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A 1986 confession in Straight, Inc., leads a murder conviction in 2012

Shane Absalon was court ordered to Straight, Inc. as a condition of probation for a charge of criminal mischief in July of 1986. During his time at Straight, Shane was coerced by staff to admit to committing a murder in 1984. In 2009, after seeing a news report, others who sat in Straight with Shane, including his oldcomer, decided to come forward to confirm that they heard him confess in a group session.

There were very few clients in Straight who weren’t coerced to confess to things they didn’t do, so that it would look like they were “getting honest,” admitting to all the supposed awful things they did before the program, in hopes of someday getting out of that program/hell-hole. 

Dead, Insane or In Jail.

If you were ever in Straight, Inc., as a young person, you’ll remember the mantra that was drilled into us, “If your parents didn’t put you here you would have ended up dead-insane-or-in-jail!” (They used to say it as though it was a single word deadinsaneorinjail) The staff and other phasers would also threaten that if you didn’t finish the program, you would meet the same fate.

Then, if you were not able to escape from the program (or you were court-ordered to the program) and your only choice was to try to advance through the program, you claimed that as your own fate. “Let’s be thankful that our parents loved us enough to put us here.  If they hadn’t, we would probably be deadinsaneorinjail by now,” (despite the fact we are only 15 years old and haven’t even had a chance to try drugs yet or else we only tried pot and alcohol a couple of times on the weekends at a party.)

For some impressionable young minds, this persistent message more than likely became a self-fulfilling prophecy. While many Straight, Inc. Survivors are very fortunate and doing quite fine in spite of their stint in the abusive program; others weren’t so lucky and ended up in awful situations.

Imagine if once you entered the program, you confessed to murder either (1) because staff members and other phasers were relentlessly accusing you of committing the crime and strong-armed you into admitting to it before they would give you any semblance of peace. (2) as a way to go to jail to escape Straight, Inc. (There have been statements made by survivors who have experienced both jail and the program, who conclude that jail is a ‘day at the beach’ compared to being in Straight, Inc.). (3) you needed to appear more ferocious than you were out of fear of getting beaten or raped. (4) To show what incredible changes you were making to progress and eventually get out of the program.

Before being put in the program at fifteen years old, I remember specifically asking my father how anyone could admit to a crime they didn’t commit after seeing it on a television show. He tried to explain it to me, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how any circumstances could be so bad that you would confess to just about anything. Once I entered Straight, Inc., it became all too clear how it occurs.

Did you know that the ‘Confidentiality’ rule didn’t apply to those court-ordered to the program?

Neither did Shane Absalon.

Now, add to coercion the fact that you hear several times a day about the program rule of ‘Confidentiality’ and that it very strictly means “What you see here, hear here or say here, stays here.”

In the mind of a young person, making the punishments stop by admitting to anything, even breaking the law (even murder!), is the best solution, especially since we are ‘protected’ by ‘Confidentiality’ and the punishments that come to anyone who dares to break the rule.

I don’t know Shane Absalon, and I have no idea if he murdered Ginger Hayden. Only he, the murderer–if it isn’t Shane, and the victim of the crime, know the truth.

But I’m all too well-acquainted with the intensive coercion that took place inside of the Straight, Inc. walls.  My familiarity with that particular type of bullying coupled with becoming familiar with the details of Shane’s case, I sincerely doubt that confession during his time at Straight, Inc. was any more truthful than my own confession of having a drug problem. These were the things we did as our very survival depended on “getting with the program,” and saying the things and doing the things they wanted us to do.

An attorney is looking for affidavits from former Straight, Inc. Clients.

We recently received a letter from a lawyer looking for testimonies regarding coerced confessions from ‘program-clients’ of Straight, Inc. Affidavits from clients who were in the Straight, Inc. Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas location during the 1986-1987 time frame are the most valuable. Next, would be those from the Dallas Straight, Inc., and he welcomes a statement from anyone who can attest to the coercive nature of the Straight, Inc. program at any time and in any location.

Email received from James Drummond, Esq:

I represent Shane Absalon on a Texas appeal from a cold case murder conviction. One of our issues involves his time at Straight, Inc. in the Dallas Fort Worth are in 1986. Shane was coerced into confessing to a murder which I believe he did not commit, as the evidence points to another man  (now dead). The State’s case relief heavily on these admissions which were in open meetings – and several witnesses were called to testify who had heard these alleged statements at Straight assemblies.

I am looking for affidavits about the coercion of false confessions necessary to meet Straight’s requirements to progress through that program. Especially prized would be affidavits from the Dallas Straight, especially from around that time, but any and all affidavits at any and all times would be wonderful and the more detail the better.

All I would need is a narrative; I could then convert it into affidavit format and send it back for final review; if the person making the affidavit finds it all accurate, it would just have to be signed by you before a notary, sealed by the notary, and returned to me in a self-addressed and stamped envelope I would provide.

We may have a hearing early this fall, so I would really like to get everything in order as soon as practicable.

Appreciatively,

JIM DRUMMOND

James Alexander Drummond, Texas Bar # 24081380
4214 Engadina Pass
Round Rock, TX 78665-1270
cell 405-818-3851
www.jimdrummondlaw.com

==============================================================

Ginger McNulty wanted to let readers know that she responded to the attorney’s request and to post her letter as an example for anyone else who would like to respond.

 Note from Ginger to our Readers:

I just sent the following to Mr. Drummond. jim@jimdrummondlaw.com

He responded right away with a properly formatted version and a lot of gratitude. I have two pretty good reasons for thinking this is worthwhile.

1) I don’t need to know 100% for sure that Shane Absalon is innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted. The only question Mr. Drummond is asking us to answer is whether or not we witnessed and experienced coercion to falsely confess. Simple question, simple answer, yes, every single day. That is the only piece of evidence in this case that he is asking us to address and I feel that I can do that with a clear conscience. The rest of the evidence is Mr. Drummond’s concern.
2) One thing I know about lawyers, they don’t like to lose. And this guy has shut down his practice in Oklahoma specifically to work on the matter of rampant wrongful convictions in Texas. I tend to think that Shane’s case is a pretty strong case because it would hurt Drummond’s cause to pick a weak one.
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Ginger’s letter to the attorney-

Dear Mr. Drummond,

Thank you for taking an interest in Shane Absalon’s case.My name is Virginia R. McNulty. My family became involved in a program called The Seed in Ft. Lauderdale in around 1970 when I was about 5 years old. My parents placed me in Straight, Inc. in St. Petersburg in Oct of 1980. I left the program in late 1982. At that time, I was on the highest phase of the program and on pre-training for staff.

I can attest to the fact that forced false and exaggerated confessions were a routine part of the program from the start of the intake interview all the way to the present. Among my false confessions was that I had a drug problem. I did not. But, in order to be allowed almost adequate sleep, a break from the constant verbal and emotional pressure to confess, I did say that I was a druggie (program term).

Like every other Straight, Inc. client, I also confessed to having used both marijuana and THC. Every last one of us made that ridiculous claim upon introduction (public confession required at open meeting in order to be considered for advancement through the program); “Hi, my name is [name]. The drugs I’ve done are pot, alcohol, THC, over-the-counter drugs (and then whatever). ”

This was done, in my opinion, for two primary reasons; to break the will of the client, bringing them along by degrees to more and more submissive mindset til one wasn’t really sure what was real and true and what was contrived. After being immersed in this environment for some time, we really were not at all sure ourselves what we remembered and knew from our own observations and what was false narrative imposed by the program. The other reason was to put forth the appearance to the parents and others in the audience they were dealing with the worst of the worst of potentially dangerous drug fiends, when really we were just the unlucky children of parents with more money than common sense.

This was true of the vast majority, though several (like less than half a dozen out of hundreds of clients actually had substance abuse problems and/or violent criminal histories that may or may not have been related to their drug use).

Because I had been involved for most of my life, I knew the system and did not believe much of what I heard people confessing to. But here’s a short list of highly implausible confessions that stand out in my mind.

Libbi McDonald was 16 years old when she entered the program. She was the daughter of a wealthy restaurant owner (not the hamburger chain). She was unusually small, maybe 4’11”. And she became a lifelong devotee to The Seed, being on sr. staff when I was a kid and continuing her affiliation with Art Barker well into the 2000’s. Her story was that she had a $1,000 per day heroin habit…. in 1970 dollars. That would be roughly 80 – 100 stamp bags per day. Suuuuure… but it sure scared the public into shoveling money into the program.

Another commonly accepted, though highly implausible story was that every teenage boy in the program had had sexual relations with the family pet. Now I know that adolescent boys tend to experiment in unusual ways sometimes. But every one? With the dog or cat?? I seriously doubt it!

One 17yo girl and her brother, who was around 20 or so, told the tale of having been in charge of the biggest cocaine import operation in So. Florida. I did notice, but did not mention at the time, that there were no guards protecting them from the cartel.

That’s about all I can recollect off the top of my head right now. Please feel free to ask me any questions.

Again, thanks for what you’re doing. I don’t know Shane at all, but if anything said during newcomer introduction at a Straight open meeting forms a basis for his conviction, it definitely should be thrown out!

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Background Information on the Case

If you are looking for more information on the case you can google the following search terms:

  •  Shane Absalon
  • “Shane Absalon” and “Straight Inc”
  • Murder of Ginger Hayden

Also online: The Case – Decided April 29, 2015 – can be found at http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-criminal-appeals/1699137.html

The attorney’s brief is public record, click here: Shane Absalon

 

Published inStraight Inc

8 Comments

  1. In 2012, Shane’s first attorney, Gary Udashen, contacted me to learn more about Straight. He explained Shane’s case and informed me that the DNA evidence seemed to implicate someone else. Mr. Udashen said that Shane’s arrest was based on the testimony of former clients from Straight. He described Shane’s account of the events at Straight but said he was having trouble believing them because he had never heard of a program like Straight. He asked if I thought Shane’s story sounded plausible, and to me, Shane’s account was very believable – it was very easy to see how Shane could have been wrongly convicted, and that was before I had heard details about the way the prosecutors handled the case.

    Mr. Udashen said Shane was one of the victim’s friends and was originally one of many suspects in the case during the mid-1980s simply because he knew her personally. Shane had been court-ordered to Straight for unrelated issues, sometime after she was murdered. Police investigators came to Straight to question Shane about the murder and after their interview, they removed him from the suspect list and he went back to group.

    Mr. Udashen’s understanding was that Straight staff then told Shane that if he did not confess to the murder as a “past incident,” he would not be allowed to progress through the program. They also promised him that his confession would not be reported to the police. Shane eventually confessed, staff did not report the confession to the police, the murder confession simply became part of his “druggie-past,” Shane went on up through his phases and graduated from the program.

    He married, had kids, and went about living a healthy adult life with his family. Twenty-some years later, Ginger Hayden’s murder case was reopened and a former group member from the Dallas Straight program saw a TV news report about it. She called the police and reported the group-confession Shane made in Straight. State prosecutors then located an inmate in a Texas prison who was also in Straight with Shane. They arranged a plea deal with him and he testified against Shane in exchange for a lighter sentence. These testimonies were the evidence used in his conviction.

    From what I understand, there is very convincing new evidence that seems to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shane is innocent. I believe that when this evidence is presented in court, it will lead to his exoneration.

    What seems most questionable, even by Straight standards, is that executive staff members would have hid a genuine murder confession from the authorities. Was it just a typical teenage phaser-turned-staff member who pushed for the confession? Were the executives aware of the confession?

    Some Straightlings who were in group with Shane and heard the confession, like those who reported him to the police, seem to be convinced that he really did it, but they have not had a chance to review all of the evidence.

    Considering that Shane was a court-ordered client, I assume all of the Dallas Straight staff would have been acting illegally to harbor a ward of the state who confessed to murderer. The simplest explanation might be that they knew they had coerced the story and assumed it was a fictional account, like so many other confessions in the program. If staff had reason to assume it was fictional, it’s easier to see why they wouldn’t have bothered to report it to the authorities.

    • Straight, Inc. really damaged some of the people it claimed to help. With your additional information about this case, I’m more convinced than I already was of Shane’s innocence. I sure hope people send Shane’s attorney information they know about how prevalent the coercion was within the four walls of each and every location of the Straight, Inc. program. This situation could have happened to anyone enrolled in that program. Thanks Marcus!

  2. Thanks for the background info, Marcus. I didn’t know all of that and now I’m even more sure that this is a false conviction. Imagine recovering from Straight, building a whole new life and family and then, 30 years later, being dragged back into the program, away from kids, grand-kids, everything… only this time it’s for life.

    I just heard back from Jim Drummond. He said he received my affidavit, but it’s the only one so far. I literally had to wait a week for some work to come through before I had the $5 notary fee and postage to mail it.

    Please, folks, it’s such a little thing. Even if he doesn’t win his appeal it could mean SO much for him to know that some of us out here give a tiny fuck about the injustice done to him in the name of treatment.

    • I am Shane’s AZ Mom.
      I have talked to Shane just about every day for the last 6 years. I am his little girl’s Grandma and have been her caregiver much of the time since his arrest, when she was 18 months old. Her Mommy worked and then the stress of the trial and his wrongful conviction took its toll and almost destroyed our daughter.

      Shane’s little girl is precious to us and she loves her Daddy. We visit him every 2 to 3 months in Huntsville and she knows the routine of the prison. She continues to sit on his lap for 4 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday talking and playing games like tic tac toe with skittles on a paper towel when there are no crayons and paper, coloring when they have crayons available,and sharing junk food from the vending machines. Ryley poses with him for a picture on special days and dances on his feet before they sit down (no standing up on his side of the table) and loves to sing to him. She is now 7 years old and reads to him from a few books they have and telling him riddles and facts she has learned from ABC Mouse.com. She is well liked by her classmates, likes to play with Legos, likes our dog, Josie, and swims well.

      Shane’s son is now 21 years old, works hard and is a great brother. Shane’s daughter is 22, married to a Navy man and has a precious little girl who spent the first 5 months of her life in the NICU. His daughter is the best of Mommies! We send Shane pictures of his Granddaughter and tease him about being a Grandpa.

      I am a Forensic Nurse and my husband is a retired police officer and businessman. We attended Shane’s trial and can tell you without a doubt that he was not well represented even though the attorney was highly-rated and well paid by our standards. The trial took 4 days and the defense portion took 2 hours. One ill prepared defense witness (not her fault she was not prepared ) and 2 of the prosecution’s witnesses were called by the defense with summation limited to 20 minutes. The jury got the case at about 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon. We hired Mr Drummond for the appeal process

      I tell you these things so you might know the affect’s this ordeal has had on our lives. It has been a painful yet Spiritual journey. Days of hopelessness and hope! Whenever you watch Dateline remember there are two sides to every story.

      • I am so glad you posted this here Lori. It is always great to hear the other side. If anyone should understand there is always another side of the media reports, those who have been involved in Straight, Inc. and those involved in any other program should and probably do. This could have happened to any one of us. Let’s get our letters written to this attorney!

  3. Lori Rutherford Lori Rutherford

    There is a lot more to this story that was not even mentioned in the trial. For example, there is evidence in the file that Some Other Dude Did It (SODDI). Our first attorney decided it might confuse the jury if he drifted from his original theory of a Serial Killer and brought up the fact that another person actually sat in front of the apartment where the victim lived, with a detective and told him how he broke into the apartment (details) and stole a jar of coins. No burglaries were reported for the time frame and for 3 years prior. A shoe print that did not match Shane’s size even and we won’t even go into the problems with the DNA evidence.
    I am convinced and have always been convinced Shane did not do this thing.
    Thanks for listening,
    Lori

    • Lori,
      I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally to have a chance to take some meaningful action to undo some of the harm done. I’m so glad you have reached out to us here.

      Kathy, you are pulling off something really wonderful here.

      Thanks!

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