Friday, March 27, 2009

Stuff

Ed,

The gifted Craig Johnson won a Spur for his Wyoming mystery, Another Man's Moccasins. You can see the whole list in the news section of the WWA website www.westernwriters.org.

Richard Wheeler

--------------Early Altzheimer's?

I've always suffered a touch of absent-minded-professorism but lately it's getting worse. Last week after my shower I squirted Visine into my nostrils and this morning I squirted Brylcreem into my mouth and proceeded to brush my teeth--but not for long.

-------------Delusion

Delusion by Peter Abrahams.

Twenty years ago, Nell Jarreau was the only witness to her young, brilliant husband's murder. Yet given the panic of the moment and the darkness she's always wondered if she identified the right person. Now Alvin Pirate Dupree, a character I've never encountered before in crime fiction (stupid, infantile,l ost in daydreams and bitter memories) has been released from prison and returns to town. He wasn't paroled. After all this time he was proved innocent.

Clay, Nell's second husband, is Chief of Police and doesn't want Pirate to settle here. But Pirate has managed to meet Nell's daughter Norah through her boyfriend. Nell soon notices that Norah is behaving strangely, constantly arguing with her and resenting her stepfather. Nell comes to suspect that Pirate was set up and that her husband--whom she met at the murder scene of her husband's murder--is hiding something from her. Is he involved in a cover-up, a conspiracy? These are the basic strands of the plot. As always Abrahams delivers an exciting, layered novel about people just like us. He's as good at building suspense as anybody else around and his writing, line by line, is masterful. A fine novel.


I've mentioned before that in high school a friend and I were falsely accused of stealing what was then a fair amount of money from a young woman. Because we came from a bad part of town the cops moved fast on us. We were told to admit our guilt and things would be easier for us. A woman identified us as the culprits. This went on for a few weeks. We were looking at reform school, neither of us having been saints exactly. Finally somebody came forward and the guilty party was discovered. I've never had a lot of faith in the justice system since then.

In the sixties a young black college student was accused of murdering his white girl friend in her dorm room. Of course he did it said the racists; of course he didn't said the left wing students. The trial was front page and angry. There were protests that an innocent man was being tried. A friend of mine (not the one as before) had the misfortune of having to serve on the trial. He hated it. He was well aware of how black people got railroaded by white law enforcement people, judges and juries. Ultimately though he voted with everybody and else and found the young man guilty. He told me he didn't have any choice. The evidence was overwhelming. He got calls, he got letters, nasty ones. He began doubting his judgment. Had he sent an innocent man to prison for twenty-five to forty years?

In just a few years the verdict was overturned on a technicality and the young man was freed. He came back here. He got a decent job, made friends and got a girl friend. She lived about a block and half from where Carol and I did after we first moved in together. Some time after his release his girl friend was found murdered on her living room floor. The police charged him. This time there was no doubt about his guilt; forensic evidence was overwhelming. He was found guilty and returned to prison.

I never want the responsibility of being on a jury unless the man on trial is wearing a T-shirt that says FUCKIN RIGHT I'M GUILTY and is holding a bloody machete in his hand. The two episodes I've cited have made me one leery dude.

4 comments:

Bill Crider said...

What leaves me a leery dude is the amazing number of convictions that have been overturned in recent years because of DNA evidence. In Houston along, the numbers are frightening.

Dave Zeltserman said...

There was an academy award winning documentary from a few years back about a murder in Florida where a tourist was killed and the police needed someone arrested quickly, so they grabbed one of the first black kids they could find and manufactured a case against him, including taking him out to the woods and threatening to shoot him if he didn't sign a confession. Fortunately, the kid ended up with a really good lawyer who gave a damn, and this lawyer on his own found the actual killer and got this kid off.

On the other side of the fence, having witnessed a murder trial where the victim was someone very close to me, I know there was a lot of evidence that was excluded for different reasons--including a voluntary confession to the cops because the Miranda requirements of where they guy was caught and the state where the crime took place were different.

Todd Mason said...

My experiences with the Philadelphia courts hasn't reassured me...I was called to jury duty about six or seven times over the nine years I lived in the city, and aside from being excluded from every jury on a capital case because I won't vote for the death penalty...a very questionable allowance given the prosecutors...I also vividly remember the judge who had a tantrum (I do not exaggerate) because the defendant, having been introduced with the counsels, said hello to the potential jurors. I asked a bailiff afterward if that, and his other lapses of decorum, were typical of his conduct; the bailiff noted that he was one of the more "colorful characters" in the robes.

Todd Mason said...

Or, even, haven't reassured me...