The Confessions Of Cleveland Bynum
Dr. watson. It was a logical, perhaps elementary, conclusion that Fran Watson’s law students would piece the clues together and bestow upon her a wholly uninspired nickname. Never mind that she wasn’t a doctor.
What she was, long ago, was a bartender. Then she became Chief Public Defender of the Marion County Public Defender Agency. In 1995, she decamped to IUPUI, where she directed the Criminal Defense Clinic and launched the Wrongful Conviction Clinic in 2001. In that domain of the legal realm, she had become something of a legend: She had developed a reputation of solving long-dead cold cases, winning six exonerations in 16 years. Sometimes, her students would tease her about her last name, comparing her to the eponymous detective in the Sherlock Holmes novels. “Oh, Dr. Watson,” they would call her, laughing, as they made the connection. Few of them knew that Watson had, in fact, devoured those stories, along with Nancy Drew books, as a kid growing up in Jeffersonville. If she wasn’t reading about the pursuit of criminal evidence, she was digging for the prehistoric kind, combing the 390-million-year-old fossil beds that line the Ohio River.
One mid-October day in 2014, Watson showed up to work in Room 111J in Lawrence W. Inlow Hall at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. Piles of letters and legal documents and files towered over her, some nearly two feet high. Like always, the plainspoken attorney seemed impossibly behind on her work. Each month, she received dozens of letters and case files from prisoners claiming innocence and asking for her help. The majority of the cases she agreed to take on dealt with a thicket of thorny legal issues that often lead to wrongful convictions: sketchy eyewitness identifications or jailhouse informants; police and government misconduct; junk science and false confessions. After decades of reading through letters like these, along with conducting prison interviews to vet inmates’ stories, Watson had come to develop what might just be the world’s keenest bullshit detector.
Among those stories that passed muster was that of Cleveland Bynum, an inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility and the man at the center of a 2000 mystery that produced five dead, two confessions, and one dramatic charge: The admissions of guilt had been fabricated.
That fall day in 2014, 13 years after Bynum was convicted, Watson was attempting to clear away the legal detritus on her desk when she came across a manila envelope addressed to her. According to the return address, the certified mail had come from a woman named Melissa Williams at 6237 Croquet Place in Indianapolis.
In the majority of her cases, Watson had to find the evidence. She and scores of her students over the years would spend hours interviewing hard-to-get witnesses, scouring old evidence lockers, and soliciting DNA tests. In 2015, a 48 Hours television crew out of New York descended on campus to document Watson and her work on overturning a wrongful conviction that reverberated across the growing constellation of lawyers who practice this type of law. The resulting epsiode, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” ran on February 4 earlier this year (Watson and her students had a viewing party and ordered pizza). The case involved two coworkers serving nearly a quarter of a century in prison for a gang rape of a Lake County woman in 1989. The men, Darryl Pinkins and Roosevelt Glenn, were convicted on the lone identification by the victim and by faulty hair-comparison testimony. In what newspapers called a “bump-and-rape” attack, five men driving a vehicle bumped a woman’s car, abducted her, and, for at least two hours, took turns raping the woman. Watson used DNA found on evidence collected at the scene—a strand of hair, a jacket, and a sweater—and submitted it to a lab.
There, scientists ran it through probabilistic genotyping, a kind of test that can isolate mixed DNA strands. None of the DNA linked Pinkins or Glenn to the crime. The story had a made-for-Hollywood ending, with Watson and eight of her students posing for a picture with Pinkins. As Pinkins endured emotional interviews with reporters, Watson sat next to him, holding his hand. “This is a rarity,” Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter told a reporter on the day Pinkins was released. Carter showed up to shake Pinkins’s hand, shortly after his office had granted the man’s freedom. “Juries usually get it right. In this case, they didn’t get it right.” Over 16 years, Watson had lost the case to the state six times. On the seventh, she prevailed.
Fifty-six hours after his
first confession, on
February 20, 2000, Bynum
told detectives he wanted
to make another statement
and changed his story. “Why
are you giving this statement
again?” a detective asked.
Back on that fall day in 2014, though, the evidence went looking for Watson. She opened up the Seal-It envelope, which had been postmarked in Peru, Indiana. Out popped a cellphone, two CDs, a letter, and a notarized statement. Watson loaded one of the discs into her computer. She clicked on a video file. It began to play. A man looked into the camera and read a statement that took Watson’s breath away:
Hi, my name is Gerald Terrene Mathews. I’m doing this with the good hope of making some of my wrongs right, if that is possible. Back during February of 2000, I committed a crime. I made a mistake I couldn’t fix, and now I have to clear my conscience. I couldn’t turn myself in because I didn’t want to go to prison. The worst part is that I hurt people and their family, and I need forgiveness whenever I pass away. My understanding is that an innocent man is doing the time I was supposed to do.
The bodies piled up in the wee hours of a snow-wrapped February morning in Northern Indiana. Three turned up at a house on 10th Avenue in Aetna, a neighborhood in Lake County bordered by Interstate 90 to its south, Interstate 65 to its west, and Lake Michigan to its north. The victims were murdered at close range, the killers paying no mind to a 12-year-old boy who stirred in his bedroom steps away, or an 18-month-old girl, whom cops would find uninjured but screaming, covered in her mother’s blood.
The boy, Larry Brooks, a fifth-grader at Aetna Elementary, awoke to loud banging noises. He had heard men shouting and what sounded like a familiar voice say, “put another shell in.”
Stumbling into the living room after the voices left, Larry found his mother, Susan Wallace; Anthony Jeffers; and his aunt, Angela Wallace, the baby’s mother, lying on the floor.
The boy called 911. Cpl. Jeff Trevino, a seven-year veteran of the Gary Police Department’s vice unit, was on his way home from a long shift when his radio crackled with the news. When Trevino arrived a little after 2:30 a.m. on February 17, 2000, Larry met him outside, and told Trevino that everyone was dead.
Inside, Trevino noted that Jeffers had been shot three times—in the face, the back of the head, and an arm. Wallace, the boy’s aunt, also lay dead, having sustained bullet wounds to the chest, the head, and behind one ear. The detective noticed that the boy’s mother was still breathing, her chest rising and falling in uneasy heaves. She, too, had sustained three gunshot wounds. Trevino radioed headquarters. Ambulances and other officers arrived soon after. Not an hour and a half later, at Methodist Hospital Northlake, a doctor pronounced Larry’s mother dead.
Later that day, around noon, a man from the neighborhood left his home to walk his dog at a ballpark at 14th and Idaho. The dog barked at an abandoned gray Ford Tempo parked near the east side of the field. As the man approached the car, he noticed a trail of blood mingled with the white snow. He tied his dog to a fence. At the end of the blood trail, near some bushes, he spotted a body. Another lay nearby. Back at home, he told his wife and called the police.
Upon arriving at the scene, Gary police found two more Jane Does—one partially nude, the other with her pants around her ankles. The Gary Police Department had a bona fide shooting spree on their hands, a rare quintuple murder. It was unusual even for a city dubbed in 1993 the Murder Capital of the U.S. Police set out looking for a suspect.
Their key witness in the case was Larry, the 11-year-old boy. In his initial statement, Larry told investigators he recognized one of the men at the crime scene that night by the sound of his voice, a man named Chris, who had been to the boy’s home a few times. “He’s tall, like, 6’0, he has a gap between his teeth, he always has a hat on,” Larry told police, according to court documents. “He’s slim build, he talks hip-hop all the time.”
The next day, Cleveland Christopher Bynum woke up a wanted man. A laborer at the Bethlehem Steel Mill, the 21-year-old father of two had spent a portion of the previous night at the VFW, where he had a few customary beers after a long shift. After his fiancée, Shenita Walker, the mother of his 1-year-old boy, Christopher, finished college, she and Bynum planned to move to Georgia, where he would lay bricks, a trade he learned in the Job Corps. They lived at 4028 Jackson Street, not far from where he had grown up.
Police arrested Bynum. Inside an interrogation room at the detective bureau, Bynum found himself handcuffed to a chair.
Over the next nine hours, Det. Sgt. Michael Gault, Det. Cpl. Louis Donald, and Cpl. J.K. Moxley elicited a confession to the first three killings, of Jeffers and the Wallace sisters. Bynum implicated two men—Deundrick “Shakey” Macintosh and Terrell Jackson—in the murders, telling police he witnessed the shootings at the house. Bynum knew the men, and even in the hours after the murders, there were whispers around the tightknit Aetna neighborhood that Macintosh was the mastermind behind the killings. Bynum and Jeffers, the male victim, had gotten into an argument, Bynum told police. He was upset about Jeffers telling others he was a drug dealer. Police identified the dead women at the Aetna Little League Field as Elizabeth Daily-Ayers, 37, of Portage, and Sheila Bartee, 37. They had been at the house and left with Macintosh and Jackson, who were responsible for the murders at the baseball field, Bynum told police.
Fifty-six hours later, on February 20, Bynum told detectives he wanted to make another statement and changed his story. “Why are you giving this statement again?” a detective asked. Bynum responded that he had wrongly implicated Macintosh and Jackson.
In his second confession, Bynum exonerated Macintosh and Jackson and laid the Daily-Ayers and Bartee murders on Jeffers. According to court documents, “Bynum claimed that Jeffers shot Daily-Ayers and Bartee with Bynum’s gun and in his presence. Then … Jeffers ordered [Bynum] to drag their bodies to the spot where they were dumped” at the Little League field.
On February 22, 2000, Lake County officials charged Bynum with five counts of murder.
In 1962, then–U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy called Lake County the most corrupt in the nation. Over the following decades, the Gary Police Department wasn’t immune from its malfeasance. In one such case, nearly a decade before the five murders, another bloody night unfolded in Gary. Like the 2000 episode, it involved a drug-house killing. Two men, armed and masked, entered a house before dawn. They allegedly demanded drugs and cash. They escaped with $100 and 30 bags of cocaine, but not before shooting a 42-year-old man in the head, killing him. This time, though, the masked men were allegedly Gary cops, witnesses later testified. The witnesses said they had recognized the police officers’ voices from previous drug raids.
The incident pulled the first strand of what would soon unravel the department’s Public Morals Division, the force’s unfortunately named vice unit. Eight working and former division officers were indicted by federal prosecutors on drug and robbery charges. The FBI led a two-month investigation of the vice unit, resulting in the resignation of Chief Cobie Howard and indictments of officers within the division. In a sardonic twist, even the department’s 1990 Officer of the Year, Patrolman Cory House, was swept up in the probe, for allegedly selling drugs out of his police cruiser. House and another officer were found not guilty in a 1992 jury trial. “The prosecution had no gun, no fingerprints, no physical evidence,” House’s defense attorney, Thomas Vanes, told reporters at the time. “Their witnesses were basically junkies, convicts, and criminals and people who have been granted immunity and paid relocation money.”
But among the most egregious—and violent—breaches of public trust came to light in July 2001, when the FBI announced yet another probe of the Gary police. That month, a 59-page indictment alleged that Gary Patrolman James Ervin had been serving as a hit man for the Zambrana drug ring beginning in the fall of 1997. Ervin was sentenced to life in prison for strangling rival drug dealers with an extension cord on the stage of a Gary nightclub, dumping their bodies in the trunk of a car, and then setting it on fire to burn on a Chicago southside street.
Bynum had had his own run-ins with the Gary police before. When he was 17, he got busted for having 22 bags of cocaine, a fact he openly disclosed to police during his questioning. But the reputation of the Gary Police was in the back of his mind during the 56 hours that passed from his arrest to his second confession. Moreover, he was concerned for his safety, and for that of his fiancée and child.
For the last three years,
Watson and her students have
undertaken an “extensive
effort” to locate Larry Brooks. A relative said Brooks died,
but Watson says there’s not a
death certificate or obituary
to substantiate that claim.
With the help of his mom, Bynum found a lawyer. Their first choice, a seasoned criminal defense attorney, was asking for $40,000 up front. Instead, they settled on Charles Graddick, an attorney who would charge only $17,500 and let the family make payments.
Months ahead of his trial, in his first meeting with Graddick, Bynum made an explosive claim: Police had coached and coerced both confessions. At the time of his arrest, he said, the police had repeatedly denied his request for an attorney and a phone call, and threatened physical violence against him, threatened to arrest his fiancée and force his child into state custody. Police, he added, even deprived him of food, water, and use of a bathroom for nine hours before he offered his confession. He claimed that prior to his second confession, police told Macintosh and Jackson that Bynum had implicated them in the crime, leading Bynum to fear for retaliation against his family. Indeed, early on in his questioning, Bynum had told Donald he had nothing to do with the murders.
At one point during Bynum’s lengthy interrogation, a detective asked him how he was feeling.
“Sick, because I’m going through all kinds of garbage, for something I didn’t have nothing to do with,” Bynum told his interrogators, according to a transcript of the interview.
“You will find that in this case, there is no appreciable motive, there is no reason for Mr. Bynum to have engaged in this activity,” Graddick argued in his opening statement when Bynum’s Lake County trial began on January 30, 2001. “You will conclude, I believe, that he would have to be superhuman to have accomplished the murders … Five people by himself, it’s not possible.”
Earlier, in her opening statement, Deputy Prosecutor Susan Collins’s version of events had shifted remarkably from the first statements the police had forced from Bynum, designed merely to implicate Macintosh. Bynum, she argued, “got into an argument with Liz Ayers and Anthony Jeffers, and … took Liz Ayers and Sheila Bartee to the ball field and shot them … returned to the home of Anthony Jeffers, and he killed Anthony Jeffers, and he killed Susan Wallace, and he killed Angela Wallace. That, ladies and gentlemen, is murder.”
The rest of the trial hinged on Bynum’s two confessions and the testimony of the young boy, Larry Brooks. The first point was a matter of frustration for Bynum, who claimed Graddick had promised that he would have both confessions thrown out in a legal procedure known as a suppression hearing before the case went to trial. Graddick didn’t deliver on that strategy until the trial’s midpoint, when he attempted to suppress Bynum’s confessions on the grounds that they were fabricated by police, and coerced from Bynum. Shockingly, though, he never called Bynum to the stand to testify during the mid-trial suppression hearing. The three detectives—Donald, Gault, and Moxley—refuted that they had coerced the statement from Bynum or denied him an attorney.
Collins’s strategy was to call a series of the victim’s family members to the stand, along with first responders and crime-scene investigators from the Gary Police Department and Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Collins had Brooks recount the events leading up to the screaming and the banging noises he had heard. Brooks claimed that he had heard Bynum’s voice, and pointed out Bynum in court. However, according to documents, in his initial interview with police at 10:34 a.m. on February 17, 2000, the boy told the police that Chris was not the shooter. He also told police he would not be able to identify the shooter, despite offering the glaring physical identification earlier of a gap-toothed man.
On cross-examination, Graddick faced a delicate task. He had to poke holes in the testimony of a child who had lost his mother in the crime. Graddick used his opening line of questioning to point out that Brooks had never heard Bynum yell before the night of the crime, and couldn’t be sure how it would sound in such modulation.
Then, Graddick reminded Larry Brooks of his initial interview with the Gary police. “Well, did you tell them that he had a gap in his teeth?”
“Yes, he did,” Brooks said.
“Do you see any gaps in his teeth?” Graddick said, motioning to his client behind him.
“No,” Brooks said.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors would produce no forensic evidence and no other eyewitnesses to testify against Bynum. From the crime scenes, police culled what evidence they could. Bodies at the Aetna Little League Field had been shot multiple times. At least seven of the bullets had been fired from the same gun used in the incident on 10th Avenue earlier that morning. Investigators collected two rape kits, along with a steering-wheel lock from the car left near where investigators found the two women. (The rape kits remained untested in an evidence locker somewhere, along with the steering-wheel lock.) Not even a paraffin test—a chemical procedure to determine whether a suspect had recently fired a gun—was performed on Bynum’s hands during the investigation.
After four days of the trial, the jury found Bynum guilty of all five counts of murder. He was sentenced to 300 years in prison.
Back on that fall day in 2014, Fran Watson sat at her desk, watching the Gerald Terrene Mathews videotaped confession, rapt. She had seen nothing like it in her decades of practicing law:
I don’t know him, but have heard people talking about Chris who killed five people. The only people directly involved with this was me and Robert Carr, and he died in a car crash. It was five murders in Aetna.
As the confession unfolded, Mathews—the man on the video—described in detail the events that led to the deaths of Jeffers and the Wallace sisters at the house on 10th Avenue, along with Bartee and Daily-Ayers. In Mathews’s version of events, he, Jeffers, Bartee, and Daily-Ayers were getting high in the home on 10th Avenue, when Bartee, Daily-Ayers, and Mathews decided to go to the Little League field to have sex. Then, Mathews told Daily-Ayers he wouldn’t give her money for dope, and, in response, she threatened to tell police that Mathews raped her. He panicked, and hit her in the head with the steering wheel club. She ran. He shot her. Then, he shot Bartee. He put the bodies and the car in the bushes and left.
Later, at Jeffers’s house on 10th Avenue, Mathews told Jeffers what happened. The Wallace sisters, along with “some other guys,” overheard his confession. Carr suggested Mathews shoot one of the women.
It was a baby on the couch, but nobody hurt it. I kicked the lamp over and left. I’m sorry for what I did, and I gotta answer to God for it one day. I hope people will find it in their hearts to forgive me. I’m truly sorry. Gerald Mathews.
Watching the video, as Mathews spoke, Watson dropped her jaw when she noticed a subtle yet glaring detail of his appearance: He was gap-toothed.
The statement was notarized on July 24, 2014. Inside the envelope were two other notes, both apparently from the sender. The most detailed of the two read:
“Dear Fran Watson, I got these items from Gerald Mathews before his death. He asked that if things went bad from a situation he had going on, that I get this into the right hands. I initially sent it to a lawyer named Scott King [with] the Lake County Prosecutors, and other places I found on the internet. After checking with King, I wasn’t satisfied with his response. So I did some research on 5 Murders during February 2000 and found out ‘Chris Bynum’ from Aetna is convicted of these crimes. I asked someone to get his Lawyers information, and was given your name and address.”
Bynum says if he could go back in time, he never would have signed the fabricated statements.
“Every time I wake up, I wake up
with knots in my stomach. I’ve
never woke up all these days
without feeling sick, without
this feeling like a nightmare.”
Watson shipped the phone off to Strategic Forensic Partners, a company that analyzes evidence. The video confession was recorded on the cellphone, which had no call history. It appeared to be a burner. Watson set out to to track down what happened to Mathews.
Meanwhile, Bynum was out of luck and legal options. Upon his conviction, Bynum had filed an appeal. But on November 5, 2001, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and sentence. The following year, on January 25, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Bynum claimed that his trial lawyer, Graddick, had been ineffective, and failed to spend sufficient time discussing the case with Bynum, his family, and witnesses. In 2007, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana seemed to agree with Bynum. “Without the confession, the evidence against Bynum was undoubtedly weak,” wrote Philip P. Simon, a United States District Judge, in a June 14, 2007, opinion. “Aside from the skimpy circumstantial evidence, the evidence consisted mostly of the testimony of Larry Brooks … .”
Bynum had reached out to Watson sometime after 2011. She and her students had interviewed Bynum a number of times, and each time, Watson left with the feeling Bynum was telling her the truth. But up until that video confession, she had told him there was little she could do to help his case. One of Bynum’s previous lawyers, Darnail Lyles, had collected four sworn affidavits from as many witnesses who connected Macintosh and his associates to the killings that night.
Lyles requested post-conviction relief on Bynum’s behalf, based on the four testimonies, but the Court of Appeals denied the request on September 16, 2011.
One eyewitness named in court documents, who lived across from the baseball field in Aetna, put Macintosh at the scene of the crime in the minutes after. The witness had gone out after midnight for a smoke. He heard gunshots coming from the baseball field. He saw Macintosh running. Later in the day, he learned that two bodies showed up. “I never told the Gary Police what I saw,” he says, “because I was scared of Macintosh because he had a reputation as a bad guy.”
Another witness’s sworn testimony is perhaps the most shocking. Around 3 a.m. on February 17, shortly after the murders, a women said that she heard a knock on her front door. It was Macintosh and a man named Rob Carr. The woman let them into her house. The men argued for a few minutes before Macintosh threatened both the woman and Carr, warning that “none of this shit better get out or I am coming back for you and that bitch.”
After taking a shower, Carr sat on the couch. The woman asked him what had happened. “[H]is eyes were watery,” she said in the affidavit, dated October 25, 2010. According to the account, the woman said Carr claimed that Macintosh had just shot five people.
Back in her office, Watson typed “Gerald Mathews” into a search engine. Mathews, it turned out, had been gunned down after making the video confession. Weeks after being released from a Lake County Community Corrections program for dealing cocaine, and nearly two months before Watson received his letter, Mathews had been shot and killed. Mathews, the obituary mentioned, was also known as Christopher Stokes—the same first name Gary Police had turned up in their early detective work following the five murders.
Watson reeled. She wrote letters to the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office and Gary Police Department, “detailing her receipt of and the contents of the envelope,” according to legal documents in the case. She received no response from the detectives investigating Mathews’s death, Cpl. James Nielsen and Detective Daryl Gordon.
Nor did I. At press time, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter had not responded to repeated phone messages seeking comment on the case. In December of last year, I emailed Gary Police Department Lt. Dawn Westerfield about the case, petitioning for interviews with all of the detectives who worked on the case and documents relevant to the Bynum case. In January, at the direction of the department, I filed an official public records request. Additional written requests, along with two follow-up phone calls, went unanswered. Eight months later, in August, Rodney Pol, assistant attorney for Gary, explained the official public records request had been improperly handled, and that he had only received it days ago.
Likewise, Susan Collins, the attorney who originally prosecuted the case against Bynum and is now a federal judge in the Northern District of Indiana, did not answer emails or repeated calls to her office. Her case manager, Mary Renz, confirmed that Collins had been notified.
Watson wasn’t the only one to receive the case-busting envelope, either. Scott King, a defense attorney, was one of those who got sent a package. His came on September 2, 2014. After reviewing its contents and coming to the conclusion that he had never represented anyone involved, he sent a letter to David Urbanski, a Lake County Deputy Prosecutor. “I am forwarding this to you for your office and/or the Gary Police Department to take such further action as deemed appropriate,” King wrote in a letter dated September 8, 2014. It remains unclear what Urbanski did next, and whether he forwarded the information to the Gary Police Department. Urbanski is no longer employed with the department, and several of his phone numbers appeared to be disconnected.
For the last three years, Watson and her students have undertaken an “extensive effort” to locate Larry Brooks, now 30, according to legal documents. A relative said Brooks died, but Watson says there’s no death certificate or obituary to substantiate that claim.
Watson also filed a motion to preserve and test rape kits for Daily-Ayers and Bartee, the Jane Does at the baseball field. They had never been examined. If Watson could get the rape kits tested, she could link them to the real killers’ DNA, exonerating Bynum.
On August 12 last year, Watson and Bynum scored a victory. The Indiana Court of Appeals, in a 2-to-1 decision, granted them permission to file a petition for post-conviction relief, opening the door to Bynum’s potential release or a new trial.
A July hearing for the state to consider admitting this new evidence into Bynum’s case was postponed until October 3 at 1:15 p.m. in Lake County.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Watson says. “I think he’s innocent.”
In the 12 months spanning from April 2016 to March 2017, Watson racked up the exonerations of three men (of interest, two of the cases involved Lake County, as would Bynum’s if it succeeds), a tally that included the 350th DNA exoneration nationwide since the first of its kind in 1989. Bynum’s exoneration would be her fourth in almost a year. To put Watson’s record into perspective, the flagship Innocence Project, based in New York at the Yeshiva University Cardoza School of Law, might achieve the same amount of exonerations in a year’s time, and have a goal of six annually—with a staff of 73. Watson is working by herself.
As for the officers involved in the case, in August of 2001, months after Bynum’s trial, Donald, the detective Bynum said orchestrated his false confessions, died in the line of duty. Moxley, a 22-year veteran, serves in the department’s internal affairs division. Gault retired several years ago. Pol, the city’s attorney, declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation. “The City of Gary prides itself on continuously striving to provide the community the best possible police force to protect and serve its citizens and guests,” Pol said in a statement. “Chief of Police Larry McKinley and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson have emphasized accountability and trust in policing.”
On July 11, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Deundrick “Shakey” Macintosh was put on work release, out early after serving two-and-a-half years on a weapons charge.
What makes a man falsely confess not once, but twice to five murders? Four days before Christmas, his 17th in prison, I visited Bynum at the Pendleton Correctional Facility to ask him that question.“These police, in my opinion, are as bad as whoever killed those people, because they knew I didn’t do it, and they left those victims’ families out there feeling like they got the right person,” Bynum told me. (One of Bynum’s former attorneys, Darnail Lyles, says Gary’s Police detectives had a reputation of sloppy policework in the past. “At that time they did lazy-ass investigations,” he says.) Bynum says if he could go back in time, he never would have signed the fabricated statements. “Every time I wake up,” he says, “I wake up with knots in my stomach. I’ve never woke up all these days without feeling sick, without this feeling like a nightmare.”
Should evidence exonerate Bynum, he would be on his own. Indiana is among 18 states that do not compensate the wrongfully accused.
Bynum often thinks of the last exchange he had with Det. Cpl. Louis Donald. It was shortly before Donald called in Gault and Moxley to take his first statement. That’s when, according to Bynum, they had hashed out a version of events that would allow police to bring in Macintosh. It was implausible. Their story even involved Bynum throwing the murder weapon into Lake Michigan, a lake he knew was usually frozen that time of the year, having grown up steps from it. (The gun was never found.)
After the story was finished, Bynum recalls Donald inviting Gault and Moxley to hear the allegedly doctored version, and Bynum remembers struggling to recite the tale filled with inconsistencies and improbabilities. Bynum, on his own and without an attorney, found it all hard to swallow, especially the biggest lie of all. “They said, ‘You’ll probably be out pretty soon.’”