LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - email
and Whitney Grunder - email
LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Former Texas Ranger Sgt. Pete Maskunas discussed his interview tactics when he received, "a confession or at least a partial confession," from the man officers say brutally stabbed a Huntington man until he bled to death.
Testimony continued Thursday morning in 40-year-old Thomas Hugh Fielder, Jr.'s murder trial. Fielder was arrested in Quitman, Texas in Wood County for killing Gary Lynn Defratus, 47, of Huntington in December 2009. Defratus' mother discovered her son's gruesome body under her carport 36 hours after his death.
Angelina County Assistant District Attorney Katrina Carswell has told jurors the case will come down to the intent of the murder.
Carswell began questioning Maskunas Thursday morning about why he asked Fielder on more than one occasion when he found out that Defratus was a sex offender.
Maskunas explained he believed the knowledge that Defratus was a sex offender could evoke a strong emotion from Fielder, especially if he didn't know prior to bringing his wife and child to the victim's house. However, he said he remembered Fielder saying he didn't think it was much of an issue.
Maskunas said he believed on the December 2009 night of the interview there was "a confession or at least a partial confession as I believe occurred here."
The former ranger said he believed the turning point in the interview was when investigators let Fielder know his wife was telling them a different story, the truth.
"I don't know if it was a need to protect or a fear that it would not be something that he would be able to defend later," said Maskunas.
He went on to testify that he doesn't think Fielder told the whole truth about what happened under Defratus' mother's carport. In the taped interview investigators had asked Fielder several times about how Defratus had multiple stab wounds on his back, even after he was dead.
Carswell pulled out the pair of boots Fielder was wearing the night of the taped interview. Maskunas explained they were not submitted to the lab because authorities couldn't find any significant blood on them using an alternate light source.
The prosecution began asking the former ranger about his interview tactics during the three hour interview with the suspect.
"My interpretation of his language was that he [Fielder] was very deceptive," said Maskunas. "He continually cleared his throat. Every time he would talk he would clear his throat."
The sergeant said those are signs of anxiety and nervousness.
Maskunas said Fielder also hesitated when answering questions he should have known the answer to and he was constantly shifting his body in his chair. He also had several "inappropriate yawns."
He said Fielder's posture changed when he decided to tell investigators at least enough truth that he thought they would end the interview. Maskunas said this change was indicative of, "a surrender, a giving in."
He went on to talk about other details of the interview.
"He did admit that they were both using drugs," said Maskunas.
He also said he discussed knives with Fielder.
Maskunas said he participated in the search of Fielder's car and collected many items including two knives, but both were negative for Defratus' blood. He said the lab results did surprise him to an extent, but there are ways of eliminating blood on a knife.
Maskunas said Fielder jumped around some when he was asked questions about one of his friends that night.
"He talked about different scenarios about when he picked him up and when he dropped him off," he said.
Defense attorney Jerry Whiteker began questioning Maskunas if his diagram of the crime scene was to scale and Maskunas responded "No."
"Were you in charge of this crime scene," asked Whiteker.
Maskunas explained he was called in by the Angelina County Sheriff's Office to help.
Whiteker began questioning the former ranger about why they took DNA samples from Jay Hines, a friend of the victim and the defendant that was supposedly at Defratus' house before and after the crime. Maskunas said to be thorough; they submitted a buccal swab from Hines.
The defense attorney removed his glasses, held them in his hands and began asking the former ranger about lying to his suspects.
Maskunas explained deception is a legal tool for law enforcement to use in an interview like the one he conducted with Fielder.
"Who polices the police?" asked Whiteker.
"Lawyers," said Maskunas.
Whiteker began questioning Maskunas about Defratus' neck wounds being front to back. Earlier testimony from a forensic pathologist said the front to back cuts indicate the victim was attacked from behind.
The defense pointed out that the front to back cuts can occur by someone standing in front of a person.
"It's possible, but not likely," said Maskunas.
Fielder's attorney began questioning Maskunas about the forensic pathologist's toxicology report that revealed a number of illegal and prescription drugs in Defratus' system.
"It is primarily a stimulant," said Maskunas about the methamphetamine found in Defratus' system. He went on to explain that people have many different reactions when they are on meth.
"This isn't a cocktail that a doctor would order a patient to take," said Whiteker.
Maskunas explained some of the drugs in Defratus' system were drugs a doctor prescribes.
The sergeant said without a doubt, there was a fierce struggle in that house.
Whiteker made the point Maskunas would be upset and ready to defend his family if he thought someone was bothering his family.
The former ranger said he would characterize the stab wounds Defratus received after he was already dead as "a bit overkill."
Maskunas acknowledged he mentioned self-defense to Fielder several times in the interview, but said he didn't really believe Fielder attacked Defratus in self-defense.
The former ranger told Whiteker that Fielder only told them part of the story that night.
Carswell pointed out although jurors know what drugs are in Defratus' system, they don't know what was in Fielder's blood stream. Officers didn't take a blood sample from Fielder because they caught him more than 48 hours after the incident.
The prosecution and defense used a ruler to demonstrate possible scenarios that could have happened for Defratus to end up with the front to back cuts he had on his neck.
Maskunas said the stab wounds under the carport are evidence that there was another assault, other than the one in Defratus' house or a continuation of an assault.
The sergeant said Fielder did admit to stabbing Defratus, but he never said he killed the man or stabbed him 11 times in the back as the autopsy reveals.
Defratus' mother, Patsy Parker, was called back to the stand late Thursday morning.
She told Carswell her son had been involved in a car wreck and messed his elbow up a while back. She said he was under the care of a regular physician and received shots in his elbow monthly or every couple of months. She said Defratus also took pain medicine for his elbow and sleeping medicine.
"Did Gary have a temper," asked Carswell.
"No he didn't ... he was really well-tempered," Parker responded. "It just took a whole lot to get him, he didn't have a quick temper."
Whiteker asked Parker if she knew if her son did illegal drugs. She said she and her son had talked about what trouble he would get into if he used drugs. She said her son didn't do anything around her and she would recognize the symptoms if he did.
At 1:14 p.m. the state rested their case.
The defense called their first witness to the stand, Thomas Fielder.
Fielder said he considers himself common-law married and talked about various places he had been employed in the past, including Lufkin Industries.
Fielder went on to talk about how he, his wife and his baby all went to visit Defratus. He said he and Defratus went for a ride in his new Corvette and his wife and baby stayed in his car.
He testified when they got back to the house, he left to get diapers and pick up a friend while his wife and baby were still at Defratus' home. He testified his wife began texting him that she felt uncomfortable being there with Defratus and their other friend, Jay Hines, was about to leave.
Fielder testified when he arrived back at Defratus' house and walked in, "I turned to Gary and ... he looked like he was upset or agitated at the time."
Fielder said he left with his wife and baby and they went to a fast-food restaurant in Lufkin and his wife began telling him what happened while he was gone. He said he talked to Hines to confirm the story.
"I told him that I was going to go over there and talk to Gary about exactly what had gone on ... I didn't appreciate him doing that," said Fielder.
The defendant said he went back to Defratus and when he walked in the door Defratus was sitting on the couch.
He said they began talking and Defratus bent over the couch for a second and he presumed he did a line of meth.
Fielder testified he asked him what happened and "that's when he become real agitated with me."
He said Defratus asked him, "'Why does it matter what happened because you left them here?'"
When asked what his feelings were when he went in the house he said, "Anger is a secondary emotion."
Fielder said his feelings were kind of hurt.
"He [Defratus] was agitated before I left the first time," said Fielder.
The defendant went on telling jurors they exchanged words.
"We cussed at each other," Fielder said.
Then, he said Defratus came around the recliner at him with a large knife.
"I pushed him whenever he come around, I pushed his hand and his body ... past me to where his force would take him past me into the kitchen," Fielder said.
He said Defratus went down and when he got up he was even more aggressive.
"He charged at me with the knife again," said Fielder.
"I was more worried about myself getting cut," said Fielder.
He said he got the knife away from him.
He said Defratus picked up a blue mag light
"He come at me with a mag light and started swinging and I was trying to protect my head from getting hit," said Fielder.
He said he's right-handed so he's almost positive the knife was in his right hand.
His attorney asked him how many times he swung.
"It was quite a few, I remember getting hit several times," said Fielder.
He said he can't remember cutting him, but he knows he probably did.
"It seemed like hours," he said holding back tears.
"I did get hit in the side of the head," said Fielder. He explained the blow blurred his vision and he went down the side of the hallway.
"I'm not real clear on exactly the events of everything that happened," said Fielder. "I believe I was trying to get out the door whenever he was coming up behind me."
He said he believed Defratus was injured when he "took off" across the yard.
Whiteker questioned his client about going over to Defratus' mother's carport.
"I don't have any recollection of going over there ... I've thought about it and thought about it," said Fielder.
He said the furthest he remembers going in the yard was a mud puddle.
He said when he was interviewed by the ranger, "I was scared, terrified."
Whiteker asked him after he waved his right to counsel in the interview with investigators, if he wanted to do the right thing.
"I did, but I was afraid to," he said.
Fielder admitted he had done a lot of dumb things and he feels bad about it.
Whiteker asked if he feels bad about the situation and about Defratus' mother.
"Yes I do," he said, crying.
Fielder admitted to doing drugs that night and said he even had some in his possession.
"Why did y'all do methamphetamine?" asked Whiteker.
"Stupidity on our part," said Fielder.
The defense asked the defendant if he thinks the drugs played a role in the altercation.
"I never seen Gary act the way he had and I think it may have played a part in what happened," Fielder said.
He went on to say he felt like he had to get the knife away from Defratus.
"I'm not sure how far it would've gone, but I believe that he would've try to hurt me worse than what had happened," said Fielder.
He went on to testify Jay Hines later showed up.
"As soon as I cranked my car, I headed down the street," said Fielder.
He said he didn't call the police and left the scene because he was scared. Fielder said he picked up his wife and baby and headed back to where he lives in Hawkins.
"Did you realize how badly he [Defratus] was hurt," asked Whiteker.
"Not at the time," said Fielder.
"I was more worried about defending myself in the house ... I've never been in a situation like that," said Fielder. "It seemed like that ordeal lasted for hours ... I wasn't taking stock in everything that was going on around me."
The prosecution then began questioning Fielder, pointing out that no one would be in this courtroom for this trial if it wasn't for him.
"Hindsight is 20/20, I wish I would've never gone over there," Fielder said.
"I don't believe I was going over there to stir things up," said Fielder.
He went on to say he's the type that if he has a disagreement with someone, he likes to clear it up, not let it fester.
"I'm not saying that I was angry or resentful ... you're not going to forget something like that," said Fielder.
He said Hines and his wife told him not to do anything stupid when he went to confront Defratus.
Fielder admitted Defratus didn't call him or look for him to start anything.
"I did not attack him," said Fielder.
He said Defratus seemed agitated when he walked back in the house.
Fielder looked straight ahead and answered Carswell's questions.
Carswell pointed out that he wouldn't look at the gruesome photos of Defratus' lifeless body when they were published to the jury.
"The only ones I looked at were the blood spatters," said Fielder.
The suspect said his wife had been sexually abused when she was young and she's kind of skiddish, so he felt the need to protect her because of her "fragile state."
"I really wasn't angry or mad whenever I showed up," said Fielder."I was a little upset about it, not to the point of any kind of rage or anger."
He said that Defratus rubbing his wife's leg and talking inappropriate to her was out of line.
Fielder said he went to confront Defratus after he heard what Hines and his wife had told him.
He said he felt really bad for leaving his wife and child with Defratus after Hines told him Defratus was a registered sex offender. He said he found out right before he went to confront him.
Carswell clarified that his wife has a tendency to lie and exaggerate, but Fielder said not in an instance like what happened.
"It became a big deal when you went back over there, didn't it?" asked Carswell.
"Yes ma'am," Fielder replied.
She asked him if the fact that his wife was molested as a little girl had made him even more angry when he found out that Defratus was a registered sex offender. Carswell asked him why he lied to investigators when he found out about Defratus being a sex offender.
"I was scared that they might play something into that or look at that as a reason for me to go over there," said Fielder.
Carswell reminded Fielder that under oath Hines said he didn't know Defratus was a sex offender until Fielder told him.
The prosecution asked him if he realized that he gave investigators a scenario where he actually found out Defratus was a sex offender when he saw a card that fell out of Defratus' wallet.
Carswell went back to questioning Fielder about the details of that night.
"Initially he charged me off the couch with a knife into the kitchen and I guess that's where the first of it was," said Fielder.
Carswell asked him if Defratus was crazed and had a knife why didn't he run when he knocked Defratus on the floor.
"I didn't have time to," said Fielder. "I didn't see a knife until he came at me with it."
However, Carswell pointed out Fielder told his wife that Defratus was waiting for him when he walked in the door with a knife and a mag light on the table.
"I was just going over there to tell him I didn't appreciate what he did and I didn't want to have no contact with him no more," said Fielder.
Carswell showed him photos of Defratus' gruesome body. They were the same photos he turned away and wouldn't look at earlier in the trial when the images were published to the jury.
He briefly glanced at the photos before looking back up, straight ahead.
"I don't recall everything," said Fielder. "I wasn't to a point of a rage or violence, but I was upset ... I was hurt."
Carswell asked Fielder where he got the statement "anger is a secondary emotion." He told her he had taken an alcohol and drug abuse class.
"Do you think about that training when you do meth with your friends like you did at Gary's house," asked Carswell.
"Sometimes, yes," said Fielder.
Carswell pointed out that he smoked meth in front of his baby and that his baby's hair tested positive for meth.
Fielder looked up at the ceiling as he waited for another question.
The defendant said he's not sure where the mag light is that Defratus was supposedly hitting him with that night.
He also told Carswell he's not sure how Defratus' Corvette key ended up under his driver's seat in his car.
"I was never standing behind him in the house," said Fielder.
He said he was never behind Defratus, attacking him from behind as the forensic pathologist and investigators had suggested in earlier testimony.
Carswell pointed out that in the interview Fielder is the first person in the room to tell investigators he never went over to the carport. The investigators had not told him where Defratus' body ended up that night.
"I had seen the news report on KTRE," said Fielder.
However, Carswell said the news reports never said anything about cutting or stabbing Fielder in the face.
"A bunch of it is still just a blur, I was scared for my life and I did what I had to do," said Fielder.
He said it was a self-defense swing if he cut Defratus' carotid artery.
The defense called their next witness to the stand, Dr. Mark Krause, chief deputy medical examiner in Tarrant County. Krause said he had reviewed toxicology reports.
When asked about his opinion about Defratus, Krause said, "There is evidence that he deposited blood on the carport. There he was stabbed a number of other times once he was already dead."
Fielder was called back to the stand. The prosecution asked Fielder if it's true he called Jay to ask him not to talk to the police after the stabbing.
Fielder said, "yes that's true."
He was asked, "It took you five days to alert authorities what happened to Gary?"
"Are you suggesting someone else stabbed him 11 times under the carport?"
"I haven't suggested that but I don't remember being there," said Fielder.
"What did you do with the knife?" Carswell asked.
"The knife was left at the house." Fielder said.
"Did you leave it in the house?" Carswell asked.
"I don't recall having it inside." Fielder said.
"So where did you leave it?" Carswell asked.
"It should have been somewhere by the recliner." Fielder said.
Fielder told the prosecution he was scared.
"Do you think it's odd we suddenly can't find the knife at the crime scene?" Carswell asked.
"Yes," Fielder said.
"Are you suggesting someone else could have taken it?" Carswell asked.
"That is a possibility," Fielder said.
"Or you could have taken it, that is a possibility, correct?" asked the prosecution.
"Yes that's a possibility," Fielder said.