Interview with Marritte Funches

Where were you on March 27th, 1991?

There was nothing special about that day for me to remember, nothing out of the mundane. So what I do remember now is very foggy, and mostly a memory of a memory rather than the actual event. But I do remember going downtown earlier that day.

The way the public transportation (bus) ran, if you wanted to go into Reno from Stead (NV), you had to first walk several blocks to the bus stop. And since the bus only came at certain times, you might have to catch it several hours before you actually wanted to be somewhere. Shafer left the house separately alone, but we were both on the bus at the same time. There was no real animosity on my part at that time between Shafer and I, but I did not want him around me or hanging out with me. So I remember being irritated any time he left the house when I too was leaving. But when the bus got into Reno, Shafer went his way and I went mine. We never even spoke, or at least I don´t remember speaking to him.

Going into Reno was a daily activity, and I´d go around the same time each day. Early enough to put in a few job applications. Then I´d just walk around, explore the city, get a few free drinks at the different casinos, maybe gamble a little and meet a few girls, and then go home. I was 19 at the time and Reno was still new to me. There was nothing new about this day. I went home, and since my mothers house was along the way and the same walking distance from the bus stop, I´d usually stop by. Which I did that day. I do not remember what time it was, but I remember my mother saying later she did remember the time, specifically because of a TV show playing at the time. I stayed 10 to 15 minutes and left.

Back at the house (which was like a crash spot for about six guys) no one was home except for a guy named Percey, who was asleep on the couch, tho´ he did wake up long enough to see/hear me come in.

Maybe 30 to 45 minutes later I went to use the public phone just outside of the job corps campus. I called my friend Renée Cooper. We talked for a while, and there were numerous people trafficking the area. Two young ladies whom I knew, Emirtha Wright and LaShawn Jackson, walked past and we exchanged hello´s briefly. I´m not sure how long I was on the phone. But back at the house, Percy was still the only one there.

Later that night, Shafer came in and woke me up, as we did share a room. And he told me he shot someone. I thought he shot a guy who had broken his jaw a month or two before. But later the next day I found out he´d shot and killed a taxi driver.

How come none of this came out in court?

At the time I was young and naïve about the situation and what I was dealing with. I had a public defender, and I trusted each time he told me: “I know you didn´t do this, don´t worry, we´ll beat it.” I told him everything I´ve said here. And up until the trial I thought each of these individuals would be coming forward to testify. I don´t know now if they expected to or not. But at the last second, when it was time for my lawyer to present my defense, he stood and informed the court that he would not be calling any witnesses… It was a very dramatic moment in the courtroom. And I was in complete shock.

Later, the public defender said about my mother that the jury would think she was just trying to help me. And while each of the other witnesses did remember bits and pieces, they either didn´t remember enough or they were not 100% sure of the dates. Mind you, none but my mother had been contacted before a couple of months prior to trial, which was more than a year later.

But for me, I know now that I was deceived. There was no real effort to prove my innocence. I can recall seeing the interactions between the prosecution and my public defender. They would always be eating lunch together and laughing. And based on everything I´ve learned since, there´s no doubt it was decided at that time I´d take the fall for this case, regardless of the fact that they had all the evidence to show I was innocent. My mother would never have lied for me. She was the one who told the police my address to come and arrest me for this case. And the other witnesses didn´t need to remember the date. It could have been easily confirmed by phone records. Not to mention the mountain of other evidence they swept under the rug and ignored.

What other evidence?

Well, there was a lot of evidence proving my innocence, but two of the biggest pieces are the video tapes. Shafer lied saying we were together, that we went to several casinos and specific areas within them. He also stated that I was with him, that I flagged down the cab, that I shot the cab driver, etc. But as all the casinos were covered by video surveillance, the police did obtain no less than five (5) videos of the specific places Shafer said he and I were together.

And while the fact that I was not in any of them should have been enough to prove my innocence, the public defender basically allowed the prosecutor to hide this vital evidence from the jury, by stipulating briefly in court, outside the presence of the jury, that I was NOT in any of the videos. So instead of my lawyer presenting this to the jury, telling them that Shafer claimed I was with him at these specific places and in the cab, and just prior to the actual murder.

But the surveillance videos of these places proved in fact that I was not with Shafer, and that he was lying. A single piece of paper stipulating this fact, was placed in a pile of hundreds of other papers, and given to the jury after the trial was over, with no explanation and nothing to highlight its significance.

Another very important piece of evidence the jury never saw:
After giving several different stories, and failing a lie detector test, Shafer was arrested several months prior to trial. While in the county jail, Shafer bragged to another inmate how he was overheard by another inmate, who first tried to inform the prosecution. They obviously rejected it. So this man then contacted my lawyer. In fact, he wrote down what he heard and gave the name of the inmate Shafer was bragging to. And he gave this note to my lawyer, telling him what it was for. But the lawyer ignored it and did not investigate it until after I´d been convicted.

And what happened?

Well both of these inmates did come forward, they testified that Shafer admitted he killed the cab driver, but he´d be able to beat it by putting it off on me. And based on their testimony, I was granted a new trial. But before I could go to trial, the D.A. set up a motion for the judge to reconsider, where he brought in a prisoner who claimed after 15 minutes of being alone in a holding cell with me, that I told him Shafer and I were working together and that we were running a scam on the court. What this individual said made no sense, it was obvious he´d gotten bits and pieces from the news reports, and was working with the D.A. to manipulate the court. But as the court never wanted to grant a new trial to begin with. It was all the excuse it needed to take it away, reasoning that even if I didn´t kill the cab driver, the court believes I was still there, and so I´d be found guilty anyway.

What would your response be to people who might say the new trial would have been based on the statements of inmates anyway?

Well. The jury would now be able to see all of the evidence. I´d have had different lawyers who were not making deals with the prosecution behind my back. And they would see the major difference between the two inmates who came forward against Shafer, and the witnesses for the prosecution.

There was nothing for them to gain. The two inmates who´s testimony initially won me a new trial, they got nothing for it. In fact, they were convicted of their crimes and did their time in prison, whereas each of the key witnesses for the state were given deals, facing prison time themselves, those cases were dropped. So the victims of their crimes were denied justice in order to obtain a false conviction against me, and then to cover it up.

What has happened to you as a result of this?

You know, I´ve seen other men in similar circumstances who seemed not to be angry, and who held no ill will. And I applaud those men. They are better men than I, as this case has left me filled with anger, and pain that I can´t describe. I was 19 years old when this happened, I´m 38 now. My only child has lived her entire life without her father. In all my time here at Ely State Max, I´ve only been able to see my child once. Surrounded by some of the most racist and sadistic guards in the state. It´s been a constant battle, not only for my life, but for my humanity as well.

Written on October 15th, 2009, by Marritte; transcribed on October 21st, 2009, by IMFJC