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Murder charge against man accused of killing 13-year-old girl dismissed amid litany of procedural and investigatory failures

Shawn Casey Adkins (Mitchell County Sheriff's Office) and Hailey Dunn (Missing poster)

Shawn Casey Adkins (Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office) and Hailey Dunn (Missing poster)

A 37-year-old man in Texas accused of killing his girlfriend’s 13-year-old daughter in 2010 has been released from jail two years after his arrest, with prosecutors listing a series of procedural and investigatory missteps and claiming that “further investigation is needed” before they can take the case to trial.

Nolan County District Attorney Richard Thompson on Monday filed a motion dismissing charges of murder and tampering with evidence against Shawn Casey Adkins in connection with the death of Colorado City teen Hailey Dunn, court documents reviewed by Law&Crime show. The motion seeks the dismissal of the charges “without prejudice,” meaning that Adkins could be charged with Hailey’s murder a second time.

“Pursuant to the State’s duty to see that justice is done, the prosecution in this case believes that further investigation is needed for the State to proceed to trial,” Nolan wrote in the filing. “To be clear, the prosecution views Shawn Casey Adkins as the primary suspect in the Hailey Dunn murder on or about Dec. 27, 2010, in Mitchell County, Texas. However, additional work must be done before the case can proceed to a jury trial.”

The motion then goes on to provide a litany of errors and omissions that led prosecutors to drop the charges against Adkins. In light of those shortcomings, the state said it provided Adkins with a 16-page “comprehensive Brady notice” which details potentially “exculpatory, impeachment, and mitigating evidence” in the case against him. A Brady notice, also referred to as Brady material or a Brady disclosure, refers to prosecutors being legally obligated to disclose evidence that is favorable to the accused and may harm the state’s case.

First, prosecutors said that during the decade-long investigation into Hailey’s murder, “hundreds of tips, leads, and potential alternate suspects were provided to law enforcement.” While “some” of that information was investigated and cleared, prosecutors said that “many of the tips and leads were not properly vetted, investigated, or cleared,” emphasizing that doing so “is critical in a case such as this that relies exclusively on circumstantial evidence.”

Second, prosecutors previously claimed that dirt from the area where Hailey’s body was found and dirt from boots belonging to Adkins were analyzed by a state soil expert who concluded the two samples were a match. However, FBI forensic scientists determined that the two samples were not a match. Furthermore, the State learned that its experts’ soil testing process “is not a testing methodology sanctioned by the forensic science community for soil analysis,” the motion states. The FBI also advised the state that it should not rely on the testing done by its soil expert in a criminal trial.

Third, the state said that after Hailey’s body was discovered in 2013, she showed signs of blunt-force skull injuries that would have resulted in excessive bleeding. However, despite multiple searches of her home and the vehicle involved in the case, prosecutors say that the state “is not aware of any forensic testing that was done in the house in the immediate aftermath of Hailey’s disappearance.”

Finally, and possibly most damaging to the state’s case, are cellphone records and data for phones belonging to Adkins and Dunn. According to prosecutors, those records show that Adkins placed a call at 2:56 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2010, the day Hailey went missing. That call connected to a cell tower between Big Spring and Colorado City, which are separated by about 40 miles. Hailey’s phone at 2:57 p.m. on Dec. 27 received an incoming call that connected to a cell tower in Colorado City, meaning that Hailey was likely alive at 2:57 p.m. on the day she went missing.

Based on reliable witness testimony placing Adkins at his home at about 5 p.m. on Dec. 27, and him not being alone after 6 p.m. that day, prosecutors say he would have had “at most approximately two hours (from approximately 3 p.m. to approximately 5 p.m.)” to commit the murder and get rid of the evidence.

“This means that the Defendant would have had to kill her, clean up any blood and other incriminating evidence in the home, and hidden her body in a relatively short amount of time,” the motion states. “While this is not impossible, it presents additional challenges given the preceding issues.”

Adkins was released from detention on Tuesday.

The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Law&Crime.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.