Monday, September 28, 2009

Scapegoat Freed In Yom Kippur Trial Setting of Billy Joe Shaver

Amid the Monday morning hubbub and confusion of an empanelment of enough veniremen to seat juries in three district courts and two country courts at law, District Judge Matt Johnson quietly announced that in a "priority setting" of the case, the trial of Billy Joe Shaver has been postponed until April 5, with a pre-trial hearing set for March 26th.

It was not unexpected. The prosecutor had earlier made it clear he was not ready for trial at this time.

The wheels of justice ground on, attorneys and defendants barely blinking as the judge continued to go down the docket with the court coordinator to touch bases with the revisions to the schedule.

Yom Kippur, the ancient Hebrew Day of Atonement, in which priests would noisily bang on gongs and blow trumpets while the ineffable name of God was uttered at low breath by a priest of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem who stood facing a wall of the Holy of Holies, the Sanctum Sanctorum, was like any other in the Court's session.

The alleged offense of assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a firearm unlawfully on premises where alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed took place on March 31, 2007. Shaver is accused of the crime of firing a .22 caliber pistol into the face of an antagonist at "Papa Joe's Texas Saloon, a country music bistro located at Lorena, Texas.

The bullet, which passed through and through flesh only, fortuitously did only superficial damage to the man's cheek.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Killing In The Park

By Jim Parks

The little kids who play there know.

"Yeah, they sell drugs here," a young Hispanic boy of perhaps nine or ten says as he and his friends pause in a game of basketball to talk about the murder that took place the night before.

The one thing everyone agrees upon is that Arturo, a 57 year-old man with a family, was found with a gunshot wound to his head - dead - at about 9 or 10 p.m., just as Dahl Park is to be officially closed each night.

Situated on a leafy street at the end of a cul de sac between two frame prairie houses, the park features picnic tables, swing sets and teeter totters, basketball hoops, a public restroom and a parking lot.

The dead man was found in the parking lot, shot as he walked away from what the kids have described as having words with a little gang that sells dope there.

It's not much different than any other setup you will find in the courtyards and pocket parks of urban areas - New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles - except that here the population is only about three thousand. It's a crossroads town situated on the Santa Fe line and Texas Highway 6, a whistle stop.

A Scandinavian enclave community, the population is largely of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish extraction. Dahl Park is probably four or five acres, surrounded by vacant lots that are prone to sudden flooding in the drainage land that slopes down to the Bosque River. It's part of an extensive system of paved canals and quick runoff ditches that route the water around traffic and homes. There is a drainage ditch five or six feet deep that defines the northern boundary of the park. High wooden fences and brushy hedges isolate it from houses on its west and south sides, while a short chain link fence forms a barrier to other vacant lots to its east.

Dope dealers may easily observe from all directions while those who would choose to apprehend them must rush upon them from the narrow street, across the ditch with its one narrow foot bridge, or come through the fenced yards and over the brushy hedges of the private residences. on the southern and western borders.

Typically, according to the kids who come there to play, the young accomplices watch for uniformed patrolmen or plainclothes narcotics agents while the older kids collect the money for the crack or methamphetamine that is sold. Other small kids circle around a dumpster at the extreme southwest corner of the park, drop the dope on the ground, and the customers may pick it up in the shadows; from there, they are on their own.

According to the kids, Arturo, a man who was once employed as a gardener by the city, a local bank as a porter, and a common laborer for a variety of bosses, came to the park after a visit to a kinsman's home on the corner. He went there to find his wife and kids, it is said. Others enter into speculation that they will not really spell out in so many words. They roll their eyes and smile behind their hands. It is a mystery.

In the park, he had words with the drug dealers, turned to leave, and a bullet found his head as he left the scene. He fell in the parking lot and died there.

It's not so different than the killing of an elderly Hispanic man of tiny stature who worked as a porter at a liquor store outside of town for many years. The city is dry; no sales of alcoholic beverages are allowed inside the city limits. According to the prosecution, he was beaten savagely in the yard of some low rent apartment units during a party that turned ugly. Party goers, including his assailant, took him inside after he lay wounded and dying for several hours in the yard outside.

A jury convicted a young black man, a cousin of one of major league baseball's Sadler family, for the killing.

Three of the five who have been arrested for the killing of Arturo are legally of an adult age while two others must first be certified by a juvenile court to be tried as adults.

Under Texas law, the concept of parties to a felony offense applies. It does not matter if a 21-year-old individual pulled the trigger, a fourteen year-old boy, or a teenager of seventeen. All are equally guilty unless the prosecutor decides to extend the terms of any deal in return for their testimony against other parties to the killing.

Drug dealing is an old game in Clifton, Texas, one that has gotten worse as the economy sours and employers cut the hours and benefits available to their workers. The city park along the river bottoms has long been a site of illicit drug dealing among the tennis courts, basketball courts, the American Legion hall - a rusticated stone building, site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps mess hall, a relic of the depression. The river bottom was the place where the old high school stadium stood for many years until the river repeatedly flooded the area and the school district moved on to higher ground, as did the National Guard, which deeded the Armory to the city to use as a community center.

Another favorite drug dealing ground was the former site of a Ford Motor Company dealership, a property that cuts through from the main drag on Highway 6 to a back street one block west. Kids gathered on the parking lot under spreading oaks and pecans to talk and associate while those cruising for a bump circled around behind the place to pick up their drugs.

Other deals were put together at the cross roads of a Farm to Market Road - 219 - and Highway 6 on the parking lot of a pharmacy that is next door to a filling station and Burger King franchise. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone uses their text messaging feature.

No one is getting rich. Everyone is living with diminished expectations.

Drugs of choice are crack cocaine and the poor man's cocaine, a savage concoction the effects of which lasts for many hours and causes psychotic reactions - methamphetamines, also known as crystal, glass, or in special preparations, ice. They smoke it, snort it and inject it.

The economic conditions are called a recession, but the old timers who live in the country know it for what it really is - a depression that is deepening every day.

Murder over illicit narcotics has come to the small towns of west Texas. It's no longer just a big city phenomenon - a Chicago thing or something that happens in Memphis or New Orleans.

Ironically, the killing took place within a stone's throw of two nearly identical red brick Lutheran churches that are situated side by side on a street near Dahl Park like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In times past, the elders of these churches ruled with an iron hand.

In fact, one of the largest employers in the city is now the old folks's home, which is operated by a not-for-profit corporation organized by the Lutheran Church.

Certainly, there is too much money in drugs.

In these times, people as young as those in their early adolescence will scratch, bite and fight for it.

Clifton, Texas, Police Department Chief Steve Adcock issued this statement:

"On 9/23/09 at approximately 2200 hours Clifton Police Department responded to a call of a possible intoxicated person at Dahl Park in Clifton who was unresponsive. Officers arrived on scene shortly after, and discovered a Hispanic male with a single gun shot wound to the head. The deceased was identified as Arturo Chavez DOB 3/08/52 of Clifton. The Texas Rangers and DPS Crime Lab were notified and assisted in the investigation with Clifton Police Department. Subsequent to the investigation arrest warrants were obtained for Angelica Nieto DOB 03/24/86, Jennifer Dunn DOB 7/10/87, Pedro Ramirez III, DOB 8/25/86, a 14 year old male, and a 16 year old female, all subjects were arrested and charged with Capital Murder."

Monday, September 21, 2009


By Jim Parks

Kneeling on one knee, the classic posture of prayer or attentiveness among men of my ethnic type, I take up way too much floor space in the crowded Wal-Mart store.

People rudely slam into my shoulders and rump with their hips and legs in a mad dash for the cash register and their opportunity to pay, pay, pay, pay - less, less, less, less!

That faintly sick making mercantile odor of floor wax, sugary deodorants and damp cardboard dominates the air of the big box big store with its fluttering fluorescent lighting and obnoxious intermittent public address interruptions of an unmodulated decible level to actually serve as a bar to concentration,

"Merchandising associate to the electronics department. Merchandising associate the electronics department."

The truth is, I'm not really too big; the space afforded for selection of arrows is too small; because one needs to be able to consider the length and material of the shaft, the fleching, the quality of the alignment of the nock, it all adds up. The selection is really quite vast, but it's placed so low to the floor that a man must squat or kneel to be able to see it at all.

Add to the mix the fact that I have never before done any of this, that I'm a complete novice at this ancient art of sending an arrow on a path of devastation at a target, and you have set a little old man in his early sixties - a pot bellied, squat, graying little fellow with a bald spot - squarely in the way of people in a hurry, people in all too big a hurry to ridicule that which appears ridiculous.

Appearances can be so important in this world.

What of other worlds unknown to these people?

What about the art of concealment, of remaining so well blended into the texture of the forest, the brush, that even an animal with the ability to see the slightest movement remains oblivious to the danger, much less an enemy with no notion that a band of short, squat little pot-bellied men such as I lie in wait to send the shafts of arrows whistling his way tipped with razor sharp broadheads no one will be able to prevent causing hemorrhaging and subsequent internal bleeding so swift he would fall and die on the spot or be unable to quit the field without exceptional assistance?

What of bolt holes and trenches covered with camouflage where men may lie in wait to emerge upon a whistled bird signal from an observer? What of the art of stealth and planning?

The English longbow speaks volumes of all these things. To take one in one's hands and learn the technique of stringing it, to pull it back to its full draw and let an arrow fly at a target, this reverberates in some racial memory one does not understand, only experiences.

This bow is made of red oak, backed with linen glued into place to make it springy and responsive. When strung, it becomes a live thing, light and taut and singing of its efficacy with every fiber and molecule. It is as long as I am tall - which is not very tall - but this makes it proportiionate to the length of my arm, which draw determines its pull weight, a value set by law by the king's men - that is, by fish and game officials - to prevent needless maiming of animals, the buck and boar, turkey and alligator of forests public and private. It is a traditional design - a self bow with no recurve and only a grip made of wrapped twine and a carved arrow rest to make nocking and aiming easier, quicker. Like the traditional material, the heart wood of the yew, it is straight grained and its string is twisted three-strand twine eye-spliced at each end, which may be adjusted by rotating it against the lay for the desired tautness. The string is captured by precise grooves carved into the ends of the wood. It is strung by the use of another slackened cord upon which one stands with one foot while flexing the back of the bow up toward one's chin and placing the loose end of the string in the top notch of the bow.

Crossbows are reserved by game laws for those with physical handicaps, but their original advent was credited by the historians as the one geopolitical event that finally broke the back of the feudal system.

No longer could a liege lord send out "knights" on horseback to trample down a man's stand of wheat and rye, barley and oats, then set fire to the thatch of his roof, to poison his well, kill his sons, rape his wife and daughters. At least, it could not be done with impunity because the bolts thus propelled by the crossbow were entirely capable of penetrating the armor these paid thugs wore - multiple layers of leather and quilted padding, light sheet metal, chain mail.

A crossbow bolt once brought down a king who led his troops from the front; he lay in agony for days while the infection worked on his system.

These arrows come in two varieties, both of them impervious to moisture and warping - aluminum and carbon fiber. Both are light and straight and true. They are threaded to accept either the "field points" used for target practice and small game, or "broad heads," which are razor sharp four or two-bladed devices about an inch or inch and an eighth in diameter. Their fleching is made of sheet plastic.

With each rude bump and shove, I become more and more resolved to get the more expensive cedar shafts a straight-grained material of about 30 inches that resembles a lead pencil, through a mail order cataloguer, collect feathers and shave and trim them to just the right length, and whittle the ends of the shaft to just the right shape to accept the points and broadheads, the nocks. The fleches are wrapped tightly with light twine that is passed between the strands of the split feathers which have been glued to the shaft. The nocks are fastidiously checked for concentricity, as are the points. Any alignment that is grossly discrepant affects the balance, and thus the flight, of the arrow.

What else would a little old man, squat, short, balding and gray in beard and tonsure, have to do on a long winter night while he survives by the light of the fire, staves off the chill, plans for the future, keeps the wolves away from his door?

Something ancient and clean and bright and shining and painful arises in me every time I am told that I and my type are not trustworthy to handle weapons, that there is something faintly distasteful in our proclivities for the blade and bullet, the snare and pistol, the rifle and bow and all the impedimenta that hungry men use to survive and live - not exist - but live comfortably and well.

I am, therefore, resolved.

It is my faith; it is my practice. I am perfectly free to exercise thereof.

I shall.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Day of Atonement, Sept. 28, 2009

By Jim Parks

7 - And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
8 - And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
9 - And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10 - But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness
. - Leviticus 16, 7-10

Word in Court Two, the 54th Judicial District of Texas at Waco, is that the prosecutor will not be ready for trial on the twenty-eighth, the day Judge Matt Johnson set for the trial of Billy Joe Shaver.

It will be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement prescribed by the Talmud, on which the living word of God is uttered at low breath.

On Friday the 18th, during the pre-trial hearing, it was learned that there would be no deal offered for Shaver to plead guilty to one or both of the charges of Assault With A Deadly Weapon and Carrying of a Handgun on Premises Licensed for on-premises consumption of Alcoholic Beverages.

Shaver, as previously noted in these columns, shot a man in the face on March 31, 2007, for reaching across a tavern table and stirring his beer with his pocket knife. The man, a first cousin of a man once married to Shaver's former wife, Wanda, had been fussing about the fact that his cousin had turned the gun on himself and committed suicide, a circumstance his family blames on the woman to whom he had been married .

Potentially, conviction on these charges could net the seventy-year-old author of such country songs as "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" and "Fast Train To Georgia" a prison term of up to 20 years. Country luminaries such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson have recorded his songs. Robert Duvall has used him as an actor is several of his movies.

He spearheaded the "outlaw" movement among Texas singer-songwriters of the seventies. Men such as B.W. Stevenson, Michael Martin Murphy, Townes Van Zandt and David Allen Coe shared the stage with Shaver while showcasing at revues in big cities and college towns all across the state; often organized as fundraisers for PBS stations, these revues spread his fame in his home state far and wide. People learned just who wrote those songs they had been listening to on their radios for all those years. A man from Corsicana who first reached Nashville by hitching a ride on a cantaloupe truck, Shaver penned them and sold them to stars who had reached the zenith of their careers.

You might say he has not only paid his dues, but in certain ways he has kind of helped to set the benchmark by which, in certain quarters, those dues are calculated.

* * *

What kind of place is Court Two?

On the remaining docket call, after the Shaver case had been set for trial a week hence, prisoners in striped suits and belly chains, their ankles restrained by leg irons, were ushered in to sit in the jury box for appearances before the judge. It is a place of dark wood paneling under a low heavy-beamed ceiling. Natural oak furniture rims the room, enclosing the well of the court, the jury boxes, court reporter, judge's bench and witness chair. Heavy conference tables provide seating for attorneys.

A Hispanic man dressed in an orange jump suit is curtly denied a bail reduction in the offense of aggravated sexual assault.

A black man dressed in the striped pajamas stands before the judge and decries his treatment by court-appointed investigators and his attorney, men, who, he claims, "Don't even pay no attention to me.

"See, we don't be having no law library up in here that we can go to visit so we can find out what the law is on these here cases. You see what I'm saying."

The judge rests his well-barbered head on his knuckles and stares at his laptop computer screen as the man uses the phrase, "You see what I'm saying," according to a female prosecutor who is waiting to hear out the pleadings, a total of 32 times.

As it turns out, he has been convicted of multiple previous burglary offenses and was on parole when officers attempted to apprehend him for yet another traffic violation and he evaded arrest and led them on a merry chase.

He had been sentenced on two prior burglary offenses, which sentences had been suspended, and upon which the Court proceeded to sentencing when he was first brought in several months previously. By his account, the process has taken more than six months.

He is asking that the judge grant a motion made by his attorney to withdraw from the case because the man finds it impossible to deal with him.

"I don't know if I was sentenced to 10 years probation, 10 years deferred adjudication or 10 years in TDC (Texas Department of Corrections)" he tells the judge.

Exasperated, Judge Johnson looks up sharply, sits up straight and says in no nonsense tones, "You were sentenced to 10 years in TDC. I don't know how you could have failed to see that. I'm sure you see what I'm saying."

Court officials, bailliffs and other defendants smile behind their hands.

"I suggest you get along with your new attorney," the judge continues. "You will not be appointed another one."

Stylishly attired in a subdued plaid tan two button suit with a subdued red-stripe, he arises, informs a court coordinator that the screen on his laptop is hopelessly frozen and he can't get it to power down, reset or quit out of the operating environment. He strolls out of the courtroom to his chambers while she frantically tries to locate an information technologist during the rapidly approaching lunch hour.

Another attorney in a very frustrated mood, a slender cowboy type with wispy blonde hair razor cut and dressed in a Palm Beach wash and wear Italian-styled ventless suit cut like an Armani, but with single breasted tailoring, attempts to reason with the last prisoner seated in the jury box.

Clearly, he wants to get away to his lunch and back to his office.

A light-skinned black man with a shaven head, the prisoner calmly argues that he was never informed that he had been offered a plea bargain of two seven-year sentences, to run concurrently, in return for a plea of guilty on both of the charges against him.

"It's the best deal you're going to get," the attorney says, his face reddening. "I've explained all this to you before."

The black man shakes his head from side to side slowly, saying he is unwilling to serve seven years, then start serving the second seven year sentence.

"That's not what concurrent means," the attorney says, exasperated all over again. "I explained all that to you."

The man shakes his head again, then renews this pointless argument.

Finally, the attorney scoops his paperwork up from the rail of the jury box, buttons his jacket and says, "Let me go check and see what they say." His client has demanded that one of the charges against him be dropped.

He sweeps out of the courtroom, the trim tail of his Italian coat following him through through a heavy ornate wooden side exit door that leads to a tunnel to the DA's office, which is located in an annex building next door. When he returns, he is in a much better humor, ready to go back to work on the obdurate, argumentative man who has discovered a way to push his buttons and make him, a learned counselor, a licensed member of the bar, into an errand runner.

While he is gone, two sheriff's deputies serving as court bailiffs attempt in vain to explain the meaning of the word to the man. They appeal to his sense of reason. Their entreaties fall upon deaf ears. He continues to shake his head from side to side and ask murmurred questions.

They throw up their hands and say only his attorney can give him legal advice. They are merely trying to help him understand the offer of a pair of terms to be served concurrently. "Why would he tell you something wrong?" one of the crewcut men asks.

The attorney's frustration returns immediately as he returns and he and his client resume their arument over the meaning of the word, concurrent.

Finally, the harrassed professional stalks out of the courtroom into the balconied rotunda that overlooks the lower two floors in this double-domed palace of justice.

As I exit, I hear him explaining over his cell phone that his client has been charged with "attacking a public official" as the man tried to take him into custody and "evading arrest."

The precipitating incident stemmed from some traffic violation, after which he allegedly attempted to flee the officers who pursued him.

One can only speculate as to the fate of a seventy-year-old man facing a twenty year prison term. If he must follow cases like these, will the judge be in a frame of mind conducive to seeing things his way?

It's a ticklish question.

The Legendary fully intends to be there from gavel to gavel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ramblin' Man Cuts Down On Dreadnought Guitar In Freight Yard

By Jim Parks

When Johnson woke up, we told him the radio said Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary, had died.

This was his hoo-raw; he got loud, then he played his guitar.

It was pretty easy to listen to Woodie Guthrie songs and Bob Dylan songs and Pete Seeger songs, man. Songs about marijuana and strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Yeah.

He finger-picked this one right quick:

You can read out your bible;
you can fall down on your knees,
pretty mama and pray to the Lord,
but it ain't a'gonna do you no good.

You're a'gonna need.
You're a'gonna need my help some day, now.
Yes, you will, now.
But if you can't stop your sinnin', please quit your low-down ways! - Bob Dylan

He shouted out Dylan's name.

They did that one and it came blasting out of my little transistor radio I held to my ear when I was a'diddy-boppin' on down the street.

I heard the cotton patch; I heard Bob Wills; I heard Woodie Guthrie; I heard that lonesome whistle moan; I heard that dust cloud blowing.

I shouted redemption; I shouted out hallelujah; I drank a cold beer; I stuck my nasty old hand down some old hide's drawers and got stink finger; I rared back my head and howled at the moon and when I was through, I was ready for anything.

It was a real jamboree, one of them there shoot-outs on the plantation and guess what.


I won't 'fraid no more. I told ol' flat top he could suck my dick. I tol' old beetle brows she could kiss my red ass.

I headed out down U.S. 90 and damn near got my little ass shot off in Langtry siphoning gas out of this old boy's Jeep parked just up the hill from The Jersey Lily, The Law West of the Pecos, where we stole a cooler filled with Lone Star and burned on out across the world - headed for El Paso and points west. Man, I proved then and there that I ain't nothin' but a natural Vinegaroon.

Fuck'em if they can't take a joke. That's the way I remember it.

Yeah. I'd have done anything for the bitch if she had just smiled at me. Just one time.

Someone told me there's a girl out there with stars in her eyes and flowers in her hair.

Did some Puff and got tickled and couldn't stop laughing at everything those damn Meskins did. Then we got some mushrooms out the cow shit and really got high.

Beep beep. I'm a road runner, honey. Beep beep.

He strummed out Bo Diddley's "Road Runner Blues." Then he taken up the jug and got hisself a real healthy drink.

Later we all caught north out of Marysville, rode over the hump. He got off the train at Portland and it was the last time I ever seen him.

He won't nothin' but a natural born hootchie kootchie man. Had a high whining yodel in his voice. Somebody told me was from Virginny, but I think he was from thin air, railroad smoke, grease and magic and dust.

That's how it run.

Name was Johnson, I think.