Justice Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted

{Disclaimer: The JD Staff did not reach a consensus on running this story. The reason some of us wanted to publish the story is that we felt there was enough evidence for innocence to risk it. If it turns out that we are wrong, we will learn from that, but if the man is innocent, we would feel remiss at not giving him a chance to speak in his defense. Actually, it is not Bramblett who asked us to publish his story, but his advocate, who will remain nameless. Our readers make up their own minds anyway, so this is another story in which you will decide innocence or guilt. --From the divided staff at JD.}

Earl Bramblett: Was he framed by vengeful police?

Earl Bramblett Most so-called normal people are born into families with two parents who nurture, protect and love them until they find mates of their own and the process is repeated generation by generation.

Then there are people like Earl Bramblett. Earl and his brothers and sisters were loved and protected but the other influence in the family was alcohol. Earl's father seemed to handle this "problem" better than his mother did, but it still tore the family apart. Earl, the youngest, was affected more than his siblings were. His family's nomadic existence had a lasting effect, one that would impact every facet of his colorful and fateful future.

Due to changing school so often, Earl developed an ability to make friends easily and was a very good athlete. Friends as far back as high school still remember him and keep in touch. They express disbelief that the Earl Bramblett they knew could be sitting in a cell on Virginia's Death Row.

The route from popular high school athlete to Virginia's Death Row covers a span of about thirty-five years and may have a lot to do with his early years and dysfunctional family.

Earl dropped out of college in California and came to Roanoke, Virginia to be closer to his father and an older brother. He took a job in his father's silk screen printing business and showed a very high aptitude for doing quality work but that didn't stop the animus that had developed over the years. Earl quit and took a job as assistant coach at a local high school. It was here he met a young athlete by the name of Blaine Hodges and Bramblett was his track coach for several semesters. Bramblett went back to running his father's business because his father was in failing health and soon died.

The business prospered and Earl met a young woman and they fell in love and were soon married. The marriage resulted in two children, Mike and Doug, and all was well for several years but soon Bramblett's need for space and his former lifestyle of coming and going when he pleased presented problems. Divorce was inevitable and soon Earl returned to his former lifestyle seeking good times.

Earl continued to run the printing business located in a somewhat rundown part of the city in a neighborhood of rental property and older homes going to seed. Many of the teenaged children of the neighborhood sometimes found errands they could run or small jobs they could perform for a few dollars at the print shop. Earl knew many of the older teens, fifteen and sixteen year olds, and may have had sex and given alcohol to a couple. If this sounds shocking it wasn't that unusual in the early "swinging" seventies, especially in the neighborhood where the print shop was located. Many of these girls would be having children of their own in a year or so and given the state of everything that was going on in those years throughout the country it was nothing anyone would get alarmed over.

Earl was using a seventeen-year-old girl to figure his time cards at the shop and caught her cheating the company. To get back at Bramblett she had her thirteen-year-old sister accused Bramblett of fondling her. Bramblett was arrested but evidence showed he was out of town on business when the girl alleged the incident happened. The judge issued a stern warning to the police to not bring cases into his courtroom without properly checking evidence. This may have been the beginning of the police attempting to get something on Bramblett because of their embarrassment at being rebuked by the judge.

Things continued as usual until the summer of 1974 when two girls Earl knew were reported missing by their families. One of the teens had been picked up driving a stolen car and was also charged with assault and battery and shoplifting. The judge gave her a break but told her if she came back in his courtroom she would be sent away. It was reported she had run away to visit a sister in Florida. There was an extensive investigation and Earl was investigated thoroughly. Even his lake house was searched and tracking dogs searched the surrounding grounds. A concrete patio Bramblett had installed was dug up and inspected. Nothing was ever found that Earl had anything to do with their disappearance. One of the girls was reportedly seen in a grocery store several months after the disappearance. All this was reported in the local daily newspaper, The Roanoke Times and World News, and the mother of one of the girls got a phone call from her daughter saying she was all right. Other than that information, neither of the girls has been heard of since.

This scared Earl Bramblett. From that time forward he suspected, with some reason, that the police were always watching him. This incident along with the police so eager to charge him on the thirteen-year old girl's say-so was the genesis of Bramblett's paranoia. Anytime Earl saw a policeman or police vehicle he would avoid being near them and do all sorts of maneuvers to get out of their way to keep from being noticed. It became a way of life.

Earl would see one of his track students occasionally, Blaine Hodges, and they would talk about what was happening in each other's life and, now older, Blaine became somewhat of a friend. Earl had closed his printing shop by this time and was working on a job basis for several companies around the Roanoke valley while living a nomadic life. Earl could make a lot of money very fast doing silk screening but money wasn't his main interest in life. Freedom to come and go and hit the open road to travel, visiting his sisters in other states, was far more desirable than the forty-hour-a-week grind.

During this time Blaine Hodges had met a girl he was serious about, Teresa Fulcher, and they asked Earl to be at their wedding. From then on Bramblett was a frequent visitor at Blaine and Teresa Hodges' home. Earl was their friend when their first daughter, Winter, was born and later their other daughter, Annah. All during this time Earl was watching his sons grow up and paying child support but his real family was the Hodges. Blaine Hodges was working at the Vinton Post Office as a window clerk and Teresa was a homemaker. Teresa doted on her children and was a very good mother. Earl had much more empathy with the Hodges than the infrequent times he was able to visit his own children. Winter and Annah were like his grandchildren but he had a special affinity with Winter because of her intelligence and outlook on life and ideas about the social order.

All seemed to be well with the Hodges and their friend Earl Bramblett until Blaine decided to "borrow" some money from his postal drawer. He had done this a couple of months before but had managed to replace it before it was discovered. This time he wasn't so lucky. He was charged with the crime and found guilty and sentenced to six months in Federal Prison and had to pay back twice the amount he had stolen, which amounted to about nine thousand dollars.

Blaine Hodges never revealed for what he needed the money or on what he spent it. It is known that he didn't use the money to pay bills or buy anything obvious such as a car or cameras or anything tangible he showed to anyone. The postal inspector knew, but he was not allowed to testify to what it was. Blaine Hodges was really angry at the post office and showed the supervisor a check after he was fired and said, "I'll make a lot more money than that job paid." She said it looked like a government check.

Teresa Hodges' half-brother worked for the DEA and was a well-known drug dealer in the Roanoke area. He and Blaine were always doing things together but were not "real" friends. Most times their dealings together involved secrecy, which bred a lot of suspicion from Bramblett. Earl tried to help the Hodges anyway he could after Blaine was fired. He really didn't want Teresa and the children to suffer so he did what he could in bringing food to the Hodges and also paid for Winter's baton and dance lessons. Earl gave Blaine a printing set up but Blaine wasn't interested in starting a printing business and he sold it to a church in North Carolina for four thousand dollars. Earl worked for several companies and used Blaine to help him whenever he could and found other odd jobs for Blaine so the family would have some income. Blaine and Teresa had gotten in the Amway business but were far from realizing a living from it.

For some reason, Earl thought that Blaine had made some kind of deal with the police to entrap him and thereby Blaine would escape going to jail. This is a ridiculous idea to people who are not paranoid but very real to someone who is. Earl thought this entrapment employed Winter, the eleven-year-old, to do inappropriate things, like standing on her head while wearing a dress or running around the house without a top on, in an effort to get Earl to do something inappropriate with or to her. Again, this is not the thinking of a rational person but of someone who is paranoid to the point of obsession. The child's normal childish behavior, in Earl's eyes, became a sinister enticement.

Earl bought a small recorder and started cataloging the events as he saw them and sometimes even left the recorder running in the Hodges house to see if he could find what they were plotting against him. All this time he is the friend of the family thinking that Blaine is forcing his wife and daughter into doing these things to entrap him against their will. He held them blameless and continued his support of the family by still working Blaine whenever he could and being a benefactor of the family. Bramblett lived in a travel trailer at one of the businesses where he worked but spent a lot of time at the Hodges. Earl sold the trailer and paid Blaine to help him deliver it to North Carolina. Earl then spent his time at the Hodges, cheap motels, in his truck and traveling around the country.

Winter told Earl at one time that she was ashamed of the house and "that only trash lives in houses that look like this." Earl convinced Blaine he could paint the house for them just to have something to do because he knew Blaine didn't want charity and would not have let him do it if he thought it was charity. He told Blaine he would paint it all except the high parts because he is afraid of heights. Blaine agreed to paint those parts because he was a pilot and not afraid of heights. Earl had just about finished painting the house when the tragedy happened.

On August 29, 1994 a postal worker going to work was driving down Virginia Avenue in Vinton when a huge cloud of black smoke crossed the road in front of him. The postal worker stopped his car and saw smoke coming from the house at 232 Virginia Avenue. The man was hearing impaired and couldn't call himself and tried to flag a couple of cars but they kept going. Finally someone stopped and the fire department was called and they arrived within minutes. The first firemen went into the house through an upstairs bedroom window. The house was filled with smoke and attempting to get out of the thickest part they started crawling around on the floor. One firefighter noticed a man lying on the bed and closer inspection revealed the man was dead of a gunshot wound in his head from temple to temple. They radioed the information to the outside firefighters and continued into the other bedroom finding two children, both dead, with gunshot wounds to the head. Both had been shot twice at close range, once in the forehead and once from temple to temple.

A fireman, seeing what looked like a blaze downstairs crawled across the living room dragging a fire hose and encountered a badly burned body of a woman on a still smoldering couch. He gingerly sprinkled water on the couch to put out the smoldering and proceeded to the small fire burning at the foot of the stairs leading to the top floor. The police arrived and secured the area as well as possible, but the crime scene had been compromised out of necessity in putting out the fire. The Virginia State Police Violent Crime Unit arrived and started their investigation. The police and Fire Marshall's office made a video that shows when viewed later that the professionals knew very little about fire and fire patterns. Guesswork and suppositions is what the video shows, instead of professionalism and experience.

In the meantime the coroner determined that the death of the children and Blaine Hodges was the result of gunshot wounds at close range -- a matter of inches or less. Teresa Hodges, the children's mother and Blaine's wife, was strangled to death. Her body, lying on the couch, was then set on fire. She was wearing only a pair of panties and her white cotton shorts were found over by the stairs near the landing.

Now comes the mystery. According to the Medical Examiner of Southwest Virginia, Dr. David Oxley, Blaine Hodges had been dead twelve to twenty-four hours before the others were killed. It was determined that the rest were killed sometime between two and five o'clock on the morning of the discovery.

The police maintained they did not have a suspect but Earl Bramblett was the only person they were looking at as the culprit. The police chief of Vinton Virginia, Rick Foutz, kept pressuring Bramblett to "come in and clear his name" at every opportunity he had talking with the news media. The police clearly thought Earl Bramblett was the murderer, but they kept insisting he wasn't a suspect.

Unknown to anyone at the time, Bramblett had been summoned to the police station on the day the crimes were discovered but believed the police were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating. His defensiveness and nervousness around the police was described as "odd" behavior. The police came to his motel room and talked to him and he promised to return to the police station. In the meantime, Earl talked to his friend and lawyer, Jonathan Rogers, who told him to stay away from the police and say nothing to them. The police then went to Bramblett's motel. When Bramblett did not show up as promised, they got the motel owner to open Bramblett's room just as he was returning to the motel in a cab. He told the police to get out of his room and that he was not going to talk to them on the advice of his lawyer. That should have been the end of it, but later that evening the police got two of the Hodges' brothers to go back to the motel to talk with Bramblett. This time they were wired to record what Bramblett said. The tape is very poor quality and appears that the copy the defense was furnished was altered. When the brother tells Earl what has been poured on the couch to set Teresa on fire, it is garbled in that one spot. The tape goes on where the one brother is telling Bramblett that Blaine was scared and he has never known him to be afraid before. It also mentions a couple of people that Blaine was doing business with. This tape was never introduced as evidence in the trial even though Bramblett is saying he would gladly help the police if he knew anything and is crying profusely all the while. It also refutes the prosecutor's statement that "only the killer would know that "speaking of the couch being set on fire" with whatever has been garbled that was poured on the couch before it was set afire.

Shortly thereafter, Bramblett hand-wrote a letter to the Roanoke Times that they published in October 1994 that said "the Blaine Hodges family were my family and Winter and Annah were my daily joys." The police continued their denial that Bramblett was a suspect all the while searching his motel room and storage locker. Bramblett wrote another letter to the Roanoke Times saying, "I think I counted six or seven total lies by the police," and, "they did not misquote me or misunderstand what I said. They totally fabricated the whole story of when I was in the Vinton Police Department." On his attorney's advice he left Roanoke and for the next two years no one heard from him.

On July 30, 1996 Earl Bramblett was arrested for Capital Murder in Spartanburg, SC, where he had been living since shortly after leaving Roanoke. He was working at a print shop and had bought a house, which he had deeded to his two sons. He was returned to Roanoke and was arraigned for Capital Murder and spent the next full year in the Roanoke County Jail while awaiting trial.

Judge Roy Willett, 23rd Judicial Circuit, appointed the most inept and inexperienced lawyer that has practiced in the Roanoke Valley to represent Bramblett and he in turn hired another lawyer noted for losing what should be easily won cases. This judge has since been relieved of his duties on the bench, according to newspaper accounts, because of his gruffness and his interest in saving time more than in justice. In any case, the trial was noteworthy because the defense presented no evidence to refute the prosecution's thinly disguised attempt to convict Bramblett on an unnatural interest in the eleven-year-old child.

There was absolutely no evidence to substantiate such a charge and just about any other lawyer would have strenuously objected to such a suggestion. The coroner's report even stated there was no evidence of either child ever being sexually molested and the report also stated Winter still a virgin. There was also a piece of a revolver found next to Blaine Hodges body on the floor. The firearm was missing a barrel and the bullets in the victims were fired from a gun with a barrel as evidenced by the markings called lands and grooves. The ballistics expert first said this could not have been the murder weapon and later changed his story to say it could have been the murder weapon and in trial testified it was the murder weapon.

The police had a report of shots fired at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the murders and that is most likely when the fire was set. The murderer or murderers closed all the windows in the house and the fire was starved for lack of oxygen. It found a draft through the old coal chute in the basement and heated the house, smoldering and building up heat until it burst marking pens and melted plastic. The heat even burned the hands of the people who discovered the fire when they tried the doorknobs to get into the house and stung their eyes when they broke the front door glass. The Medical Examiner didn't take into account that the body of Blaine Hodges was upstairs baking for several hours right above the hottest part of the fire. This, by other forensic pathologist, gives an unnatural reading on the time of death. This was never considered to have any effect. The coroner also missed two stab wounds on Blaine Hodges' body.

Teresa's clump of hair was found on the steps leading to the upstairs. This would give an indication that there was a struggle that took place with her attacker but it was never considered. There were certainly no marks on Bramblett. The prosecutor even claimed Bramblett washed and dried his murder clothing in the basement before fleeing the house. The police set up a roadblock and asked people if they had seen anything the morning of the crimes. They found some seventy-two year old lady who said she saw a red truck pulling from the driveway the morning of the murders. Bramblett drove a white truck but they convinced the woman it was a white truck under "halogen" lights. The lights they were referencing are actually high-pressure sodium lights that give off an orange glow. The problem was the lights were not installed where the lady saw the truck at that time. So the police waited until the lights were installed at the place the lady said the truck passed her and said she saw the color and then made a video of the white truck under the lights. Court testimony by a policeman proves the lights were not installed where the lady saw the truck. No objection to the video that was nowhere near the same conditions as the morning of the fire, or to the lights not being installed.

There is nothing in evidence that puts Bramblett anywhere near the Hodges the morning of the murders. There is definitely no confession. There is no motive for Bramblett to kill the Hodges. There is also no forensic evidence that connects him to the murders. Bramblett was convicted of killing the Hodges because of the innuendo and suggestion by the prosecutor that Bramblett had an unnatural interest in the eleven-year-old Winter Hodges. The defense did not show or tell the jury that the Hodges were the same as Bramblett's own family. They brought up nothing about all the help Bramblett gave the Hodges in their hard times or his gifts of money or the jobs he provided for Blaine Hodges.

Bramblett maintains he went to the Hodges on Sunday the 28th of August 1994 to get his camper top and was going to ask Blaine to help him put it on his truck. When he got there, Teresa and the children came out and she had Earl a cup of coffee. She asked Earl to take them riding and he did so gladly. She did not go back in the house to tell Blaine, if he was there, that they were leaving. Bramblett said he thought they might be having one of their frequent tiffs. They stopped and got hotdogs and were going to have a picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sometime that afternoon, Winter told Earl she was afraid and asked him to spend the night. He asked Teresa what was bothering Winter and she told him someone was after Blaine. She said Blaine was taking care of it. They rode around and stopped at several overlooks. At one time Bramblett and the children played in the creeks and a Park Ranger talked to Teresa and chitchatted for a while. They finally returned to the Hodges and Teresa was supposed to call one of the mothers to make arrangements to pick up Winter because school was starting the next morning. The house phones were dead so they checked the phones in the house to make sure one was not off the hook and then Earl drove them to a convenience market to call the woman, which she did. On the way back to the house Teresa saw someone in Amway and remembered they had a meeting scheduled that night and she didn't want to have it. She asked Earl to park down at the end of the block so no one would know anyone was home. When they got to the house Teresa put notes on the front and back doors saying there had been an emergency. Earl was preparing to spend the night on the couch and the kids had gone to bed and Teresa went upstairs to get him a pillow and blanket. He waited and thought she had forgotten it and started up the steps. Teresa was at the head of the steps and told Earl she thought Blaine might get mad if he stayed. So he left and stayed the night in his truck at his work place. As mentioned previously, staying the night in the truck was something Bramblett did frequently. That morning he clocked in at his workplace and left to take care of some personal business. He had his son's car towed from his ex-wife's place and got some printing screens for his day's work from a friend's business where they were stored. When he got back to his work place there were messages from the police and the friend he had just seen. Bramblett marked off his clock in time because he didn't do any work. Later the police would claim he was trying to hide the time. A call to the friend informed him there had been a fire at the Hodges and the other was the Vinton Police asking him to come to the police station. Over the next several days the police searched everything he had and Earl left Roanoke.

If Bramblett's life had not been at stake, the trial could be called a comedy. Bramblett's lawyer went charging across the courtroom without ever saying who he was or what he was doing there and made the statement that the state's evidence wasn't always reliable and sat down. His opening was about one minute. The judge had already made up his mind regarding Bramblett's guilt and the couple of times the defense objected to anything, the judge intimidated them with harsh words and grim looks. The prosecution had carte blanche to present anything they wanted to secure a conviction. Bramblett kept asking the judge if he could ask the witnesses questions, but that was denied. The judge told him to talk to his lawyers. They were not about to draw the ire of the judge, so Bramblett was convicted on evidence so flimsy that it wouldn't convict most people of a traffic ticket.

All the evidence that shows Bramblett did not commit this crime is in the court testimony. There is nothing further to look at, although I found the real firearm in the case that the forensic "expert" mislabeled. How a trial for capital murder, multiple murders, can be presented in a court of law in this sloppy a fashion, with evidence this poor, with forensics this questionable, with lawyers this incompetent, with a judge so opinionated and obviously helping the State's prosecution is a disgrace to the judicial system in America.

Bramblett is not a violent person. He is a good-hearted person who has some quirky habits like freedom to go wherever and whenever he pleases, and lived a lifestyle most of us find strange. Still, that is no reason for the police to frame him for multiple murders they did not have the expertise to solve. The police lied about the fire evidence, truck evidence, firearm evidence and the forensic evidence. This has been proven beyond any doubt. Their own statements prove this. How can they argue with that? The Virginia Supreme Court rubber-stamps every death penalty conviction, but with this one they went one step further. Justice Christian Compton of the Virginia Supreme Court praised the police work and forensic evidence in gaining a conviction. He praised everything that is a lie. The Vinton, Virginia Police Chief, Rick Foutz and his lead investigator in this case, Bill Brown, were both fired citing irregularities, one of which was evidence custody. Even Foutz and Brown said it was a "joke." The trial Judge of the 23rd Judicial District has been "fired" for the very reasons I claim was wrong with him at trial. He was short-tempered and considered time more important than justice. The defense attorney, Mac Doubles, is now awaiting a decision on having been a prosecutor in the Roanoke Commonwealth Attorney's office which had an open-ended case about the missing girls mentioned in the story above. The State Police Investigator Barry Keesee has multiple convictions of people where he was the only one who heard testimony that was instrumental in putting them away. The Earl Bramblett frame up cannot be allowed in a country we call free and claim equal justice under the law.

Help me get justice for Earl Bramblett. On the Internet you can see the people and the evidence at http://www.roanoke.infi.net/~alla mosa

Or http://geocities.com/allamosa

Or put Bramblett in your search engine

©Justice: Denied