Today in Juggalaw: Trial by Fire…and Knife!

Two roommates who are “strongly suspected of being juggalos” (in my imagination, this suspicion is due to copious amounts of black and white greasepaint found in their dirty shared bathroom, which is conveniently littered with 4loko cans and a rainbow latch-hooked toilet seat cover) stand accused of attempting to cut a tattoo off of a third roommate, 31 year old Zachary Swanson (known as a “roomalo” in juggalo parlance). When that didn’t work (knifing, how does that work?) they decided to handle the situation like an Internet meme: “kill it with fire!” Because that’s not crazy at all. The victim remains in critical condition at a burn center in Baltimore, the Wicomico County (Maryland) Sheriff’s Office said.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the suspects tried to forcibly remove an ICP tattoo from Swanson’s arm, police said. After failing to remove the tattoo, the suspects set fire to the victim’s arm, police said. The victim was left on the ground for several hours and suffered severe burns, police said, before he was driven to a medical center.

Both suspects have been charged with first and second degree attempted murder, first and second degree assault, reckless endangerment and a deadly weapon charge.

No word yet on what caused the roomalos to believe
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LR’s 2014 Murder Stats Released

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New numbers are in on the capital city’s homicide rate were released by the LRPD yesterday.  The link above takes you to the detailed spreadsheet of all 30 homicides.
Solved: 24 Total
Unsolved: 6 Total
Justified by Prosecutor: 1 Total
Off. Involved / Pending: 1 Total
Justified / Off. Involved: 0 Total
Active Warrant Pending: 0 Total
Pending File Review 3 Total

Reader Question of the Day: Can I Eat a Dog?

From the reader mailbag marked “Oh My God, Is This Person for Real and Should I Inform the Authorities?” we have a question from a person on the internet who is using what I can only assume is a throwaway email account. Never mind the all important rule of “don’t get legal advice from the internet,” for this guy, we should just skip back to the more elementary rule of “don’t just ask the first question that pops into your head.” All sic, obviously, as well as original all caps format:

I KNOW ITS ILLEGAL TO KILL A DOG TO ET IT BUT IS IT ILLEGAL TO ORDER A DOG FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY AND THEN TO EAT IT?

I can only assume this question is prompted by the recent news of a New Mexico man, Salvador Martinez, 46, who was arrested after he allegedly killed the family’s 9-month-old black and white chiweenie, named Onyx, with a screwdriver in front of his children, skinned it, and put it in the freezer.

According to a criminal complaint, Martinez freely admitted to deputies he had killed Onyx, explaining that the couple didn’t have enough food for themselves and the grandkids. His girlfriend later told investigators there was plenty of food in the house. Deputies say Martinez told them he then went online to look up dog meat recipes and whether it was legal to eat dogs in New Mexico. According to a criminal complaint, when the girlfriend discovered the slaughtered dog the next day and confronted Martinez she says Martinez told her that if she didn’t like it he would take it over to his mother’s house for a barbecue. White says while it’s legal to eat dogs in New Mexico, the way in which Martinez says he killed Onyx is absolutely illegal. Martinez was arrested and is being charged with extreme animal cruelty, a fourth degree felony, as well as child abuse.“The kids were present inside the residence and had full knowledge of what was taking place with their family pet,” White said.

Why you would go normcore for your mugshot, I don’t know, because those glasses scream “guilty,”  but that’s probably just one of many questions I have for this guy about his life choices:

 

Hardcore normcore; KQRE photo credit
Hardcore normcore; KQRE photo credit

Someone claiming to be Martinez’s girlfriend said in the comments:

Here are the facts: No children were in the house. I am the EX-girlfriend, we split up last month because of his drinking and I had moved to the other room where I was asleep when he murdered my baby GIRL and dressed her like a deer and put her in the fridge to marinate, where I found her the next day. He had been drinking that day and was mad at the dogs for barking so he murdered Onyx to make an example of her to the other dogs is what he told me. We had food and we raise chickens. He had gone to get a food box on Thursday, the day he murdered her. He went to get another food box the next day and my daughter called the cops while he was gone. They showed up when he got back. He lied to them and told them we had no food. Of course when they looked in the fridge low and behold they found food. I will testify against him as I did not know how he killed her till now. I hate him now for what he did to my sweet baby girl.

Ok, so no kids were in the house, but apparently grandkids were scheduled to come over later (presumably when the girlfriend’s daughter showed up and saw the dog in the freezer and called the cops).

Back to the reader question.

Answer: I don’t know, but I now hate you for making my browser history look like it belongs a crazy psychopath.

 

New Details Released in PrawsBlawg Murder

Dan Markel’s most impressive achievement wasn’t likely his PrawsBlawg; after all, he was a two-time Harvard grad, law professor at FSU, and father of two. But, that’s the capacity I’ve come to know him in, having been a follower of that blawg since my law school days.

Professor Markel was shot in the head at his home on July 18 and died a day later at a local hospital. CNN reports that Florida police have released new details in Professor Markel’s death, which has confounded friends, neighbors and colleagues alike.

On Friday, a day after Markel was laid to rest in Toronto, a few new details emerged in a heavily redacted police report. The report shows Markel, 41, was shot in the garage of his home, some time between 10:45 a.m. and 11:02 a.m. The keys were inside Markel’s car, with the doors unlocked. Police on Wednesday released via social media a picture of a silver car they term a “vehicle of interest.” Neighbors describe it as a Prius. Police on Facebook cautioned it may have been a resident, passerby or delivery driver.

Why would anyone, much less a Prius driver, want to target a law professor for what appears to many to be a hired hit?

The whys aren’t too important to me. Ultimately, a family and many communities, both in real life and online, have lost a person very valuable to them. Professor Markel has written about crime and punishment extensively. I hope the justice system will serve him as well as he’s served it.

Various memorials in different parts of the country have been organized. For more details at PrawsBlawg.

Man Charged with Attempted Murder Refuses Help of “Negro” Public Defender Because this is Definitely the time to stand up for his racist principles

Let’s say you are 51 years old and being charged with attempted murder. You don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer, so you are given one. FOR FREE. Costs billed to the taxpayers. You could be thankful or you could be a racist dick. I’d go with thankful, but we all choose our own paths…for instance, as stabby as I may feel somedays, I’m not actually going to stab a fellow passenger on a bus.

FL-stabbing-suspect-Thomas-Thorpe-refuses-help-from-Negro-attorney

Meet Thomas Thorpe. He is 51 and apparently either resides or rides through Orlando and stabs people on buses. WKMG Orlando reports that he appeared before a judge today to face multiple charges, including attempted murder, and refused to have a lawyer represent him. Because the lawyer is black. And maybe also because he is lawyer. I don’t know.

“Do you understand what an attorney is and what they do?” asked the judge. “Yes, they screwed us,” Thorpe responded.

OK, you know what, Tom? Can I call you Tom? There are some real jerk attorneys out there. I know that. But, all things considered you are still better off with the jerk than by yourself. Because he’s definitely tried more attempted murder cases than you have AND YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW IF THIS GUY IS A JERK OR NOT BECAUSE YOU LITERALLY JUST MET HIM.

You know what else, Tom? I think everyone has some racial bias. If they say they don’t, they are lying. But even if you are the most racist idiot in the world, you should probably suck it up if it makes the difference between getting a lawyer and representing yourself. For attempted murder. This is not going to go well for you, Tom. Not at all.

Thorpe seemed in a hurry as the short hearing progressed, telling the judge he wanted to enter a plea without the assistance of the African-American attorney standing next to him.

“I said not guilty — I pleaded not guilty and I don’t want this negro standing next to me,” Thorpe told the judge. “I don’t want a negro standing next to me.”

The judge expressed some concerns about Thorpe’s mental health and he is now being watched as he sits in jail on attempted first-degree murder charges with no bond. His next court appearance date has not been set and it’s not known if he will have an attorney representing him when he makes that appearance at the Orange County Courthouse.

Good luck with that, Tom. Actually, you know what? NOT good luck with that. Because you are a racist twat and you don’t deserve it.

And to the public defender–you have the patience of a saint and I’m really glad you don’t have to represent this guy. He doesn’t deserve you. And you look sharp in that suit, by the way.

 

Crimes Against Photoshop

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It’s not very often that I hear someone say: “Go look at the comments on the local news Facebook page,” so when I do, I go look!

Glad I looked at last Friday’s Facebook post at THV 11!

Timothy Buffington is a convict missing from ADC. He has served the majority of his term, but apparently decided to break out with only a few years left. I read somewhere that he may have a terminal illness, but he’s an escapee and the public has been warned.

The photo originally sent out:

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It’s been two weeks though, so someone at ADC got fancy with photoshop and sent out this:

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The reaction was as expected, but yielded some truly hilarious original artwork.

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Or maybe disguised as an animal?

 

 

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And Finally:

 

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Thanks to all the law enforcement who have been tirelessly looking for this guy and thanks to the commenters who kept me awake laughing way too long last night!

Where Does Arkansas Stand (its Ground)?

Stand Your Ground v. Castle Doctrine-Where Does Arkansas Fall on the Spectrum? 

Preliminary note 1: I’ve chosen to use male pronouns throughout. That’s not because women don’t use these doctrines, because they definitely do; however, the  majority of cases involve men.

Preliminary note 2: If you know me personally, you are probably expecting me to come down harshly against SYG. That’s not necessarily the case, as we will discuss at the end. Trust me, that’s painful to say, but for me, it really comes down to application, as the problems associated with the law itself are inherent in every type self-defense law. 

Preliminary note 3: While I support some gun regulations, I don’t have a beef with responsible gun ownership (shocking, I know!). I’m actually a pretty good shot.

Ok, enough, enough. 

So-called “Stand Your Ground” laws (hereinafter “SYG”) and “Castle doctrine” laws have made lots of news lately (as usual, thanks to Florida!).

Bugs Bunny saws off Florida

One of our upcoming Attorney General candidates has even made introducing a Stand Your Ground law in his first legislative package a campaign priority.  With all the recent hullabaloo, I thought it might be helpful to discuss where Arkansas actually falls on this issue. We’ll use Arkansas statutes and case law to examine the current state of law.  

What’s the Difference? 

The real legal questions here are: 1)When, 2) where, and, 3) if someone has a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. It’s important to know that just because a state has SYG or a “Castle doctrine,” that doesn’t necessarily mean its the same from state to state. It’s better to think of this as a bag of options, with states picking and choosing which options to apply.

Some states have explicit statutes, some states use case law, most use both. 

That being said, there are typical definitions for each. 

Here’s what the spectrum looks like: 

Duty to Retreat if at all possible, no matter the location. 

Duty to Retreat, if at all possible, but only if the initial aggressor shares the dwelling where the attack is happening.

No duty to retreat, if altercation is happening in the defendant’s home (his “castle” and sometimes this  includes defendant’s vehicle).  46 states currently have at least this definition. 

No duty to retreat, if altercation is happening in the defendant’s home or the area around his home (called the “curtilage”). This is Arkansas, currently and a significant minority rule. The retreat rule has always been the minority rule in the U.S.

This is an example of how media confuses SYG with Castle doctrine:

Notice they are in the curtilage of this couple’s home. 

No duty to retreat, if defendant is any place he is lawfully entitled to be (this is the typical definition of SYG). This is the majority rule and it has been the majority since even before the recent newsworthy trials came up.

In every definition, the use of deadly force in self-defense must be justifiable, which generally means that the defendant reasonably believed either his life was in danger or that he was in danger of great bodily harm (self-defense usually provides that you meet “force with force,” i.e., you can’t use deadly force when someone is flicking rubberbands at you). Some states also allow the use of deadly force to prevent the sexual assault of yourself or someone else.

Justification: Immunity or Defense?

Using force in self-defense is known as “justification.” But some states define justification as an “immunity” and some define it as a “defense.” 

Immunity bars suit, charges, detention and arrest. A defense allows the state to bring criminal charges or a private person to bring a civil complaint, but the defendant may present mitigating circumstances that ultimately relieve him of responsibility or culpability.

In Arkansas, force used in self-defense falls under the category of “defense.” ACA 5-6-202. 

The State has the burden of negating defense of justification in prosecution for homicide. 

Arkansas Statutory Law

Who are we talking about?

First, we are talking overall about ordinary citizens. There are other standards that apply to police officers, etc.  That’s a whole different body of law (as I’ve been learning on a case I’ve been working on for the past couple of years). 

As discussed above, we are generally discussing defending your own person, but sometimes you can also be justified in defending someone else and sometimes you can even be justified in defending property, not just a person. 

Non-deadly force:

Defense of a person.

 ACA 5-2-606 covers the use of regular (non-deadly) physical force in defense of a person.

In Arkansas, a person is justified in using physical force upon another person to defend himself or herself or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and the person may use a degree of force that he or she reasonably believes to be necessary.

But note: You aren’t justified to use physical force to defend yourself if

1) you provoke the other person into using unlawful physical force and your purpose is to cause them physical injury or death; or

2) you are the initial aggressor, unless

a) you withdraw from the encounter and that withdrawal is effectively communicated,

b) the other person continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful physical force; or

c) the physical force involved is the product of a combat by agreement not authorized by law. (I really hope this is about dueling!)

What about a premises?

A person in lawful possession or control of premises or a vehicle is justified in using nondeadly physical force upon another person when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes the use of nondeadly physical force is necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of a criminal trespass by the other person in or upon the premises or vehicle. ACA 5-2-608.

Deadly force: 

Defense of a person.

ACA 5-2-607 covers the use of deadly physical force in defense of a person.

In Arkansas, you can use deadly force if you reasonably believe that the other person is:

1) Committing or about to commit a felony involving force or violence;
2) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force; or
3) Imminently endangering the person’s life or imminently about to victimize the person as described in § 9-15-103 from the continuation of a pattern of domestic abuse.

When do you have a duty to retreat? 

You cannot use deadly force if you know that by retreating (i.e., leaving, fleeing, etc.) you can avoid the necessity of using deadly physical force with complete safety.

The duty to retreat DOES NOT APPLY if you are in your own dwelling or on the curtilage surrounding your dwelling and you were not the original aggressor. That includes when the dwelling is also shared by the victim. See Thomas v. State266 Ark. 162, 583 S.W.2d 32 Ark., 1979.

What about personal property? 

You cannot use deadly force to protect only property when the other person is claiming it is rightfully theirs (even if they are incorrect). If their is force, burglary, etc. to go along with the attempt on personal property, those situations are already covered. 

What about real property? 

You can use deadly physical force to protect real property if 

1) Use of deadly physical force is authorized by the stuff I already talked about; or

2) You reasonably believe the use of deadly physical force is necessary to prevent the commission of arson or burglary by a trespasser. ACA 5-2-608.

Presumption of justification in your own dwelling:

5-2-620 also outlines a presumption that any force or means used in your own dwelling was exercised in a lawful and necessary manner, unless the presumption is overcome by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. That’s not just a presumption, that’s a strong presumption, but in criminal cases it doesn’t have any effect, because the State already has the burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt

Other Statutes: 

There are additional statutes which cover the use of physical force in specific situations (protecting unborn child, etc.) that I haven’t covered. Those are all in the same chapter and 

Use of Deadly Force Application in Arkansas Case Law

Here a two example cases demonstrating fact patterns where deadly force was not found to be reasonable, even when the offenses occurred on the defendants’ properties.

Sipe v. State

Our most recent reported case dealing with the duty to retreat is Sipe v. State of Arkansas, 2012 Ark. App. 261 (CA CR 11-677, April 18, 2012). Robert Sipe said that he awoke to the sound of his four-wheeler ATV being started and the engine revving. Sipe said that he looked out of his window and saw a man on his ATV. Sipe then got dressed, grabbed his handgun, removed the barricade from his front door, and went out on his porch to investigate. Sipe testified that he saw a man riding his ATV and when the man started coming toward him, Sipe fired a warning shot. When the man kept coming, Sipe shot him. Sipe also testified that the man pointed something at him, but that he did not know what the man was pointing. After shooting him, Sipe went to the victim and discovered that it was Brian Lumen, a childhood friend. Sipe placed two blankets on top of Lumen’s body and waited for police to arrive. 

According to Sipe, he and Lumen had been estranged for the last five years due to Lumen’s “destructive behavior.” Appellant claimed that when he had tried to rekindle his friendship with Lumen in 2009, he had to ask Lumen to leave his property because Lumen was “on drugs.” Appellant testified that after that incident, things “began happening” at his house, including his dog’s inexplicable death, his door being kicked in with items stolen (including the ATV key), tractor tires being slashed, etc.
Sipe testified that he began barricading his front door and argued that he was justified in shooting the victim because he feared for his life.

The Arkansas State Medical Examiner  testified that the victim was shot in the back—“left flank.”

Defendant Sipe was convicted of manslaughter in Garland County for shooting Brian Luman and given 20 years imprisonment. 

Given the site of the injury, it was reasonable to assume the victim was fleeing and was not endangering the life of Sipe, but Sipe claimed he was justified in defending his property as well. Even assuming that the appellate court addressed that issue, which it didn’t because it wasn’t properly raised below, Sipe would not have been justified in defending his ATV with deadly force because none of the elements of 5-2-607 were met. 

What if Arkansas had SYG? Most SYG statutes do not apply to protecting property when there is no reasonable belief of danger to the person, so the outcome would be the same.

Anderson v. State
353 Ark. 384, 108 S.W.3d 592
Ark.,2003.

On June 1, 2000, Pete’s estranged wife, Lauren , her brother, Ricky Jasay, and two other friends, gathered at Anderson’s house to drink and shoot pool. Lauren passed out early in the evening so Anderson put her to bed in his bedroom. Their relationship, however, was not romantic. Later that evening, Pete started spinning his pickup truck around in the field next to Anderson’s house. It was then that Anderson went inside the house and brought out a shotgun. One witness heard him say, “[w]e got three options. I’ve got this gun and I got this knife or we can compromise.”

Pete drove away, heading toward his father’s house; but, later he was seen running down the road because he had run out of gas. Anderson offered to give him some gas, so the two men went to Anderson’s shed and returned with a plastic jug. At that point, Pete started asking Ricky if his estranged wife, Lauren, was inside appellant’s trailer. When Ricky would not respond, Anderson intervened and told Pete that Ricky did not have to tell him anything. According to one witness, Pete jumped up, shook his finger in appellant’s face and shouted: “Look, Randy, this ain’t concerning you. It’s between me and Rick. I just want to know if Lauren is inside. I want to talk to her.”

Anderson testified as follows: Pete’s argument with Ricky resumed after he told Anderson to stay out of his business. Pete threatened to kill “every MF in here if I have to,” and he tried to get into the house to see Lauren. Anderson barred him from getting into the house because he did not know what Pete would do to Lauren if he found her passed out on appellant’s bed. Pete then called Anderson out to the yard to fight. Anderson picked up his shotgun and followed Pete out to the driveway. When Pete turned suddenly and rushed him, Anderson  pulled the trigger. He could not remember firing the second shot, but he did remember moving the body because he was afraid Pete’s father would see the body and kill him.

Barbara Snow testified that she and her boyfriend, Dale Adams, were in bed on the evening of the shooting incident when she received a call from Anderson. Barbara rode with Dale to Anderson’s trailer. When they pulled up, she saw a large puddle of blood near the driveway. She recounted several statements that Anderson made that night: “He said that he shot him in the, I mean, in the chest one time. And he said he was moaning and he said, ‘I finished him off. I shot him in the head.’ ” Barbara also testified to hearing the following conversation between Anderson and her boyfriend, Dale: “Anderson asked Dale, he said, ‘What to you think I’ll get for this?’ Dale said, ‘Man, twenty years or better.’ He said, ‘I can do twenty.’ … [H]e picked up a knife and he said, ‘I can say he was coming after me and he, you know, it was self-defense.’ ”

According to the medical examiner, Pete would have lived three or four minutes had he not been shot the second time.

The jury did not find Anderson’s testimony credible and convicted him of capital murder. 

Result under SYG?: Same, because the use of deadly force was not reasonable. 

Is Stand Your Ground Bad Law? 

Well, obviously not. That’s not the case under SYG either. This is a really a disagreement with a jury’s finding of reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. 

I Don’t Think it’s Inherently Bad

Hang with me, liberals. 

Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. said in Brown v. US (256 U.S. 335, 1921) that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” Realistically speaking, if someone is actually threatening your life and you are able to fight back, you aren’t going to run through an analysis of whether or not you can flee with complete safety. You definitely aren’t going to run through a legal analysis of your options. 

Complete safety is a pretty high hurdle to meet. I have a hard time seeing a jury convicting someone, if deadly force was threatened, because they didn’t retreat. It’s much more likely someone would be convicted because deadly force wasn’t appropriate to begin with (as we saw in the two cases above). 

Some examples cited by media claiming the results would be different under the different self-defense retreat rules are just false. 

Example 1: The garbage dispute

The shooting victim claims he knocked on the shooter’s door because the shooter had reported his illegal conduct to the authorities. An angry confrontation ensued and the shooter closed the door. Apparently the victim continued pounding on the door so the shooter opened it and shot him.

If true, the shooting was equally illegal under the retreat rule or Stand Your Ground laws. Under all of them if someone breaks down your door you may shoot. Under none of them can you open the door and shoot someone who angrily pounds on your beyond which you a safe.

Note that there is also complete agreement under each rule if we assume the shooter’s story is correct. If you open the door to talk to someone who then tries to force his way in you may shoot unless it is clear that he cannot get in (e.g., a 110 pound woman tries to force her way into the home of a man who is 6′ tall and weighs 185 lbs.)

Example 2: The prostitute

Her story is that her elderly client pulled a gun declaring that he was going to kill her and then himself. She wrests the gun away from him and then shoots him rather than fleeing. Even under the retreat rule one is only required to retreat if ths is clearly possible. Under these circumstances she was privileged to shoot rather than run away taking the chance that this homicidally desperate man can jump on her and get the gun.

See also People v. Riddle, a case from a retreat rule state [47 Mich. 116, 649 N.W.2d 30, 2002]:

[this case upholds the retreat rule in theory but severely limits it. Facts showed that defendant was not attacked at all and court upholds conviction.]

Example 3: The cabbie

His story is that after he got his passenger out of the car, the passenger pulled a knife. Obviously the cabbie was not required to partially turn away and try to get in his cab exposing his side and back to a stab wound. Nor need he have done that even if the passenger had not had a knife. Retreat is required only if it can be accomplished in complete safety.

Arguments Against Stand Your Ground Don’t Always Hold Up, Although There Are Some Concerns in its Application

1) SYG is backwards law and only hick states use it

As we discussed above, the duty to retreat in public spaces has always been the minority. SYG is not limited to “hick” states and it’s not new. The media has trouble discerning between states where SYG is codified and those where it is common law, so graphical representations are often distorted. 

2) SYG leads to a disproportionate amount of injury to minorities. 

Economist at Georgia State found a significant increase in homicide and injury to more white males than minority males in states with SYG laws. But, there does appear to be a higher prosecution rate against minorities (no surprise there)  in cases where self-defense operates as an immunity. This applies to all types of rules, but obviously SYG provides more opportunities for prosecution to arise.

3) SYG has a disproportionate racial impact

When Caucasians use the SYG against black attackers, they are more successful than when black attackers use the defense against white attackers, 17% to 1% respectively (also, no surprise there). 

This is where the problem lies. I really don’t think it’s the law itself that’s an issue (although you may disagree); for me the problem lies in its application. But, that is true of a lot of laws and it doesn’t mean that we strike them down. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed throughout the entire criminal justice system. 

Here is an ad put out by a conservative group, playing on fears of racial minorities, in order to make fun of liberal opponents of SYG laws: 

3) SYG leads to higher rates of murder/crime. 

Maybe yes, maybe no…studies on this actually show crime decreasing in some states with SYG (for instance, Florida), but other studies show an increase in murder rates. 

4) SYG leads to “shooting first”

This is true of all kinds of self-defense. 

Again, this is true of every type of self-defense law. 

5) If the other witness is dead, how do we know it was self-defense?

Again, this is always true in self-defense. 

Other Reading: 

For historical review of self-defense cases in federal courts, this article is a good perspective.

 

Arkansas Times Profiles My Former Sunday School Teacher, Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson

REPOSTING FROM: http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/this-is-a-job-that-weighs-on-you/Content?oid=3284905

This is a job that weighs on you’ 

Homicide Diary: Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson.

What follows is the latest installment of Homicide Diary, an ongoing project in which we speak to those who have been impacted by or who deal with the aftermath of homicide in Little Rock — victims’ families, prosecutors, cops, community activists and others. As of May 6, the number of Little Rock deaths classified as homicides since Jan. 1, 2014 is 24. By this time last year, that number stood at six. In April of this year alone, there were 11 deaths classified as homicides in Little Rock, the highest single-month count in years.

He wanted to be a literature professor. That was his dream once. His closing arguments still show it sometimes, as he sneaks a literary allusion every once in awhile into the accounts of kids shooting kids over weed and slights on street corners, snippets of the great abstract struggle between chaos and order that authors have waged on paper since Gilgamesh. Somewhere along the way, however, he realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life staring down classrooms full of college kids who would rather be somewhere else, so he went to law school. Johnson has been with the prosecutor’s office since 1990.

I really thought that I wanted to be a public defender. I wanted to protect people’s rights. I wanted to make sure that people got fair trials. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “If you’re waiting until after a person is charged, that ship has sailed.” That’s why I decided to be a prosecutor. 

I was hired in November of 1990. Back then, you started out taking complaints as a lawyer. People would come in and complain about cats going to the bathroom in their flowerbeds, or actual complaints where somebody came and beat them. So I did that. I got moved to circuit court pretty quickly, within a couple of months of working here.  

I had my first murder trial in August of 1991. It was a guy named Dana El Greco Frazier. He and some friends were drinking, and he spilled his drink on his pants. His friends started giving him a hard time about having pissed himself, so he got mad and shot one of them. My supervisor, the guy I was going to try the case with, left and went to the attorney general’s office, so I got left with the case. Things were a lot different then as far as how the office was and how we did cases. We have two people sitting on all our trials now, and we certainly don’t have someone who has been a lawyer for less than a year trying our murder cases by themselves. But I did, and he got convicted and got 40 years on it. The pressure must have been intense. But I can’t remember it. I know it should have been a lot of pressure. I know I should have been scared. 

This is a job that weighs on you. People ask: How can you do it? There are people here who believe that we’re all subject to some degree of post-traumatic stress. I think that might be an exaggeration. But it’s something that you carry with you all the time. I don’t know if you’re a Stephen King fan, but I recently read the sequel to “The Shining,” and there’s a character in there who puts all the ghosts that haunt him in a box in his head. I think that, for me, that’s sort of how it is. You have all these things you can’t get rid of that haunt you, and to survive, you gotta put them in a box. You compartmentalize. You can go visit it, but if you’re going to move forward, you’d better get a good lock.

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To do this job well, you have to open yourself up to it. You have to be willing to. In the Anne Pressly case, they tore her house down and we knew they were going to before they did. I learned a long time ago that going to the scene of a crime puts everything in perspective, so I went to her house and sat in it for the longest time. I knew what was coming with the trial, and I knew that we were going to be asking the jury for the death penalty, and I had to allow myself to feel all that. But when it’s over, you just gotta put it away and not roll around in it, because it doesn’t serve any purpose. I don’t talk about my work a lot at home. That’s what work is for, and I try to keep my home separate. That’s a whole other compartment. 

I remember once, my friends’ mom was talking about how a job changes you and I disagreed with her. I said I didn’t believe a job can change you. But I was wrong. I didn’t know it at the time. Now, I don’t know how it couldn’t change you. I think it would be wrong for it not to. You’d have to really be turning your back on everything for it not to change you. I don’t think that the people that work here can do as good a job as we do and remain immune, and be untouched. 

When someone is killed, all the homicide files come through me. I get the last say on all the homicides. If we don’t file it, I meet with the victim’s family, just because we feel like that’s something we owe to them: to tell them that we’re not going to charge the person who has done this. Those are the worst conversations. It’s one thing to be immersed in it and to do something about it. But when it’s over and you didn’t get a good result for the victim, or over before the thing even starts — before the fight even starts — those are the hardest times. Those are the moments people don’t see. We had a meeting last week where one of the biggest men we’ve probably ever had in the office was in there. It was a homicide, and when we told him that we couldn’t prosecute it, he squeezed his head so hard it sounded like wet rope stretching. You could hear it in his hands. You could hear the pain.

With the victims’ families, everybody’s different. Some of them thank us. Some of them write letters, or they’ll talk to you after the verdict comes back and give you a hug. I used to sort of try to stay apart from that. That was wrong. It’s better to let people thank you. It’s more for them, and it’s something that’s important for the victim’s families: to show their gratitude. They feel so helpless, and that’s one of the hardest things for them, the feeling of helplessness. 

The flip side of all the bad is the immense amount of good you see — the capacity to survive and carry on and forgive. I didn’t have any access to that at all before I started here. You have to be hurt to forgive. You have to be knocked down to have to survive. And I hadn’t seen anyone in my life with the sort of challenges that we come into contact with here. That’s the upside. 

I don’t buy the desperation argument. I do buy that people come from bad situations, and I do buy that that can shape how they are. But I’m a humanist, and we see and we meet many, many more people who overcome their circumstances, whether that’s financially or not. They don’t do what the slightest minority of people do. 

There’s a kid who I prosecuted years ago who was 14. He got life without [parole]. He should be coming up soon for one of his hearings. But about three years ago, I got a letter from him. He was thanking me. He said that the judge and I are the most important men in his life. He said that, but for us, he’d be dead. What do you do with that? I didn’t write him back. I didn’t think that’d be right. I didn’t want to give him hope that maybe things could change for him. 

It’s just stupid. It’s just a waste. In the big picture, a murder doesn’t add up to anything. But in the finite sense that we deal with it, with the victims’ families, it accomplishes the retribution part. For them, that can’t be minimized. The hardest thing about a lot of the cases is that they’re just the manifestation of chaos, and it’s 360 degrees, from getting witnesses to come talk to you, to getting juries to care about your victim. Chaos to me is when the rules don’t apply. In that instance, the rule that you want to apply is to make people care what happened, to make them care that the laws are enforced to protect all of us, to make juries care about the belief in what we’re trying to tell them. 

I think we win most of the battles, but maybe we’re losing the war. On a down day, you feel like that. But I don’t think you can get caught up in the big picture of it. If you do, the whole thing just washes over you. You’ve got to take it one case at a time, and just win as many as you can. Then, maybe, at the end of the day, it’s a better place. I haven’t lost my faith in humanity, because I don’t see “humanity.” I see individuals. It’s not a group. It’s not a block mentality. So no, I don’t think I’ve lost faith. I’ve gained hope, and my faith has more value now, because I can see the challenges in it. Blind faith? What good is that? If you’ve got faith knowing the darkness, that’s better.  

 

Law School Grad Decapitates Bird in Front of Hotel Guests

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A University of California, Berkeley, law school graduate apparently didn’t think decapitating a bird in front of horrified hotel guests was against the law in Vegas during an October 2012 bender. Hewas sentenced Monday to up to four years’ probation and 16 hours of animal shelter work per month for beheading a chicken-sized exotic bird during a drunken escapade in October 2012 at a Las Vegas Strip resort.

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A likeness of the victim (above). 

Justin Alexander Teixeira, 25, apologized Monday to the state of Nevada and to people affected by the death of the helmeted guineafowl named Turk. Teixeira, of Placerville, California, pleaded guilty in May 2013 to one felony charge of killing another person’s animal

“It was the worst moment of my life,” Teixeira said in his first public comment about the incident. “If there was anything I could do to undo it, I would.”

To the horror of hotel guests having breakfast nearby, Teixeira wrung the animal’s neck, tossed the bird’s body and flipped the head into some nearby rocks. Pro Tip: What happens in Vegas goes with you to your court-ordered volunteer job.