a case involving a very dangerous man named Kenneth Headley. In Southwest Houston one afternoon, I arrived on a scene to see a man laying in the street. He had been shot, his brains blown through the back of his head.

With the exception of one brave woman (I will call her "Roxanne"), any witnesses to this awful crime opted to leave this victim dead in the street. Roxanne told us that she was in the car with Kenneth Headley and the victim, and at some point they began to argue over a petty drug dispute. Headley resolved the dispute by ordering the victim out of the car and then shooting him in the head.

Afterward, Roxanne said that Headley threatened her, along the lines of "If you say anything about this, I will do the same thing to you." She was terrified but had the guts to remain at the scene to tell her story.

Roxanne was shown a lineup. She identified Headley as the man who shot the victim in the head. We presented the case to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and filed a charge of Murder on Headley. The case was assigned to the 228th District Court. We soon met with prosecutors. We all knew that Roxanne was a drug addict. Then the problems we had hope to avoid, started. Roxanne disappeared. Without her, a murderer would walk free and be given the opportunity to kill again. But, like I said, no two days are the same.

As the case wound through the customary court settings, we looked long and hard for Roxanne, without success. The case was set for trial and we were hoping for a miracle, that Roxanne would reappear. A few weeks before trial, she did. I found out that she had been arrested under a bridge with a small amount of crack cocaine. I knew that we had to talk to her. The prosecutor and I met with her on many occasions, trying to persuade her to continue to do the right thing and not to be afraid. As we expected, she was upset and not very cooperative.

I knew that we had to have her to see that justice was served for this victim who had been executed in the middle of a public street. I reminded Roxanne of that and asked her, "What if that victim had been someone in your family? Does this monster who did this deserve to be out in the free world?" At last, Roxanne saw where I was coming from. It took an empathetic approach from us, an approach without threats and warnings. I wanted Roxanne to know that we cared about her, not just as a witness on one of our cases, but as a human being. She appreciated that, and the case went to trial.

I learned more about Kenneth Headley. I learned that he was a suspect in another violent offense in Baltimore, Maryland and that he had lied in order to convince a prosecutor up there to foolishly recommend probation for a hardened criminal.

But I had faith that we would reach the right result in the Houston case. Roxanne and I and many other HPD officers testified and we told the truth. Throughout the case, we worked hand in hand with the prosecutor, who is now a district court judge. The jury found Kenneth Headley guilty of Murder and gave him the life sentence he deserved. As a result of our perseverance and desire to seek the truth, Headley will not get the opportunity to kill again. And that is what makes what we do so rewarding.

We in the criminal justice fields have the opportunity to affect people's lives in a positive way, people who have had to sort through the wreckage of witnessing a horrible crime or ease the pain of a relative of a defenseless victim who fell prey to a criminal like Kenneth Headley. I have seen people murdered because they refused to agree to a man's request to have an abortion. I have seen people murdered over a $20 crack cocaine. I have seen people murdered over gang turf and for looking at someone the wrong way. But all I have to do is to remind myself about what I learned when I met Roxanne and had the misforutne of meeting Kenneth Headley, to know that I will be ready for it. After all, no two days are the same, and that is why I do what I do.

Note: Connie Park was recently added as a regular contributor for Women in Crime Ink. Because her bio was not posted on launch day, we are printing it here:

Connie Park is a homicide detective. Eight of Connie's 13 years with the Houston Police Department have been spent investigating murders and kidnappings. She is presently assigned to the Cold Case Unit. Ten years ago, Connie was selected to work in the Major Offenders Division, assigned to the Asian Gang Task Force, where she was able to utilize her language skills to translate Korean. During her work with the Task Force, Connie received training from various Federal Agencies. Connie obtained her business degree from Texas A&M University.


Jan C said...

Connie...and I consider it a bad day at work when I can't see my desk for the piles of paperwork. Thank you for sharing a bit of your experience and the reasons for why you keep doing a job that must give you nightmares at times. It's cops like you that keep the rest of us safe, and I thank you for that, too.

Anonymous said...

There are times when I see crimes like this on shows I am watching and I ask myself, What is wrong with these people? Why don't they step up to the plate and try to make their neighborhood safe? Reading your post helps to remind me that I don't come from that life and can never know how difficult that decision must be when you live in constant fear.

Good post, thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a prosecutor for the past 11 years, I have had the privilege of working with Officer Park on numerous occasions. Working with people of her caliber makes my job that much easier, and more importantly, that much more rewarding.