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The Seventh VictimTHE TYRONE BRIGGS STORY AS TOLD BY A JUROR
By Joanne Spencer
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Joanne Spencer
All right reserved.
It was one of those damp, soggy, penetrating January nights in Seattle, the kind that follows days of gray skies and drizzle. One of those times when fog shrouds the area, a rare occurrence that could shut down operations at SeaTac Airport. For some of us, it was a night to get cozy in front of a fireplace and read a good book.
Tyrone Briggs wasn't paying attention to the weather. The neighborhood gym was fewer than a couple of blocks from where he lived in Yesler Terrace, and only a rare snowstorm could close down the place. For Tyrone, that night started out like any other—basketball with his buddies—but the way it ended would force Tyrone's life to veer from its path into the face of tragedy.
Basketball was Tyrone's love—whether it was just a one-on-one or playing with a full team, he was doing what he loved most. With his school team, the position he played was guard, but as far as spirit and enthusiasm was concerned, he was the "center." Anyone who saw Tyrone Briggs on the court knew he was born to play basketball. His mom was proud of the fact, but it didn't stop her from constantly yelling, "Tyrone, y'all stop bouncin that thing in the house!"
Playing basketball was something he'd been doing since his hands were big enough to hold the ball. It was just another extension of his hand. Tyrone's closest male friendships were those formed through a common love of the sport. Basketball was his world.
Tyrone's coach at Nathan Hale High School showed excitement and enthusiasm when he talked about Tyrone. "Tyrone's not only a good player, he's an outstanding basketball talent." Coach White added, "I've been approached by numerous college coaches who're excited over recruiting Tyrone Briggs. They all want him on their team." Tyrone was named "most valuable player" in the state tournament.
Tyrone could have been eligible for a college basketball scholarship, but he was one credit short of getting his high school diploma. He went to the prom and through graduation exercises, but one fact stared him in the face. He lacked a credit in US History to get his diploma.
Tyrone knew he'd have to scramble to somehow make that up. He couldn't qualify for a scholarship yet because of it, and he was too poor to go to college without one. It had been a bitter pill to swallow, being delayed like that, but he'd had to face up to it and work toward that end. Tyrone knew he had to do what he had to do, to qualify him to be a member of a college basketball team and then move on to his cherished goal: to be a professional basketball player. It was all Tyrone Briggs dreamed about.
This goal seemed a long way down the road to a young guy like Tyrone, but somehow he had to get there. If he could make it on to a professional team, he would make money doing what he loved most. Eventually, I'll get myself a car, buy my folks a fancy house ... he dreamed on and on. One possibility he had in mind was to bypass college and go directly to play for a professional team. I'll just try out as a walk on, maybe, he thought. At least one professional team had already expressed interest in the recently turned nineteen-year-old.
Tyrone had another goal in mind as well, a more personal, rather secret goal. He desperately wanted to get rid of his lifelong stutter. It had embarrassed him since he was old enough to notice. He died a thousand deaths every time he had to get up in front of a class to read aloud. That was the worst. Once, he confessed to his mom, "Ahahah I remember when I was just a little kid. Ahahah it really hurt me when my brothers and their friends used to tease me an ahahah call me Porky Pig because of the way I talked. Ahahahah sometimes I'd run into my room an stay there ahahah 'til they went off someplace." He knew that basketball, his love, was a way to achieve an education and make a career for himself. As long as Tyrone could keep getting that basketball through the hoop, it wouldn't matter how he talked.
That night in the gym, Tyrone was jumping up for a layup when, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted his dad coming through the door, a serious look on his face. The distraction made him miss his shot. Tyrone stopped and walked over to the side.
To answer his question of, "Ahahah, what's up, Dad?" his father, wearing a frown and a question mark on his face, said, "Some cops came around to the house a little bit ago and wanna talk to you again. You gotta come home right away." His dad told him the police had left, but they asked his mom to call them back as soon as Tyrone got home.
"Ahahahahah gotta go, guys, ahahahahaha see ya later," Tyrone called over his shoulder as he left the gym with his dad.
"Ahahah, gee, Dad, it's weird the cops wanna talk to me again. I already squared the traffic ticket with 'em last night. So did they say why they wanna ahah talk to me again now?"
"Beats me." His dad shrugged. "I only know they wanna talk to you.'"
As they strode along, Tyrone felt a little jittery, knowing that anytime the cops wanted to talk to a guy, it usually didn't mean anything good.
Tyrone thought back to the night before, when the police came to the gym themselves to arrest him for the fifty-six dollar traffic ticket he hadn't paid. Talk about embarrassing, he thought. Right in front of everybody.
When he first arrived at the gym this night, the guys were all talking and laughing about it. They asked, "What was that all about?" and said, "Thank god, at least the cops didn't come barging into the gym again tonight."
A while back, when his dad came home from work, Tyrone had jumped into the family car and rushed over to a friend's house without grabbing his driver's license from another pair of jeans. On the way, the police made a routine traffic stop, which happened often to him and his African American "brothers," but he never got used to it. It still made him nervous, and resentful as well. When Tyrone couldn't produce his license this time, he got the ticket. He thought the whole episode was unreasonable and didn't pay the fine.
When the cops had picked him up at the gym the previous night and arrested him for nonpayment of the ticket, they went so far as to take him down to the police station. They took fingerprints and a mug shot. He was pretty scared. When he got home, his brothers laughed, teased him, and called him "'jailbird." Tyrone was embarrassed and didn't think it was funny.
While Tyrone and his dad were walking the short distance home from the gym and dodging mud puddles, Tyrone complained, "Ahahah I hope they're not gonna drag me down to the police station again, ahaha the traffic ticket deal was bad enough." But he had heard they'd been picking up every guy between fourteen and thirty years old who lived around there, taking them to the station to question them about some woman being hurt or something. I hope they're not gonna do that to me too, but gettin' hassled by police is nothin' new to us guys, he thought.
"Ahahaha I wish they'd at least a waited till the game was over," Tyrone grumbled to his dad. "This is the second night in a row they've done this to me." He figured he didn't have anything to tell them anyhow. He didn't know anything about it anyway, except what he heard his mom say when she came in all excited one morning and woke him and his brother to tell them about that lady who had gotten hurt in Johnny's old place.
He later saw the police cars and tracking dogs when he went out to get his hair processed, but he couldn't tell them anything more than that. So why do they have to bother me again? he wondered.
Tyrone's mind flashed back to how upset his mom had been that morning not long before Christmas when she rushed in all breathless and told him and his brothers what she had seen. She'd heard a lot of police cars coming when she was putting Felicia on the school bus, and she walked down the lane to see what was happening. "It's awful, that poor lady bein' carried out on a stretcher an' all, an' she had blood all over her," he remembered her saying. "Why, ah feel so sorry fo' that lady, it's terrible."
After her pronouncement, Tyrone got out of bed and peeked out his bedroom window. He saw a few police cars parked on the street and people still milling around. He felt sorry for that lady, but things were always happening around the neighborhood, so it didn't seem so unusual to him.
When Tyrone and his dad got home from the gym, his mom called the police back as she promised. "Y'all can come back and talk to Tyrone now, 'cause he's here," she told them. When the police arrived, his mother invited them in. Tyrone recognized the police woman who had taken part in arresting him for the traffic ticket the night before.
The officer turned toward Tyrone and said, "I'm Detective Cline, and I'd like to ask you a few questions." After a brief conversation with Tyrone and his parents, Cline again turned to Tyrone and said, "Okay, now tell your mom what you did."
Tyrone, looking puzzled, replied, "Ahahahaha, what do you mean, tell my mom what I did?"
Cline narrowed her eyes and said in a low, harsh tone, "You know what you did."
Tyrone, still looking puzzled, said, "Ahahahah I didn't do anything."
Cline, now in a more menacing tone, said, "Oh yes you did. We know you're the one who attacked those women. We have a bloody stick with your fingerprints all over it. We're placing you under arrest for rape, robbery, and assault!"
Tyrone was in shock. "What bloody stick?" It was unreal, like it was happening to someone else. His mother, Dorothy, became hysterical. His father tried to calm her down, but it was impossible.
Tyrone's mom and dad watched in disbelief and horror as their youngest son was handcuffed, placed in a police car, and whisked away. It was the beginning of a horrible, appalling nightmare.
* * *
In the police car, Tyrone's denials and protestations were ignored. "Ahahahahahah, please, please listen to me. Ahahahahah I didn't do anything, ahahahah I didn't hurt anybody, please, please, let me go!"
The cops continued talking among themselves, acting like they didn't hear him, ignoring his pleas altogether. They were in control, had the badges and the power. Tyrone was powerless. The terror building inside him was mounting to a level of sheer panic.
This can't be happening, he thought, this isn't real. But he knew the tears he had seen running down his mother's cheeks were real. The salty taste of his own tears and the terrified look in his parent's eyes as they pleaded with the police not to take him were real. The set jaws and unyielding looks of the police officers, the pain he felt from the handcuffs digging into his wrists, and the terrible, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach were all too real as well. Tyrone felt as though he was going to pass out.
When the police car arrived at the jail bearing the newly acquired prisoner, Detective Cline led Tyrone to a cell. Bang! went the heavy steel door as the detective slammed it shut. Between the bars, she threw red prison clothes at him and demanded, "Put them on." Cline barked, "We know you're the one who's been running around attacking those women. We have all kinds of evidence against you, including the bloody stick with your fingerprints all over it."
Tyrone knew this wasn't true because he hadn't attacked anybody. He didn't know anything about any bloody stick. "What are they talking about?" he agonized. His thoughts darted frantically, How can they say things like this about me that aren't true? Why don't they listen? Why won't they believe me?'
"We know you did it," Cline insisted. "You'd better confess now and get it over with. You have just ten minutes to talk."
Now Tyrone was overtaken with terror; he thought his heart was jumping right out of his chest, as if he was having a heart attack. He felt helpless and claustrophobic. "Please, God, Mom, Dad, somebody, anybody, help me. Please, God, make them believe me."
After eight minutes or so, Officer Cline came back into Tyrone's cell and said in no uncertain terms, "Okay, now you only have two minutes left."
This shocked him into asking to see a lawyer. Somehow the officer misconstrued his request for an attorney as a sign of guilt, or so she claimed.
Once again, Cline slammed the cell door shut and yelled, "Yippee, we got our man!"
It was like a stab in Tyrone Briggs's heart when the officers congregating in the hall chimed in together, "Yeah, we got our man!"
For young Briggs, his arrest on the twenty-first of January, 1987, in Seattle, Washington, marked the beginning of an insidious nightmare. It was the night that was to rob Tyrone Briggs of his future promise, a night to leave his life devastated. That was the night when the ugly steel jaws of injustice grabbed him and set out to tighten their stranglehold on him.
* * *
Following Tyrone Briggs's arrest that night, a search warrant had been obtained by Detective Cline. By 12:30 am, two carloads of police officers had arrived back at the Briggs's home and were loudly knocking on the door.
There would be no sleep in the house that night. Tyrone's mother, Dorothy, was still sobbing, red eyed and hysterical when the police got there. His dad, Henry, was somewhere between cold shock and hot anger. When their oldest son, Eric, opened the door to the police, all the family could do was stare blankly at them. After what had transpired earlier, nothing more could faze them. They were just trying to make it, trying to cope, still trying to believe it.
Before police came back for the search, Tyrone's parents had tried pulling themselves together enough to get Felicia, Tyrone's nine-year-old sister, calmed down. Felicia had been so frightened and disconsolate after her brother was taken away in handcuffs, she couldn't go to sleep. Henry and Dorothy were in shock themselves but tried to reassure Felicia that everything was going to be all right. "It's a mistake," they told her, and they said her brother would be safely home by morning. She finally dropped off to sleep in her parents' bed.
When police came back for the search, Felicia woke up and was terrified. The security the child had always felt in her home was suddenly gone. Her whole world was falling apart. She stiffened with fright when police came into the bedroom, abruptly snapping on the light. Are they going to take me now too? Felicia wondered. Instinctively, Felicia lay still and pretended to be asleep. She shivered under the covers and wished the police would hurry up and go away.
When the police began the search, they told Tyrone's parents and his twenty-year-old brother Iris not to get out of their chairs. They took Tyrone's oldest brother, twenty-one-year-old Eric, around the house with them while they searched closets, rooms, drawers, cupboards, etc., scooping up items as they went. Outwardly, Eric appeared calm and cooperative, but inside, even though forced, he felt guilty, as if he were aiding and abetting the enemy.
Tyrone's family watched helplessly, feeling violated; nothing was sacred. Strangers, hostile strangers, were invading their home, their sanctuary. The family was hurting, even nauseous, and now this. They felt like prisoners in their own home, but they cooperated fully with the police. As humiliating as this procedure was, at least this search would show the police they had nothing to hide. Their son was innocent.
When the officers asked to see where Tyrone kept his clothes, Eric opened the door to the bedroom. Felicia's bed was heaped with toys: teddy bears, a Smurf doll, Cabbage Patch dolls, etc. Beside her bed was a tiny, blue-painted table holding a lamp. To the right of that was a set of bunk beds, neatly made up with orange and tan plaid bedspreads. The upper bunk belonged to Iris, the middle brother, and the bottom to Tyrone, Eric explained. Eric told them that since he himself was a student at Seattle University, he was allowed to have a small room of his own. It was more like a large closet, barely large enough to hold his bed and a desk for quiet study. The other three siblings were obliged to share a room.
Excerpted from The Seventh Victim by Joanne Spencer Copyright © 2011 by Joanne Spencer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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