Corruption In Sulphur Springs
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Politics and Activism

Corruption In Sulphur Springs

The unexpected death of Daniel Underwood.

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Corruption In Sulphur Springs
Chet Garner - The Daytripper

Rebecca Nelson, a rotund woman surrounded by a halo of unkempt curls, shuffles into a police interrogation room. She is there to be questioned about the violent death of her alleged fiancée--33-year-old Daniel Ray Underwood, of Sulphur Springs, Texas. The yellow cast of light lends her face a distinct sallowness, but its expression is clear--there is no sadness, no tears. In fact, she immediately shares a chuckle with the officer, Detective Lenwood Fox, who she seems to be acquainted with and affectionately calls "Bo." The next words out of her mouth are to ask for her dead fiancée's wallet. She seems concerned that she will not be able to get what she calls "her" credit card, despite the fact that it's in Daniel's name. She is remarkably calm for a woman who just witnessed the shooting death of "the love of her life."

I am sitting in my living room, watching Rebecca's interrogation videos with the intention of taking detailed notes--but I find I can scarcely lift my pen. Instead, I am stunned--and strangely fascinated--by the callous and cavalier attitude of this woman. My husband, sitting next to me with his mouth agape, seems to feel similarly. On screen, Rebecca feels the need to make it clear that Daniel would want her to have everything he owned. I'm sick to my stomach, but continue to watch. This is the best and most thorough way I can think of to prepare to tell Daniel's story.

Daniel and Rebecca had only been dating for two months at the time of his death, and she was still married to another man. In spite of the circumstances, Rebecca insisted that they had an ideal relationship, and that they always had a good time together. Daniel had an even temper, she said, and they rarely had cause to fight. This statement would prove to be one of several inconsistencies with Rebecca's version of events. Her rambling and convoluted taped account was entirely at odds with the other witness to Daniel's death--the couple's mutual friend, Maria Harvick.

After an evening of drinking with the couple, Maria returned with them to their home. At some point, an argument between Daniel and Rebecca erupted over money. Daniel's bank account had recently been almost entirely depleted, and he had noticed some of his personal belongings had begun to disappear. According to Maria, Daniel was holding a shotgun, and seemed like he was trying to scare Rebecca into confessing--but she was having none of it. They began to struggle with the gun, and Maria fled the room. The fighting became more heated, and moved into the hallway. It was here that Maria witnessed Rebecca with the gun:

"I saw the shot fired, the shotgun in her hands, and Daniel's [left] hand on the barrel... ...She shot him."

Daniel collapsed and fell to his left side in a fetal position. Maria, horrified by what she had just witnessed, rushed to call 911--but Rebecca stopped her. Rebecca proceeded to roll Daniel over onto his back--accounting for the gun's final resting position, beneath Daniel's legs. Only then was Maria allowed to call for help, and Rebecca warned her not to mention to anyone that she and Daniel had been fighting. Once rescue personnel finally arrived on the scene, Rebecca at first refused to open the door for them, saying she was "afraid that her cats might get out." After the police arrived, the two women were sent outside. Rebecca took advantage of this time to make several calls from Daniel's cell phone--telling everyone she spoke with that Daniel was dead and that she was the rightful beneficiary to everything.

During questioning, Rebecca admitted to deleting information from both Daniel's phone and computer, with her only explanation being that she "didn't want Daniel's parents to have it." Rebecca's changing account of Daniel's final moments is also extremely suspect. She first said that Daniel had silently bowed his head over the gun and shot himself with no warning. Later, she explained that she and Daniel had been standing about six inches apart, facing each other in mid-argument, when he fired. Maria Harvick's story refutes both of Rebecca's versions--but she thinks Rebecca's was accepted without question by the Sulphur Springs Police Department because Rebecca was a known informant who had personal relationships with several officers.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, Rebecca's story was enough for the Sulphur Springs PD to declare Daniel's death a suicide--before they had even seen the results of forensic tests. The night after the incident, Rebecca was back up at the bar, trying to sell Daniel's belongings for extra cash--including his wedding ring from a previous marriage and his favorite pool cues. Rebecca began telling anyone who would listen that she had passed a polygraph test with flying colors, when in reality she had refused to take one.

Those closest to Daniel don't believe that he committed suicide, and after investigating the case, I don't either. At the time of his death, Daniel had plans for the future. He was to spend the coming weekend with his children, and he had recently been talking with his oldest son about him coming to live with Daniel. Even Rebecca herself admitted that Daniel never seemed depressed. But more convincing than that is the weight of the forensic evidence. Rebecca, Maria, and Daniel were all covered in gunshot residue--but GSR was only found on Daniel's left hand--the hand that was gripping the barrel, according to Maria. There was no GSR whatsoever on his right hand, the hand that Rebecca alleged was holding the gun. Furthermore, the gun had been tampered with after being fired, which would have been impossible for Daniel to do. Texas Ranger John T. Vance noted in a report that the gun had been "broken open" and seemed as though someone had attempted to eject the spent shell casing. There was no print evidence to analyze, because for some reason the Sulphur Spring PD didn't even dust for them--but the fatal wound proved to be just as telling. The bullet trajectory was unusual for a suicide. The entry wound had a slight left to right angle, extremely unlikely for a right-handed person to accomplish with a shotgun. Taking into account that Maria's story--where Rebecca is the shooter--most closely aligns with the evidence at the scene, I feel that the death of Daniel Underwood is another tragic example of small-town police corruption.

Daniel's family has been fighting over eight years for justice. I met his wonderful mother, Donna, through Justice for Molly, a large group in support of Molly Young and her family. I was immediately drawn to Donna's story and saw the obvious parallels between the cases. Both Daniel and Molly have passionate and tireless advocates in the loving parents they have left behind. I wanted to write about Daniel's story for the same reason I write about all my cases--justice wasn't served, the guilty parties are still at large, and the officers involved did not behave professionally or ethically. This is a problem ravaging our justice system like an unchecked disease, and something must be done. Corruption in the justice system affects us all.

If you have any questions or information about Daniel's case or person of interest Rebecca Nelson, please contact me at theblackswanbooks@outlook.com.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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