Captain Mike Gauldin

Detective in the Cotton case.  He is  an eighteen-year veteran of the Burlington, North Carolina Police Department.

Q: Describe showing the victim, Jennifer, the photo array ...

GAULDIN: We had received six names of individuals who were said to have resembled the composite drawing of the suspect. And as it turned out, we had arrest photos on all six of those people. We decided to put together a photo array involving those six people to show to our victims, including Jennifer Thompson, to ascertain whether or not our assailant would be among those six people.

And this happened, I think within two days of the assault and Jennifer Thompson met with myself and another detective at the police department, for the purpose of looking at this photo spread. And we made it clear to her that we had a number of photographs that we wanted her to look at, if she would look at them carefully, and determine if her assailant was among those.

But we also made it clear to her that she was not compelled to make an identification, that her assailant may or may not be among those six photographs. And she was given an opportunity to see those six photographs collectively, and after looking at them I think for about five minutes, she was able to make an identification, and she identified Ronald Cotton as her assailant.

Q: And what happened with the other rape victim who was shown the photo array?

A: The second rape victim was also shown the same photo array. It was independent of Jennifer Thompson, at a time prior to Jennifer Thompson actually being able to see the line up. And the second rape victim was not able to make an identification.

Q: What is happening in terms of the investigation between you as the investigator, her as the victim? Is there a kind of teamwork that comes into play there?

GAULDIN: Sure, there is a bond that tends to develop between the victim and the police who are involved in the investigation, because there has to be a close working relationship in order to accomplish what it is you're trying to accomplish, and that is simply to identify the perpetrator of the crime. I don't know how else to answer that.

She, the victim of a sexual assault, is essentially the person who is best able to tell you all the circumstances surrounding the incident itself, who is the person best able to work with you in an effort to try to determine who the perpetrator is. So you do have to develop a good working relationship with your victim in an effort to hopefully solve the case.

Q: And how did she come across?

GAULDIN: I found that Jennifer Thompson was a very unusual victim in that she made it very clear at the onset that she had studied in detail her assailant purposefully to be able to identify him at a later time if she ever saw him again. And bear in mind that this was all taking place at the time of the sexual assault. She had enough presence of mind to do that, which I think is somewhat unusual based on my experience. A lot of victims, which is fairly common, are so traumatized, so overcome with fear during the course of the sexual assault itself, that it is unusual to find somebody who is capable of having that presence of mind.

I found Jennifer Thompson to be a very determined person who believed without a doubt that if she saw her assailant again that she would be able to identify him.

Q: At what point did you conclude that Ronald Cotton was guilty?

GAULDIN: It became apparent to me after having conducted the interview, after having discovered that his alibi statement was essentially a lie, and after having found the shoe evidence, the flashlight evidence under his bed that we felt like linked him to both rapes, not only Jennifer Thompson's rape through the foam rubber that was found in her apartment, but through the flashlight linking him to the second rape that was perpetrated the same night. Of course, we had Jennifer Thompson who identified him initially as her assailant. I felt very strongly after all of that, that he was the perpetrator in both cases.

Q: The physical line up follows.

GAULDIN: A week after Ronald Cotton's arrest, we were able to do a physical line up in which both victims were able to see Ronald Cotton, among six other black males. This line up was undertaken at our police department in an administrative conference room. We didn't have the facility that we have now with the one-way mirror that affords the victims a great deal more privacy. In fact, both victims were allowed to go into this conference room in which the seven black males who were part of the line up stood directly across from them in the room.

Ronald Cotton was number five in the line up. Both victims were allowed to go in and view the line up participants. They did this independent of each other. The line up participants were instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder and then on command step forward, make a complete turn 360 degrees, back facing the line up viewer. And then repeat certain words that were said during the course of both sexual assaults.

Jennifer Thompson viewed this procedure involving those seven people with Ronald Cotton as number five. Initially she turned to me, I was conducting the line up and said that it was between four and five. I asked her if she wanted that procedure repeated. She said that she did. After the procedure was repeated, she identified Ronald Cotton as her assailant.

The second victim, after having seen the same line up procedure independent of the first victim wrote down the number four, indicating that number four, who stood in the line up, Kenneth Watkins, was her assailant. And we followed that up with an interview with the second victim and was able to determine that she was picking him out solely because in physical build she felt he resembled her assailant.

I should point out too that Ronald Cotton was the only suspect in the physical line up. That the other six participants, including Kenneth Watkins, were actually city employees who were standing in the line up at our request, and were not suspects of any crime.

Q: Explain briefly the relationship between who was in the photo array and who was in the actual line up, the physical line up.

GAULDIN: The photo array that was used early on in this investigation including six photographs of persons who we had received names of who were said to resemble the composite of the perpetrator, of which Ronald Cotton was one of those six.

The physical line up involved only Ronald Cotton as a suspect in this case. It was after he had been identified in the photo array. The other six participants in the physical line up were not suspects in this case. In fact, they were all city employees, I think, who we had asked to participate in the line up.

The common denominator among the photo array and the physical line up was Ronald Cotton. He was the only person in both.

Q: And what about the concern that a defense lawyer would have that Jennifer as a victim goes to a line up trying to identify somebody and has seen his photo before?

GAULDIN: Of course, the defense attorneys raise the issue that Ronald Cotton was the only person found to exist in both line ups and that might have, in some way, persuaded Jennifer Thompson to identify him as her assailant for that reason and that reason alone. But I think it's important to know that Jennifer was told prior to the line up she would see seven black males. And that she was not compelled to identify anybody. If she saw her assailant, the person who committed this crime against her, to indicate who that person was. And as I said, she identified Ronald Cotton.

I was very confident of her ability to identify her assailant. Because of not only how well she was able to describe him, the lighting situation, I felt like was sufficient in her apartment for her to see him. She made it clear to me that she had studied him extremely well. Knew that she would be capable of identifying him. So I felt very confident that were he her assailant, that she could identify him.

Q: What else did the attorneys at the trial really object to about the identifications?

GAULDIN: Also at issue during the trial regarding the identification procedure was the fact that the second victim identified somebody else during the course of the line up, that she actually picked out number four, who was Kenneth Watkins, who was a city employee and not suspected of any crime. Of course, we made it clear that we conducted an interview with the second victim after the line up procedure, and she explained to us that she was just so upset, so frightened from having to go into the room and being confronted by potential rape suspect that she just picked out a person, wrote down the number, that person wasn't the person who raped her.

Q: How did that first trial go?

GAULDIN: I think the first trial went extremely well. I think that we were able to put on our evidence and make our case. I think the defense attorneys represented Ronald Cotton very well. They did raise issue with the fact that the second victim was not able to make an identification, and in fact, had picked out somebody other than Ronald Cotton, but the judge ruled during the course of the trial that evidence not be included in trial. And it did not surprise me, when it was all said and done, that Ronald Cotton was convicted the first time around.

Q: Was that fair that the judge didn't allow that other stuff in?

GAULDIN: At the time, I thought that it was fair that the judge did not allow the second victim's inability to make an identification in that trial, because this particular trial exclusively dealt with the first victim who was Jennifer Thompson who had been able to make an identification, and I felt like it was the right decision at the time.

Q: Were you surprised that Cotton didn't testify?

GAULDIN: It didn't surprise me that Ronald Cotton did not testify in the first trial, primarily because he had given us an alibi statement that we found to be false. I think his family had given another alibi statement that differed from what he had told us originally, and of course, as I mentioned he had lied about the flashlight. His criminal background or previous criminal history would have been brought up had he testified in the first trial which involved a second-degree attempted sexual assault and also a first-degree burglary. So it didn't surprise me that he chose not to testify.

Q: What was one of the most compelling aspects in that first trial--Jennifer Thompson's case?

GAULDIN: I believe one of the most compelling things was Jennifer Thompson's testimony. Her ability to recall what happened the night of the assault; her ability to describe in detail her assailant; and her firm conviction that Ronald Cotton was, in fact, her assailant. Of course, if you factor that in with the shoe evidence, the fact that we had a witness who saw him in the neighborhood of both her assault and that of the second victim the night of the assaults, his false alibi, his lying about a piece of the evidence, all of it was very...

Q: After the first verdict and Ron Cotton is in jail, you come across an arrest of Bobby Poole. What happens? Do you ever tie that back to Cotton somehow?

GAULDIN: Bobby Poole was arrested in April of 1985, three months after Ronald Cotton's conviction in the Jennifer Thompson case. He was arrested for two attempted second-degree sexual assaults that occurred the same night. Shortly after his arrest we also connected him with two other rape cases, one dating back to January of 1984. After having gone through the trial with Ronald Cotton, after having prosecuted him and the jury finding him guilty of the Jennifer Thompson case, we felt like we had a strong case there and didn't see any need to ... and was not compelled to look at Bobby Poole in the Jennifer Thompson case.

Q: Then there's going to be a second trial and Elizabeth, the second victim comes forward...

GAULDIN: There was a second trial ordered in the Ronald Cotton case in 1987, two years after his original conviction. As a result of the second victim not being allowed to testify about her misidentification. In a pre-trial conference in October of 1987 with the second victim, the second victim declared that she knew all along that Ronald Cotton was her assailant, that she actually knew it at the time of the physical lineup, that she was just too frightened to come forward with that information, and this was made to the district attorney in the second case who was Octaves White.

Q: Two years later, how did that strike you?

GAULDIN: I was surprised two years later by the second victim's declaration. As I have said before, I was surprised that she was able to make an identification because she had not been able to identify in a photo array nor in the physical lineup, but after having been told that she was very frightened, extremely upset during the course of the physical lineup and that was the reason why she didn't come forward, she was frightened of Ronald Cotton I came to understand it better.

Q: With these two rape charges now being drawn together into one case, what did it allow you to do in terms of your evidence...

GAULDIN: As a result of the second victim being able to now say that Ronald Cotton was her assailant, Ronald Cotton was indicted for that particular offense as well, and of course, that changed the complexion of the second prosecution in that it allowed us to bring in all of the evidence associated with the second trial, which not only included being able to use the second victim as a witness, who I think did a very good job in presenting her testimony, and I think it was believable by the jury.

But in addition to that, it allowed us to use the flashlight that we had originally recovered from underneath Ronald Cotton's bed and when we searched his apartment. I thought that the flashlight was one of the most compelling pieces of evidence initially in that not only did it match conclusively the one that was described by the second victim, but when we did the background it was the same make and so forth, so we were able to use that and the second victim which changed the second prosecution.

Q: There was one thing that the jury wasn't allowed to hear. Can you tell me about that?

GAULDIN: One of the things that surfaced in the second trial which did not surface in the first trial it was brought up by the defense, was the arrest of Bobby Poole. Bobby Poole was arrested in April of 1985, charged with initially two second-degree, attempted second-degree rapes, two other rapes with similar MO's to the Ronald Cotton cases ... this information was brought forth during the second trial, and of course the judge in the second trial ruled that was not admissible in the second trial.

There were inmates who were with Ronald Cotton in prison, who declared that Bobby Poole had confessed to them that he was the assailant in the Jennifer Thompson case and in the second rape victim case. But that evidence was not allowed in this particular trial.

Q: Did that ruling surprise you?

GAULDIN: I think that the Bobby Poole evidence wasn't allowed in the second trial primarily because the judge didn't give it a great deal of credibility. Although there were some similar MO factors involving the cases that Bobby Poole had been convicted of in '85, the fact that there were two inmates who were coming forward with this declaration that Bobby Poole had confessed to the two cases, I just don't think the judge felt that was persuasive enough.

And should point out, too, that Bobby Poole testified on voir dire in the presence of the judge and declared that he was not the perpetrator, but I was surprised. I understand the judge's ruling, but it surprised me that evidence was not admitted. I felt like the lawyers in the case had laid a good foundation, at least for it to be considered.

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