Murder Suspect Left Text Message Trail
by Thomas MacMillan | Feb 4, 2011 5:06 pm
Posted to: Legal Writes
Detective Scott Branfuhr pulled out autopsy images of a man who had been stabbed to death and stuffed into a trash can. The murder suspect peered at photos of his former housemate and muttered, “innocent until proven guilty.”
Those details are laid out in a warrant application for the suspect, who was arrested Thursday. The suspect, who turns 23 Saturday, is charged with murdering 59-year-old Jerry Atkins, wrapping his body in a rug, stuffing it in a trashcan behind a sober house on Sheffield Avenue in Newhallville, and concealing the evidence of the crime. Atkins’ body was discovered April 8, 2010.
The murder suspect, who has recent addresses in Meriden, New Britain and Howe Street in New Haven, appeared in Superior Court on Elm Street on Friday morning. His case was transferred to Part A, the courthouse on Church Street reserved for more serious crimes.
According to an alleged confession following his arrest, the man murdered Atkins as part of a robbery. After stabbing him in the head and torso, he took $25 from his victim’s pocket, according to police.
The arrest follows nearly 10 months of investigation. The warrant affidavit describes how the case came together thanks to tips from a couple of people who know the suspect. The warrant also includes potentially incriminating text messages from the man, in which he appears to be discussing the disposal of the body and says he’s contemplating suicide.
The report was prepared by Detective Branfuhr, a 21-year veteran of the force. Here’s how the investigation unfolded, according to his report:
Branfuhr responded on April 8, 2010 to the house at 103-105 Sheffield Ave., the sober house where Atkins’ body was found. He found the body wrapped in plastic and carpeting and tied with shoelaces. The carpet matched the wall-to-wall carpeting inside the house. In a front bedroom, the floor was bare. The kitchen floor had a blood-like stain. Subsequent tests found scrub marks on the bedroom walls and blood stains on the chest, walls, and door.
That evening, at 11:15 p.m., a woman called police with information about the crime. She said Atkins had been murdered two weeks prior in his own apartment. She said a man who works at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the Boulevard hit Atkins with a two-by-four, stabbed him in the throat and “knifed his eyes,” then wrapped him in plastic and put him in a trash can. Then the man cleaned out Atkins’ apartment to make it look like he had moved out.
Branfuhr called the woman, who gave him the first name of the suspect. He checked a list of tenants at 103-105 Sheffield Ave. and found that a man with that name lived at the house. On April 9, Branfuhr interviewed him at police headquarters.
The man told Branfuhr that he had last seen Atkins—known to him as “Trucker”—less than two weeks before. He denied having anything to do with the death.
Branfuhr asked the man to look at photos taken of Atkins during his autopsy. “He looked intently at these photos and said he was fascinated by them,” Branfuhr wrote. “He muttered to himself, ‘Innocent until proven guilty,’ as he looked at these photos.”
Branfuhr asked the man about scabs on his knuckles. The man said he’d hurt his fingers playing basketball or football, then that he was injured at work while frying chicken.
On April 12, police searched the man’s bedroom at 105 Sheffield Ave. They found an opened box of latex gloves similar to those found with the body in the trash can, a book called “Self Defense Against Knife Attacks,” two pairs of sneakers without shoelaces, and a shirt and mattress that appeared to be stained with blood. DNA tests later showed that the blood on the shirt was Atkins’.
The next day, Branfuhr met with a man named Willie, who had contacted a cop to talk about the crime. The acquaintance told Branfuhr that the suspect had called him recently and said he needed to talk. Willie and the suspect met at Science Park near Munson Street and Winchester Avenue. The suspect “appeared to be stressed out and fidgety. He was looking toward every noise,” Willie told Branfuhr.
The suspect told Willie that he “got into a fight with this dude and did him in,” Branfuhr wrote. The suspect asked Willie’s help disposing of the body. The suspect told Willie the body was still at the house. Willie refused to help him.
Months later, in January 2011, Branfuhr spoke again with Willie, and his girlfriend, who also told police that she heard the suspect say he had killed someone and rolled him in a carpet.
On April 15, police secured phone records and text messages between the suspect and another man who lived at 105 Sheffield Ave. Between March 26 and March 29, the suspect sent and received several noteworthy messages.
From the suspect’s phone: “Yeah and the carpet is off entirely im just waitin for dis dude to come thru hes gunna let me use his wip but i aint tall em tho.”
From the other housemate’s phone: “na.listen.u got to get outta there soon tho.check it.they gone ask questions when it come down 2 it.they goine have 2 get up wit truck.”
From the suspect’s phone: “Imma just say last time i spoke to it.Was last week and he was working on da floo. But listen dat gunna b suspect imma just say last time i spoke wit em he was doin work on da floor cuz dats gunna look crazy if i move idk wat to do.”
From the suspect’s phone: “Man im thinkin bout crazy shit yo im thinking bout ending myself man dead serious. … i no shit bout hit da fan n im not going queitly.”
Perhaps the most damning alleged text drops the word “murder.”
On April 11, this message was sent from the suspect’s phone to an unknown number: “Im about to get tried for murder on the 1rst degree. Their happy i said it.U have a child and i dont want u to get attached to me as that cuz it might not-> Last.Their thats whats been fuckin me up.”
On Thursday this week, Branfuhr and other officers took the suspect into custody. He waived his Miranda rights and confessed to killing Atkins, according to police.
Branfuhr recounts the suspect’s alleged confession in a one-page incident report. According to Branfuhr, the suspect confessed to the following:
He knocked on Atkins’ door with a steak knife in his right hand, with a plan to murder him and rob him. When Atkins answered the door, the suspect began stabbing him in the face until the knife blade broke. The man forced his way in, punching Atkins with his left fist. When Atkins fell to the ground, the man went to the kitchen and got another steak knife. He returned to the room and stabbed him more. Then he reached into Atkins’ pocket, took $25, and left.
Later, the man returned, removed the knives and Atkins’ belongings, to make it look like he’d moved out. He dumped them on the side of the road nearby.
The next day, the man poured bleach on the dead man’s face in attempt to destroy any DNA evidence. Then he wrapped the body in plastic, put it in a trash can and kept it in his room for several days.
He cleaned Atkins’ bedroom with bleach, removed the carpet, and swapped Atkin’s blood-stained mattress for his own. Later he put the trashcan in the backyard.
The suspect is charged with murder, burglary in the first degree, home invasion, robbery in the first degree, and tampering with evidence.
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why is this suspect’s name withheld but raymond clark’s was not? what are you basing thids double standard on?
[Editor: Great question! We thought long and hard on Clark. We reported first that he was the suspect. We did not publish his name. Same with the Register. The next day, after the national media got his name, it became a household word, not only in New Haven, but in 49 other states. We concluded that it was an extraordinary circumstance and he had become a public person, and it would have been silly not to mention a name everyone now knew by heart. I think you may be right that that’s hypocritical. That was our thinking anyway.]
Here is another fine example of great Police work by the New Haven Police Department. The men and women of the New Haven Police Department have been and will continue to come to work every day and solve heinous crimes like the one in the above article. Where are all the anti-Police posters? Thank you Scott for your dedicated service. I sleep peaceably in my bed at night knowing that men and women like Scott and the New Haven Police Department are there to protect me.
Thank you to everyone involved (and especially Detective Branfuhr) for taking one seriously dangerous sociopath off the street.
Do you honestly advocate a situation where police are not accountable to anyone, or a system where they are lavishly worshiped?
Many of the people who complain about, for instance, a cop beating an innocent person, or arresting someone for no reason, or getting a 130k pension after violating someone’s constitutional rights, also are careful to praise the good police officers.
But why is that a “requirement”? Shouldn’t we just be able to speak up when a person who is paid by tax dollars abuses their position to violate laws?
Do you ever complain about politicians? Do you in turn feel required to praise every politician every time they do something great?
Public figures are open to complaints: that is the way the system works!
Dear Streever, did you know that biking while intoxicated is against the law in the state of Connecticut. Also against the law is possession of marijuana. ...
... This is an article about something positive, don’t make it negative.
I wasn’t the one who made it negative—Biggest Fan was. I didn’t want to see them sneak in a snide comment about activists who are sick and tired of police officers beating up innocent people.
The anti-police posts will show up when the new haven police do another incredibly stupid, unprofessional stunt, which won’t take long. Like going into a yalie party and tasering people, maybe? Or arresting people who video record their bullying tactics? ...
130,000 a year pension is quite excessive I must agree. My question to you Streever is who negotiated that contract? You seem like an intelligent guy and fairly up to date on city politics. I will give you a bit of help. The Chief of Police and one’s assistants are management and therefore do not fall under union contract negotiations. City Hall and the Board of Alderman negotiate these absurd contracts.
As a police officer I agree 100% that the police need to be held accountable for one’s actions. IAB should consist of quality investigators who find the facts of a case and provide the Chief of police with the most accurate account of the situation. Upon receiving the information the chief should be able to determine what type of action, if any, should be taken.
I would also like to provide you with some additional information. IAB will not seek action against those who make false accusations against the police. Imagine that your significant other calls the police every Friday night when it gets drunk and tells the cops you beat him or her. Every time it happens you are innocent and you request that the police take action and the response you receive is something like “If we arrest him/her then he/she won’t make a complaint when you really hit him/her”. Sounds a bit asinine.
Sorry to get of on a tangent. Bottom line is Det Branfur solved a homicide and he should be recognized for making an arrest on one of the most difficult cases to solve.