Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The West Memphis Three

I remember lying in bed one morning it was 1993, the clock radio was playing. I knew it was my girlfriends clock radio because I never let the actual radio wake me up, I always used the "beeping" part of it. I was already awake, staring at the ceiling. And that God-awful top 40 station came on with that God-awful morning zoo bullshit. They had some serious news that morning.

Three young boys had been found murdered across the river in West Memphis. They were naked. Their bodies were stabbed numerous times. At least one had been sexually mutilated. All three had their hands tied behind their back.

My hair stood on end. The ceiling began to spin.
"What the fuck!"

"Holy Shit!"

"West Memphis?"

These were very disturbing facts to say the least. But that was just the beginning. In the weeks that followed. The crack detective squad of the West Memphis police department would come up with some suspects and a theory of the murders that would knock your socks off.

It seemed, right under every ones nose, a group of three disaffected young teenage boys had formed a satanic cult right there in Crittenden County Arkansas. They started off by meeting in remote places, spray painting pentagrams and the number 666 on a few overpasses and train trestles. They wore black trench coats and Metallica t-shirts. Then the theory alleges they started mutilating stray cats and dogs in ritualistic fashion. And then after a time, perhaps because Satan himself told them to, they grabbed three eight year old boys off the street as they rode bikes together. Pulled them into the woods and killed them.

At the time I thought - "a satanic cult huh?" "What?"

But then, the local paper reported they had a confession from one of the killers. So that's that right? Bullshit.

Christopher Byers, Steven Branch, and Michael Moore are the eight year old victims in this case. They were running buddies. They all rode bikes together. All three of them had a dog at home. I grew up pretty much the same way, about 130 miles South of where they lived. And about 14 years apart. I'm sure a lot changed over the years. But not much changes in Arkansas.

I work with a guy who was roughly the same age as the victims were in 1993. He's from neighboring Marion in Crittenden County. I asked him about the murders. I asked him if he thought the guys who were arrested for it were the right guys? His answer made me think of my own hometown, back when I was eight: "Everybody knew they did it. They bragged about it up at the ball field." In the rural dirtysouth "the ball field" is THE gathering spot for families on most nights during the summer. Especially families with younger kids. It's a place where people gather watch the kids play and talk about whats going on in the world. The ball field is the main place (outside of church) where different families mingle. And like any good meeting place, there's always plenty of gossip. Back in June, 1993, there was only one thing on every ones mind; Who killed Steven, Michael, and Chris? So young. So innocent.

Where,in a town of less than 30,000,could evil come from? How could it happen here? Who would be capable of such a thing? The police where asking themselves the same question and in a small town like West Memphis, the pressure was on to solve it and solve it quickly. It wouldn't take them long.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pervis T Payne

Petitioner Pervis T. Payne was sentenced to death in a Tennessee state court for the murderof Charisse Christopher and her daughter Lacie Christopher.

I went to school with Pervis. He did not do the crime. He did not commit murder.

The case against him is wrong. Please!!! Look at the facts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I went to school with Pervis. I know Pervis....or knew Pervis.

First: Look at the time of day!!

The state wants you to believe that he raped this woman. And to cover up the rape, he stabbed her thirty times. And stabbed her daughter. And stabbed her young son. And he decided to do all of this in the middle of the afternoon in June of 1987.

The rape is key here according to the prosecution. This is the motive. Here's the problem. Her boyfriend told the prosecutors that he spent the night with the victim the night before the murders happened. He acknowledged that he had sex with her. The jury that convicted Pervis never heard this statement. It wasn't shared with Pervis' court appointed lawyer. Who, by the way, was defending his first capital murder case. But the fact that there may have been semen in the victims vagina was brought up.

And Pervis is alleged to have done this at or about 2 in the afternoon. A woman he barely knew. And in the afternoon. With her two kids home. He just went in and did this. With no criminal record whatsoever. He just decided to do this.

I knew Pervis. And I'm not talking about I went to the same school as he did and ran into him in the halls; I KNEW him. We were in the drumline together. And those of you who've been in the drumline know what I mean when I say we were all brothers.

He was different. It came out in his trial that he had an IQ of 78. He was gifted musically. He could sing like a bird. He was in the drumline but he couldn't really read music (what drummer can right?) we taught him his parts by rote. But he had no problem learning them. He was gifted. And gentle.

He was older than I was. When I first got in the drumline, after a particularly grueling day in which I was nervous and anxious, and trying to get with the program, he took me under his arm, and told me, "don't worry about it man, you're amongst friends here."

I have pictures of Pervis. And not just yearbook photos. Actual snapshots. He cared about the way he looked. He worked out incessantly. The muscles on his biceps and shoulders were so over developed that he had stretch marks. Marks that the jury were told were scratches. Despite the fact that he was never examined by a doctor when he was arrested.

He didn't do it. But. It may be too late. The Governor of Tennessee just put a moratoriam on executions in the state. It's suppossed to last three months while they go over the procedures to make sure they pass constitutional muster. This gave Pervis a repreive of sorts. He was scheduled to be electrocuted April 11th. Now he has until at least May 2nd.

He's been in prison since 1987. I used to know him but I don't know him now. I wonder what being on death row for twenty years does to a person.

I've never been to see him. Never written him a letter. Never really talked about him much. It wasn't until recently that I even tried to do any research on the case. And I was his "friend."

Students of the law have heard of his case. "Payne" went to the Supreme Court. A ruling about victim impact statements. Whether he was guilty or not was not in question. He's not.

The state has taken 20 years of his life. And now they want the rest.

There are three victims in this case. Charisse, Lacie, and come this summer, Pervis T. Payne. None of them deserve their fate.

Here's why he was arrested, charged, and ultimately sentenced to death. He was at the scene. He did have the victims blood all over him. He did run from the cops.

He was at the scene because he was waiting on his girlfriend to get home. She lived in the same apartment complex as the victim. He told police he heard a scuffle going on in the victims apartment. He witnessed a man run out of the complex. He gives the police a description. The police weren't interested. They had their man. Pervis T. Payne.

He told police that he went to the victims door, he said the door was partially opened. He knocked and announced "I'm coming in." He found the victim, sitting on the floor in her kitchen, her back leaning against a cabinet door. Her two kids were there with her. The daughter, Lacie was not moving and appeared to be dead. Pervis told the police that Charisse was not dead. She looked up at him. She couldn't talk. The knife was still in her kneck. She made feeble attempts to pull it out. Pervis told police "she wanted me to help her, her mouth move, but no sound came." He pulled the knife out. Her young son was not dead. He was sitting there in the kitchen, on his knees crying. Pervis told the police he was panicked and didn't know what to do. He knew he should do something but couldn't function. He picked up the phone in the kitchen. Panick stricken, he didn't think to dial 911. He just pushed a bunch of random numbers. He was freaked out.

So his prints were on the phone and the murder weapon. Why would a guy rape and murder a woman, murder her daughter, and attempt to murder her young son, in the middle of the afternoon, and on top of that, use the victims phone to make no phone call in particular. Why?

He couldn't make the phone work. He told Charisse, "I'm going to get help for you."

Some one else at the complex heard the struggle in Charrisse's apartment and did call 911. The arresting Millington police officer testified: "I observed [Payne] through a window in the landing of a stairwell. He bent down and picked up a duffle bag, and proceeded down the stairs out the front door of the building. When I approached, the defendant seemed agitated, and did not obey commands to put the bag down. He appeared to have blood on his shirt and scratch marks on his arms."

Pervis threw his duffle bag at the officer and ran. It was the worst mistake in his life. They found him in the attic of his sisters house a few blocks away, he literally had shit his pants. He was so nervous he was foaming at the mouth.
"I didn't kill no woman" was all he had to say.

The police had there man. The prosecutor had his man.

There was no actuall semen found in the victims vagina. Just the chemical suggestion that semen had been present. There was no dna test. The victims mother testified about how much her grandson cried and missed his mother. This victim impact statement was part of the Supreme Court case.

The semen evidence was challenged by Paynes court appointed lawyer by saying, "it's inconclusive, maybe it's semen, maybe it's not." He didn't know about the boyfriend spending the night. He was quoted later as saying had he known about the boyfriends statement he could have had all the semen testimony quashed. The whole prosecution theory would have fallen apart. According to them, he raped her, and killed her to cover it up. In the middle of the afternoon. While he was waiting on his girlfriend. He just decided to do it almost on a lark it seems. Bullshit.

A large black man, covered in the victims blood, running from the police is guilty almost by definition in thedirtysouth. His all white jury knew he was guilty. The white police officers, the white prosecutor, they all knew.

His white friends in the drumline know better. But what have we done to stop his execution? Nothing.

The state of Tennessee wants it's pound of flesh. An eye for an eye they say. Doesn't matter much who's eye.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

This Is Molly Ivins From 2003 In Mother Jones. One Of My Favorites

The Uncompassionate Conservative

In order to understand why George W. Bush doesn't get it, you have to take several strands of common Texas attitude, then add an impressive degree of class-based obliviousness. What you end up with is a guy who sees himself as a perfectly nice fellow -- and who is genuinely disconnected from the impact of his decisions on people.

On the few occasions when Bush does directly encounter the down-and-out, he seems to empathize. But then, in what is becoming a recurring, almost nightmare-type scenario, the minute he visits some constructive program and praises it (AmeriCorps, the Boys and Girls Club, job training), he turns around and cuts the budget for it. It's the kiss of death if the president comes to praise your program. During the presidential debate in Boston in 2000, Bush said, "First and foremost, we've got to make sure we fully fund LIHEAP [the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program], which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, pay their high fuel bills." He then sliced $300 million out of that sucker, even as people were dying of hypothermia, or, to put it bluntly, freezing to death.

Sometimes he even cuts your program before he comes to praise it. In August 2002, Bush held a photo op with the Quecreek coal miners, the nine men whose rescue had thrilled the country. By then he had already cut the coal-safety budget at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which engineered the rescue, by 6 percent, and had named a coal-industry executive to run the agency.

The Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of Call to Renewal, a network of churches that fight poverty, told the New York Times that shortly after his election, Bush had said to him, "I don't understand how poor people think," and had described himself as a "white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." What's annoying about Bush is when this obtuseness, the blinkeredness of his life, weighs so heavily on others, as it has increasingly as he has acquired more power.

There was a telling episode in 1999 when the Department of Agriculture came out with its annual statistics on hunger, showing that once again Texas was near the top. Texas is a perennial leader in hunger because we have 43 counties in South Texas (and some in East Texas) that are like Third World countries. If our border region were a state, it would be first in poverty, first in the percentage of schoolchildren living in poverty, first in the percentage of adults without a high school diploma, 51st in income per capita, and so on.

When the 1999 hunger stats were announced, Bush threw a tantrum. He thought it was some malign Clinton plot to make his state look bad because he was running for president. "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." You would, wouldn't you? That is the point at which ignorance becomes inexcusable. In five years, Bush had never spent time with people in the colonias, South Texas' shantytowns; he had never been to a session with Valley Interfaith, a consortium of border churches and schools and the best community organization in the state. There is no excuse for a governor to be unaware of this huge reality of Texas.

Take any area -- environment, labor, education, taxes, health -- and go to the websites of public-interest groups in that field. You will find page after page of minor adjustments, quiet repeals, no-big-deal new policies, all of them cruel, destructive, and harmful. A silent change in regulations, an executive order, a funding cutoff. No headlines. Below the radar. Again and again and again. Head Start, everybody's favorite government program, is being targeted for "improvement" by leaving it to the tender mercies of Mississippi and Alabama. An AIDS program that helps refugees in Africa and Asia gets its funding cut because one of the seven groups involved once worked with the United Nations, which once worked with the Chinese government, which once supported forced abortions.

So what manner of monster is behind these outrages? I have known George W. Bush slightly since we were both in high school, and I studied him closely as governor. He is neither mean nor stupid. What we have here is a man shaped by three intertwining strands of Texas culture, combined with huge blinkers of class. The three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo. They all play well politically with certain constituencies.

Let's assume the religiosity is genuine; no one is in a position to know otherwise. I leave it to more learned commentators to address what "Christian" might actually mean in terms of public policy.

The anti-intellectualism is also authentic. This is a grudge Bush has carried at least since his college days when he felt looked down on as a frat rat by more cerebral types. Despite his pedigree and prep schools, he ran into Eastern stereotypes of Texans at Yale, a common experience at Ivy schools in that time. John F. Kennedy, the consummate, effortlessly graceful, classy Harvard man, had just been assassinated in ugly old Dallas, and Lyndon Johnson's public piety gave many people the creeps. Texans were more or less thought of as yahoo barbarians somewhere between the Beverly Hillbillies and Deliverance. I do not exaggerate by much. To have a Texas accent in the East in those days was to have 20 points automatically deducted from your estimated IQ. And Texans have this habit of playing to the stereotype -- it's irresistible. One proud Texan I know had never owned a pair of cowboy boots in his life until he got a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard. Just didn't want to let anyone down.

For most of us who grow up in the "boonies" and go to school in the East, it's like speaking two languages -- Bill Clinton, for example, is perfectly bilingual. But it's not unusual for a spell in the East to reinforce one's Texanness rather than erode it, and that's what happened to Bush. Bush had always had trouble reading -- we assume it is dyslexia (although Slate's Jacob Weisberg attributes it to aphasia); his mom was still doing flash cards with him when he was in junior high. Feeling intellectually inferior apparently fed into his resentment of Easterners and other known forms of snob.

Bush once said, "There's a West Texas populist streak in me, and it irritates me when these people come out to Midland and look at my friends with just the utmost disdain." In his mind, Midland is the true-blue heartland of the old vox pop. The irony is that Midland along with its twin city, Odessa, is one of the most stratified and narrow places in the country. Both are oil towns with amazingly strict class segregation. Midland is the white-collar, Republican town; Odessa is the blue-collar, Democratic town. The class conflict plays out in an annual football rivalry so intense that H.G. Bissinger featured it in his best-selling book, Friday Night Lights. To mistake Midland for the volk heartland is the West Texas equivalent of assuming that Greenwich, Connecticut, is Levittown.

In fact, people in Midland are real nice folks: I can't prove that with statistics, but I know West Texas and it's just a fact. Open, friendly, no side to 'em. The problem is, they're way isolated out there and way limited too. You can have dinner at the Petroleum Club anytime with a bunch of them and you'll come away saying, "Damn, those are nice people. Sure glad they don't run the world." It is still such a closed, narrow place, where everybody is white, Protestant, and agrees with everybody else. It's not unusual to find people who think, as George W. did when he lived there, that Jimmy Carter was leading the country toward "European-style socialism." A board member of the ACLU of Texas was asked recently if there had been any trouble with gay bashing in Midland. "Oh, hell, honey," she drawled, "there's not a gay in Midland who will come out of the closet for fear people will think they're Democrats."

The machismo is what I suspect is fake. Bush is just another upper-class white boy trying to prove he's tough. The minute he is questioned, he becomes testy and defensive. That's one reason they won't let him hold many press conferences. When he tells stories about his dealings with two of the toughest men who ever worked in politics -- the late Lee Atwater and the late Bob Bullock -- Bush, improbably, comes off as the toughest mother in the face-down. I wouldn't put money on it being true. Bullock, the late lieutenant governor and W's political mentor in Texas, could be and often was meaner than a skilletful of rattlesnakes. Bush's story is that one time, Bullock cordially informed him that he was about to fuck him. Bush stood up and kissed Bullock, saying, "If I'm gonna get fucked, at least I should be kissed." It probably happened, but I guarantee you Bullock won the fight. Bush never got what made Bullock more than just a supermacho pol -- the old son of a bitch was on the side of the people. Mostly.

The perfect absurdity of all this, of course, is that Bush's identification with the sturdy yeomen of Midland (actually, oil-company executives almost to a man) is so wildly at variance with his real background. Bush likes to claim the difference between him and his father is that, "He went to Greenwich Country Day and I went to San Jacinto Junior High." He did. For one year. Then his family moved to a posh neighborhood in Houston, and he went to the second-best prep school in town (couldn't get into the best one) before going off to Andover as a legacy.

Jim Hightower's great line about Bush, "Born on third and thinks he hit a triple," is still painfully true. Bush has simply never acknowledged that not only was he born with a silver spoon in his mouth -- he's been eating off it ever since. The reason there is no noblesse oblige about Dubya is because he doesn't admit to himself or anyone else that he owes his entire life to being named George W. Bush. He didn't just get a head start by being his father's son -- it remained the single most salient fact about him for most of his life. He got into Andover as a legacy. He got into Yale as a legacy. He got into Harvard Business School as a courtesy (he was turned down by the University of Texas Law School). He got into the Texas Air National Guard -- and sat out Vietnam -- through Daddy's influence. (I would like to point out that that particular unit of FANGers, as regular Air Force referred to the "Fucking Air National Guard," included not only the sons of Governor John Connally and Senator Lloyd Bentsen, but some actual black members as well -- they just happened to play football for the Dallas Cowboys.) Bush was set up in the oil business by friends of his father. He went broke and was bailed out by friends of his father. He went broke again and was bailed out again by friends of his father; he went broke yet again and was bailed out by some fellow Yalies.

That Bush's administration is salted with the sons of somebody-or-other should come as no surprise. I doubt it has ever even occurred to Bush that there is anything wrong with a class-driven good-ol'-boy system. That would explain why he surrounds himself with people like Eugene Scalia (son of Justice Antonin Scalia), whom he named solicitor of the Department of Labor -- apparently as a cruel joke. Before taking that job, the younger Scalia was a handsomely paid lobbyist working against ergonomic regulations designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries. His favorite technique was sarcastic invective against workers who supposedly faked injuries when the biggest hazard they faced was "dissatisfaction with co-workers and supervisors." More than 5 million Americans are injured on the job every year, and more die annually from work-related causes than were killed on September 11. Neither Scalia nor Bush has ever held a job requiring physical labor.

What is the disconnect? One can see it from the other side -- people's lives are being horribly affected by the Bush administration's policies, but they make no connection between what happens to them and the decisions made in Washington. I think I understand why so many people who are getting screwed do not know who is screwing them. What I don't get is the disconnect at the top. Is it that Bush doesn't want to see? No one brought it to his attention? He doesn't care?

Okay, we cut taxes for the rich and so we have to cut services for the poor. Presumably there is some right-wing justification along the lines that helping poor people just makes them more dependent or something. If there were a rationale Bush could express, it would be one thing, but to watch him not see, not make the connection, is another thing entirely. Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps -- horrors, they breed dependency. Whereas inheriting millions of dollars and having your whole life handed to you on a platter is good for the grit in your immortal soul? What we're dealing with here is a man in such serious denial it would be pathetic if it weren't damaging so many lives.

Bush's lies now fill volumes. He lied us into two hideously unfair tax cuts; he lied us into an unnecessary war with disastrous consequences; he lied us into the Patriot Act, eviscerating our freedoms. But when it comes to dealing with those less privileged, Bush's real problem is not deception, but self-deception.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

RIP Molly Ivins

She used to tell people she had "a scorching case of cancer." She was fearless, and brilliant - and funny. Really funny.

She told the truth.

I'll probably post one of my favorite articles of hers later.