"These things just don't happen accidentally," Paul Henderson
says, sorting through a box of legal files.
"There's always an element of misconduct.
The ex-journalist and private investigator stops to think about that, and puts down an old Titus case file.
stubbly beard, Henderson
turns and begins to pace across the inlaid deck of his
boat-home, a 49-foot Grand Banks Alaskan tied up on Lake Union
Police, prosecutors-"They're actually able to sleep at night knowing they've convicted an innocent man," he
says, voice rising to a bellow.
While awaiting sentencing, Titus contacted Henderson
, then a reporter for The Seattle Times
, claiming to be innocent of the crime, the sexual assault of a 17-year-old hitchhiker near Sea-Tac Airport.
was hooked by Titus' sincerity and the fact that police never explored any of his
alibi details or interviewed his
began looking for the kind of details he
would spend the next three decades seeking in such cases-contrary evidence and testimony that police and prosecutors had missed or ignored, sometimes purposely.
Within weeks, he
learned that the victim's memory of her
attacker was hazy, and that she'd been steered by police to identify Titus as the perpetrator.
Among other conflicts, there were clear differences between the victim's description of the rapist's car and Titus' vehicle.
also learned a detective had adjusted event times on his report to counter Titus' alibi: Running his own stopwatch checks, the reporter discovered it was impossible for Titus to have been at the crime scene at the time of the rape.
Henderson, a bar-crawling crime reporter who kept a six-pack in his locker at the police press room where he sometimes slept under a pile of newspapers, won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.
The jury does that mistakenly much too often, Henderson
has since discovered.
He quit the Times a month after Titus' death and became a highly sought private investigator with a low boiling point for injustice.
Today, at 74 with two marriages and two careers behind him, the teetotaling PI is semi-retired after three decades of freeing wrongly convicted felons-at least 23 by his
count-across the U.S. and Canada.
"In almost every case I worked on, those convictions could have been avoided," Henderson
says in the gruff baritone that has persuaded a legion of confident eyewitnesses to change their tunes when confronted by the findings of his
"There was a distinct absence of fair play."
Unfortunately, there's a demand for last-resort investigators like him, scouring the countryside for long-gone witnesses or accusers, knocking on the doors of old hotels in St. Louis, wandering through trailer courts outside Dallas, chasing down dead leads in a Spokane flophouse.
Since 1985, Henderson has worked for New Jersey-based nonprofit Centurion Ministries, which receives 1,500 letters each year from U.S. prisoners claiming to have been falsely convicted.
In three decades, the organization has freed 50 wrongly imprisoned men and women.
Henderson's last case before he
retired from full-time sleuthing last year took him to 14 states.
"I hate flying," he
loves a mystery.
mission is to dig for new evidence in dust-covered case files.
The sleuthing almost always requires shoe leather to round up hidden or undiscovered facts-a strategy different from that of another famed exoneration group, the New York-based Innocence Project
, which focuses on retesting crime-scene DNA and has helped reverse more than 300 convictions nationally.
A local arm of the project, Innocence Project Northwest, operates out of the University of Washington
and has chalked up eight notable reversals.
Courts may overwhelmingly grind out fair verdicts, Henderson
says, but some of those decisions are flawed or flat-out wrong, sending the legally not guilty and the plainly innocent to jail or prison.
Attorney Camiel called in the hound, Paul Henderson.
"Spencer's was a dig-up-whatever-you-can case," says Henderson
For starters, Henderson
learned medical reports existed, hidden from Spencer's defense, that showed no indications any of the children had ever been sexually abused.
Clark County Det.
, suspicious about the night Spencer's second wife Shirley brought her son to his motel room, wondered if that was a setup.
was there to greet him, took him to a bank to cash his
small prison-labor check, bought him a steak, and dropped him off at a motel on Aurora Avenue in Seattle.
The next morning, Spencer recalls, he
got up early, went out into the free world, and began to walk until he
As a registered sex offender, he
still could not join his
wife in California, though she
quickly arrived to greet him, returning regularly as they continued their long-distance relationship.
Inside his Lake Union
boat home, Paul Henderson
is thumbing through more files-he has dozens of boxes and thousands of pages of documents stored in a closet and a nearby locker.
"Wrongful confessions are one of the biggest problems in these cases, and the most difficult to overturn," he
says, recalling Barry Beach of Montana.
was 21, still living with his
parents, when he
was arrested in 1983 for buying beer for a minor, a misdemeanor.
wound up doing 28 years in prison for confessing to a murder-the slaying of a teen girl-he did not commit, as Henderson's investigation helped prove.
The case was one of many worked on by Henderson
that were featured on national TV magazine shows, including 60 Minutes and 20/20.
was put away by cops who talked him into it," says Henderson
But wrongful convictions will continue, Henderson
says, as long as police and prosecutors are not punished for them.
"They should be held criminally responsible, in my view," he