In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied any relief to seven Washington, D.C., men who were convicted for the 1984 killing of Catherine Fuller. It seemed that this decision might finally mark the end—after 33 years—to what was perhaps the most notorious criminal case in the city’s history. Fuller, a 49-year-old wife and mother, was sodomized with a pole and kicked and beaten to death, for $40 and the cheap jewelry she wore.
Despite its legal finality, the 6–2 ruling left unanswered questions about the possible impact of evidence favorable to the defense that the prosecution had hidden.
The brutality of the attack made the lead detectives determined to find whoever had done it. After a street vendor found Fuller’s body in an empty garage in Northeast D.C. around 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, 1984, a medical examiner, conducting an autopsy the next day, termed her injuries “hideous.” “She had been impaled,” he later said. “I never saw anything like that.”
The detectives quickly settled on a theory, from an anonymous phone tip. A gang of young men from the neighborhood, the “8th and H Crew,” had pushed Fuller into a nearby alley to rob her. When she resisted, they went wild. Within hours, the investigation “switched from gathering evidence to ‘Oh my God, this is it!’ ” former D.C. homicide detective Jim Trainum says in the documentary.
They had a riveting narrative, but turned up little proof of a gang attack. No useful forensic evidence was recovered from the scene. Despite more than 400 interviews over nearly a year, officers never found a single civilian witness—someone unconnected to the accused—who had information supporting their theory. But they did get three teens to confess on tape. And based on those statements, they charged 17 young people with the murder.
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