The Legal System | 'This Was the Best Decision for Carlton'

Sunday, June 22, 2008

WACO, Tex. -- Carlton Dotson's court-appointed attorneys still sleep well at night with their decision not to go to trial.

"At the time there was a concern that the jury wasn't going to let a 'Baylor kid' get away and make Waco look bad after you had the Branch Davidian fiasco," Abel Reyna (top right), one of the lawyers, said in his Waco office this spring. "The university is big to this town. The only way to redeem that is to say, 'We won't tolerate that in McLennan County.' "

Reyna and Russ Hunt Sr. (top left) were concerned that Dotson might hurt his case if he took the witness stand and was grilled by veteran prosecutors. The insanity defense was not an option, they said.

"There's parts of you that wish, yeah, maybe we should have gone to trial," Reyna said. "There's another part of you that says, at the time we reviewed everything and it was a fresh in our heads, this was the best decision for Carlton at the time. You can always say, 'What if?' "

A few blocks away in the McLennan County Sheriff's Office, Clay Perry (bottom left), the lieutenant of criminal investigations, and Bob Fuller (bottom right), a corporal in the crime scene unit, have no doubt about Dotson's guilt.

Perry and Fuller, at the time the detective of special crimes for the Waco Police Department, traveled to Maryland to interview Dotson before his confession.

Fuller had a hunch. After he and Perry took Dotson to lunch at an Applebee's in Seaford, Del., he dropped off Dotson. As he was getting out of the detective's car, Fuller said he told Dotson: "Carlton, I don't know if we'll ever get a chance to talk again. But even if we don't, God is gonna getcha for that."

A startled Dotson opened his eyes wide. Within days, he would confess to killing Dennehy.

The area where Dennehy was found mirrored Dotson's confession. "He said he drug him up the hill and the shoes came off in his hands, and sure enough what he said in that interview was almost identical at the crime scene," Perry said.

Perry and Fuller found Dennehy's body after dozens of search teams had combed almost 50 locations in the same area.

"Oh, man, I just stood there for a second," Perry said, recalling when he came upon a large, decomposed body in a thicket of tall grass. "Then I prayed for Patrick and his family, and Carlton and his family.

"Then I prayed that justice would be served."

-- Mike Wise

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company