The Circuit Court Judge would say that this was the most heinous crime in his 30 years of judicial experience.
The snow was sideways on that day, the Sun invisible to me. The wind screamed of horror and places not to be. Terror had claimed another victim, a child of just thirteen.
I was the newest Detective having been promoted just a couple of months earlier to work minor crimes. My caseload consisted of burglaries, larcenies, check cases, pawn shop investigations and the like. All of the Detectives worked out of the main station. I was surrounded by the Salty Dogs and Sperm Whales of the department. Grayed, grizzled and often grumpy most of them had worked major cases for decades. I had earned my way into the Detective Bureau but I was a cub among bears.
Dispatch called upstairs and told the Sergeant a child’s body had been found in a wooded area by a couple of rabbit hunters. One of the hunters would say, “In the thickets, I saw something, looked whitish. The closer I got, the more it looked like a body. It looked like someone dressed up a dummy, maybe trying to scare us. At first I thought it was a mannequin, I knew a mannequin didn’t have a belly button. The body was frozen and waxy looking with snow on the eyes. I took my gun and touched her side thinking to hear the knock of plastic, I didn’t. Then I touched her fingers and they bent back.”
He tried to stay with the body but got frightened and ran after his buddy and towards his car. They drove to a nearby preschool and called the Sheriff’s office.
A scramble to find the Truth begins.
The Sergeant tells me to stay put and to start checking missing person(s) reports as everyone else bolts for the door. All of the Detectives descended on the crime scene which was an open area away from the city, some might call it the beginning of the country. Large blocks of trees crossed by farmer’s fields, everything bordered by dirt roads in one mile squares, 640 acres between. Majestic oak trees stood between fence and furrow, with field stones cleared over a hundred years.
It didn’t take long to discover an adjoining jurisdiction had a report of a missing 13 year old girl and the description matched what the Detectives were calling in from the scene. The victim had suffered multiple wounds to her body and we were all but certain it was Mary. The clothing and physical description matched. The pieces began to fit.
Mary Ann Hulbert was last seen with Steven Stamper and Christopher Machacek, both 16 years of age. A neighbor drove Mary to the entrance of the trailer park where Stamper and Machacek were waiting for her. Mary had confided to the neighbor that she thought she was pregnant by Machacek and she was going to talk to him about it. She fiddled nervously with a screwdriver in her pocket and said she had it “just to make sure” she didn’t get hurt, it was her protection. The neighbor watched Mary get in the Bronco with Stamper and Machacek and ride into her Nightmare, never to be seen alive again.
I knew Stamper and Machacek from my time in uniform patrol or street work. I’d contacted them often on traffic stops and during minor criminal investigations. I considered them low-level punks with attitudes. I knew where everybody lived and who they associated with, I knew their Grandmothers and neighbors. I relayed what I’d discovered and knew to the Detective Sergeant.
Next the principal Detective, the Sergeant and I responded to the homes of Stamper and Machacek. We told them we were investigating the disappearance of Mary and asked for their assistance in finding her and if they would come down to the Station. They both agreed and traveled to the station in their cars with family members. At this point Stamper and Machacek were considered witnesses. When they moved from witness to suspect would become a key legal issue and nearly cost us the case.
One of the reasons I was promoted to Detective was my ability to obtain confessions during the interview process. I worked hard to learn effective interview techniques and obtained many confessions.
Here is quick rookie lesson. When I went to someone’s house to interview them as a suspect I would look for something to connect to them with. If I saw bowling trophies on the mantle I would ask, “Did you ever bowl a 300?” If there was an old beat up car in the backyard I’d ask, “Man is that a 57′ I wish I could find a sweet ride like that.” The problem with this is you have to know something about what you’re talking about. If I asked the bowler if he ever bowled a 400 game he would think me an idiot, rightfully so. Take time to make yourself human before asking the hard questions. Shake their hand and look them in the eye. Call the Doctor by his first name, call the janitor “Sir.”
Lesson over, back to the past.
I don’t know what the Sergeant was thinking but he assigned me to interview Stamper and Machacek with the senior Detective. Maybe he saw it as a training opportunity, maybe it was because I was good at getting to the Truth. For whatever reason I was thrust into the biggest case of my career, the weight of it nearly crushed me. A Life was lost, others changed, never the same.
Stamper and Machacek were interviewed separately and in the presence of their legal guardians. All of their statements were tape recorded.
They both told a story of picking Mary up and later dropping her off near her school. There were enough inconsistencies in the telling that the hairs on my neck began to stand. Their main story was rock solid but the little details were screwed up. They both gave the exact location where Mary had been dropped off but when I asked which way she walked away one said she went left, the other said right. When I asked where she sat in the Bronco one said the front the other said the back. Slowly they were moving from witnesses to suspects but they stuck to their lie.
At some point the senior Detective made a major mistake, which he would compound later. He said to Machacek, “There is no way I can let you go home tonight.” Defense Attorneys would argue this statement was an indication Machacek was under arrest and should have been immediately transported to the juvenile detention center which was required by Michigan Law.
We weren’t getting any closer to the Truth and I decided to gamble. I told Machacek that Stamper was at the station and being questioned by other Detectives and watched the blood drain from his face. Stamper was the weaker of the two and Machacek knew he could fold at any moment. I told him their stories better match up and they would be compared to find the Truth. The artery on the side on his neck bulged.
Machacek requested a tape recorder saying he was going to tell us what happened to Mary. I think he caved in to panic and decided to tell his lies first. He was again advised of his Miranda Rights.
Machacek said that he and Stamper drove Mary to the wooded area.”We went back in the field and Stamper told her to take off her clothes, and so she was fighting for a little while and then Stamper hit her so she took off her clothes and he put a blindfold on her.” He said Stamper shot Mary six or seven times with a .22 caliber rifle and then reloaded. Mary tried to run away and that was when Stamper shot her dead. “She was making noises and stuff and I was tripping out”, Machacek ended by saying he had helped Stamper conceal Mary’s body by dragging her by the feet into some nearby bushes. On the way home Stamper said, “I never killed nobody before.” ”He was praying and stuff saying I hope God forgives me”, Machacek said. They drove to Stamper’s house where they cleaned the Bronco and the rifles. An agreement was made to tell the lie about dropping Mary off at the entrance to her school if anyone asked. Next they fixed themselves a meal of hoagie sandwiches and root beer floats and said in front of witnesses, “We should wash our hands after what we just did.”
The following day, New Year’s Eve, they partied with friends.
I entered the interview room where Stamper and his legal guardian were. I advised him of his Miranda Rights and he indicated he understood them.
“Bad news Steve, Chris just gave you up on a taped statement. He said that you are the one that shot Mary.” I sat the black leather cassette tape player between us. I savored the moment, the tension, I turned over four kings – I played part of the tape. Stamper told me to “load a fresh tape” because he was going to tell his side of the story.
Stamper’s statement unfolded with greater detail that Machacek’s.
Mary called Machacek and told him she was pregnant and that he was the father. Stamper and Machacek drove to Mary’s neighborhood to pick her up. On the way they stopped by Stamper’s house and picked up two .22 caliber rifles and ammunition. One of the rifles was a recent Christmas gift from his grandmother. They drove to the front of Mary’s trailer park where she had agreed to meet them.
Stamper said they did not want to kill Mary but were trying to induce a miscarriage. Their plan was to shoot guns at her and scare her enough to cause a miscarriage. He drove her to the isolated wooded area north of Ypsilanti and not too far from her home.
Once there Machacek told Mary to strip off her clothes while they were all still in the Bronco. “You heard them, take them off” Stamper told Mary. “Then she was getting lippy with Chris. I told her to shut up. She was sitting there with a screwdriver in her hand, playing around. I said Why don’t you quit playing around and pointed my finger at her. She slapped my finger. I slapped her.”
Stamper said he blindfolded Mary with an ACE bandage and, “She was laughing the whole time, thinking it was all just a joke”, he said.
She was told to get out of the Bronco, wearing only her bra and panties. She stood with her back against the tree as they told her, clutching a stuffed toy dog to her chest she had picked up when getting out of the Bronco. Mary said her fear was they would leave her alone in the field, a worse fear was yet to be realized. She began to cry out her last moments of life.
Stamper said Machacek “snapped and fired about 20 rounds at Mary.” Stamper could hear Mary moaning after the first burst of fire. He asked Machacek “What are you doing?” Machacek then fired the fatal bullet. Stamper said “Shes dead.” He (Machacek) said ”I know she is dead” it really didn’t seem to bother him. Stamper said he took his hat off and asked the Lord’s forgiveness for this. Stamper denied ever firing his gun at Mary and said he only fired into the ground at Machacek’s insistence. Afterwards he helped Machacek hide Mary’s body under a bush and they drove back to his house.
I met Mary for the first and last time the following day. She was on the autopsy table, more child than girl, a porcelain doll - lifeless and still – just 13 years old. To see her reminded me of a gangster’s death, her body riddled with bullet holes. She had been shot from the front and back, in her left collar-bone, left shoulder, chest, armpit, navel and hip bone. One deformed bullet remained in her body and the rest were through and through shots. I touched my body in the same places as her wounds and try to imagine the pain, the fear, the end. I had to know what happened, it was my sworn duty.
The pathologist testified Mary could have survived every wound with the exception of one, The fatal bullet that passed through her side and into her heart and lungs.
She wore a small gold ring with a heart-shaped stone on her tiny finger. This would be something her mother could clutch to her chest during the dark nights to come. Something to kiss, something to hold, something to cry over. A silent witness to a life taken, a testament to innocence stolen, a memory of Mary.
As I touched Mary’s hand I made a promise to her. “Mary, I will do my best to find Justice for you and hold those that did this responsible.” I spoke the words into the still air over her body.
Seems like this would be a fairly straight forward case, right? WRONG, it was FUBAR from the beginning.
The senior Detective, the one assigned the case, compounded the “There is no way I can let you go home tonight” statement to Machacek by telling the person responsible for transcribing the tape to leave that part out. A small mistake became a potential attempted conspiracy to obstruct Justice. The Sheriff relieved him of his investigative duties and demoted him to civilian. This would be his last criminal investigation.
At that time Michigan Law required a petition before a Juvenile Court Judge to obtain permission to try a juvenile as an adult. The senior Detective was having his Miranda Rights read to him in the Judge’s chambers before he could testify. He was under threat of criminal charges because of things he had said and done. The Detective Sergeant moved into the primary or lead investigator seat, sitting next to the Prosecutor. There was only one problem with that is he didn’t know shit about the confessions, the critical part of this case.
The time line and details of the unfolding investigation had to come through my testimony. When and how Stamper and Machacek moved from witness to suspect became important, especially in light of the “Ain’t nobody going home statement.”
A Walker hearing was scheduled before a Juvenile Court Judge. This would be an evidentiary hearing to determine if the defendants statements were voluntary. If Machacek and Stamper’s statements were thrown out the whole case could be lost under the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine (even though everybody knew they were guilty). They knew and revealed things only the killer(s) could know.
Fruit of the Poison Tree Doctrine
This doctrine holds that evidence gathered with the assistance of illegally obtained information must be excluded from trial. Thus, if an illegal interrogation leads to the discovery of physical evidence, both the interrogation and the physical evidence may be excluded, the interrogation because of the exclusionary rule, and the physical evidence because it is the fruit of the illegal interrogation.
This is the ultimate Cop penalty, the black flag and is used to punish bad Cop behavior. The pressure was on and I felt it like no other time in my career. There was a real possibility these cold-blooded killers could walk. I had to get my testimony right. I carried case files everywhere and memorized timelines, the when and where, the evidence, who said what. I paced the floor many sleepless nights anticipating questions the team of defense attorneys might ask the next morning.
The hearing before Judge Woods lasted for 7 weeks (not a typo – 7 fucking weeks of testimony – a State record) and I testified for days on end. How many ways can the same questions be asked? My own testimony was thousands of pages long and the Court hired an extra person just to keep up with transcribing the testimony.
In the end, and with a stinging rebuke of the Senior Detective’s conduct, the cases against Machacek and Stamper were bound over to Circuit Court for trial. The Judge agreed that these juvenile defendants should be tried as adults and said they were “beyond rehabilitation in the Juvenile Justice system.” She allowed Stamper’s statement to stand as evidence and threw out Machacek’s. The case moved forward.
Once in Circuit Court the same questions and legal arguments had to be answered. The voluntary nature of the statements was tested. Over and over I was questioned about when Stamper and Machacek were first considered suspects. All of this had to be answered before the real evidence could be presented. The guns and bullets, shell casings, photos of wounds and all the rest. The Circuit Court Judge allowed back in to evidence Machacek’s statement.
At the conclusion of the trials Machacek was found guilt of Murder in the First Degree and Stamper was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree.
In October of 1988, nearly 2 years after the murder of Mary, they were both sentenced. Michigan doesn’t have a death penalty and Machacek’s First Degree Murder conviction resulted in a mandatory life sentence without any possibility of parole. That’s Life, all day long Life, no getting out of prison Life. Stamper received a Life sentence with an eligibility for parole. Both were 18 years of age when sentenced.
United States Supreme Court Decision
In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring youths convicted of murder to be sentenced to die in prison violate the Eighth Amendments ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“It is a great tragedy when a juvenile commits murder most of all for the innocent victims, Chief Justice Roberts wrote. But also for the murderer, whose life has gone so wrong so early. And for society as well, which has lost one or more of its members to deliberate violence, and must harshly punish another.”
I disagree with Chief Justice Roberts.
This was one of the most cold-blooded, cruel acts I ever investigated. Stamper and Machacek conspired in the cold light of day to murder Mary. They collected the weapons and picked the place of her execution. They formed a firing squad and killed Mary to save themselves, that was their plan, to cover their asses.
I was in that interview room and carefully listened to the words of these killers. I believe the Truth lies between the statements and what was not said. Where half-truths dance with absolute lies a thread can be found. What follows is my considered opinion of what happened to Mary in her last moments of life.
In the woods Mary knew she was in danger and she fought for her life. She pulled out her weapon, the screwdriver, only to be disarmed by Stamper. They slapped her and forced her to strip naked for their amusement. They tortured her, they dehumanized her, they filled her with terror. Together they lead her to her place of death. They sentenced her to death by firing squad and carried out her execution, a cruel and lingering death filled with fear, agony and pain. I believe Machacek shot Mary and that Stamper did fire once into the ground, right through Mary’s side and into her heart. I wonder if he felt good for putting her out of her misery? He stood over her dead body and asked for forgiveness, for what?
I don’t believe Mary was laughing.
Stamper and Machacek should die in prison and I will do everything within my power to make that so.
Even now, I prepare for the day when either come up for parole. I gather old reports, news articles, talk to partners of my past. I stay in contact with Mary’s Mother. I twist bone and pick scab – I open another clay jar. I try to remember it all. I will be ready.
I made a promise…
© 2015 – 2016, Michael Fulcher. All rights reserved.