One of the detectives who led the investigation into a District woman’s 1984 beating death denied Tuesday that he assaulted suspects and coerced them into giving false statements about their and their friends’ involvement.
Former D.C. homicide detective Ruben Serrano Sanchez’s testimony contradicted that of three men who, in earlier hearings before a D.C. Superior Court judge, testified that Sanchez threatened them and provided information for them to repeat in videotaped interviews or in court. One said that Sanchez shoved his head into a toilet when he refused to cooperate.
Sanchez, now 70, denied the allegations.
“No, sir,” he said. “We were there to obtain information. We don’t give.”
Catherine Fuller, 48, was beaten to death, her body found in a garage in her H Street NE neighborhood. Twelve neighborhood friends were charged in the case.
Two pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying against their friends in an 1985 trial. Two were acquitted.
Eight were convicted of first-degree murder. Six of those men are still behind bars and have petitioned the court to reexamine the case, arguing that prosecutors withheld evidence from their attorneys and that confessions taken by detectives at the time were false. Hearings in the petitions began two weeks ago.
Sanchez did admit Tuesday that he and his partner interviewed Calvin Alston, one of the men who pleaded guilty, before videotaping their conversation. Alston testified last week that the detectives repeatedly told him what to say when the taping began. Sanchez said that was not true.
Another suspect, who was then 16, said Sanchez pushed his head into a toilet during interrogations. A third said Sanchez threatened to send his parents to prison if he did not cooperate. Sanchez also denied those allegations.
The hearings will determine whether the six incarcerated men were wrongly convicted and should be freed or get a new trial. Judge Frederick Weisberg must determine whether he believes the accounts of police abuse and whether prosecutors wrongfully withheld information from defense attorneys.
On the stand Tuesday, Sanchez said he played the role of “bad cop” with his partner during interrogations. Sanchez admitted to raising his voice to illustrate the seriousness of the case. He also said he would remove his suit jacket and bang on the interrogation room door as his partner would urge him to calm down.
Sanchez worked for the District’s police department between 1971 and 1993. He was known as a tough investigator who worked homicide and drug cases during the crack epidemic of the mid-1980s.
Eight men, then ages 16 to 21, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to between 35 years and life in prison in 1985: Kelvin Smith, Steven L. Webb, Levy Rouse, Clifton Yarborough, Timothy Catlett, Russell Overton and brothers Charles and Christopher Turner.
Christopher Turner was paroled in 2010. Webb died in prison. The rest remain incarcerated.