Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are representative of the victim's family, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the author or Odyssey. Certain aspects of the case are still currently under review.
When I first began working with Kimberly Mullens (née Pierce), I had no way of knowing how deeply connected I would feel to her case. I had only recently decided to become more outspoken about my personal experiences with domestic abuse, while Kimberly's bravery and persistence further inspired me. When she first contacted me about the suspicious death of her sister Amanda Pierce, I suspected initially that it would be a quick case, most likely a suicide--it was anything but. I would instead learn that the Pierce family had a tragic legacy tied to domestic violence, one that altered the lives of all who knew them forever.
In 2009, in small-town Calera, Oklahoma, beautiful and kind-hearted Vivian Pierce found herself in a position that so many women have--she was involved in a relationship that had become abusive. Her once loving and devoted partner had fallen heavily into drug addiction and a downward spiral of anger and violence. Vivian made the difficult decision to leave her boyfriend, Damon Butler, and start a new life. She began packing her things and making arrangements to leave when Butler came home and discovered her plans. He became enraged, and brutally beat and stabbed Vivian to death. The next day, when Vivian's mother Rebecca came to check on her, Butler murdered her as well. In one fell swoop, a family was demolished by the selfish and violent tendencies of an admitted domestic abuser. When asked why he so brutally ended the lives of the two women, Butler simply said that he didn't want to lose Vivian.
In contrast to so many stories I research, Vivian and Rebecca Pierce swiftly received the justice they deserved. Kimberly credits OSBI agent Reanae Childers, District Attorney Emily Redman, and Calera Chief of Police Don Hyde for their tireless work to put Damon Butler behind bars. He is currently serving out a life sentence with no possibility of parole. With Butler behind bars, Kimberly felt that the darkest times of her life were behind her, and she could go about piecing things back together. Sadly, that was not to be.
In May of 2015, Kimberly's other sister, Amanda Pierce, found herself in a strikingly similar situation to that of her sister Vivian. Living in Sherman, Texas, thirty-two-year-old Amanda had been in a volatile and abusive relationship with illegal immigrant Brayan Espana (his real name is not known). Espana had a history of violence and a warrant out for his arrest after publicly beating Amanda in August the year prior. On May 9th, Espana had punched Amanda in the chest during a separate incident, leaving a noticeably large contusion. Things were coming to a head and during their most recent fight, Espana had demanded that Amanda finds somewhere else to live. On the 14th, Amanda missed work. She instead spent her day attempting to make arrangements to leave. She made several phone calls trying to track down her friend Amber Brinlee, who she had always been able to count on for help. During these numerous calls, Amanda communicated the fact that Espana had again been violent, threatened to kill her and had instructed her to be out of the house by 7:00 PM that night. At approximately 5:30 PM, Amanda spoke with Amber about coming to stay with her, but she had a few more details to iron out. Amber waited anxiously to hear back from Amanda — it was a call that would never come.
After using the phone at a neighbor's house to speak with Amber, Amanda went back home, presumably to continue packing. Trash bags full of clothing and an overnight bag packed with various personal items were found in the home. Sometime during this period, Amanda consumed a large quantity of beer. According to his original statement to police, and initially corroborated by his housemate, Espana arrived home from work at 6:00 PM. However, this timeline would change multiple times, and no one is sure of what exactly happened that fateful night, or when. Kimberly believes that once Espana arrived home, he and Amanda continued their argument — and things turned violent. What is known for certain is that at 7:16 PM, Espana called 911 to report an attempted suicide.
Sifting through all of the conflicting information regarding this case was overwhelming. I have enough content and have found enough discrepancies to fill multiple articles. In a taped account, Espana says that he found Amanda upstairs in the bedroom they shared, sitting on her knees in the back of the closet, facing the wall and leaning up against an iron cord. He said his view of her was initially obscured by clothing. However, the police report says she was near the middle of the clothing rod, sitting visibly in between the clothes. Police also said that the cord was crossed in front of her and tied in a single knot, but the crime scene photos clearly show two knots. Brayan told police that when he had found her, he broke the cord with his bare hands to rescue her. Crime scene photos show that the cord was cleanly cut, and a box cutter was on the floor nearby. Neither the iron cord nor the box cutter bore any conclusive fingerprint results. Despite the ever-evolving stories from Espana and his housemate, Espana's history of domestic abuse and multiple people coming forward to report that Espana had a habit of choking Amanda during physical — the Sherman Police Department were convinced that Amanda had intentionally harmed herself.
When first responders arrived, Amanda was in a state of asystole. They were able to revive her and she was transported to the hospital immediately, where she was placed on life support. Kimberly had been told that her sister had attempted suicide, a possibility she initially accepted, it was no secret that Amanda had lived a troubled life. She had struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, and her volatile living situation had not been conducive to bettering her mental health. But once Kimberly arrived at the hospital and saw the wounds around Amanda's neck, she knew that Espana had lied to police. Her suspicions were further confirmed when Amber told her that in her final calls, Amanda had confessed she feared for her life. This was not an attempted suicide. This was an attempted murder.
Kimberly was sharp enough to realize that detailed photos of the wounds should be taken immediately — something that police should have done, but didn't. In fact, the investigator on the case, Detective Jeff Jones, only took two or three photographs when Amanda first arrived at the emergency room and then refused to come back to the hospital to see Amanda. I had initially waffled back and forth on my opinion of the case, but once I saw the photos Kimberly took, I was convinced. There is no possible way that Amanda sustained those grievous injuries doing what Espana and the Sherman PD alleged she did.
Though there are rampant inconsistencies throughout the multiple reports written during this case, there is one thing that has remained consistent. Law enforcement has maintained that Amanda was NOT suspended from the iron cord in any way. It was NOT knotted around her neck. She had, per their reports, sat on her knees and leaned onto the cord, constricting her airway. If that is true, then why were there MULTIPLE cord indentions and abrasions encircling the entirety of her neck? How does someone leaning against a cord end up with wounds that extend all the way around their throat?
Short answer: they don't.
Sadly, after being on life support for several days, Amanda Pierce passed away at 7:17 PM on May 20th. Kimberly had to fight tooth and nail to get an autopsy performed. Detective Jones and the Sherman PD had already decided that due to Amanda's history with depression, an autopsy wasn't necessary. The fact that Espana's story had changed several times and that he already had a warrant for physically abusing Amanda made no difference to them. A brilliant example of dedicated investigative work, to be sure.
The investigation done by local law enforcement was rivaled only by the subpar work done by forensic pathologist Dr. Jill Urban (who also did a questionable job on the Daniel Underwood case). At the time of her death, Amanda's wounds had already significantly healed. They were merely a shadow of the acute injuries that she had originally sustained, yet Dr. Urban felt they were sufficient evidence for a suicide ruling. Dr. Urban admitted to Kimberly on May 22nd that she had made her suicide ruling while being unaware of the history of domestic violence, with no knowledge of the threats Espana had made, no crime scene photos, no photos of the original injuries, and no ligature. Yet, she stood by her decision, saying that there were no claw marks around Amanda's neck or any evidence of defensive wounds, which she would expect to see in a homicide case.
There is a reason for this, a reason that I would expect any studied and experienced pathologist to be able to recognize. Amanda's blood alcohol content was .384, the equivalent of nearly a pint of whiskey. Amanda Pierce weighed 114 pounds at the time of her death and barely stood at five foot seven. With a BAC of .150-.25, most people experience extremely diminished motor skills and begin to experience blackouts. At .300, most people lose consciousness. At .400, death can occur. A severely impaired person would find it difficult to fend off a violent attack, much less set up a complicated apparatus in a bedroom closet for the purpose of committing suicide. But Urban said she sided with the opinion of the investigators and that was that.
Unfortunately, the opinion of investigators was built on conflicting and at times, plainly fabricated information. Kimberly caught Detective Jeff Jones in multiple lies. Jones let an illegal immigrant with a documented violent criminal history, an active warrant, and an inconsistent statement remain a free man, but he claimed that he had no knowledge of Espana's criminal past. This is despite the fact that one Officer Boyle had already contacted Jones to give him a detailed rundown on Espana's history of domestic violence and partner abuse. The information in Jones' own report varies widely, important times listed in his paperwork don't match the times given in recorded interviews. Jones wrote in his report that Amanda had a history of pill abuse--despite the fact that on tape, Espana admitted that Amanda only drank and didn't use drugs.
Jones also wrote that Amanda had spoken to Kimberly over the phone on the last day of her life--which was not true and could have easily been proven by phone records. Completely fabricated quotes and conversations were written in the report, for reasons unknown. In the section of the report referencing Espana's activities on the day in question, Jones added several stops that were never mentioned in Espana's taped interview. Even the most basic information was listed incorrectly, with Jones reporting that Amanda and Espana had only been together for about seven months when in reality they had lived together for over three years. The accounts of how Amanda's body was found and where varied from report to report, with some stating that her still warm body was left lying in the closet, and others saying that she was already cold, lying on her back on the bedroom floor. Which was it? What really happened? It depends on who you ask.
Another glaringly obvious mistake was the fact that no photographs of Espana exist in Amanda's case file, though the Sherman PD said that they took a number of them. No explanation for these missing photos has been given, but the police said they didn't notice any wounds on Espana or anything that would have indicated a struggle occurred. Taking into account that there is no photographic evidence to support that assertion, and the fact that their reports on the case are a mishmash of conflicting information--you'll understand, dear reader, that I don't have any faith whatsoever in their expert opinion.
Brayan Espana went missing three days before Amanda passed away, leaving everything behind--except Amanda's bank card. Though I find it unlikely that an innocent man supposedly concerned for the welfare of his girlfriend would suddenly vanish along with her money, this turn of events didn't seem to concern the Sherman PD at all. Regardless of whether or not they believe Espana murdered Amanda, he is still a violent criminal with active warrants out for his arrest and they allowed him to come and go as he pleased. That alone is enough reason to question the quality of their police work. Who are they protecting and serving exactly? Certainly not the innocent citizens of Sherman, Texas.
Despite the setbacks and disappointments, she has experienced regarding Amanda's case, Kimberly Mullens remains persistent. She runs a Facebook page devoted to sharing Amanda's story--The Pain of Injustice--and keeps a current blog by the same name. She continues to actively investigate leads and make connections in hopes of finally securing justice for her beloved sister, and she won't stop until that dream becomes a reality.
If you have any information about the Amanda Pierce case, or if you have information regarding the whereabouts of Brayan Espana, please contact me at email@example.com. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse--don't wait to get help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline accepts calls 24/7, and you can reach them at 1-800-799-7233.