WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has upheld the triple murder convictions of Willis Mark Haynes, rejecting his argument that police lied to him and failed to read him his rights before taking his confession.
The Monday ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Haynes’ conviction in the January 1996 murders of Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson and Mishann Chinn. The three Washington women were shot and their bodies dumped alongside a road in the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
The appeals court also upheld the sentences imposed on Haynes in August 2000 by the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt: concurrent life sentences for the murders and a consecutive 45 years for handgun violations.
Haynes’ attorney, Joshua Treem, argued that the 1998 confession was coerced and should not have been allowed at trial. He said he was “not totally surprised” at the appellate court’s decision, but “somewhat disappointed that the court did not address a couple of the issues that were raised.”
Federal prosecutors did not return calls on the case Tuesday.
The case began early on the morning of Jan. 27, 1996, when Black, Jackson and Chinn left the Laurel apartment of Dustin John Higgs, after Higgs and Jackson got into an argument. During the argument, Jackson threatened Higgs with a knife and promised to find someone to get him later.
Higgs, Haynes and Victor Gloria caught up with the women and offered them a ride home to the District. The women got into Higgs’ minivan and he drove down Route 197. But instead of turning onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, he headed down an empty stretch of road through the wildlife refuge, stopped the car and told the three women to get out.
Higgs then handed Haynes a .38-caliber handgun and told him, “You better make sure they’re dead,” according to court records. The women’s bodies were found later that morning by a passing motorist. The case was unsolved for more than two years.
In 1998, FBI and U.S. Park Police officers picked up Haynes on drug charges and took him to the FBI office in Calverton, where he was left in an interrogation room filled with news clippings on the murders and boxes labeled “Haynes homicide investigation.”
In fact, the boxes contained assorted files unrelated to the case. Over the next 16 hours, police also showed Haynes a false ballistics report linking him with the crime. They later said his footprint had been found at the scene of the murders, which was not true.
During that time, Haynes asked to speak privately to a detective he knew. It was only after he indicated he was ready to confess that the officers read Haynes his rights, which he waived.
“His arrest and his interrogation and the admitted lies that were told to him in the course of that interrogation were all designed to get him to confess,” Treem said. “In that orchestration of the 17 hours of questioning and lying to him and getting him to waive his rights to counsel, the police crossed the line.”
But the appellate panel, in an unpublished opinion, rejected that claim. It said Haynes made no incriminating statements until after he was read his rights and that authorities made no promises in exchange for a confession.
Treem said he had not spoken with Haynes about the next step in the case.
Both Haynes and Higgs — who was sentenced to death by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in January — are currently in federal custody, since the murders occurred on federal property.