Devon Epps: Waiting
“Taking a different way?” my wife asked as I slipped onto a different back road and drove through an old residential area.
We’d been out for ice cream. On the way home, I pulled over the railroad tracks and past an area where victim Francisco Velazquez had been found dead a few weeks before. It was walking distance from our house and a cut-through we used a couple of years ago. It’s a product of the no-zoning South, where rough industrial areas rub up against family neighborhoods like a stranger on the subway. Maybe because I am more conscious of crime than I used to be, I recognize the dividing lines better than when I was a kid. Now, for better or worse, I know which intersection marks the point where the wife and kid should turn around and head back the other way on their a pied trips around the neighborhood.
Though Velazquez had been killed so close to my home, my diversion had nothing to do with his death. Earlier in the day, I’d been doing some routine background checks on Amanda Smith and realized that she, too, lived fairly close to me and within walking distance of a friend’s house. This was a week ago and there was a sense among all the people following this case that the case was about to move…to do something–anything–to comfort the countless people who have become obsessed with Devon Epps’ death.
Smith’s residence (apparently on the same property as her grandparents’, though I have no independent verification of that) sits on a cut-through street a few miles outside of town It’s a road that barely exists and seems only to function as a place to have built a few houses in the past. As I idled down the road, I caught sight of the tell-tale dark blue car. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office cruiser sat parked in a ditch. No one sat inside it. It became pretty clear that Smith’s neighbor was a cop, off-duty and not parked across the street from the Smith residence for any reason other than he lived there.
Up Smith’s gravel driveway, a work crew wandered around the half-burned portion of one of the home’s on the property, presumably the same portion that at one time house Devon Epps’ bedroom–the same place he almost died last Spring during a fire of somewhat suspicious origin. There was no sign of Amanda Smith.
I learned later there was a good reason for Smith to not be there. She’d been in a wreck that morning, having slammed her grandparents’ Kia into the back of a truck in a neighboring–but not close–county. She survived. The car didn’t. She picked up a couple of traffic charges, was released from the hospital, and again faded back into relative obscurity.
My visit to her house last week coincided with the last public mention of the Devon Epps case in the news. Since then, the Greenville News has published one letter to the editor about the case and nothing else. The local crime beat reporters have been forced to move on to the other big cases of the past couple weeks, chiefly the officer-involved shooting of female ex-con Sabrina Parker.
While the traditional news outlets have moved on, the Internet as not. I started noticing a lot of referrals here from the local paper’s discussion forum and discovered a ton of people who were participating in 100-page-long forum discussions about the case. Everybody from friends of the Epps family to amateur sleuths were debating the case and its merits. With no real news coming out, my e-mail box started filling up with questions from readers about the case. Just this morning I got an eight-point e-mail detailing some good questions about the case–all things that we might eventually learn when the investigation is complete. There are people Googling all over the country about this case, despite the fact that no national news outlet has bothered to touch it.
No one has asked for my opinion, but I figure I should make an admission. I figured we would’ve seen an arrest by now. The evidence, or lack thereof, however, seems to be dictating a more patient approach to the case. As has been stated before, there is only one known witness to Epps’ death. At this point, Amanda Smith is the only one who can offer information about what happened. Beyond what she says, investigators must rely on the evidence. There are only a couple of kinds of available evidence that will make this case cut-and-dry and I would assume those brands of evidence are unavailable. Hence, making an arrest in a case that will be largely built on circumstantial evidence is a lot more difficult. While I have no direct knowledge of what’s happened up to this point, I would bet there have been more than a few discussions with people in Solicitor Bob Arial’s office, if not Ariail himself. I’ve only once seen Ariail go to trial without the goods, and that case was the high-profile death of a Greenville County Deputy. Ariail doesn’t talk much publicly, and when he does, it is for good reason. He’s not a prosecutor that steps too far out on a limb without a big net of evidence below him. If the Epps case currently rests on no more than common sense and circumstantial evidence, Ariail almost certainly isn’t ready to bite.
I hesitate to say it, but it almost feels like this is a case we might have to wait on for a while. There’s a lot that the cops know that few other people do, and until the investigators have enough to convince Ariail they have a winnable case, we won’t see an arrest. It’s the frustrating thing about crime news. This is not CSI. This is not Law & Order. It could be many more weeks before anything else about this case is mentioned publicly. One thing I’ve found over the years, though, is that quiet can be a good thing. When the cops and prosecutors don’t have to spend their time fording the P.R. river, they have time to get work done.
I hope that’s what’s happening now.