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Rufus Junior MINCEY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Drugs
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 28, 1974
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: ???
Victim profile: Barry Headricks (undercover narcotics agent)
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationTucson, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to 25-year prison term in 1975

Rufus J. Mincey is, according to my research, out of prison in Arizona having served almost every day of the 25-year prison term he received for killing a Tucson police officer during a drug raid gone terribly wrong in 1974. I don’t know if he walked out a free man or left in a box, but according to the Arizona Department of Corrections he’s no longer under its jurisdiction.

Just two facts about the raid that resulted in the death of undercover narcotics agent Barry Headricks so long ago have definitely been established: Mincey was selling heroin that day and he emptied his pistol into Headricks, who had come to Mincey’s place to conduct what is known as a “buy-bust.”

From a criminal justice perspective, we can add that Mincey was found guilty of second-degree murder for shooting Headricks to death. We can also say that in the aftermath of a raid that went bad, police botched the subsequent investigation and subjected the case to decades of second-guessing by the judiciary (including one U.S. Supreme Court decision and three Arizona Supreme Court opinions.

What will always remain unanswerable is what Mincey’s state-of-mind was when he shot Headricks and whether he was guilty of murder or was only firing in self-defense.

The bottom line, of course, is that Agent Headricks, a good cop, is dead and everyone connected with that drug bust remains profoundly affected by what occurred in that Tucson apartment.

A narcotics buy-bust is one of the riskiest sorts of undercover operations police can mount. It requires an agent to gain entry into a drug dealer’s residence, verify that drugs are present and to surreptitiously scope out the defenses that might be in place (other people, weapons, booby traps, etc.).

Once the presence of drugs is confirmed, the agent/buyer then leaves the residence to “get his ‘money man,’” obviously another undercover cop. Unlike a standard raid, where police use force to gain entry, in a buy-bust, the undercover officers are supposed to use their rapport to enter the residence, effectively putting the dealers at ease and allowing back-up agents to storm the scene in their wake.

That was the plan in October 1974 when Headricks was introduced as “Brian the Chemist” to dealer Charles Ferguson by a police informant. Ferguson was acting as the middleman for Rufus Mincey, who was dealing heroin out of his apartment in Tucson.

The Buy-Bust

About 2 p.m. on Oct. 28, Headricks and Ferguson met outside Mincey’s apartment. Unbeknownst to Ferguson, Headricks, who appeared to be accompanied by only one other man (the purported “money man” who waited in the car), seven other agents and an assistant county DA lurked nearby, listening to the transaction through a transmitter that Headricks wore.

At least three other people besides Rufus Mincey were present in the apartment.

Before Headricks entered the apartment, Ferguson talked to Mincey and some others in the flat to arrange the deal. After Ferguson left, one of these men, a heroin user named John Hodgman, told Mincey that he thought Ferguson, whom he did not know, looked like a man who had followed him earlier in the week. No one knows whether Hodgman referred to Ferguson as a “guy” or a “narc.” Ferguson was not knowingly working for the narcotics agents, and was to be arrested according to the plan.

When Ferguson left to bring in Headricks, Hodgman, at Mincey’s request, took a trash bag laden with used drug paraphernalia out to the dumpster as an excuse to look around. He saw Ferguson talking to one, possibly two other men.

Headricks and Ferguson went into the apartment and the undercover cop was introduced to Mincey as Brian the Chemist. “Brian” and Rufus went into the apartment’s bathroom where a field test of the drugs was conducted.

Confirming that the powder was, in fact, heroin, Headricks said he was leaving to get his money man to complete the transaction. He noted that Ferguson was armed, as were some of the other people in the apartment.

Hodgman returned to the apartment and reported what he saw to Mincey. Shortly after, Headricks and an agent identified in records only as “Schwartz” who was acting as the money man, returned to the hallway and knocked at the door. At this point the bust went bad and the facts are mostly in dispute.

The police claim that Headricks knocked on the door and Hodgman, opening the door a crack, noticed another agent — and clearly saw his badge. Hodgman said he saw only Headricks, Schwartz and the head of another armed man — no badge or uniform.

The police version of events has Headricks then saying in a “low voice,” “police” and entering the apartment. Hodgman then tried to shut the door to prevent Schwartz from entering and succeeded in trapping his arm in the doorway with Headricks inside.

Rufus Mincey claimed that Hodgman turned the doorknob, and looking through the peephole, saw the other agents but no badges and tried to shut the door. Headricks forced his way in but never announced that he was a law enforcement officer. Hodgman delayed the other officers’ entry while Headricks headed into the bedroom where the heroin and Mincey were.

As the other agents forced Hodgman back and stormed the apartment, Headricks and Mincey opened fire in the bedroom out of sight of everyone except Mincey’s girlfriend, who was shot and subsequently crawled into a closet. All told, Mincey fired seven shots, hitting the officer five times and Headricks shot six times, hitting Mincey and the woman, Deborah Johnson. One of Mincey’s shots passed through a wall and struck Ferguson, in custody in the living room.

Headricks emerged from the bedroom, reported that Mincey “was down” and collapsed.

Although his fellow agents summoned first aid, Headricks died shortly afterward at an area hospital.

The Search

At the time, Tucson police department rules required that all shootings be investigated by members of the department’s homicide squad. They arrived on the scene and began a search of the apartment which lasted four days.

Detective Reyna, heading that unit, arrived a few minutes after the shooting had stopped and the people in the apartment were under the control of the narcotics agents. The length of time between the end of the shooting and Reyna’s arrival at 3:28 p. m. was not clearly established at trial. The testimony is also in dispute as to how soon after his arrival the victims were removed from the scene.

After the removal of the injured parties and suspects, Reyna, two I.D. technicians, and a graphic arts specialist began photographing and filming the apartment and its contents. The apartment was also diagramed, and visible items were tagged, given identification numbers and subsequently removed. This took until approximately 7 p.m.

According to trial testimony, Reyna checked with a deputy district attorney regarding the need for a search warrant to proceed with the search of the apartment and was told that he didn’t need one unless police left the scene and later returned.

When Mincey’s lease expired three days after the shooting, the county leased the apartment in preparation for his murder and drug trafficking trial.

Over the course of the four-day search, the police left nothing untouched.

“The officers opened drawers, closets, and cupboards, and inspected their contents; they emptied clothing pockets; they dug bullet fragments out of the walls and floors; they pulled up sections of the carpet and removed them for examination,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his summary of the case. “Every item in the apartment was closely examined and inventoried, and 200 to 300 objects were seized. In short, Mincey’s apartment was subjected to an exhaustive and intrusive search. No warrant was ever obtained.”

Mincey was indicted for first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon (for shooting Ferguson) and drug sales and possession charges. Before the trial he attempted have the evidence excluded and his hospital bed interrogation supressed because they were illegally obtained. The trial court, after holding a hearing, declined to prohibit the introduction of the evidence, ruling that Arizona’s “exigent circumstances” exception permitted the search after a homicide occurred at the scene.

That opinion follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Bustamonte, where the Supremes wrote: “Searches conducted without a warrant issued upon probable cause are ‘per se unreasonable * * * subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.’” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218.

Mincey was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years. He appealed the conviction and the Arizona Supreme Court tossed the murder conviction (we’ll get to that in a minute), but upheld the narcotics convictions.

The Arizona justices had a problem with the mens rea, or state of mind required to sustain Mincey’s murder conviction. They didn’t see any problem, howevever, with the four-day warrantless search required to gather evidence for the drug convictions.

“We hold a reasonable, warrantless search of the scene of a homicide — or of a serious personal injury with likelihood of death where there is reason to suspect foul play — does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution where the law enforcement officers were legally on the premises in the first instance,” the Arizona justice wrote. The Attorney General who supervised the state’s appeal of that case was future governor, Secretary of the Interior and presidential candidate Bruce Babbitt.

The Arizona Supreme Court remanded the case for retrial on the murder charges, but Mincey proceeded with a federal habeas corpus appeal on the remaining drug charges. Eventually, the case made it to the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Powell wrote the opinion for the court.

Since the investigating homicide detectives knew that Officer Headricks was seriously injured, began the search promptly upon their arrival at the apartment, and searched only for evidence either establishing the circumstances of death or “relevant to motive and intent or knowledge (narcotics, e. g.),” the court found that the warrantless search of the petitioner’s apartment had not violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
We cannot agree.

…The Arizona Supreme Court did not hold that the search of the petitioner’s apartment fell within any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement previously recognized by this Court, but rather that the search of a homicide scene should be recognized as an additional exception.

…A warrantless search must be “strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation,” Terry v. Ohio, and it simply cannot be contended that this search was justified by any emergency threatening life or limb. All the persons in Mincey’s apartment had been located before the investigating homicide officers arrived there and began their search. And a four-day search that included opening dresser drawers and ripping up carpets can hardly be rationalized in terms of the legitimate concerns that justify an emergency search.

The Second Trial

Mincey was far from free. Instead, in 1979, the state was preparing to try him a second time, following the the instructions of the courts regarding jury instructions and admissable evidence.

In his first trial, Mincey was charged with murder “which is committed in avoiding or preventing lawful arrest.” In the closing arguments of the case, the prosecutor emphasized the Arizona jury instructions regarding this charge, which read: “If a person has knowledge, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have knowledge, that he is being arrested by a peace officer, it is the duty of such a person to refrain from using force (or any weapon) to resist such arrest. However, if you find that the peace officer used excessive force in making the arrest, it is not the duty of such person to refrain from using reasonable force to defend himself against the use of such excessive force.”

Mincey’s counsel argued that those instructions were unfair based on the legislative intent of the statute allowing the death penalty for murder to avoid arrest. The Arizona high court, in voiding his original murder conviction agreed.

“We hold that the scienter requirement (state of mind) for first degree murder ‘which is committed in avoiding or preventing lawful arrest,’ is knowledge that the victim was a law enforcement officer. That is, a defendant is guilty … if the murder is committed while knowingly avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest. This holding is based on the words of the statute and the legislative intent.

“The case went to the jury on an alternative theory of negligence (’knew or by exercise of reasonable care should have known’). Under these circumstances we have no way of knowing on what basis the jury determined appellant’s guilt.”

In other words, a person could not be found guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder simply because they were negligent.

At the second trial, Mincey was convicted of second degree murder and the drug charges. He appealed the convictions and once again, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction. This time, Mincey argued that the prosecution had unfairly shifted the burden of proof of the defendant’s intent from the state to the defense.

Arizona at the time included the following language in jury instructions about a person’s intent:

“A person is presumed to intend to do that which he voluntarily and wilfully does in fact do, and is also presumed to intend the natural, probable and usual consequences of his use of a dangerous weapon likely to kill. If the use of such dangerous weapon does in fact cause great bodily harm or death it is presumed that such harm or death was intended by the assailant.

“Any such presumption as I have mentioned, however, maybe [sic] overcome by contrary evidence, and any such evidence is sufficient to overcome it which creates in the minds of the jurors a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s intent was so presumed, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the presumption must prevail.”

Following a U.S. Supreme Court case that found shifting the burden of overcoming a presumption of intent was unconstitutional, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the second degree murder conviction because Mincey should not have been required to prove that didn’t intend to kill when he emptied his clip at Headricks.

While Mincey’s case seems extreme, the principle at stake was that the state is required to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Third Trial

In 1982, Mincey was convicted yet again of second degree murder and sentenced to the same 25-to-life term. He appealed the case to the Arizona Supreme Court, this time arguing that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction for second degree murder. The state was arguing that Mincey knew Brian the Chemist was a cop when he opened fire, while Mincey was arguing self-defense.

This time, the court, having had enough of Mr. Mincey, affirmed the convictions.

Arizona Department of Corrections records indicate he served his time quietly (a couple of minor incidents). When he had finished paying his debt to society, Mincey disappeared, leaving behind little else beside a legacy of interesting legal decisions.


Mincey v. Arizona

Rufus Junior Mincey

The State of Arizona

Petitioner's Claim
That a search of his home conducted by police officers who did not first obtain a search warrant violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, and therefore his criminal conviction based on evidence seizedduring the search was invalid.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner
Richard Oseran

Chief Lawyer for Respondent
Galen H. Wilkes

Justices for the Court
Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), JohnPaul Stevens, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision
21 June 1978

That there is no "murder scene" exception to the requirement that police obtain a warrant before searching someone's home, and thus the appellant's conviction was invalid because it was based on evidence seized by the police duringa warrantless search of his home.

The Court severely limited the ability of police officers to conduct searchesof murder scenes without first obtaining a search warrant.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides that the government may notsubject a person to an unreasonable search or seizure of their "persons, houses, papers, and effects." Generally, to be reasonable, a search must be based on "probable cause," that is, the police officers must have some reason tobelieve that the search will find contraband, evidence of a crime, or similaritems. Also, prior to conducting a search, the police generally have to obtain a warrant from a judge authorizing the search. The requirements are strictly applied to cases in which police officers enter a private home. In certainsituations, however, the Supreme Court has determined that the police do notneed to obtain a warrant to conduct a search supported by probable cause. These situations, referred to as exceptions to the warrant requirement, typically involve scenarios where the police do not have time to obtain a warrant, or where obtaining a warrant would be useless. One such situation in which police officers are justified in conducting a search without a warrant is whereso-called "exigent," or emergency, circumstances exist. The most important exigent circumstance is where a search is necessary to find an injured person or to otherwise prevent the death or injury of a person.

In the case of Mincey v. Arizona, the state of Arizona asked the Supreme Court to recognize a new category of exigent circumstances for which a search warrant is not required. On 28 October 1978, undercover police officers in Tucson, Arizona, conducted a raid at an apartment occupied by Rufus Mincey.Shots were fired by Mincey, and one officer was killed. Mincey was also wounded in the exchange. Police officers rushed into the apartment to search forother possibly injured people. They conducted a quick search of the living room, bedroom, and bedroom closet, but refrained from conducting any further investigation. However, about ten minutes later homicide detectives arrived onthe scene and conducted a thorough, four-day search of the apartment.

Mincey was charged in the Arizona state trial court with the murder of the police officer, assault, and possession of narcotics. Mincey filed a motion inthe trial court to exclude the evidence seized by the homicide officers during the search of his apartment. He claimed that the officers should have obtained a warrant to search the premises. The trial court disagreed and allowed the prosecution to introduce the evidence. Mincey was convicted, and he raisedthe same argument on appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that the search was valid based on a so-called "murder scene" exception to the warrant requirement. According to the Arizona Supreme Court, the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment because police officers may search the scene of a homicide without a warrant as long as the search is"limited to determining the circumstances of death."

Mincey then sought to appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court througha procedure known as a petition for writ of certiorari. The Court granted the petition and heard the case on 21 February 1978.

The Court unanimously rejected the argument that the search was proper because of the injured victims, concluding that the four-day search conducted by the homicide officers exceeded the scope of the emergency. The Court also rejected Arizona's request that the Court recognize a murder scene exception to the warrant requirement. According to Arizona, such an exception was necessarydue to the public's interest in quickly investigating and solving murder cases. The Court found this argument unpersuasive:

[T]he State pointsto the vital public interest in the prompt investigation of the extremely serious crime of murder. No one can doubt the importance of this goal. But the public interest in the investigation of other serious crimes is comparable. Ifthe warrantless search of a homicide scene is reasonable, why not the warrantless search of the scene of a rape, a robbery, or a burglary?

Mincey was retried in the Arizona courts and was convicted despite the fact that the prosecution was unable to introduce the evidence seized in Mincey's apartment. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Court's decision in Mincey did have a rather profound impact on the ability of police to conduct a warrantless search of a murder scene. Up to the time of the decision, most lower courts had allowed the police to conduct such searches without a warrant. Following Mincey, however, the police may do no more than searchfor possible victims at the scene until they have obtained a search warrant.

Related Cases

  • United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56 (1950).

  • Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

  • Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963).

  • Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969).

  • Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980).

  • Dressler, Joshua. Understanding Criminal Procedure. New York:Matthew Bender & Company, 1991.

  • "Killer of Tucson Police Officer Denied Request for Early Parole." Tucson Citizen, July 20, 1995, p. 1C.

  • LaFave, Wayne R. Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment, 3rd edition. Volume 3. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1996



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