Archives for: April 2012
If the first letter hadn't captured my attention, the other two would have. Bill Ferguson is the father of convicted murderer Ryan Ferguson. He was writing in response to an article I had written last week about the case. I think the convicted murderer is completely innocent.
An evidentiary hearing earlier this month was to decide whether Ryan Ferguson should get a new trial. He was convicted in 2005 of the murder of Kent Heitholt, a popular local sports editor in Columbia, Missouri. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of two witnesses.
One witness, the one that independently placed him at the scene of the crime, tearfully confessed that he had lied. On the stand, he wept as he asked Ryan and his family for forgiveness. He had lied because he was habitually in trouble with the law, and he wanted to get a break. After all, he figured, the guy was guilty. Other evidence proved that.
The other evidence was compelling. It was a confession. Juries, the public, ordinary people, you and I, are sometimes skeptical of accusations, even accusations backed by eye-witness testimony. But we love confessions. Confessions are proof positive. Why would anyone lie if they hadn't done it? Torture, perhaps. Some post-9/11 interrogations had provided a ton of false leads, costing valuable investigative resources, precisely for that reason. But this confession did not involve torture.
We see it on CSI and Law and Order all the time. Confessions are provoked by trickery or intimidation or deception. Once the suspect says he did it, he's on his way to prison. Credits roll. End of story.
Chuck Erickson, a drug addled high school kid, had dreams three years later about a black out he experienced the night of the murder. He told classmates, who told police, who showed up to arrest the young dreamer. Interrogation fleshed out the details. The teenager eventually remembered details that didn't even happen.
Most of the questioning was the sort we see on television crime shows, the ones that take an hour to resolve. The tactics were the kind we recognize. Testify against your accomplice before he testifies against you. Your head will be the one on the chopping block. We know you did it. Make it easy on yourself.
Nothing to upset a typical television viewer. If the guy didn't do it, he wouldn't confess. Right?
The defense at the original trial of Ryan Ferguson in 2005 based their case on comparisons. Which account of that night was most credible? There were lots of details the Erickson confession got wrong. Some were major details. So who you gonna believe?
It was a dumb strategy, that simple comparison. It didn't address the most basic question of all. Why would the suspect lie when he was confessing to the crime? In the face of that question, details didn't matter. Not even huge details.
The confession has since been backtracked. Erickson now says the original confession was made up, prompted by fear of the death penalty. He hadn't been sure he hadn't committed the murder, and he was being assured, he thought, that he would be put to death if he did not confess and implicate his only real friend, Ryan Ferguson. His testimony at the same proceeding as the other recanting witness was not as dramatic. He did not tearfully beg forgiveness.
And the same television viewer type of skepticism hung over his new testimony. Anyone can imagine a guilty person reversing a confession. Why would he have confessed to begin with if he hadn't done it?
And that has been the major hurdle ever since the original conviction. Bill Ferguson has been a tireless advocate for his convicted son. His version is backed by available video. The confused young Chuck Erickson, haunted by drugged blackouts and indistinct dreams, is bullied and guided into a detailed confession.
Bill Ferguson provides video links to demonstrate his point. The two televised news accounts are sympathetic, short, easy to view and understand. The third, excerpts of the interrogation are painful to watch. And they leave a question about confessions. At least this one. How could anyone possibly believe this self-accusation? How?
I suppose some search engine had brought my article of last week to the attention of Bill Ferguson multiple times. Maybe it appeared three times on the same results list. If the first letter hadn't captured my attention, the other two would have.
Jerry Trump tearfully admitting he lied, begging the family's forgiveness:
Chuck Erickson explaining why he lied about Ryan Ferguson:
Excerpts from original interrogation:
Introduction, Traditional Service, March 25, 2012
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
Jesus teaches that life is about
more than materialism.
That we do not live by bread alone.
That those who hunger and thirst
after righteousness are truly blessed.
But Jesus does more than understand pain.
He does more than sympathize with despair.
He does more than recognize human need.
Jesus has been to the depths of human pain.
He has lived the deepest despair,
and the greatest need.
When we are in pain, our God is not only with us,
he has been there before us.
And when we look outside ourselves,
and see the face of human need,
it is the face of Jesus.
Found on Line:
Gospel Choir de Argentina
A couple of months ago, Ryan at Secular Ethics began a wonderful discussion on the tension between truth and belief, that is to say belief as a part of evolutionary determinism. That's my interpretation, not his. The theme is how to move beyond our desires and beliefs to a more objective view. The discussion rages still. Entertaining, wide-ranging, informative. Ryan knows how to put these things together, as evidenced by his generous contribution yesterday on our site.
Our favorite John Myste at John Myste Responds does his part in the debate/discussion Ryan hosts breaking off into a separate piece on critical thinking, using, in part, controversies about gay equality to illustrate the pursuit of intellectual honesty. All in all, pretty heady stuff. Still, I will be at worship service tomorrow.
Slant Right's John Houk proclaims his Christianity and targets those Jesus wants him to despise. Tiresome. Houk quotes Deuteronomy. When he gets back to Leviticus and discovers shellfish are an abomination, we can speculate on whether he will rage against Red Lobster restaurants. I'll feel better after worship tomorrow.
In Mad Mike's America, Erin Nanasi reports that Pat Robertson wants Christian kids to stop bullying gays. Erin is getting an ulcer over having to agree with Pat Robertson. So it really is okay to worship tomorrow?
Why do we have to do this, Sir? reviews his sermon for tomorrow, on Sanctuary Sunday and the providing of sanctuary to those in need. Like maybe we should stop looking in a spiritual mirror, look outside the sanctuary windows, and maybe go out to help? That seems one more good reason to go to worship tomorrow. Besides, you know, praising God.
Manifesto Joe of Texas Blues considers a campaign in which Mitt Romney's long, journey into night with a puppy tied to his car roof, and the Republican response that Barack Obama, as a little kid, obediently ate the dog meat that was put in front of him. Apparently Politics is going to the ... you can take it from there.
At Rumproast, marindenver considers the latest conservative alarm at President Obama's weakness in the face of countries that no longer exist and evil forces that have been gone for over two decades. The edges of right fringes? Nope. These are the folks candidate Romney embraces as his guides to foreign policy. Rip Van Winkles do come to life, I suppose. Every 20 years, like cicadas do every dozen, they awake and give their wisdom to Republican candidates. They give good advice about days long gone.
The Heathen Republican applies his keen analytical mind to the November election and jobs. If you are unemployed you should vote for people who will get tough on you. Has to do with incentives, I suppose. It seems you will have a job if Republicans get to end your benefits. Some keen analysis there, Heathen. Kind of like you'll keep your balance for sure because the safety net has been removed. I dunno. Maybe he was really, really busy when he got to his keyboard that day.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster has a mess-o-news on the world of political independents, including money in politics, Illinois laws that keep you from running as an Independent for a while if you voted in a party primary, and more.
When Scott Walker took office as Governor of Wisconsin, nobody suspected that he planned to make collective bargaining by many public employee unions unlawful. He had not mentioned it during his campaign. James Wigderson reports that Recall candidate for Governor, Democrat Tom Barrett, is warning that Governor Scott Walker will do it again, and turn Wisconsin into a Right to Work state. James says it's all a lie, and points to the Governor's assurances that he has no plan to do that. After all, if he planned to destroy unions, he would say so in advance, right? Right?
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, provides a list of links he promises will be a good start as rebuttal to conservative talking points, courtesy of TomCat at Politics Plus.
Papamoka at Papamoka Straight Talk kind of likes solar panels on roof tops. Governments, state federal, and often local, offer incentives. They tend to improve home value, and they look really neat. He gets impatient with occasional home owners' associations that put obstacles in the way. Pointless strutting of small time authority.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot goes back more than a century and a half, digs up the worst President ever, and somehow develops warm fuzzies for James Buchanan. Okay, maybe just mild sympathy. It's part of his remarkable, readable, series on the Civil War.
Chuck Thinks Right disagrees with enforcement of a school dress code that has the incidental effect of keeping kids from wearing support-the-troops tee shirts. I'll ask our young Marine's mother to send a note to him in Afghanistan to find out if he especially cares about the school controversy.
In response to Burr Deming's The Awesome Quality of Wealth
For the most part, I don't come across resentment of wealth. Not in public statements, not in private comments made by friends. Resentment of snobbery is another matter. The assumption that financial success is the measurable manifestation of moral superiority is irksome.
I resent those on the liberal side who are quick to cry racism, sexism, etc. But conservatives have a comparable cry: "liberals hate the wealthy!"
Their proof consists of:
Many liberals want to raise taxes on the wealthiest among us. Conservatives often regard this as a form of punishment. We all know that taxes have no other, more basic function.
Many liberals resent the massive raises, golden parachutes, and offshore accounts that some of the wealthy get or have, especially during a poor economy. Conservatives seem to consider this to be none of our business. We all know that how an individual or business chooses to spend its money has no impact on anyone else.
Many liberals resent the prevalence of money in politics, particularly in campaigning. Some conservatives do as well, but when they notice that liberals resent it, they seem to jump to the conclusion that liberals want to deny "free speech" to others. We all know that [redacted by Mr. Deming].
Most liberals support entitlements and the welfare state. Conservative conspiracy theorists, who seem more and more common and accepted, think that liberals or their leaders want to get and keep everyone on the public payroll so that no one is successful. We all know that this is the only reasonable conclusion.
- Some liberals do simply resent just how much the wealthy have in comparison to others. It is difficult, if not impossible, for them to justify that the average CEO in the Fortune 500 is paid 380 times what the average worker makes. Conservatives say that liberals are just envious. We all know from pop psychology that what we resent must be something that we deeply desire.
I have a budding entrepreneurial spirit. I want to become wealthy through honest means and without the government's direct assistance. But that doesn't mean that I am obligated to stay silent about which group is the best to tax, how much others make even during bad times, what they do with their money, how money is used in politics, the need for robust regulations and a sufficient safety net, and wage gaps.
My opinions on these matters do not mean that I hate or envy the wealthy. I hate excess and abuse--just like my traditionally conservative parents, who are no more enamored with the free market and big business than they are with big government.
Ryan's most notable public success can be witnessed at his own site, where the application of reason to the goal of ethical living effectively rules out excess and abuse.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
Norwegians raised their voices in unison on Thursday to get under the skin of admitted mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.
An estimated 40,000 people turned out in central Oslo's Youngstorget square to sing "Children of the Rainbow," a Norwegian version of "My Rainbow Race," written by American folk singer Pete Seeger.
During his trial for the killings of 77 people last summer, Breivik cited the song as an example of Marxist influence on Norwegian culture.
- More -
From Time Magazine's Techland:
It was one of the most ambitious computer-product announcements in history. On April 2, 1987, at twin press conferences in New York and Miami, IBM unveiled its plans to reinvent the PC industry, which it had jump-started less than six years earlier with the introduction of the first IBM PC. The company introduced four new computers dubbed the PS/2 line, including an $11,000 model that it said was seven times faster than current models. The new products were rife with advanced features, including 32-bit processors, fancy graphics, 3.5-in. hard-shell floppy-disk drives and optical storage.
- More -
The theme Democrats keep returning to is something beyond fairness. The Elizabeth Warren message is mimicked in various forms by other Democrats. The wealthy did not make it entirely on their own. Others contributed to infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges, the environment, police, freedom itself.
And the flip side of the coin is to be an obligation similarly to pave the way for the future success of others. You benefited from the social contract, now maintain it for those who deserve the same chance.
President Obama recently centered his case on education, but it was a similar message. He and Michelle had needed help with their educational expense. They didn't make it entirely on their own. Now others deserve a chance.
I look for any expression of antagonism toward wealthy Americans in the rhetoric of candidates Warren and Obama. I do not find it, but I confess that I am not predisposed to make that discovery. The Buffet rule, the education loan proposals, the you-benefited-so-help-the-next-entrepreneur message, do not strike me as attacks.
Others disagree, and their enthusiasm sometimes leads to a bit of editing. Thus, President Obama spoke:
Somebody gave me an education. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn’t. But somebody gave us a chance, just like these folks up here are looking for a chance.
and was quoted on Fox News: "Unlike some people I wasn’t born with a silver spoon..."
Rather than the focus on the audience, establishing a commonality, I've-been-where-you-are, the Breitbarting falsely shifts the focus to the wealthy opposition.
It is fair to challenge the premise, that President Obama is concerned with those who face some of the same struggles he did. It is possible that there is within him a hidden hostility toward those who have accumulated great wealth. I don't see it, but I am not a dispassionate observer.
Campaigns provide a pressure of a quality not usually seen in American life. Watching for gaffes will, sooner or later, yield some result. "For the first time I'm proud to be an American" or "Cling to their guns and their religion." More recently we hear such gems as "I love the fact that there are also women out there that don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids." And the talk of the enjoyment of firing people, and don't hire illegals because "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake." Boasting of Cadillacs, and personal acquaintanceship with NASCAR owners may be revealing of some snobbery we occasionally associate with inherited wealth. Or they may be misstatements that come naturally with to-the-bone weariness.
For the most part, I don't come across resentment of wealth. Not in public statements, not in private comments made by friends. Resentment of snobbery is another matter. The assumption that financial success is the measurable manifestation of moral superiority is irksome. I have known a few wealthy people. I may be naive, but my limited observation is that the perception of presumed moral superiority is more common than the presumption itself.
I don't think most successful people think of themselves as morally superior. There are exceptions, of course. But those I have met do not present any implied demand for fealty, increased respect, admiration for wealth. Even the implication that they are to be congratulated, patted on the back, for their bank deposits, even that is mostly absent.
Mostly. Not always.
Which is why I was a little bothered by a phrase that popped up two nights ago as Mitt Romney accepted primary victories in another round of voting this week. His vision for America included much the same hope as that expressed by the President: opportunity to be seized by future generations. To be sure, there was none of the same expressed obligation to help, nothing about a continual inter-generational social contract. We hope those youngsters make it, but only on their own.
But right there in the middle of Mitt Romney's acceptance of victory was this:
I see children even more successful than their parents – some successful even beyond their wildest dreams – and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.
Attacking them for it? Okay, the implied criticism was, I think, a bit misapplied. Even though I don't see any liberal attack, Republicans are entitled to their suspicions. What I did glimpse was that old assumption, that successful people, those who are able through hard work, pluck, luck, inheritance, circumstance, or some combination, to make those large regular deposits, to take periodic vacations to see the beauty of Paris in springtime, that those successful people are owed some additional measure of congratulations from the rest of us.
It could be I'm reading too much into a few ill-chosen words. But I am struck by the fact that that, unlike the joy of firing people, the laughing at the closing of Michigan factories, the $10,000 bet, and on and on, this one, the we-owe-them-more-than-money bid for addition pats on the back, this one was ... a prepared statement. The message of debt was not the focus but it was unmistakable. The wealthy have a moral claim to our hearty congratulations.
Those with wealth are more than wealthy. We owe them our awe, for they are indeed awesome.
Press accounts from decades ago of the killing of Colette McDonald and her little children by deranged hippies seemed more than a little off to me. The dialogue itself seemed all wrong. "Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs." It was a staid sort of out-of-it caricature of hippiedom, even in 1970. Nobody talked that way. I was not surprised to read about the eventual conviction of her husband, Captain Jeffrey MacDonald.
It's possible. I have to acknowledge that it is a possibility that George Zimmerman is innocent. I find it hard to visualize, but his story could be true. Amazing things do happen.
One of those amazing things is the determination with which some folks seem willing to believe Zimmerman has to be innocent.
It is not remarkable that a man with a gun would follow a youngster who is on his way home with candy and soda. It is not unbelievable that the man, on the firm advice of a police dispatcher, would walk back to his vehicle.
That the young man, a few yards from his home, goes after the same man, then ambushes him, seems to me a remarkable coincidence. Of all the people to choose for attack without provocation, just for being in the same neighborhood, the teenager happens to pick the same fellow who noticed him and had walked away. A remarkable, unfortunate, and deadly coincidence. A strike by lightning would have seemed more likely.
If it did happen that way, and if in some strange alternate reality young Trayvon had not been killed, it would have been a tempting subject for a comedy script. How dumb would you have to be? Bringing skittles to a gun fight.
The implausibility, the pushing of reasonable doubt way into the territory of unreasonable, the near impossibility, is still a striking marvel to me. A youngster a short distance from home on his way back from the fast service store stops, suddenly pivots, pursues, confronts while his subject stays in his vehicle, then waits for him to get out, and finally ambushes the same fellow who had been about to pursue him.
If it had been a screenplay, I would have turned the channel to a more believable television drama. Dramatic entertainment needs to provoke some suspension of disbelief in order to qualify as dramatic entertainment.
A juror is more strongly required to suspend disbelief than is a television viewer. The ability of a juror to dispassionately consider evidence is a basic line between mob rule and the rule of law. I pray they find twelve good citizens and true who are up to it.
Self defense is a legal defense. It can make a homicide into justifiable homicide. But, in most places, it is an affirmative defense. That means the burden shifts. A prosecution does not have to prove a killing was not self-defense. A defendant has to demonstrate it was.
The incident is horrible, but not really surprising. Somewhere in America, some vigilante will shoot and kill someone innocent. A homeowner will kill a paperboy or a Halloween visitor. It has happened and will happen again.
The after-shock in this tragedy comes in the official reaction. An investigator on the scene is skeptical to the point of filing an affidavit just to go on record but is overruled. The assumptions abound. the victim is tested for drugs. The killer is not. A cell phone carried by the high schooler is ignored until weeks later, and even then it is a television network that gets curious enough to find if the dead young man was on the telephone. A witness who tells police of hearing the young person crying for help is corrected by an investigating officer. No, no. It was the man who did the shooting who cried for help.
And the shooting victim lying in the care of the local coroner, parents left to wonder and worry for days before anyone seeks them out. The eventual "balanced" view of a police chief. He is sure the gunman wishes he had behaved differently, as would the victim have wished HE had acted differently. It was a conflict. Both sides must be to blame in some way. Truth always lies somewhere in the middle.
It seems implausible to me, nearly impossible, that the Zimmerman story could be true. Implausible, nearly impossible, that it could be believed by anyone. Flatly impossible that it could be accepted as unimpeachable fact by authorities. Occam's razor would make the obvious believable: having killed the bad guy, making up a story that would surely be believed about the hooded threat to the community, the sad defender of the neighborhood discovered that he had, instead, killed a teenager on his way home.
Accounts by relatives of the man just released on bond have included in his account dialogue that would not get past a director. "What's your problem, homes?" the teenager is to have said to the man who had followed him and whom he now chased and confronted, the man now in his vehicle. After waiting just in case the vigilant neighborhood watcher got out and walked, just in case he headed in the right direction, the smaller youngster waited around the corner of a building. He was shot, and his last words were, "You got me."
"You got me." It's a small detail, amid a growing pile of fact. It reminds me of a forty year old murder story and the brutal death of a family. "Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs."
What shocks is that authorities overruled an investigator and accepted that story as plain, indisputable fact. No further investigation needed. Case closed.
Forget it and move on to important things.