Tag Archives: Crime

A small county murder’s nexus with a Puritan

My husband was  counsel to the defendant in a murder trial this week. The trial ran from Tuesday morning through today (Friday) around noon. The jury convicted the defendant of second-degree murder after deliberating an hour and a half. The slaying occurred a little more than two years ago.

The defendant, who has Parkinson’s Disease, testified that he feared the victim, with whom he was friends, because, he claimed, the victim had walked into his house, and because, he alleged, the victim had once shoved him (“threw me down”) on the stairs. The defendant also testified that the victim had robbed him at various times.

Things evidently didn’t improve, so when friend victim walked in, friend defendant shot him.  The .45 caliber bullet took quite a tour through the victim’s chest, heart, aorta, and arm. A medical autopsy expert testified and showed grizzly slides showing a very great deal of blood. I attended only Thursday morning; my chief interest in the trial was hearing the expert’s testimony.

Sentencing negotiations are underway. The defendant told me yesterday that he looks forward to prison.

I was reading The Bruised Reed by Puritan Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) today, recovering from the rare occasion of sitting in on a trial, even just one day, for just a few hours. I was there because I like the defendant. He thanked me very graciously for a roll I served him at the jail’s Thanksgiving dinner last year. My husband and I were among several people who helped serve the dinner. It was my favorite Thanksgiving of all time. But Sibbes had something serious to say that seemed connected to friend defendant:

“All light that is not spiritual, because it lacks the strength of sanctifying grace, yields to every little temptation, especially when it is fitted and suited to personal inclinations.” (Richard Sibbes: The Bruised Reed)

“Personal inclinations.” They should probably be treated like flashing signs at railroad crossings. Ignore them at terrible, bloody peril.



Filed under Action & Being, Faith, News, People, Reflections, Thoughts & Reading

Normalcy on the lam and back

I sat in this week on the trial of a man accused of Rape in the First Degree and Murder in the First Degree of a 69-year-old woman. This was my county’s first murder trial of the century; the last was is 1998. The crime occurred in November 2014. It took more than a year to acquire all the evidence, witnesses, experts, etc. necessary to bring the case to trial. The trial was scheduled to take five days, but it ended at 3:30 p.m. on day four.

My husband was the attorney representing the defendant. After hearing four days of testimony from witnesses and experts, the jury deliberated a bit less than an hour before delivering its verdict.

The jury’s finding of guilt on both counts charged was not unexpected; nor, in my opinion, was it unduly hasty. When there simply is no credible evidence to support the contrary, it is reasonable to find concurrence around what is credible, namely a fair amount of plausible factual evidence.

Although I am stiff and exhausted from four days of bench sitting, Effie posing as the very image of sweet normalcy champions the possibility that such a thing as normalcy is possible.




Filed under Action & Being, Effie

Just another day in our peaceable happy valley. . .

Well, except for the gunshots, which I didn’t hear, because I was about 10 minutes away, on my way to town.

And I can see why putting up detour signs at the bottom of the hill, so that people wouldn’t have to drive up, only to be turned back, wasn’t a top priority.

I crested the minor arterial linking rural county with town, a couple of minutes later approaching the recycling center, where, less than an hour earlier, I had just dropped off our recycling on my way to town. Then I saw something very unusual—unusual for anywhere, much less for our rural section of one of our state’s smallest counties.

I had never before seen so many law enforcement vehicles along a street—anywhere—and I have lived in some high-crime metropolitan cities across the country.

The first word-image to enter my mind was actually “chariots of fire.” Nothing was on fire, but flashing red lights lined both sides and the middle of the road, nearly as far ahead as I could see. I thought it had to be a horrific accident, but I didn’t see an ambulance.

I later learned there were so many law enforcement cars because six agencies were involved: three county sheriff departments, and three city police departments. The State Patrol will conduct the investigation.

Cars proceeded at a slow pace. I could see that the drivers were speaking with a law enforcement officer, turning around in a parking lot, and heading back toward town. It all seemed so strange that my mind switched completely off conjecture mode. I simply waited my turn to ask the sheriff’s deputy what was going on.

My turn soon came, and I asked whether there had been an accident. Our sheriff’s department is a model of courtesy and efficiency, truly. The deputy told me there had been a foot pursuit, and that all suspects were in custody. “Good!” I responded, lifting my thumb. The deputy gave me instructions for the extensive detour. I assumed the road closure was still in effect for evidence gathering.

I was able to get to the neighborhood market to pick up our meat order. Thankfully, it was on the side of the detour that made it accessible from the detour and to my way home. Later in the day, as I followed gradually unfurling news updates, I learned that the neighborhood market’s window took a bullet before I arrived, probably while I was on my way to town. But the store remained open, and there was no buzz about the window.

Following the local news updates throughout the day, I learned that a Drug Task Force operation had gone south; that gunshots were fired near a middle school and an elementary school; that there had been a car-to-car exchange of gunfire between a car containing five fugitives and one piloted by a law enforcement officer; and that another brave officer finally rammed the fugitives’ car with his own, bringing the car chase to a halt.

Things like this are generally speculated to be about as frequent as asteroid impacts in our surrounds. I’ve only lived here five years, but I’m skeptical of native intelligence. I believe in the ubiquity of sin.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. The schools were on lockdown most of the day, their last day of the school year.

Our judge has assigned my husband to defend one of the five suspects: one of two men charged with firing at police officers, as well as four felony counts of assault in the first degree.

God’s largesse to my small dumb self throughout yesterday morning stands out to me—again, like chariots of fire—as I contemplate the timeline of the day’s events and my providential removal from their midst.

But given my husband’s involvement as defense counsel, the case will, of course, remain in my midst, though in a more abstract way, for months to come. And that’s okay, too.

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The ruling

Tuesday, the judge found the defendant my husband represented in the case I dubbed “The Great Drug House Burglary Caper” guilty of two felony counts: one for accomplice to armed robbery, and one for accomplice to armed burglary. The judge sentenced the man to 220 months in prison. That’s about half as long as he’s lived so far.

Due to security concerns for the public and the attorneys, the judge decided against holding a public sentencing hearing. The bailiff and the jail commander had both referred to the “logistical nightmare” of keeping us all safe during the trial. On a break during the trial, the gallant bailiff secured my promise of a couple of precautions. He thought I was standing too close to the unshackled defendants while chatting with one of the attorneys. “Please don’t do that to me,” he said. I heard and obeyed.

A sentencing hearing could mean “nothing more to lose” to a pair of violent offenders. Instead of a sentencing hearing, the judge issued written rulings for both defendants, and my husband and the co-defendant’s attorney had to go through the sentence provisions with their clients in jail.

Special security provisions for the safety of my husband and his colleague were in place at the jail. The jail commander expressed his pressing aspiration that, as soon as the mission of delivering the bad news to his client was accomplished, my husband would be able to go home to his “very nice and engaging” wife.

The convicted man took the news very hard, with visible physical agitation, but his temper remained subdued, and he did not become retaliatory. Still, these things are not my favorite things to think about.


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Dogs, guns, and hypocrisy

It seems that every time a pit bull, roaming alone or with a pack, mauls a human being to death, the pit bull lobby takes the floor (or the bloody sidewalk) and defends the eerie breed as loving and cuddlesome; there are no bad pit bulls, just irresponsible people, and blah blah blah. But it’s actually the case that pit bulls alone account for 60% of human deaths by dogs, despite the fact that the cuddly little buggers compose only 5% of the total dog population (Cite).

Compare and contrast: Nearly 68% of all murders committed in the U.S. in 2011 were committed with firearms; however, rifles, whether assault or deer, were used in only 2.5% of the total murders in the U.S. in 2011 and only 3.7% of all murders committed with firearms in the same year (Cite). But these murders are seldom blamed on irresponsible people. It would appear to the anti-gun lobby that the root cause of these crimes is the guns themselves.

When dogs kill, it isn’t the dogs, it’s the people. When people kill with guns, it isn’t really the people who are killing; it’s the guns that are responsible. But once in a while, this dog/gun paradox comes heroically and sensibly together, as it did here.

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Valley blessings

I was absently skimming headlines while sipping my home-brewed Caffe Verona, spilling only a little on my shell-pink t-shirt when my cat thudded into my lap as I was draining the bottom of my mug. A Washington state legislator is proposing a bill to allow our state’s teachers to carry concealed firearms. I would normally think this a fairly terrific idea, but I’m not sure how many teachers would clear the background check. Well, realistically, they probably all would. The sex offenders who turn up every so often in the teaching population probably don’t have backgrounds until they start teaching.

I was also vaguely interested in the progress of the cop turned cop killer, and whether he might become the first drone-executed American on American soil. The LAPD has already branded Dorner a domestic terrorist. I believe it is still the case that the President has to authorize these things.

I live in a peaceful, largely happy-seeming place. I know, that’s what the denizens of  Newtown thought about their smugly snug town. But my small, snug, smug town isn’t a shadow village of sleepless daily migrants to a city. Nearly everyone here, if they work at all, works in the local economy.  Our county sheriff’s deputies have time to answer barking dog complaints, but crime is not rare. Our jail is crowded; our County Prosecutor arranges to move our better-accomplished inmates to state prisons. Meth is a widespread force of personal and social destruction here; murder happens, but it doesn’t usually make national news for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes it does. Suspected uxoricide Charles Capone lives in our county jail. His wife’s body has yet to be found. A very dedicated detective with the sheriff’s office passionately wants the case resolved for the sake of closure for the children. If our crime goes global, at least our local passions go, too.

My friend Rachel emailed as I was skimming and reflecting beyond the headlines, wanting to know if I was available to Skype this Thursday, which happens to be Valentine’s day.  Sure, I don’t have a date. My sweetie will be in court all day. My husband is an attorney, and a County public defender.

I told Rachel I love being married to a public defender, because no expectation inheres for us to socialize with my husband’s clients. Their dinner and entertainment are typically provided by the County, at the expense of our small county’s denizens who are not unhappy and/or criminally insane. Thankfully, that’s most of us—as well as an often overlooked blessing.

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