Hillsboro – The world will hear the story of how Edwin Odell Collins put his teenaged kids in the family mini-van and fled their rural home near Whitney in terror.
Somehow, according to the story he told investigators in July of 2012, his 15-year-old daughter lost her life after she screamed, and he impulsively fired his shotgun in the dark – at something he could not really describe, and never saw clearly.
This much is clear; during the long night on which a pretty young woman lost her life, the Collins family was fleeing some nameless, unspeakable terror brought on by what the father, Edwin Odell Collins, 41, described in a 911 call as multiple vehicles driving around the rural property, and a group of flashlight-bearing individuals he feared were searching for he and his children.
He has said only that he heard a loud bang, and surmised that someone was shooting at he and his children. His daughter screamed, and he shot his gun in defense of their lives.
His plea to the Court is he is not guilty of murdering his daughter.
When the sun rose on July 24, the father and his two sons walked into the Hill County Sheriff's Office. His 17-year-old son then helped authorities find the lifeless body of Judith Collins, the fatal gunshot wound that felled her located in her back, where she lay in a copse of tangled brush that follows the fenceline near the family business.
During the night he never called 911 to report the shooting. Mr. Collins placed a call on a cell phone to the Bosque County Sheriff's Office, telling the dispatcher there of the property invasion in progress. The man lost contact with Collins when he tried to patch the call through to the proper agency, the Hill County dispatcher's office.
He failed to mention to his father when he visited the store that the girl lay dead in the brush. He asked only if any officers had stopped by to investigate.
Collins' Hitchin' Post is a beer and gasoline emporium, a pit stop for bottled propane, milk, bread and cigarettes located at the busy corner of FM 933 and FM 1713, just north of Whitney. The Collins home is in a complex of houses and barns at the rear of the farm, a few hundred yards distant, just down a meandering caliche road. To the south, there is a brushy area surrounding another house and the fence separating the property from a neighbor's.
An affidavit of probable cause prepared by detectives from statements Mr. Collins made after he arrived at their offices tells what little facts are known about the story. (click here for a previous report)
The Collins family fled after approaching the rear door of the beer store; when they heard the loud bang, they abandoned their vehicle nearby and ran for cover in the trees.
The horrific tale would be almost unbelievable – except for one factor.
Many other people in this state, residents of rural areas peripheral to the vital access corridor between Laredo to the south and the teeming triangular-shaped megalopolis of smaller communities that lies between Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin-San Antonio, and the coastal petrochemical complex of metropolitan Houston, have told a similar story.
Suddenly, their rural property is filled with vehicles chasing across the prairie, the night working alive with people carrying flashlights, running around, scouring the ground in the dark.
In at least one other case, a lawman fled when residents of a rural home chased him away from their property, his life's blood gushing from a gunshot wound to his back.
Members of that Rio Grande Valley family are similarly charged with murder. In that case, the victim was a federal officer who sat in a police vehicle for several hours keeping their home under surveillance before – according to their story –the night came alive with people running around the property with flashlights, and multiple vehicles began charging across the pastures surrounding their home.(click here for a previous report)
It's hardly an unfamiliar story.
Others will only talk in guarded fashion about their experiences, too afraid to give a cogent and complete account of what has happened as they rested during a long night in rural homes near arteries of traffic leading from Mexico to the vital markets of the midwest, the northeastern Boston-Washington corridor, and the west coast beyond the Rockies and the deserts.
Only a fool fails to prepare.
Hill County's District Attorney, Mark Pratt, took his time about seeking the indictment grand jurors returned August 23. He had a previous autopsy finding of death by gunshot wound. He was seeking a finding based on certain evidence lawmen long sought that the wound was, in the expert opinion of a specialist, intentionally inflicted.
Jurors will assemble on December 3 to answer that question, once and for all.
Mr. Collins, a truck driver, remains free on $500,000 bond, charged with the shotgun murder of his daughter, who was shot in the back when she screamed in the night, fleeing some threat she perhaps never really saw and her family cannot fully describe.