Friends To The Left Of Me, Murder To The Right

In July 9 1969, I recall the progress of a criminal misadventure.  But it is neither the whole story nor the only story.

There’s a thing called Due Process which is so complex as to defy ready definition.  Basically, it’s a legal construct which deals with the administration of Mirandajustice and is intended to protect us from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by Government action which is itself outside the sanction of law.  Probably the most familiar example of Due Process at work is the Miranda warning, which both protects us against self-incrimination and affirms the right to access to legal counsel.

But there are other, more mundane, aspects of Due Process which vary not only from state to state but in some respects from county to county and even city to city.  In Texas’ Tarrant County, for example, bail, if any, may not be excessive and there is a set time frame for transfer of arrestees from the various towns and cities, such as Arlington, to the central Tarrant County Correction Center (TCCC) in Ft. Worth.  In practical terms, what that means is that bail for someone arrested for shoplifting a $29.95 DVD can’t be set at $100,000 and a prisoner can’t be held for so long that it interferes with access to counsel, say at midnight twenty-two hours after a 2:00 AM  arrest.

Unfortunately, there’s a law enforcement mind-set that says criminals have too many rights and the police too few.  So, Due Process is often set aside, as it was from the git-go for me and three friends of mine on July 9 1969.

First up was my friend Robert H., who had come to visit our mutual friends, John S. and David R. who lived in the apartment and arrived while the search was underway.  When he knocked on the door, an officer answered, grabbed him by the arm, pulled him into the apartment, and placed him under arrest rather than simply detaining him pending conclusion of the search and then sending him on his way as should have done – You can’t arrest a bystander who comes upon a crime scene by happenstance.

When the search was completed, Robert H., along with me and two other friends, John P., David R., were taken into custody, packed into a couple of prowl-cars without being “Mirandized”, and brought before a magistrate who also failed to Mirandize us.  As we stood before him, he told us we were all being charged with misdemeanor possession of dangerous drugs and that he was setting bail at $50,000/ea. because, in his words, “We don’t like these drug cases around here”.  And there we have Due Process violation number two – Felony-level bail for a misdemeanor is definitely excessive.

After that, all four of us were celled.  John P. and David R. were put in a cell together.  Robert H.. was put in another cell. and I was put in a cell with a man who claimed he was serving out a DUI sentence by spending weekends in jail, as was common practice.  But his inordinate curiosity about why I was there and the fact that he was asking material questions I wasn’t about to answer made me highly suspicious.  He might have been just an affable dude serving a DUI sentence as he claimed, but he also might have been a police officer or a willing jailhouse snitch.  I mean, they already knew who could be directly tied to the substances found and I was one of only two.

The third and final violation was to delay our transfer to Ft. Worth.  With only four in custody on a Thursday morning in a small and quiet town, transfer should have been completed by 10:30 AM, but they waited until noon to get started.

Fortunately, we all had chance to make one phone call and mine was to my family to tell them I needed a lawyer.  My mother answered and asked what kind of lawyer and I said a criminal lawyer.  She knew none herself, but she did know of one who handled all of many drunk driving and public intoxication charges for her stepfather’s best friend, a man whom I grew up knowing as “Uncle Bruce”, and would ask her mother (my grandmother) to see if he was available.

When we got the TCCC, we were taken to Intake for booking, fingerprinting, and mug shots.  That’s when I found out that the lawyer for “Uncle Bruce”, who was a bail bondsman as well, had arrived a couple of hours before and was none to happy about the untimely transfer, the Arlington magistrate’s outrageous bail, which he had gotten reset to $1,500/ea., and the unlawful imprisonment of my friend Robert H., whose arrest was to be expunged and who was to be unconditionally released.

Because our release was imminent, the four of us were not celled but put in the holding pen, which was also the passageway between the booking desk and the cell block, with a bench along one side and and cell doors on both ends.  And it was there that I got schooled on the kinds of characters I might end up living with and among if remanded to the custody of Tarrant County Jail pending further proceedings, which could be a matter of days, weeks, months, or even years.

My friends were seated to my left and to my right was a young, sturdily built, dude of average height and blonde hair who was dressed in full motorcycle leathers and who asked what I was in for.  After talking about that for a few minutes the conversation turned to why he was there and his answer was unsettling to say the least – He had killed a man the night before and was about to be taken before a judge for arraignment on a charge of Aggravated First Degree Murder.

First Degree Murder, of course, means intentional, premeditated homicide and the aggravating factor in his case was lying in wait.  But the dispassionate, matter-of-fact way he related the events was chilling – He’d done what he’d done and was unconcerned about the consequences.

The story as he told it was that his prized Harley-Davidson chopper had been stolen and he had gotten word that it had been stolen by his best friend who stashed it somewhere known only to him.  So, rather than confront his friend face-to-face on the street or at home and get only denial after denial, he had tracked him down at a party at the home of a mutual friend, where he was able to find the putative thief’s unlocked car and hide on the floor behind the driver’s seat.

When the thief left the party a couple of hours later and after going just a couple of blocks, the guy popped up behind his friend, put a gun to the back of his head, told him that all wanted was to get his bike back, and that if he did anything get the attention of the police he’d blow his head off.

But his friend apparently wasn’t listening.

When he had to stop for a red light on South Hemphill Street, there was a prowl-car parked near the intersection, probably just on the look-out for drunk drivers, and when the light turned green he kept a foot on his brake pedal while stomping on the gas pedal in order smoke the tires just before taking off – A burn out which definitely got the patrolling officer’s attention.  Then, when the officer lit him up, he immediately pulled over and stopped.

But after the car stopped and before the officer could approach, his friend shot him in the back of the head, just as he had said he would…