Saturday , 3 December 2016
Truett2

Truett St. Tragedy, Then and Now: The Investigation and Fight for Justice

For the McKinney police officers that were there on that fateful night, the events of March 12, 2004 didn’t happen 10 years ago. They happened last night. They are each able to recall details with perfect clarity. The scene at 105 Truett St. is etched into their memories forever.

The investigation would last years. It would take many twists and turns. Multiple people falsely confessed to the crimes. As the years ticked by, it seemed that the case had gone cold, but law enforcement kept working. A break would finally come in the way of a phone call that led them to the ones responsible for that awful night.

Doug Kowalski was McKinney’s chief of police from 2001-2012. He was at home when he first heard about the scene on Truett St. “I was first notified by a pager message,” Kowalski said. “All I knew at that point was that we had a multiple homicide. I responded to Truett St. to determine what was going on.”

At the time, Kowalski had 27 years of police service under his belt. He had spent 23 of those years in Dallas. “I’d never seen anything like what I saw at that house,” Kowalski said. “I thought I left this stuff behind in Dallas. It was the last thing I ever thought I’d see in the quiet city of McKinney.”

Inside the house were the bodies of Rosa Barbosa, 46, Mark Barbosa, 25, Austin York, 18 and Matthew Self, 17. Rosa’s body was found in her bedroom. Her mouth was duct-taped. “We could tell that Rosa was the prime target at the scene,” Kowalski said. “The boys – I call them boys because they were so young. They were all boys. They were simply victims of opportunity. They just became targets of happenstance. The suspects decided they wouldn’t leave any witnesses. It was cold-blooded, cold-hearted and senseless.”

When McKinney officers realized that two of victims were students at McKinney North High School, they called David Rodriguez, who was McKinney North’s Student Resource Officer at the time. Rodriguez’s daughter Jenny was a North student at the time, as well. She was also dating Austin York at the time. “There was a huge bunch of kids that were always together,” Rodriguez said. “It was a new high school and they were all very close.”

The phone rang at Rodriguez’s house and Jenny called down from upstairs. “If that’s Austin, you tell him to get him his butt over here because he’s in big trouble,” Rodriguez remembers his daughter joking. Jenny was supposed to be with Austin that night.

Rodriguez’s wife answered the phone and handed the receiver over to David. “We need you to come out to this crime scene,” the officer on the other end of the phone said. “We have some high school kids that were involved in this quadruple homicide. We may need you to ID some of the bodies”

Rodriguez was a veteran officer and had worked murder scenes before, but never one where he knew the victims beforehand. “I remember walking up to the door and putting the boots on,” Rodriguez said. “The bodies were already covered. They had already identified them. You could see everything from that front door.”

Rodriguez quickly learned the identities of the victims and made a call to his wife. He told his wife to not let Jenny out of the house until he got home. He knew that his daughter’s boyfriend had been killed but wanted to break the news to her himself. But before he could do that, he had a job to do. “From there, the roller coaster ride took off,” Rodriguez said. “As a cop, you go back to your training and you remember that you have a job to do.”

As the night progressed, Jenny began to ask more questions about where Austin was and why she couldn’t leave the house. “I realized this thing (the investigation on the scene) was going to go on much longer than I thought and I knew that Jenny had started asking some questions,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to know definitively what was going on. They were all supposed to be together and go out that night. I finally told my wife what was going on, and told her to sit her down and tell her what was going on.”

Rodriguez was trying to balance his work as a police officer and his life as a father. “Making the transition from cop to dad was the hardest part,” he said. “Austin drove my wife to Jenny’s soccer games in our car when my wife couldn’t drive because of back surgery. These are kids that we entrusted with our family car. These kids weren’t just friends of ours. They were family.”

Rodriguez’s connections to the victims weren’t limited to Austin and Matt. “I was so close to the Barbosa family as well,” he said. “I remember going to the Barbosa’s house and telling them to meet us at the police station,” he said. “The logistics of getting those people together was a task. We just wanted to make sure that everyone found out at the same time. When everyone got there, that’s when we told them what had happened. I can remember it like it was yesterday.”

Piecing Clues Together

Back at the scene, McKinney Police Detective Diana Tilton had arrived at the house. Tilton has been with the department since 1985 and been a detective since 1999.  She got the call about the incident on Truett St. while she was in bed. “This was easily the worst case I have ever worked on in my career,” she said. “Four deaths, two of whom were so young. It was extremely tragic, made a huge, huge impact and still does to this day.”

The officers and detectives on the scene began to piece together what had happened that night. “We knew almost immediately that we were looking for multiple suspects,” Kowalski said. “It would take more than one person to corral all those people. I made a decision in the beginning that because of the number of victims, it would never be a closed case. We wouldn’t ever stop until we got everyone involved.”

They also determined that the shootings might be connected to an alarm call they’d received earlier from Cliff’s Check Cashing, where Rosa worked. “The majority of homicides are solved in a short period of time,” Kowalski said. “That’s because it’s not stranger on stranger. You can zero in on people of interest. I knew that this was going to be a stranger on stranger crime.”

That made physical evidence critically important. But there wasn’t a lot at the scene. “It seemed like everything we’d need to get a break weren’t there,” Kowalski said. “There wasn’t any surveillance video at the other places around the check-cashing place. It was a complicated case. It was a real whodunit.”

They also knew that Matt Self’s truck was missing. “We began rather extensive hunt for Matt Self’s truck,” Kowalski said. “We hoped that we could find the truck and it would lead us to the ones responsible for this crime.”

Eventually they conducted a citywide sweep of “the entire city,” according to Kowalski. We brought in every officer, including civilian volunteers, to search the entire city. We brought in helicopters to search by air. We searched every road, every alley, every dirt road and every back road. But we couldn’t find the truck anywhere.”

The search for the truck eventually led them to Dallas, where they found the truck abandoned. “We set up surveillance around the truck but no one showed up,” Kowalski said. “We had an FBI team sweep the truck but they couldn’t find anything. It seemed like whoever had stolen the truck had wiped it clean.”

While the truck didn’t yield any clues, the police knew it was only a matter of time until someone talked. “When you have that many suspects, someone is going to talk sooner or later,” Kowalski said. “We knew we were one phone call away. I knew that someday someone would pick up the phone and that would be the one lead that we would need.”

False Alarm

McKinney officers thought they had their man when James Jones came forward in April and confessed to the Truett St. shootings. Jones was a narcotics informant for the McKinney police and was in police custody after being arrested on charges of aggravated kidnapping and burglary. “James Jones came to the surface of his own doing,” Kowalski said. “He began saying that the was involved in the crime. He also implicated Jecory May and Calvin ‘Dallas’ Walker.”

Jones seemed to know some of the details of the crime but some parts of his story didn’t match up with the details of the investigation. But Jones had confessed to the shooting of Rosa Barbosa, and “Jecory May was out in the public confessing as well,” Kowalski said. “It seems like James Jones’ confession never led us to the physical evidence we needed. Eventually, we released them and continued the investigation.”

From that point, it was years before the police would have a substantive break in the case. The weeks and months crept by, especially for the victims’ families. But law enforcement kept working. Kowalski eventually assembled a task force of detectives to work the case. He did not assign a supervisory officer to the group. “I wanted the detectives to be a leaderless group where everyone was equal,” he said. “Each one brought something specific to the task force. I wanted to bring a fresh set of eyes to the case.”

Tilton was one of those detectives, and she kept working the case relentlessly. “I always had faith that we would find the killers some day,” Tilton said. “We had struggles with a false confession early on, which was extremely frustrating. We had to put that behind us and we had to move on. I had faith that something would happen; someone would talk, because this was the biggest thing that ever happened in McKinney and eventually someone would talk about it. We just had to be ready for when they did.”

Finally … The Break

It wasn’t until 2007 that McKinney police received the call that led them to the truth. The girlfriend of Eddie Ray Williams had called the McKinney police to tell them that Williams had told her that he was involved in the Truett St. shootings. “The timing was impeccable,” Tilton said. “I’ll always be eternally grateful for her phone call.”

williams-cortez-cortez

They brought in Williams for questioning and focused on leaving no loose ends. “We wanted to make sure this wasn’t another false confession, so we talked to Eddie Williams a lot,” Tilton said. “We concentrated on obtaining information from him that we could back up with physical evidence. That’s what we needed. That’s what we didn’t have the first time. This was the first domino that fell and everything fell into place after that.”

Williams’ testimony implicated Raul and Javier Cortez. Williams said that he and the Cortez’s had killed the four victims after attempting to get Rosa to give them the codes for the alarm and safe at Cliff’s Check Cashing. Williams also led police to a rented home on Kentucky St. “The first piece of evidence we got was the recovery of a bullet from Raul’s previous home after he test fired a gun (into the ceiling),” Tilton said. “It was a nice home on Kentucky St. that oddly enough was occupied by a McKinney police officer. He was moving out the next day so we knew we had to move fast. So we went in, got the bullet and we knew that this was a ballistics match within 48 hours.”

The bullet was a match with the bullet used in the Truett St. shootings. But that bullet wasn’t enough to get a conviction. They’d need DNA evidence to tie Cortez to the gun itself.

For the McKinney detectives, this was finally the break they needed. “The feeling was unbelievable once everything started to unfold,” Tilton said. “The hardest thing was not calling and telling the families immediately once we began to get evidence against them. I would call them and give them little updates from time to time, because they wanted to know, but that puts them on a rollercoaster. Their hopes go up and down, up and down, which isn’t fair to them. So when we were almost certain it was real this time, it was so difficult not to tell them.”

Undercover police officers then followed one of the Cortez brothers to a party in McKinney. They trailed him until he dropped a cigarette butt and beer bottle, which they then grabbed and took into evidence.

Then they flew to Florida where they followed Raul and got a cigarette butt, which proved to be a match for DNA left at the scene of the crime. “When they were controlling Rosa Barbosa and trying to get her to give the code, they duct taped her face,” Kowalski said. “The tips of the gloves ripped off and stuck to the duct tape. There was sweat and DNA left on the gloves. They were able to match the DNA to Raul Cortez.”

Williams had told the police that Javier Cortez was there that night too, but they were not able to match Javier’s DNA to the DNA on the scene. “Eddie Ray Williams said that Javier Cortez was there,” Kowalski said. “Everything he said was accurate and proved true. The state rule is that you cannot use the uncorroborated testimony of a co-conspirator to place someone at the scene. You have to have physical evidence. The state gets one bite at the apple. We didn’t indict him because we wanted to be sure.”

Convictions? Yes. Closure? No

Javier Cortez eventually served four years for weapons violations that were discovered during the Truett St. investigation. They police were unable to match any guns they found at Cortez’s residence with the guns used in the Truett St. shootings. “It will hang over his head forever,” Kowalski said. “I think they’ll get him with physical evidence eventually. Some of the detectives there will not rest until that third person is brought to justice.”

Raul Cortez was finally brought to justice in 2009 when he was convicted on four counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. He is currently on death row and awaiting execution.

Eddie Ray Williams was sentenced to three concurrent 20-year prison terms in 2010. He will be eligible for parole after 10 years. Prosecutors agreed on the lighter sentence because Williams has a history of mental disability, testified against Cortez and “neither planned nor directed these crimes,” according to media reports at the time of his conviction.

For each of the officers involved in this case, those convictions brought part of the case to a close but it didn’t bring a sense of closure. “When they were convicted, I didn’t feel a sense of closure because I know that the families never will have closure,” Rodriguez said. “There was a sense of accomplishment that we solved it and we got some convictions. We did what we came out to do. We still remember it. We still see and talk to the families. You just don’t forget about it.”

The crimes committed on March 12, 2004 ripped McKinney apart. Those wounds don’t heal quickly. “McKinney still had that small town sense and feel,” Kowalski said. “But our innocence was lost that night. It just tore at the fabric of that entire community. I wish I could turn back the hands of time. If I could, there would have been a lot of us standing out in front of that house before anything happened. We would have had a heavily armed squad around that house before the bad guys arrived.”

For the officers that worked — and still work — the Truett St. case, they take solace in the fact that they were able to find the men responsible and bring them to justice.

“But there were more than just four victims that night,” Kowalski said. “There were scores of others. I couldn’t imagine their pain. We were completely unable to bring their children back. I don’t even want to imagine their pain. I can’t even go there. It’s something that every parent dreads. They had to bury their kids. I can’t even imagine it.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a seven-part TSB series, Truett St. Tragedy, Then and Now, a detailed look at the murders of Austin York, Matt Self, and Mark and Rosa Barbosa. The murders took place 10 years ago. Our city lost its innocence that night. So did all of us who lived through it. We’re forever changed. We hope you’ll continue with us on this heartbreaking, yet hopefully inspiring journey.

TRUETT ST. TRAGEDY, THEN AND NOW

Angie Bado’s Reflections of that awful night

-Part 1: The Night Our Innocence Was Lost

-Part 2: The Investigation and Fight For Justice

-Parts 3-7 will run daily through March 13.

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