Eric King

Maricopa County, Arizona
Date of Crime:  December 27, 1989
Executed March 29, 2011

Eric John King was convicted of the murders of Ron Barman, a store clerk, and Richard Butts, a security guard. The murders occurred during a midnight robbery of the Short Stop convenience market at 48th Street and Broadway in Phoenix. The robbery was captured on videotape and grainy images from it showed the robber was a black male wearing a dark sweater with a band of light colored, diamond-shaped markings across his chest and arms.

Witnesses near the store saw two black men at the store shortly after hearing gunshots. Minutes later, Phoenix Police Sergeant Richard Switzer attempted to stop two black men four blocks from the crime scene. He shined a spotlight on the men, got out of his car, and walked toward them. Despite giving an order to “halt,” one of the men (who wore a blue sweater with white markings on the upper sleeve) fled the scene.

The man who stopped identified himself as Michael Jones. When asked about the man who ran away, Jones said he had just met the man and did not know him. Jones was arrested and interrogated by Detective Armando Saldate.

Three days after the robbery, Jones' girlfriend, Nekita Hill, contacted police and told them that she saw a picture from the Short Stop security video on television and she recognized the robber as Eric King. She said she knew King because he was Jones' friend and she encountered him frequently. Once she realized that King was the robber, she remembered that on the night of the murder she was walking with her friend to her friend's house near the corner where the crime occurred. She remembered helicopters were flying overhead. As she and her friend approached her friend's house, she saw King walking toward a dumpster. She saw him throw a light-colored, thin plastic bag into the dumpster. The bag contained a gun and a dark sweater with a white diamond pattern. She said she had previously seen King wearing that sweater.

Jones reversed his previous statement about not knowing the man who ran away and agreed that the man was King and that he was also the robber who killed the store clerk and security guard.

King was convicted due to the testimony of Jones and Hill, as well as the hearsay testimony of Detective Saldate. However, Jones was in a position to be charged with the murders, if he did not testify to the satisfaction of the prosecution. In addition he changed his testimony many times, claiming forgetfullness about events interspersed with bouts of remberance. Due to his apparent willingness to lie or feign ignorance when it suited him, his testimony cannot be viewed as credible.

Hill's testimony was too incredible to be believed. Not only did she claim to see King return to the crime scene with police helicopters flying overhead, but she claimed to see through plastic bags at night to determine that he was disposing of a gun and a diamond patterned sweater. Also if such a disposal occurred, it is highly unlikely that Hill, as Jones' girlfriend, would have happened to witness it on an unrelated trip to the area.

Thirdly, Saldate, the case detective, has a long record of apparent dishonesty that includes his involvement in the wrongful convictions of Debra Milke and Eldon Shurz.

There were, however, two credible witnesses. Frank Madden, the first person at the scene of the crime, described both suspects as a little over six feet tall. He said that one of the suspects wore a blue or black and white sweater with “some kind of pattern like pyramids.” Officer Switzer, who encountered the suspects four blocks from the crime scene, described the suspect who ran away as being slightly taller than one who did not run away.

Since Jones is six feet one inch tall, both witnesses indicated the robber is more than six feet tall. The witnesses' height measurements raise serious doubt that King is the robber as he is only five feet eight inches tall (or five foot nine according to his prison record). Despite the discrepancy, King was executed by lethal injection on March 29, 2011.  [1/12]


Reference:  Skeptical Juror

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Arizona Cases, Defendants Executed After 1976