When I was fourteen or fifteen and living in NE Texas, ‘Famine’ County to be more precise, I used to frequently cross the border. Not Mesico. No, Oklahoma. Yep. Go figger.
You see, back-in-the-day (Early Seventies), the drinking age got lowered to 18, mainly because it just was not fitting for a boy to go to Vietnam and not even be able to buy a beer ere he got there. Time enough for that once he got there, but you see, it became a matter of principle.
Well, my ‘group’ took advantage of that. You see, it was very difficult to tell a teenager’s age: I mean,
“How do you know he ain’t eighteen? He looks twelve, but hell! Ok, serve it up.”
And even better: In Oklahoma, well, they just did not give a shit. If you had money and could reach the bar, well, there you go.
OK, enough preamble and background. Early one morning (after about 0100hrs) my buddies and I, after having closed down the bars in Commerce (Texas), decided we were not drunk enough. So, natch, we drove to The Border, as I said: Oklahoma. Our mission: To hustle Pool and make the next day’s beer money. Our favorite hang was a place just ‘cross da river. A place who’s name escapes me, but trust me: it was famous. There is a very long, very dark, very narrow bridge across the Red River. If one could successfully navigate that, being drunk… well, you needed a drink.
Now, do not mistake me, this establishment was always ‘closed’ by the time we usually arrived at thereabout 0200hrs, but I knew the guy behind the ‘Speak-Easy’ window and I knew the password: “Joe sent me.”
Good to go.
They legally closed the bar at 0100hrs, but then remained open until first light. If one arrived around 0200hrs, one could shoot pool for four or five and then migrate to the back room where the crap tables were. I knew all the drills.
My gang and I sauntered in, bought some beers and Bob and I proceeded to ‘hustle’ pool. For beers. ONLY.
We were already drunk; we did not need to hustle beers. We wanted money for the crap game. Bob and I spent the better part of two hours hustling beers, and had pretty much drained the joint, when this dude drops his quarter on the table. He was long and lankly and had his right hand missing. Yep. He was ‘handicapped” Errr… handless. I nudged Bob and said, “This chump cannot beat me. At pool.”
And, of course, I was right, but… damn! He was good. He used his ‘stub’ as a bridge and shot a mean Eight-Ball. I beat him outta bout a case of Coors. He got pissed and walked by me:
“You done stepped on my foot,” he said.
“No Sir, I did not, but if you think I did, well, I’m sorry…”
“YOU done STEPPED on my FOOT!”
Bob took me aside along with my other entourage; Peanut, Gene, and Jessie (a big black kid who had played star halfback for the Honey Grove Warriors back in the day—yes—he was older, and I did notice him putting razor blades between his fingers)
“Many-Feet” Peanut said, “That there one-armed man gonna beat you to some death with that nub.”
“Bullshit!” I said.
“No bullshit. Go ahead; hide an’ watch.”
To be continued….
He beat me ’bout to death with that nub, just as Peanut foresaw.
Wish I had ‘foresaw’. Dem Okies…well.. they some tough sons ah bitches, all I gotta say.
Back in the late Nineties my small Texan college town was ‘blessed’ with a new Super Wal*Mart. I don’t really like Wal*Mart, but the grand opening was a “Big Hairy Deal” (not a lot of excitement in my little town). Anyway, I just had to go. Back then I was a vegetarian and was interested to see if Wal*Mart had decent produce and perhaps a bit cheaper than the only other grocery store in town, a Brookshire’s. (I was loyal to Brookhire’s and even had one of those ‘Loyalty Cards’ to prove it, but I was a paycheck-to-paycheck’ kind of dude, you see. So there was that.) Turns out they did have decent produce and cheaper too; so I filled my cart with quite a few fresh fruits and vegetables.
Got to the checkout and the surly cashier. I knew instantly she was surly when she took a look at my cart and then grimaced. She picked up a zucchini and pointed it at me just as I imagine she would a pistol. “What is This?” she demanded.
“Zucchini,” I said, trying to be polite about it.
(There were no little tags on the veggies back then. The cashiers had a rolodex type thing with photos to help them identify ‘foreign fruits and vegetables’.
She then picked up a… wait for it… turnip. “And what’s this?”
She then hefted a cantaloupe and snarled, “And this?”
“Can-ta-lope” I said slowly.
At this point I could literally see the frustration (and anger) building. “Well look Sir, you know I ain’t from around here. I’m from Oklah-homa and I don’t know y’all’s local vegetables,” she announced rather pointedly.
All I could do to keep from falling down on the floor laughing my ass.
Gotta love Wal*Mart. (and Oklahoma)
Just Kidding All My Okie Neighbors! (But Y’all know how it is between Texas an’ Oklahoma!)
Three A.M. and I was in the middle of a dream about ‘Shit River’ in Ologapo City, Philippines. (Freud would’ve loved me)
Then I woke up.
Woke up to a very un-dreamy-like smell of real shit. Real potent shit. Horrible smelling shit. Knock a buzzard off a shit wagon smelling shit.
I was living in an old two-story house in Commerce. Just outside my bedroom was the walk-in closet where I kept all the clothes I owned. I have never owned much in the way of clothes, by the way.
I heard something dripping like rain behind the door, but it wasn’t raining outside. I opened the door and sure as shit, shit was raining down from the ceiling. All over my clothes. Spattering on the floor. My Chow Mix doggie, Tizzy, was obviously responsible.
I went around the corner, and there he was in that dog-taking-a-shit posture at the top of the stairway: Obviously with a really bad case of the doggie drizzling shits.
Took me until seven a.m. to clean up the shit and wash all my clothes.
As it was so late in the afternoon (and we really wanted to score just one more pizza the following day), we retired for the afternoon, to return the next morning. Now, of course I thought we could make quick work of this business and not get any more pizza.
I was mistaken.
First of all, we had to sit in that musty courtroom for an hour or so, listening to the prosecutor drone on about how we needed (our civic duty) to throw the book at this kid whom we had unanimously recently convicted (Hardly unanimous, but hey! Who’s counting?)
Then we had to listen to The Defense chastise us roundly for convicting an innocent (innocent?) man.
Well, the Defense pissed me off. (Yes. My failing, but more on that later. Not something I am proud of today)
After a couple of hours of this, we retired to our ‘chambers’.
The air was not quite as contentious (almost) as it was the previous day, yet…
The minimum sentence we could pronounce was fifteen years.
Straight-away I had a more roundish number in my head: ‘Twenty’.
Hell! He would be out in seven, given good behavior and prison overcrowding.
Once again, Blue-Haired Lady was having none of this. And I did respect her emotion. Yet, damnit! That defense attorney done pissed me off (Shades of Peanut). How dare he say these words he said:
“Well, Ladies and Gentlemen of the ‘jury’ (Yes. Sarcasm was dripping, like something out of a drunken sailor’s mouth) since you have already made one ‘mistake’… do not make yet another, and give this man anything more than the minimum.”
With his sarcasm bouncing around in my head, I was bound and determined ‘he’, he being in my mind, the attorney (what an ignorant fool was I to think in any way that this ‘Council’ gave two shits about his ‘Client’) was going up for twenty and I fiercely lobbied for twenty.
Looking back now, I regret this.
Sincerely regret this.
Fifteen would have sufficed, but I stood firm and played upon the emotions and the exasperation of my fellows and got my wish.
As I said, I regret this now.
We gave him twenty.
Sorry Johnson, wherever you may be.
I am so sorry for tacking on five years for my ego, and only my ego, nothing more.
P.S. Writing this has taken much out of me. I had buried it long ago somewhere never to be felt again.
Putting aside our displeasure with the judge over the denied smoke break, we continued our assessment of the veracity of Mr. Rogers’ testimony.
‘Crew Cut’ said, “I believe the boy. He comes across as honest. And actually, I don’t think he’s smart enough to be deceiving.”
This brought a few groans from around the table.
Crew Cut quickly added, “I don’t mean any disrespect Y’all; I’m just sayin’ he doesn’t seem to have any reason to lie.”
“He do seem kinda ‘simple’ that boy”, Gimmie Cap said. (The irony of his statement did not escape me) “But what about the girl? Obviously if you believe him, she must be lying about being asleep on the couch,” the mild-mannered elderly gentleman from the far end of the table said.
“I do think she’s lying about that,” I agreed. “But I really don’t think we should invest too much concern on it. I mean, we can speculate as to whether or not she was stepping out on her fiancé, but I still contend that is irrelevant. Look, she is young and probably terrified about her fiancé finding out about that aspect of this mess. I’m of a mind to believe the bulk of her story.”
Kathy (the wife of my old Honey Grove friend from the Seventies) said, “Lance, do you honestly believe she wouldn’t lie about everything to keep from getting caught cheating on her boyfriend? I mean, I’m a woman and you’re not. (Some giggles from the rest). Oh! I didn’t mean it like that. (Kathy was always extremely polite as I did recall). What I mean to say is that yes, she is probably in a panic and probably didn’t want this to go to court and that Rogers may have pushed her into this because he wants his gun back and he has issues with Johnson. That’s all I’m saying.”
Blue Haired Lady (seated next to Kathy) spoke up, “I agree. Not sure I trust Miss Shelton. She tries to come across as a completely innocent victim, but when I look at the young boy, I’m just not sure he is that bad.”
Crew Cut said, “Well, he ain’t THAT young, and his attorney cleaned him up for this trial. Do you suppose he had short hair and wore a suit in his ‘real’ life? What about those tattoos?”
“We’re supposed to forget we saw the tattoos Sir,” I reminded.
“Well, we saw ‘em. And I ain’t forgetting ‘em, and what about his drug abuse?” he shot back.
Blue Haired Lady said, “I just don’t know about that. He may have made some mistakes. He is young. I don’t think drugs have anything to do with this.”
Gimme-Cap says rather agitated, “I think drugs got ever’thang to do with this. Why he needin’ a shotgun in the mid’el of th’ night, huh? Maybe he gonna go rob som’un else? Ever think ah that?”
Another Juror, let’s call him ‘Business Man’, since he was the only one wearing a suit said, “I think we should discuss Johnson’s testimony and get off Mr. Rogers and Miss Shelton for a while.”
“Thank you Sir,” I said. “I agree. Any objections Y’all?” None were forthcoming. “Ok then. Johnson claims he had permission to take the gun, but I’m still bothered by the fact that he did not wait until Rogers was home to come for it. This really bothers me.”
Business Man said, “Yes. That makes no sense. Why would he show up late at night to borrow a gun? Doubtful he was going bird hunting at ten o’clock at night.”
“Maybe he was goin’ coon huntin’,” a forty-something man to my right said.
(Some laughter over that)
“We need to stick to the testimony here folks,” I replied, slightly exasperated. “We will be here for weeks if we start speculating on what his motives were other than what he said they were. So please, let’s just review what we know we heard.”
There was continuing, often heated discussion on Johnson’s testimony when there was a knock on the door. I got up, opened it, and in strode the bailiff carrying an armload of Domino’s Pizza boxes. This was a pleasant surprise.
“Y’all ready for some lunch?” He more announced than asked.
“Hell yeah!” Gimmie Cap exclaimed.
So we dove into the pizza (There was way too much for twelve people—later I found out that the bailiff lived for long jury sessions that required lunch for the jurors, as he loved pizza, and always ordered too much for the jury, and then took what was left home with him.)
As we were eating our pizza and drinking the sodas which were also provided, the talk stayed away from the trial. Folks were just making small talk with some occasional laughter, thus lightening the mood somewhat. I was grateful for this, as there had been a building tension in the air until the pizza showed up.
Pizza dispatched now.
“I really could use a smoke,” Gimme Cap said.
“Me too,” several others agreed in unison.
“Lance,” Kathy said, “Could you send out another message-in-a-bottle to ‘His Honor’?” Her sarcasm made me laugh.
“Yes. I certainly can.”
So I wrote up another note: ‘Smoke Break Respectfully REQUESTED’.
“We’ll see how this flies,” I said after summoning the Bailiff and handing our request to him.
Five minutes later, he appeared at our door directing us to follow him outside, “But don’t talk to nobody ‘long the way,” he instructed with what I can only describe as a ‘Barney Fife Authority-Voice’.
After our return, and with everyone pretty much sated with pizza, coke a cola, and nicotine, we were back to work and pretty certain we all wanted to wrap this up and not spend yet another day. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.
“Let’s take another poll,” I suggested.
Everyone scratched their votes on little post-it notes and passed them up to me. I read them off as Crew Cut marked down the tally.
The vote had slid toward ‘Guilty’: Ten Guilty, Two Not Guilty.
I suppose that was some progress, but if we were going to wrap this up, obviously there was more work to do.
“I say we take another poll, this time verbal, so we can direct our discussion on the points of disagreement,” Crew Cut announced.
This seemed reasonable to me, so I said to the group, “Does anyone have a problem with this?” I noticed that Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Mild-Mannered Gentleman looked down at their notes, hiding their eyes, but said nothing. “Okay then, since there are not objections, we will go around the table and Y’all can state your vote.”
As I already knew, Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Gentleman had voted ‘Not Guilty’.
Blue Haired Lady’s voice cracked when she verbalized her not guilty vote, so I began with Elderly Gent:
“Sir, please tell us your concerns,” I said.
“Well,” he began. “I had a son. He got involved with drugs while in high school. I tried to help him. Did everything I could. He wasn’t a bad boy, ya know? He was a good kid, but those damn drugs… those damn drugs. Well-Sir, they got into him, into his mind, into his soul. We got him into rehab. He was fine for a spell, then, few weeks after he done with that, he got into some trouble. Not big trouble… he was a good boy, but those drugs… you see…” (At this point he had started to cry). We all listened in respectful silence as he struggled to regain his voice. “You see,” he continued. “Drugs killed my son. I look at that kid out there and I ask myself, if we send him to prison, how will he get any help?”
He broke down after that. Kathy put her arm around him. I just looked over at Crew Cut; our eyes met, and we both shrugged our eyes at each other.
“Let’s take five,” I said. “Have some coffee; stretch our legs.”
So, some got some coffee; a few suggested we request another smoke break (which I vetoed) some just got up and looked out the window.
After we settled back into our seats, I directed my attention to Blue Haired Lady. “Ma’am, would you kindly share your concerns with us?”
“I have a grandson. That boy out there reminds me of him. He is also a good boy. Young, headstrong, but a good boy. I look at Johnson, and wonder if I can take away his prime years. You know prisons in Texas will ruin an otherwise good boy. I think, even if he did this, he deserves a second chance. I mean… he did not harm the girl, did he?”
Gimme Cap, in a sudden burst of philosophy said, “He tortured her in her mental.”
“He has a point,” I said. “That girl is guiltless in this. She has suffered too. She deserves to feel safe. Who is to say, that if we do not punish this young man… Who is to say, how that will affect her? She doesn’t strike me of leaving this area. If we let him slide, she is going to be tormented by the memory of this and trust me: she will suffer anxiety. Does she deserve that? This Johnson, yes he is young, but he has done evil before. We all know this. Do you want to read about him going further at some future date, possible killing someone?”
There were similar sentiments expressed by the other jurors for the next thirty minutes or so. Once everyone had said their piece, I called for another vote. This time all were in agreement except Blue Haired Lady.
We took another short break. I watched as Kathy took her aside in the corner. The others backed away to allow them some privacy. Kathy put her arm around her and was speaking into her eyes. The woman said something and then fell into Kathy’s arms, weeping.
We all looked away respectfully and pretended to be fascinated by something outside the window.
Presently Kathy spoke to the room, “Let’s take another vote Y’all. This time secret ballot.”
Quietly we all sat down and without a word, we wrote our votes on the sticky notes. Once collected, I read them off as Crew Cut recorded the tally: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty….times twelve. As I read the last vote I looked up at Blue Haired Lady: she had put her head down on the table and was weeping. Kathy was stoking her hair and speaking softly into her ear.
“I am going to summon the Bailiff,” I announced.
The Bailiff came in and handed me a form. I filled it out and returned it to him. Ten minutes later we were summoned into the court room. Taking our seats the Judge asked,
“Mister Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes we have, your Honor.”
“Please hand it to the bailiff.”
The bailiff delivered our verdict to the judge. “Will the Defendant please stand.” And he read it off after listing the charges: “Guilty.”
Johnson’s shoulders slumped briefly, then he stood erect and glared coldly and directly at me. I looked directly back into his eyes. He did not blink, and I knew we had reached the right verdict.
So now we had to get down to figuring out who was lying and who was telling the truth. Straightaway we decided that both sides were lying to some certain extent. For one thing, Miss Shelton had testified that she was asleep on the couch when Johnson burst in. Her testimony occurred before Mr. Rogers had been called in to testify and he had not heard it. He was asked by the defense,
“Mr. Rogers, where was Miss Shelton when you left on your trip to the liquor store?”
“In the bed,” he said without any hesitation whatsoever, as if everyone should have known this.
“Mr. Rogers, How many beds do you have in your trailer?”
“Just one,” he answered.
“So Mr. Rogers, Miss Shelton was in your bed when you left?”
“No further questions at this time, Your Honor. But I reserve the right to recall the witness.”
He continued, “Now I would like to call Miss Shelton back to the stand Your Honor.”
Rogers stepped down and Shelton took the stand, admonished that she was still under oath.
“Miss Shelton,” he began, “Was it not your sworn testimony that you were sleeping on the couch when the defendant allegedly ‘broke in’ to the trailer?”
“Yessir,” she responded, almost inaudibly, while studying the floor.
“Then how do you explain the testimony of Mr. Rogers, stating you were in his bed?”
“Uh…” she spoke rapidly now, “I was in his bed for just a little while, but only because I was a little drunk and he said I should lie down… in his bed while he went to the store… He said I would sleep better there…”
“So you were in his bed when the defendant arrived?”
“Oh no! I had done woke up and moved to the couch to watch some TV and then I fell back asleep.”
“By your own admission, you were in a drunken stupor, yet you decided to get up and watch… some TV?”
“And what, Miss Shelton, were you watching on TV?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Is it conceivable, Miss Shelton, that you were having a sexual relationship with Mr. Rogers, and having been discovered by the defendant, you and Mr. Rogers decided to implicate him in a robbery to cover up your illicit affair?”
“Objection!” Yelled the prosecutor. “This has no relevance to the complaint.”
“Sustained,” said the judge.
So we kicked that bit about for a while. I suggested that I agreed it was irrelevant and nobody’s business if she were ‘cheating’ on her fiancé. Roughly one third of the jury disagreed with me. And they had some good points vis-à-vis her credibility. If she had perjured herself on that, how much of her story could we believe?
My argument was that it was perfectly understandable that a young woman would try to cover that up, given the fact that she was, in fact engaged. Furthermore, I went on, she is not on trial here for her ‘alleged’ infidelity. Does not change the facts regarding assault and robbery. I got some harsh push back on that.
‘Crew Cut’ (who was initially against the defendant) began to waiver:
“You know,” he said. “If she is lying about that, good chance she is lying about everything else.”
(‘Oh please!’ I remember thinking, ‘Please do not tell us she needs to ‘Find Jesus’ too.’)
I argued that I could forgive her that one perjury, given her circumstance.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s shelve that one for the time being and move on. We can come back to it later.”
One of the jurors, a thirty-ish guy, who wore a John Deer gimme-cap with dirty blond hair poking out from either side piped up and said,
“Why d’y’all suppose Johnson waited until Rogers was not home to fetch the gun he was supposed to have permission to borrow? He had to had know’d Rogers weren’t home. I mean, his truck was gone, Right? Would you just go ta sumbody’s house late at nite, and git a gun without them a-bein’ there? Did he say he had a key? Doan think so. I thank he done was watchin’ to see when Rogers left, then went in ta steal that gun an’ whut-ever else he wanted.”
This, we all agreed, was a valid point.
We turned our attention back to the photos of the door, but really still could not come to any consensus as to whether or not the door appeared to have been kicked in or just a victim of ‘Trailer-Trash’ living. So we threw the photo evidence out of our deliberations.
Putting aside the testimony of Johnson and Miss Shelton for a while, we discussed in some length the testimony (and more importantly) the persona and character of Mr. Rogers. Most did agree that out of the three, he came across as the most genuine, most affable, and most believable.
Fully half of the jury members were smokers and they begged me to send a note to the judge via the bailiff, asking permission for a smoke break. I scribbled out a note:
“Your Honor, we respectfully request to be allowed a cigarette break.” I opened the door, motioned to the bailiff and handed him the note.
Five minutes later, he returned my note to me, with the judge’s hand-written response Sharpie written in the bottom:
OK, now we were pissed; We were really pissed at his curt response; even the non-smokers were pissed, as we had all begun to bond by this point, and we were stressed.