I Dunnit

Here's how a Kentucky inmate conned Tempe cops and the County Attorney's Office into believing he'd killed a stripper, who really was a victim of the Baseline Killer

The detective's videotaped interviews with Mullins show that she repeatedly tipped Mullins off to key evidentiary details so that his logistically impossible confession might seem more plausible.

She's not the only one to blame for what happened.

Prosecutors routinely will ask investigators to do more legwork before they'll take a case to a grand jury. That's because indictments are easy to come by, but convictions at trial often aren't.

Arizona authorities extradited James Mullins from Kentucky last April.
courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriff'S Office
Arizona authorities extradited James Mullins from Kentucky last April.
Curtis Maxie, who called Crime Stoppers at the behest of Mullins.
Curtis Maxie, who called Crime Stoppers at the behest of Mullins.

But Bob Shutts, the respected chief of the County Attorney's homicide bureau, disregarded his usual role as a prosecutorial gatekeeper, a devil's advocate. Instead, Shutts ran to get a murder indictment of Mullins just one day after the "confession" in Kentucky.

The abnormally speedy turnaround meant that he had to rely almost exclusively on Schoville's biased account of what had happened in Paducah.

For months afterward, the County Attorney's Office and the famous private attorney who signed on to prosecute Mullins continued to buy the oft-debunked notion that when someone says he dunnit, he must have.

That lawyer was former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, whose presence as special prosecutor in the case admittedly was unorthodox. Woods signed on weeks after Mullins' indictment, and says he offered his services to Andy Thomas free of charge simply because he wanted to prosecute a difficult and interesting case.

"This case was anything but high-profile when I came on board, but I was just looking for a challenge," Woods says. "Sure, the red flags were there from the outset. We had a confession, but with big question marks. And even if Mullins was the right guy, how do you convict someone with just a confession? We thought for a while that we might have some physical evidence, but that didn't pan out. We couldn't even prove that Mullins had been in Arizona when the murder happened. Turns out the guy was just a Kentucky con man."

So, then, how did this manipulative Bluegrass State lowlife come up with an Arizona murder case to sink his paws into?

"It was the Maury show," James Mullins tells New Times. "That's where this all started."

Last December 27, tabloid talk-show maven Maury Povich hosted an episode titled "Shocking Sex Crimes and Cheating Men . . . Caught on Tape!"

One five-minute segment had nothing to do with a sex crime, cheating men or anything caught on tape, but Povich ran with it anyway.

"She looked like the all-American girl next door," the New York host intones, as the image of a pretty young girl wearing a velvet cap appeared on a screen behind him. "She was sweet, innocent, full of life. But the life of 19-year-old Georgia Thompson took an unexpected and tragic turn, a turn that involved topless dancing, shattered dreams and a bloody death. This is her story."

Povich describes how Georgia — a churchgoing small-town girl, he says — had needed money for college tuition. So, according to his script, the young woman's life had taken "an X-rated turn" when she went to work as a stripper in her newly adopted state of Arizona.

"That all would change on the night of September 8, 2005," Povich says.

He notes that Georgia had been shot to death in a Tempe parking lot, but never does say exactly where it was, an important omission in light of what was to follow.

A grainy black-and-white "dramatization" of the murder's aftermath depicts an actress playing Georgia bleeding on the ground from a fatal wound to her forehead.

When the camera returns to Povich in studio, he's sitting next to a weeping young man, described in a caption as Georgia's "boyfriend."

Povich urges anyone with information to call Tempe police detectives at a phone number shown on the screen during the segment.

"No one knows who murdered Georgia," he says, as schmaltzy music plays in the background.

The episode airs that December day inside the McCracken County Jail in Paducah, a city of about 26,000 in the western part of Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.

On December 28, Paducah police contact their counterparts in Tempe with potentially juicy information. Earlier that day, an inmate at the jail had called the West Kentucky Crime Stoppers phone line.

According to a call-in log, inmate Curtis Maxie was claiming that "James Mullins is responsible for a homicide in Tempe, Arizona. Mullins is currently lodged in the McCracken County Jail for burglary and theft. Caller advised that Mullins has been bragging and talking about the murder. . . . The victim is described as a white female, 18 to 25 years of age, and was a stripper in a nightclub. The crime occurred in September of 2005. Caller gave the number for the police department in Arizona."

A 34-year-old convicted sex offender, Maxie, like Mullins, was facing a long prison term under Kentucky's persistent felony offender law.

For motivations that soon would reveal themselves in four words — let's make a deal — Maxie indicated he would be willing to chat with investigators about what he had allegedly heard from Mullins.

How he possibly could have learned the phone number of the Tempe Police Department's detective division from his Kentucky jail cell might have raised immediate concerns among investigators. But it didn't.

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Black Widow
Black Widow

James Mullins is a good man who made a silly stupid mistake. His judgement was clouded by the stress of facing 25 years plus in prison. It made him make a compulsive decision that was not a bright idea although to him it seemed like the lesser of two evils. James knows that he was on the side of error and is truly and sincerly sympathic to Georgia's family and apologizes for his lack of thought and for giving the family false hope that her killer was found. James has honestly expressed his apologies to the family and the public servents that were involved.

brandon gomez
brandon gomez

they should of kept chuck.when he had that tempe street beat show on channel 11,it was always interesting and edicational.it taught me a lot watching him.

it's BULLSHIT how they fired him,he was a good cop.

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