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

Mullins sighs, and rubs his face with his left hand. He doesn't even try to answer that one.

Before Schoville shuts down the interview, she summarizes the state of Mullins' "confession."

"You've already told me she left, came back and picked you up. . . . I'm assuming that you knew you would [go] to her place. And it all happened right there, out in the parking lot. And you even said that you had ran away after it happened. 'Cause obviously you're scared because it wasn't supposed to happen. You even vomited a couple of times. And then you ran around and flagged somebody down, and then you ended up back at the strip club. And basically drove straight back to Kentucky."

Craig LaRotonda/Revelation Studios
Georgia Thompson, about a year before her September 2005 murder.
Georgia Thompson, about a year before her September 2005 murder.

That soliloquy sums up this unfortunate exercise in interrogation, says Dr. Pitt.

"Mullins gave her multiple opportunities to say, 'Whoa. This guy may not be our guy,'" Pitt explains. "A chunk of confessions come just like this, with police injecting the facts of a case into an interview. You have this con and an unsophisticated interviewer. He's playing her. The perfect formula for a screw-up."

With the detective's invaluable assistance, Mullins had his story and he would stick to it for the next seven months.

He even went so far as to tell his mother in jailhouse phone conversations that he had killed a girl in self-defense, which led some police eavesdroppers to conclude that he had to be guilty.

"He did tell me the same thing he told the police," Bonnie Patterson tells New Times. "It sounded ridiculous, and I told him straight-up that I knew he hadn't killed anyone. My daughter said James must have been brain-dead when he came up with this one. He's really not a bad person, but he's not the best person in the world as far as what he does with his life, and the messes he's gotten himself into."

One of the enduring mysteries of this extraordinary case is why prosecutors went to the grand jury just one day after Mullins' half-baked confession.

It wasn't as if the jailed murder suspect was going anywhere.

"We recognized we were a long way from reasonable doubt or having a rock-solid case," Tempe sergeant Mike Hill tells New Times. "[But] we were at probable cause. From what the County Attorney was hearing, they had enough to charge it, to take it to a grand jury and get an indictment."

The County Attorney's Office declines to comment publicly on why prosecutors practically sprinted to the grand jury in this case, which predictably returned its murder indictment against Mullins.

Detective Schoville never stopped investigating the case after the indictment. She twice returned to Kentucky, and spent time in rural Arkansas, Mullins' other stomping ground. She also spent hours re-interviewing witnesses in Arizona, hoping in vain to find someone who would pick Mullins out of a photo lineup and put him in Arizona.

Nothing fell her way.

Sergeant Hill says a healthy "internal debate" about the viability of the case against Mullins began almost immediately.

He says serious questions arose about the lack of physical evidence linking Mullins to the murder, about the fact that Maxie and Mullins apparently had been unable to describe the route they had taken to Arizona, where they had stayed when they got here.

Hill says he told Schoville at one point, "'You believe the guy's interview. Let's go back and find the corroboration. We need more than just this guy saying he did it.' She understood that and recognized that."

But Hill concedes that he never did watch the telltale Mullins confession tapes until "the problem arose."

By "problem," he means the stunning and unexpected link of the Baseline Killer to Georgia Thompson's murder.

In February, Schoville flew to Arkansas to interview members of James Mullins' family, as well as an ex-girlfriend and others.

Mullins' estranged girlfriend told Schoville that he was a tweaker who had cooked meth in her home, but she never had known him to sell it.

More on point, she also recalled that Mullins' father had taken him to the Little Rock bus station on the afternoon of September 5 for a five-hour trip back to Kentucky.

That presented a timeline problem, if true, because both Maxie and Mullins had described a four- or five-day visit in Arizona that had ended early on September 8.

Bonnie Patterson later told Schoville that she had paid for the bus trip because her son was broke, and police reports show she provided the detective with her credit card bill to prove it. A Greyhound bus official also confirmed the transaction.

Trouble was, no one in law enforcement can account for the whereabouts of Mullins or Maxie for the crucial period from September 6 until after Georgia Thompson's murder.

It was into this murky milieu that former attorney general Grant Woods stepped last spring, weeks after James Mullins' arrest for allegedly murdering Georgia Thompson.

Grant Woods has successfully worked both sides of the criminal-justice aisle, as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer.

Woods says he offered his pro bono services to the County Attorney's Office well before Andrew Thomas appointed him as "special prosecutor" in the Mullins case.

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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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