Friday, April 9, 2010

True Nature of Outlawry Exposed in Shaver Trial

Shooting begs question of a man's relation to his government

"I don't much like words; I very much prefer pictures to words,
any day."

- an outlaw singer-songwriter working a crossword puzzle

Pipes skirled and whistles keened in the ears attached to
the mind's eye on the light and variable winds of April as
prosecutors questioned witnesses who saw what happened when
outlaw legend Billy Joe Shaver shot a man in the face for
his abuse of his wife and himself as they partied in an I-35
road house way back on April Fool's Day Eve, March 31, 2007.

As Prosecutor Beth Toben asked Wanda Shaver argumentative
and repetitive questions, belaboring the point of what did
and didn't happen and when it did, Judge Matt Johnson
repeatedly sustained objections made by Mr. Shaver's defense
counsel, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, as sharp a cookie as ever
cut the edge.

In fact, it was Ms. Toben who showed the truly ugly face of
state authority when she sought to have one of Mr. Shaver's
most trusted friends ousted from the courtroom where he sat
in quiet observation.

Willie Nelson took time out to support Mr. Shaver in his
hour of need and the prosecutor made a motion to have him
removed from the courtroom - as a potential witness for the

Later, when Mr. Nelson stepped outside to go to the
restroom, she had him served with a subpoena, something that
would have precluded his attendance in open court, except
for his testimony, and then only if called.

Happily, the judge waived the exclusionary rule and allowed
him to stay. After all, big star or not, he is still a
human being who is allowed to be concerned about his

He is expected to return and serve as a character witness,
to tell the jurors he knows Mr. Shaver as a peaceful man.

That's when another beloved celebrity dear to Texas hearts
showed himself. Veteran character actor, producer and
director Robert Duvall entered the rotunda of the courthouse
and told news reporters and television cameramen that he was
not in town to give media interviews, only to stand by for
his friend Billy Joe Shaver and tell the world that he is
not a bad man.

While he was seated in the court, octogenarian Gloria
Tambling, owner of Papa Joe's Texas Saloon where Mr. Shaver
shot Billy Coker in the face, said as her friend pushed her
wheelchair out of the courtroom, "There's Joe McCall!"

In the room where you could have cut the tension with a
lock-blade gravity knife all morning, laughter exploded at
the remark.

She had mistaken Mr. Duvall for the fabled Captain Woodrow
Call of the Texas Rangers, a role played by Tommy Lee Jones
opposite the role played by Mr. Duvall as Captain Augustus
McRae in a filmed adaptation of Larry McMurtry's epic novel
Lonesome Dove.

It's the story about how a pair of aging Rangers rustle a
herd of longhorns in Mexico, steal them fair and square,
ford the Rio Grande, and their subsequent high adventures as
they drive them to Montana to establish a new ranch on the
Milk River.

In fact, a Texas Department of Public Safety lawyer who vets
applications for concealed carry handgun licenses read a
part of Mr. Shaver's application for one in which he
recounted that his only previous crime was "stealing
watermallons" when he was 14 years old, back in 1954, an
offense for which he was "kept in the jail all night until
my parents come to get me and turn me a'loose."

Mr. Shaver died laughing as the lady read his words aloud to
the Court.

But it is the nature of outlawry itself that comes to the
forefront with every turn of the wheel in this small drama
of personal honor.

It is an ancient concept that is enacted anew each day,
though it was discontinued hundreds of years ago. The truth
is, as every thinking person knows, they can't build the
jail cells fast enough to suit the People of the State of
Texas with all their Peace and Dignity, the kind you could
fit on the head of a pin.

At one time and seemingly forever and ever, the King's Bench
would either summon a prisoner from the jail or in absentia
declare him "out law," - that is, placed beyond the
protection of the law. Once branded with this - sometimes
literally, on the face - a man was never again afforded the
common courtesy of a fair hearing. He was forever and
always regarded as someone the King's Men, or even a private
citizen, could maim or kill at will, with no more than a by
your leave from civil authorities.

Who among us does not know that Mr. Shaver spearheaded a
movement of singer-songwriters who rebelled against the
establishment figures of the country music industry in order
to make their own records, stage their own concerts and
promote their own careers without interference from
professional producers, promoters or other assorted cum shaw
men and hootchie kootchie cats in that rather shady business
where writers are often robbed of their - well, royalties?

The results are written on the winds. Tunes like "Georgia
On A Fast Train," "Pancho and Lefty" - and, why, hell's
bells - "This Land Is Your Land" and "Gallispole" are daily
played and blasted bent blue and proud over the Texas skies
for the listening pleasure of a public that will never know
the trials of men like Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt,
Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, or
"Jacky Jack" Jerry Jeff Walker with his tale of the pitiful
Mr. Bojangles, who danced for those at minstrel shows and
county fairs - throughout the south.

And so it made one feel sad - very sad - to finally hear
Wanda Shaver questioned so harshly after hours and hours of
droning testimony from gunshot residue experts who can't
really say anything much, one way or the other, a trauma
surgeon who can only speculate and is not qualified to offer
an opinion on this or that or the other thing no one will
ever really remember or care about - and then hear the lady
prosecutor belabor a grandmother like Mrs. Shaver, as to
whether she and her husband could have left, or could have
retreated, or could have turned around and let somebody
paint a yellow stripe down their backs after they were
bullied by a man who was stirring his drinks and the drinks
of others with the blade of a deadly weapon.

After all, this was someone who was actually there, who
actually saw why the conflict developed between her husband
and a man who was a cousin to a former husband of hers, Don
Phillips, who committed suicide. The plain fact is that Mr.
Billy Coker sat at a table in a friendly neighborhood beer
joint where country music bands play their tunes and people
play Texas Hold-Em while they drink their brewskis and he
flicked the blade open and closed on a razor sharp lock back
blade while he made snarling remarks to a lady whose husband
shot himself.

He blithely told Mr. Shaver to "Shut the fuck up" after he
stirred his whiskey and Mr. Shaver's beer with the nasty
damned thing and wiped the blade on Mr. Shaver's sleeve when
he sought to reprove him for his attitude.

After Billy Joe Shaver invited him to come outside, he stood
in shock, blood dripping from the wound the .22 pistol had
made where Mr. Shaver shot him in the mouth, and, according
to Mrs. Shaver, "He looked at me and he had that kind of
blank look on his face and he said, 'I'm sorry.'"

Mr. Shaver had told him, according to witnesses, that no one
tells him to shut up, that he needed to say he was sorry.

He did.

He still carries the bullet next to his carotid artery where
it is lodged too close to the blood vessel that supplies the
brain with oxygen for surgeons to remove it safely.

He says that it makes his face numb due to damage to the
maxillary nerve after it shattered a tooth, chipped another,
made minor damage to his jaw and plowed through the strap
muscles of his neck to its final resting place.

So mote it be.

According to the veteran defense attorney, Mr. DeGuerin, no
one disputes that it all took place and that Billy Joe
Shaver pulled the trigger that set the bullet in motion.
It's the surrounding facts that really matter, he says.

The bullet came from a tiny pistol held in the mangled hand
of a man who lost its full use when it got caught in the
whirling circle saw blade of a mill where he once worked.

Now, according to his attorney, the State of Texas must
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Shaver was not in
reasonable fear for his life, that he had not any reasonable
notion that he would suffer any harm or further illegal
abuse from the younger man with his menacing knife.

After all, as anyone who has ever done some Texas beer
jointing, it's the pistol that preserves a man's money, his
honor and his grip on life as he sails the Texas blacktop
string banding and playing music under neon lights.

Make the date; play the gig; get paid. Now, fella, get back
to the house with your greenbacks - any which way you can.

Testimony resumes today at the McLennan County Courthouse.

Captain Augustus McRae left the premises yesterday in quiet
dignity, saying he will not return - at least in the guise
of character actor Robert Duvall.

Mrs. Wanda Shaver said in shock and sadness that when she
heard the "pop" the little gun made, she at first thought it
was a firecracker.

It was similar to the sound the gun made when her former
husband, Mr. Coker's cousin, shot himself in her presence
many years previously.

"When my husband shot himself, I heard a sound and I feared
for Billy Joe."

You could have heard a pin drop when she said so about 5:30
p.m., at the end of long and painful day.

Said prosecutor Beth Toben, "If all it was was a
firecracker, there would be no reason to go outside."

Truer words were never spoken.

Know and believe that, oh, my brothers and sisters. Believe

Considereth: In The Auld Lang Syne of Our Bonnie Robert
Burns, "...A man is a man for a'that...And a man is a man for

- The Legendary

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