Josh Young versus Josh Gouker…Again
May 28, 2012 2 Comments
For the longest time I have wondered about evidence in criminal cases and how much evidence should be required before a conviction occurs. More importantly, what type of evidence should be allowable in a criminal case? Should a person receive the death penalty when the strongest evidence against them is eyewitness testimony? Should a juvenile receive life without the possibility of parole because another person says the individual confessed to them? Even if there is no physical evidence to support it? These are the kinds of questions I still ponder.
When I was thirteen years old I read a true crime book called And the Sea will Tell. The book was written by Vincent Bugliosi who had once worked as a district attorney in California on the now infamous Charles Manson case. He eventually became a defense attorney and wrote a book about one of the cases he worked on that involved a somewhat convoluted double-homicide that occurred on the island of Palmyra.
The book was excellent and I bring it up because there was one part that has stuck with me in all the time that has passed since I read it. When Bugliosi gave his closing statement in defense of Stephanie Sterns, who had been charged in the homicides along with her boyfriend, he discussed circumstantial evidence as it applies to criminal cases. He used a compelling analogy involving rope.
I tried to find the exact words he used in the book, but I do not have a copy. When I searched for the description online I found an article called “The Winning Closing Argument”. The article discusses components of a winning closing argument as delineated by Bugliosi. There are two analogies included: the octopus analogy and the rope analogy. As luck would have it, the article also contains a description of the rope analogy using Bugliosi’s own words from the book I referred to above. He wrote:
Circumstantial evidence…is like a rope. And each fact is a strand of that rope. And as the prosecution piles one fact upon another we add strands and we add strength to that rope. If one strand breaks – and I’m not conceding for one moment that any strand has broken in this case – but if one strand does break, the rope is not broken. The strength of the rope is barely diminished. Why? Because there are so many other strands of almost steel-like strength that the rope is still more than strong enough to bind these two defendants to justice. That’s what circumstantial evidence is all about.
Let’s suppose for a moment that what Bugliosi says is true and apply it to a case like Josh Young’s. Josh Young is sixteen years old. He was fifteen when he was charged for the murder of his 14 year old stepbrother. Josh came to the attention of police a month after the murder. Josh’s father, Josh Gouker, fled the state of Kentucky and headed for Alabama on June 14th of 2011.
By the time the two were located and taken into custody, Gouker faced a kidnapping charge in connection with taking a woman hostage and forcing her to drive at gunpoint for a number of hours.
On June 22nd, according to the discovery file pertaining to Josh Young’s case, Gouker contacted the police. He informed them he had information he wanted to pass on about Trey Zwicker’s murder. In the description of a subsequent telephone interview, Detective Scott Russ, wrote the following:
I started out by telling Joshua [Gouker] I understood he wanted to speak to me in person, but I needed something to make sure it’s not a wasted drive to Alabama. He said he didn’t want to talk over the phone, but said “I can solve your case about Trey”. I asked if I come there and talk face to face if he was going to tell me everything. He said “I know everything and I’ve been carrying it with me man.” I asked if we were talking about his son and he said “yeah”.
If we apply the rope analogy to the case against Josh Young it means that his own father’s statement – given by a man with an extensive criminal record – makes up one strand of the rope. But how strong of a strand? If a person has a potential motive to lie, a criminal background, and has just been arrested for violating probation and kidnapping, does their testimony make up a strand that is strong or weak? Are all strands the same strength?
Perhaps take into account what he told police in his May 14th interview. The detective wrote, “He admitted to killing the family dog with a baseball bat and throwing the family cat out a second floor window in the garage. He threw both animals in the garbage.”
When Gouker decided to turn on his son, he told the detective that others would vouch for what he said about his son having committed the murder. He bragged to the police that no one would talk to them unless he told them to do it. He said, “I don’t give a f**k what you threatened them with.” When the officer stated he didn’t threaten people, Gouker replied, “I know. I’m just telling you, I’m not trying to be a hard a**, but I’m telling you it’s not an option, they’re not gonna do it.”
For a time, the detective pushed back on Gouker, saying his conflicting statements made him come across as unreliable. The detective asked him if he liked having people talking about him and being on the news. Gouker began to cry and said, “That’s what’s killing me man, not about what they said, f**k what they said. My character can’t be restored from the s**t I did in the past. I’m not going to be a model citizen to any motherf**ker that’s known to me.” Then he said, “What I am is a leader of a gang, a very violent motherf**ker that doesn’t argue…don’t get me wrong, I want all this out, I want all this out man. There is nothing else I can do for Josh, but I don’t want anybody else going down.”
After that discussion Gouker and the detective began to make phone calls. Gouker had said that there were people who would back up his story, but those people would not talk unless he told them to do it.
The first call was placed to Cassie Gouker. Cassie has been described to me by people who know this family as Gouker’s cousin. In his version of the story, the younger Josh went to Cassie after the murder and asked her to help him dispose of evidence.
Cassie did not answer her phone and so the next person they called was Ruby Jessie. Ruby is Josh Gouker’s mother and the younger Josh’s grandmother. The detective introduced himself and told her “we know everything.” Ruby asked him “what’s everything?” The report reads as follows:
I told her she is not in trouble for being an informational witness. I told her I needed her to tell me what Josh Young (her grandson) told her. She asked if I was talking about big Josh or little Josh and I told her little Josh. I asked her to tell me what little Josh told her at the Breckenridge Inn. She said “I didn’t believe him.” I told her to tell me what he told her. She said “he just told me he didn’t care for Trey”. Big Josh told her that everyone has told us everything and she said “what? That he did it?” and I said “right.” She said “I don’t believe that.” I told her to tell me what little Josh told her even if she believes it or not. She said little Josh told her Trey told on him and got him in trouble all the time and he couldn’t stand him. She said she knows Trey was bigger than Josh and little Josh said something about hitting Trey, but he didn’t know Trey was stabbed four times like the news said. She felt since little Josh didn’t say anything about Trey being stabbed that he didn’t do it.
Ruby said that the younger Josh told her, Cassie, and Cassie’s husband John that he murdered Trey. This was allegedly said in front of his father. Ruby stressed that she did not believe it.
Next they called one of Gouker’s ex-girlfriends. At first she said she knew nothing about the murders, except what was on the news. She was asked if the younger Josh told her he killed Trey and she repeatedly said no. Gouker then told her that the woman who accompanied him and little Josh to Alabama was trying to turn things around on him. Gouker talked to her while the phone was off of speakerphone for a moment and then it was put back on speaker. He cried and told her to tell the truth. The detective urged her to tell what she knew about Trey. Crying, she finally relented by saying, “man yeah” in response to the question about whether little Josh murdered Trey.
First she said she couldn’t remember where Josh told her this. Then she said it was at a hotel room with Josh Gouker and the woman who went with them to Alabama. She said he told her nothing about the weapon he used or his motive for doing it.
Then they called Cassie again. And this is where things got a little weird. In the report, the detective described the conversation as follows:
I called Cassie at 0215 hours and when she answered big Josh told her “they know everything” and she said “about what” and Josh said “everything. They know everything.” Cassie said, “How’s that?” He told her “everyone was talking when we left.” Josh told her “I’m down in Alabama with Louisville Homicide Detectives down here.” Big Josh told her “your loyalty lies with me, right?” and she replied, “yes”. He said “who killed Trey?” and she said, “What?” He said “the truth, who killed Trey?” She replied, “You did right?”
She implicated Josh Gouker instead of Josh Young, even after declaring her loyalty to the older Josh.
But Gouker didn’t miss a beat. He responded, “No, tell the truth, who did it, this is big Josh. This is big Josh. Tell the truth. Who killed Trey?” She again replied, “You did, right, I don’t know.”
To explain this Gouker told the officer he told Cassie he would take the blame for the murders if it came down to that. Gouker again urged Cassie to tell the truth and said she would not get in any trouble for doing it. The detective got on the line with Cassie and explained the two had spoken previously. He asked who woke her up in the bedroom and she said, “little Josh.” She stated he woke her up and asked for her help to get rid of “stuff”.
Then she said he told her he killed Trey.
It was a strange statement, considering that moments before she had been telling Josh Gouker that he did it.
Cassie’s husband, John, said that Josh Gouker told him his son had murdered Trey the day after it happened.
But there’s a problem with that statement. Josh Gouker told the detective in his June 22 interview that little Josh admitted to him he murdered Trey after being interviewed by the police on May 14th. Trey was murdered the night of May 10th. This was a glaring inconsistency that the police apparently never picked up on. How could Josh Gouker tell John that little Josh murdered Trey the day after it happened if he didn’t know his son perpetrated the crime?
Using the rope analogy now, which statements count as a strand of rope? Does a statement given by Cassie where she originally pointed at Josh Gouker as the killer count for Josh Gouker or for the younger Josh? Since she altered it to point to little Josh shortly thereafter.
If little Josh asked Cassie to dispose of evidence, and Cassie’s allegiance was to Gouker, why is it that Cassie never went to Gouker to tell him his son told her he murdered someone and asked her to help get rid of the evidence? If we go by Gouker’s statement, she didn’t do this because he claimed to find out that his son did it because he admitted it after being interviewed.
And why did Trey’s mother, Amanda, accuse Cassie and her husband of stealing items from her garage approximately two weeks after Gouker pointed the finger at his son. It was reported that they stole a computer, boxes, and a wheelbarrow.
Why did they take those things? What were they trying to get or hide?
And what about Ruby’s statement? She would later tell the press that it was Josh Gouker who killed Trey. She said, “Big Josh told me at first her did it, and that’s who they need to be looking at.”
Does her statement on the phone to police count as a strand of rope against Josh Young, or does her later statement that her son confessed his own guilt to her before implicating his son negate that strand?
There is no physical evidence linking Josh to the crime. There are no eyewitnesses to the murder – at least none that have come forward. Josh Young has no prior history of violence according to people who have testified on his behalf. He’s had a very difficult upbringing, involving numerous interventions on the part of Department of Child Services. More information about his childhood may be found here.
So my final questions are these: How strong is the case against Josh Young? Should charges have even been brought against him based on the evidence presented so far?
And what about his father?
If only Josh Young had Bugliosi for a defense attorney…
My petition asking for justice for Josh Young is here.
The support page for Josh Young on Facebook is here.
Updates on the case may also be found on Twitter @SaveJoshYoung.