I sent the following five page letter with photos of Amanda’s injuries and the ligature to the new chief of police in hopes he would reconsider the previous ruling made by a Sherman Police Department detective. I also sent copies and photos to the Sheriff’s office, Texas state attorney general, Sherman’s mayor and city manager, Representative Larry Phillips, and Congressman John Ratcliffe.
The follow up meeting after this letter was no different than any other. Minds were made up, and he didn’t see any reason to reopen her case I am disappointed but not finished
June 1, 2017
Dear Chief Zachary Flores:
I am writing this letter in regards to my sister’s case, Amanda Pierce, and the circumstances surrounding her death on May 20, 2015. This is a follow-up to our March 1, 2017 meeting and the March 15, 2017 email. It was my understanding that you would review the case file and get back to me within 1-2 weeks. It has been 12 weeks thus far. This letter briefly sums up what we know about the incident, and what we have dealt with over the past two years with the police department and its previous administration.
I hope you understand my level of frustration. I can only imagine that if this was a member of law enforcements’ sister, mother, daughter, or any other family member, that attention and concern for this type of case would be different. Her life was threatened with murder the day she was found with anoxic brain death on May 14, 2015, which ultimately took her life 6 days later. The word of a man who abused, tortured, and threatened my sister was taken over those of concerned family, friends, and a neighbor. The circumstances surrounding this incident tell a different story than that of Brayan Espana. This letter will explain our observations of the incident, and concerns about how Amanda’s case was handled by Detective Jeff Jones and others in Grayson County as we have previously discussed.
We asked Detective Jeff Jones why Amanda’s death could not have possibly been a homicide, he gave me three reasons why this was a suicide:
1. There were no defensive wounds, as if she was fighting back
2. There were no witnesses
3. There were no bags packed to indicate she was leaving
He leans on the autopsy results to support his theory of suicide. I had to insist that an autopsy be done. When we realized that Amanda’s brain injury was grave, we started reaching out to anyone about the proper procedure concerning the autopsy. We were finally able to reach Judge Atherton on May 17, 2015, and were told that based on her past history of substance abuse and depression that no autopsy would be done. This report to the judge must have come from Detective Jeff Jones, so it is apparent he never intended to fully investigate her case as anything other than suicide. The conversation between Jeff Jones and Judge Atherton happened prior to our meeting with the detective at Sherman Police Department on May 18, 2015. We were told that if we wanted an autopsy, it would be at our expense. After researching the Texas law, we found out that it was her right to an autopsy. It was at this point we began reaching out to District Attorney Joe Brown for help concerning the autopsy, which was later approved. We are grateful that Amanda did not pass away prior to this approval.
After preparing Amanda’s body for organ harvest, and making sure nothing would interfere with a proper autopsy, we took her off life support on May 20, 2015. She was taken to Southwest Institute for Forensic Science. Dr. Jill Urban performed the autopsy on May 21 at 10:00 am, and it was immediately ruled a suicide by hanging. We received permission to speak to the medical examiner on May 22, 2015 about her ruling, and asked how it was determined to be suicide and not possible homicide? How is it different between hanging and strangulation? She stated she was not aware of any circumstances around Amanda’s death. Amanda was presented as female, possible suicide by hanging. Detective Jeff Jones did not disclose any evidence or other information to the medical examiner’s office, and lied in his report and to us about doing so. He stated in his report that he spoke to her extensively about the case, which she denies. Is it standard procedure to send a body for autopsy with no information, evidence or circumstances around the death, only to disclose what the detective suspected happened? Would there have been a different outcome to the autopsy if the report with her body would have stated, ”possible homicide, rule out suicide” OR “possible suicide, rule out homicide”?
After speaking to Dr. Jill Urban, she stated her results were based on two observations: no defensive wounds and no hyoid bone fracture. We have questions about her findings. Dr. Urban did not have the ligature, crime scene photos, photos of Amanda’s injuries one week prior, lab results, blood alcohol level, hospital records, domestic violence history, history of choking as form of torture, multiple witness reports of a murder threat the day of her injury, the outstanding warrants related to a prior assault on Amanda, etc. Her ruling was immediately ‘suicide by hanging’. There was no room for any other consideration. She never asked about the circumstances, never raised any questions around her death to the Sherman Police Department prior to the autopsy and ruling. It was only after we questioned her results that there was documented communication with Sherman Police Department and SWIFS.
Concerning the defensive wounds, questions can be raised if Amanda was even awake or did she have the motor skills to fight Brayan with a blood alcohol of 382? Did she injure Brayan during the struggle? Were her hands held down as he had done previously per witness statements? Detective Jeff Jones assured us Brayan had NO wounds, and stated that he had taken photos of Brayan at the scene to prove it. There were NO photos or videos of Brayan Espana in any of the evidence photos in the open records I obtained. Choking was a common form of torture and abuse by Brayan. Maybe with her dangerously high blood alcohol level, he rendered her unconscious and when she didn’t wake up, he had to make it appear self-inflicted.
Also, Dr. Urban reports the hyoid bone was not broken. I have done extensive research about this subject, and it is not a “black and white” sign either way. There are multiple articles I would be happy to provide you with, but here are references from two. According to one article on http://www.pjmhsonline.com (In Strangulation Deaths: Forensic Significance of Hyoid Bone Fracture), this department of forensic medicine found that fracture of the hyoid bone is related to where the application of force and injury is located, which in Amanda’s case is clearly below the level of the hyoid bone. It is actually more common, according to this article, for the hyoid bone to be fractured in hanging victims as well as someone who is manually strangled. Also in this article, it states that only 4 of the 18 ligature strangulation victims studied had a hyoid bone fracture; hyoid bone fracture is more common in the >40 year old age group, (Amanda was 32); and of the 35 victims, there were no hyoid bone fractures with any injuries below the thyroid cartilage and hyoid bone.
Another article on http://www.astm.org website, titled, “Fracture of the Hyoid Bone in Strangulation: Comparison of Fractured and Unfractured Hyoids from Victims of Strangulation,” Journal of Forensic Sciences states:
“….hyoid bone is fractured in one-third of all homicides by strangulation. However, since many cases lack a hyoid fracture, the absence of this finding does not exclude strangulation as a cause of death. The reasons why some hyoids fracture and others do not may relate to the nature and magnitude of force applied to the neck, age of the victim, nature of the instrument (ligature or hands) used to strangle, and intrinsic anatomic features of the hyoid bone.”
It must be concluded that Dr. Urban’s implication that “all strangulation cases have a hyoid bone fractures” is not always the case. Amanda’s injuries were at the base of her neck and the hyoid bone is higher. I have included a photo of Amanda’s injuries to refer to this fact.
To his statement there were no witnesses, I hardly believe that a murderer would invite someone to watch a murder and cover-up. There was one witness in the house, David Adams, who gave different accounts of the incident to different people—the responding officers, Detective Jeff Jones, the next door neighbor, and myself (which I have recorded). Even though he told police that Amanda was already taken down by Brayan before he came into the room, he told a neighbor, my friend, and myself that he helped take Amanda down before calling 9-1-1. He stated Brayan knocked on his door and told him Amanda hung herself before going upstairs to help. This contradicting story has been of no importance to any law enforcement agency thus far. I have visited with David Adams twice and he is adamant about witnessing Amanda hanging. There were also at least three witnesses to the threats of murder the day she was found if she was not out of the house by 7:00pm: Amber Brinlee, Dustin Mouser, and a neighbor. All three spoke to Detective Jeff Jones prior to Amanda’s death.
The statement by Detective Jones that there were no bags packed is contradicted by police reports and evidence photos at the scene. Police photos show a garbage bag full of clothes sitting next to the bed as if she was packed to leave. Amanda did not own a suitcase. Police photos also show there were very few clothes hanging in the closet. Both Brayan and David Adams made statements that she had a bag downstairs by the front door, which they noted was out of the ordinary. Detective Jeff Jones tried to convince me that the bag downstairs was her “lunch bag” by saying that Amanda’s supervisor at Royal Case told him that. Her human resource director stated that Mr. Jones never questioned her about a lunch bag, and that can be backed up with the interview recording. She also told me she would give a statement concerning her meeting with the detective. You agreed that the bag in question was obviously an overnight bag and not a “lunch bag” based on the items inside during our meeting on March 1st
We have questions about the rationality of Brayan’s account of this incident. Brayan’s timeline for that day changed from arriving home at 6:00 pm as he reported to responding officers, to 7:00 pm later that evening in an interview with Detective Jeff Jones. David Adams also reported that Brayan arrived home at 6:00 pm, and that time never changed. Brayan’s work records, as noted in Detective Jeff Jones’ report, states he clocked out at 5:17 pm. His audio interview indicates he left work, made a stop at the gas station to get cash from ATM, and then drove straight home. That would support him being home about 6:00 pm as he first reported to officers at the scene. David never wavered from that time. When giving statement to Detective Jeff Jones, Brayan changed his arrival time to 7:00 pm. Jones then mentions an extra stop (hung out with some friends after work) to Brayan’s trip home which cannot be supported with any audio interview recordings. This is another discrepancy in his report. With responding officer’s reports and David Adams statement of Brayan arriving home at 6:00 pm, that would give him 1 hour and 15 minutes with Amanda prior to calling 9-1-1.
Brayan’s account has the following scenario concerning the ligature: Amanda (with a blood alcohol of 382) used a box cutter and cut the cord off a clothes iron; she tied this 5-foot long cord in two places on her clothes rod in the back of the closet behind all the clothes; she twisted it around her neck (not tied); she sat on her knees, as in praying (per Brayan’s recorded conversation and re-enactment to me) and “hung” herself. He then stated he broke the electrical cord (which was NOT tied around her neck) with his hands that was loosely tied to the rod. Questions: How did her body weight not break the cord, and he could by “pulling it apart”? How did he not see her until his second trip into the closet, stating she was hidden behind the clothes in the back of the closet? Evidence pictures show clearly there were very few clothes hanging on that side of closet and the cord was hanging in the middle, in the open, where he would have had to walk past to get to the clothes hamper as he stated. The length of the cord, the height of the rod, and the position he said her body was in does not make sense—the cord could not have been long enough to be twisted around her neck while she was sitting on her knees. I encourage your department to recreate this scenario and have the outcome Brayan Espana wants everyone to believe.
The injuries to her neck tell a different story than that by Brayan. The bruising and abrasions on her neck clearly show THREE distinct marks. One injury that really bothers me is in a downward direction with bruising and an abrasion that does NOT encircle the neck. The second injury completely encircles the base of her neck, and a third that slopes upward on each side and criss-crosses in the front. With there being three distinct marks, the cord would have been looped at least two times—how could she have been kneeling as he stated? How could that 5-foot cord be long enough? How did the lower mark, that does not encircle the neck and go in a downward direction happen in “hanging”?
Other circumstances to take into account are: the extensive, documented history of domestic violence; Brayan’s two outstanding warrants related to an assault on Amanda in 2014; Brayan vacating their house three days after this incident leaving everything he owned; Brayan shutting off his cell phone 4 days after the incident even though the bill was paid on 5/14/15; Brayan never returning to work after 5/15/2015; Brayan telling hospital staff that Amanda had no family just minutes after he called and told me she was going to the hospital; Brayan’s 10 year long criminal record in Grayson County alone, including other charges of family violence; Amanda being found in pulseless electrical activity and resuscitated, so she could not have been without oxygen for more than 3-5 minutes; and finally, no suicide note. Because of his illegal immigration status, he virtually disappeared and was never questioned again by Sherman Police Department. Detective Jeff Jones reported he attempted to contact Brayan but the phone was disconnected.
Amanda and Amber spoke at approximately 5:20 pm on Thursday, May 14, 2015. The last conversation was that Amber would come get her, either that night or the next morning after Amanda got paid. Amanda was supposed to call her back that evening when Brayan got home from work, but she never did. This conversation was witnessed by the next door neighbor whom Amanda borrowed the phone from. There was desperation to get away, and she had someone to help her. Detective Jeff Jones and Assistant Chief of Police Stephen Dean want us to believe the following scenario—Amanda made arrangements at 5:20 to leave, walked back to her house, decided to commit suicide by hanging herself 40 minutes later, Brayan arrived home at 6 and doesn’t find her until 7, he performed 10-15 minutes of CPR then called 9-1-1, and she was resuscitated before being placed on life-support. They want us to believe that in that 40 minutes from talking with her friend about leaving Brayan and being scared he was going to choke and kill her, to the time he got home at 6:00 pm, and the call being made to 9-1-1 at 7:14 pm, that Amanda decided to take her life and there was no possibility that Brayan strangled her and tried to cover it up as a hanging. There is no way a person can hang for over 1 hour and be resuscitated.
Detective Jeff Jones denied knowing about the outstanding warrants, but I do know the responding officer, Boyle, was aware of the history and warrants, and that was the reason the detective was called in to look at this incident. We had reached out to Officer Boyle prior to this incident and asked for help. The detective told us that Sherman PD records do not cross over to Grayson county records, so he no idea there were active warrants. I feel like this is another lie; if this is true, something has to change. He wants us to believe that this responding officer never mentioned the history or warrants. Another concern is that Detective Jones never came back to the hospital despite the many attempts by our family and medical staff to reach him. We were told by dispatch that the detective would be back in on Monday and had to wait to discuss our concerns. We had to meet with him at Sherman Police Department to discuss our concerns 4 days later.
I am asking you to please reconsider the rapid ruling made by Detective Jeff Jones. I need answers to circumstances around her death. I need someone to prove it was in fact a suicide and not a homicide. I’ve been told by this detective that nothing indicates homicide; I want to say that nothing indicates suicide either. She was scared for her life if she was not out by 7:00 pm, she made arrangements to leave at 5:20 pm, she needed his permission to stay one more night in her own house, she was packed, and she did not leave a suicide note or anything for her boys. Again, imagine that if your family member died under these circumstances, what would be done differently? I feel that Sherman Police Department, including Detective Jeff Jones and the Assistant Chief of Police Stephen Dean did not handle Amanda’s case in a fair manner. Her case was immediately ruled suicide, but took one year to close. The Sherman Police Department’s Mission Statement is “We stand to prevent, reduce and disrupt crime and disorder by aggressive, professional and compassionate enforcement of the law”; Integrity, compassion, fairness/equality, and courage are just a few values your department strives for. It takes courage to treat everyone equal, speak up against an injustice, and do what is right. Amanda’s family and friends are asking you to do what is right for this beautiful mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.
Cc: Sheriff Tom Watt, Grayson County Sheriff’s Office
Honorable Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General’s Office
David Plyler, Mayor’s Office, Sherman Texas
Robby Hefton, Sherman City Manager
Congressman John Ratcliffe, Texas U.S. Representative
Larry Phillips, Representative District 62
To this point, we have met with multiple people at Sherman PD, the district attorney’s office and Grayson County Sheriff’s office. No one is willing to help us and look at Amanda’s death as anything other than suicide. Where is the justice for Amanda? She was due a process.