Clemente “Shorty” Aguirre thought he had finally found a place beyond the reach of death. He had fled threats and violence in his home country, Honduras, after refusing to join a gang. When he saw his best friend’s body dumped in front of his house, he got the message to join or be killed as well. A grueling journey through Nicaragua and Mexico, then across the Rio Grande, got him to his sister’s house in Florida. He got a job, found a place to stay in a trailer park, and looked forward to a chance at a new life. That all came crashing down when went over to his friend Samantha’s place to cadge a beer and found a gruesome scene inside: Sam’s mother and grandmother lay slaughtered, stabbed multiple times in a trailer now spattered (the forensic term is blood spatter, not blood splatter) with blood. Were they still alive? He checked the bodies, getting smeared in blood, then heard a noise. In his panic, Clemente picked up the murder weapon, a knife on the floor, thinking the killer was still inside. Then he ran back home, tossed the knife away onto the grass, and tried to hide his bloody clothes. An illegal immigrant would never be believed, he thought. Those misjudgments were enough to help convict him and ultimately send him to Death Row. But then The Innocence Project got involved, and discovered that over 150 blood samples were collected at the scene, but not one had ever been analyzed for DNA. When that evidence was finally properly examined, a very difference picture of the crime emerged. Clemente would be exonerated, and is now able to share his experiences.
Monthly Archives: December 2021
“She still stays in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Nobody overturns that verdict.”
Joanne Arruda knew something was terribly wrong. It was late afternoon on Friday, September 8th, 1978: two days after her daughter’s 15th birthday. But Mary Lou still wasn’t home. She had been out riding her bike in her Raynham, MA neighborhood, about 32 miles south of Boston. The orange ten-speed bike turned up on a dirt road near her home, but Mary Lou would not be found for two months. On November 11th, kids riding dirt-bikes came across her standing body tied to a tree 18 miles away from the Arruda home, in Freetown State Forest. Her possessions had been arranged in a semi-circle in front of her, and most gruesomely: her head was near them. She had been strangled and abandoned.
James Kater, a 31-year-old who worked in a Brockton MA doughnut shop, soon emerged as a suspect. He had been released from prison in January 1976 for a shockingly similar crime. In that case, the 13-year-old girl had survived the strangulation, and after Kater left her was able to untie herself. His lime green car had been seen in Mary Lou’s neighborhood, physical evidence was found, and his alibi soon fell apart. Kater’s sentence for kidnapping and murder sent him to prison for the rest of his life, but he continued to fight the verdict.
Her bitter comment about her daughter buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery came after she heard of the third retrial having been ordered. I worked on the fourth and final Kater trial and will discuss the case, conviction, appeals, and retrials.