Thursday, October 29, 2009

Murder trial, continued

Couldn't get to the courthouse today (Thurs 10/29).  Dave Smith's Story in the Siskiyou Daily News here
is three days behind, and described Monday's testimony by Ken and Lodema Oliver, who believe they were with Nelson on the day of the crime.  They lived at the Croy property in Hoopa at the time.  The article doesn't really go into the details of the timeline, as to whether their specific memories would establish that Nelson was not in Happy Camp at the time of the kidnapping.  And the witnesses were not entirely sure of the date, recalling being stopped by the police on Aug 28, 1976, although retired detective Jack Fairchild said he and Jack Partlow did not even get to the scene until around 10 pm on the 28th.  This testimony will be dissected by both lawyers during the summary, with the defense interpreting it as an alibi. 

So, who is ahead in this drama with one man's life and another family's need for justice at stake?  As a blogger, not a print journalist, I am free to speculate.  And none of the jurors look like internet nerds, so I'm not worrying about corrupting anyone.  I'm betting on a conviction on at least some charges.  Nelson's own testimony looms pretty large.  When he said  earlier in the interrogation, "I was just the driver," that meant he was at least the driver.  In my humble opinion, he could not have been unaware that he was helping in a kidnapping.  On the other hand, when he seemingly concurred that he had put the body in the barrel, I can't tell whether this is a true confession or a crashing speed freak at the end of a two day interview who just wants to say whatever it takes to get it over with.  The odd thing is that, as an outsider with no local ancestry (He had enough Cheyenne genes to get payments from that tribe, but looks mostly white.) he had no motive to be involved in this except the desire to fit in and please the girlfriend, Joyce Croy, who was 15 years older.  This is reminiscent a little of Albert Camus' novel, The Stranger, in which a man sets out to help a casual friend in a dispute, and ends up commiting murder.   The man who really did have a grudge against the Cook family was Antone Aubrey,  the late ex-husband of Suzanne Aubrey Little, the other defendant.  He is beyond human justice, having himself been the victim of an unsolved murder in 1980. 
I have heard rumors of rebuttal testimony being completed tomorrow, but nothing definite.  I hope to take in the summaries next week, but may be tied up. 
Unfortunately, the convictions of both defendants would do little or nothing to reduce the pervasive meth culture in the area, and family vendetta's are likely to continue.  When I lived on the Klamath River in the early '70's, most of the middle aged natives had been educated at the Sherman School for Indians in Riverside.  sherman school  They sometimes were proud of that, and other times expressed a sense of loss that so many of the elders had died when they returned.  The Sherman School still exists, but this has not been considered a politically correct way to treat the natives in recent decades.   However, few have suggested we apologize as the Australians did.  PM Rudd's Apology 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Murder on the Klamath

Wednesday's proceedings featured a poignantly sad tape from 26 year old Sylvia Jenkins, on the telephone with her Grandmother, Sylvina Olson. Jenkins started by telling Grandma that her baby was in the hospital, was only 4 1/2 pounds, and had been born after only six months inside her. She doesn't have custody of either of her daughters. She went on to apologize for her role in burning down Grandma's home in Hoopa. Her story varied during different parts of the tape but seemed to be that the defendant, Greg Nelson, had been threatening her, but her role in the burning was to fall asleep with a candle in the church next door, starting a fire there which was then carried to her Grandma's house by two other men with gasoline. If it didn't provide positive proof of Nelson's guilt, it did show a damning example of the corrosive effects of meth, the use of which appears to be widespread on the reservation and up the river. She said, "Hoopa is slowly burning itself out."
Public Defender Kayfetz attempted to show that the officer presenting the tape had led her and coached her to implicate Nelson.

Monday's testimony, which I am drawing from Dave Smith's article in the Daily News, featured the testimony of Dr. Karl Fischer, the clinical psychologist for the Hoopa Tribe. Fischer said that Steve Marshall, the main witness for the prosecution, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He is capable of remembering what he sees, and knows truth from illusion, but might have a tendency to fantasize. It appeared that he was saying that Marshall is believable unless he knowingly chose to lie. Marshall had testified that he witnessed both the kidnapping and the murder when he was 10 years old.

Cops on Steroids?

This is a post that could offend some powerful locals. It seems that Jim Betts, one of three candidates for Siskiyou County Sheriff, mentioned that he bulked up from 175 to his current huge girth with the aid of a supplement which used to be available in Walmart, but which you can't get any more. This comment was in the middle of a long and effusive article in the Fort Jones Pioneer Press. Betts is currently a captain in the sheriff's department and is the jail administrator.

What might this supplement be? He isn't saying, but we have two clues: first, it was very effective. He got huge. Second, that it has recently become unavailable without a prescription. This suggests that it was probably Androstenedione, the steroid that Mark McGwire used the year he hit 70 home runs. This substance was available over the counter with no restrictions until January, 2005, when the FDA banned its sale.  here

If he wasn't using androstenedione, it was probably one of 18 similar chemicals banned at the same time. (If anyone connected with the Betts campaign can prove that this is incorrect, I will be happy to make a retraction.) You could split hairs and call these substances steroid precursors, but they act on the body like steroids, and are currently regulated like steroids. What is the problem with this? Well, if you're a guy, one of the side effects is testicular atrophy, but this wouldn't affect his abilities as a sheriff. The big problem is that steroids, by increasing testosterone, make a man more aggressive and irritable. This is why Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco had such obnoxious personalities. here  (scroll down.)

Now there are a few occasions when a steroidal personality would help a cop take down a bad guy. But there are many more occasions when a cop needs to be a diplomat to get people to cooperate. This is especially true for the top cop in the department. It might sometimes be true, even in his current position as jail administrator.

Maybe this discussion is too alarmist. The testosterone impact of andro is believed to be short-lived. I don't know how long any behavioral effects would last. If he has really avoided andro since 2005, it may not be a problem. What would definitely be a problem is that he is high risk for a coronary that could end his career, possibly requiring a special election. A lot of his muscle mass has turned to lard, and andro definitely reduces the HDL/LDL ratio.

Update:  This is a bigger story nationally than I thought.  A Google search of "Cops on Steroids" had 355,000 hits.  (Couldn't find this piece)  Anyway, here is one of them:  Men's health article

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murder on the Klamath, continued

Today, ten days after my last update, I spent my first actual time in the courtroom. I was summoned to the courthouse for jury duty on an unrelated case, and got to watch the Nelson case before and after. Defense attorney Lael Kayfetz could be described as hot, with rippling brunette curls, big brown eyes and a youthful body, evident despite her discreet lawyerly garb. Prosecutor Christine Chenevert (green oak in French, for name trivia fans) is older with hair starting to gray, but evidently spends a lot of time working out. Nelson looks like a typical guy in his 50's. I wouldn't place him as the whacked out doper of the arrest photos, nor would I recognize him as the mouthy teen I knew in 1973. The few spectators were mostly on the prosecution side, including the victim's sister Irma. Kayfetz, nearing the end of her case, spent a lot of the day trying to poke holes in the interrogation report of lead detective Nathan Mendes, accusing him of leading the defendant by supplying information that the defendant later repeated, and of ignoring potential exculpatory reports. Yet her best point seems to be a potential alibi for Nelson noted in the 1976 police reports. The source of this alibi--Nelson's now deceased parents. Mendes is tall and appears to have some mestizo background, being darker than the natives in the audience. He was not the sharpest witness, being unable to recall some points in the voluminous interrogation and the original police reports. But his performance was probably adequate and Chenevert established on redirect several areas where the testimony of other witnesses corroborated the incriminating parts of Nelson's statement.

The defense rested near the end of the day. Kayfetz looked a little harried. Chenevert called her first rebuttal witness, a former sheriff's deputy to go over an alleged stabbing incident in l998 involving Nelson. I'm not sure what the relevance was.

Ten days earlier, Chenevert's cross examination of Nelson had emphasized inconsistencies between his court testimony and his earlier interview with police investigators. Chenevert elicited a lot of "I don't remember," responses. Nelson did say that the arresting officers missed part of his methedrine stash, which he consumed at a restroom stop in Happy Camp. This probably made him quite loquacious during the first day of his questioning. This case is a classic example of why a defendant should ask for a lawyer and shut up. From here, it looks like the prosecution case would be weak without Nelson's own admissions. Nelson claimed that the meth induced him to make a false confession. Defendants rarely testify in murder trials, but in this case the defense lawyers deemed it necessary, in order to try to undo the damage from his police interrogation.

For the following two days, the defense called Dr. Angelo Leo, a psychology professor, as an expert witness to attempt to show that Nelson's confession was coerced. District attorney Kirk Andrus took over the cross examination of Leo, challenging his personal credentials and the science behind his theories. (Links for these two days, unfortunately, have expired.)
Leo had testified in the case of the Central Park jogger, getting five of the originally convicted defendants released after another defendant testified that he had been the only attacker. This was considered by many to be an outrage and a very selective reconsideration of the evidence.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Murder on the Klamath, Cont.

For the first two days, the defense tried with some success to damage the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, focussing on inconsistencies between their original stories and their current stories.
Then they called defendant Greg Nelson to the stand to testify on his own behalf. After a recess, they will have him try to explain why he confessed, then recanted. Nelson's partner of 20 years and wife for five years, Joyce Croy, was reportedly ordained in the Indian Shaker Church, which originated in Washington and is not connected to the Shaker Church of simple furniture fame. Nelson, unlike Croy and codefendant Suzanne Little, is not a local of the Karuk tribe. He and his twin sister have Cheyenne ancestry, although Nelson could easily be taken for white.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Original Stockholm Syndrome

I wanted to do some research on the killing of Siskiyou County sheriff's deputy Jesse Bo Hittson by Patrick "Hooty" Croy, a Karuk and Shasta Native American, in 1978. However, a google of Jesse Hittson led instead to the story of John Nathan Hittson, a Texas Sheriff in 1860. Hittson was called from the home of his family, including grandfather Jesse Hittson, to help find the Comanche kidnappers of Cynthia Parker.
The Parker family had been killed 24 years earlier by a band of raiders from several tribes. Nine year old Cynthia and five other family members were taken captive. A baby was soon killed because she cried too much. The other family members were ransomed over the next six years, but Cynthia was sold to a Comanche band, taken into the tribe, and eventually married Peta Nokona, a comanche warrior, with whom she had three children. When sighted by whites, she refused to speak English. Eventually, in 1860, she was forcibly rescued, along with her daughter, Topsanna, and reunited with white relatives. But her soul was Comanche, and she longed to return. Three years later, her daughter died, and Cynthia refused to eat until she also died. This was probably the real life story behind the novel "The Searchers." It was also a theme of the Kevin Costner movie, "Dances with Wolves." In the book, the Indians were Comanche, although the movie made them Cheyenne.

The rest of this story is that Parker's son Quanah, who was not "rescued," eventually became chief of the Comanche tribe. He was a successful war leader who supposedly never lost a battle, but surrendered in 1875, facing starvation due to lack of buffalo and continually being on the run. He adapted well to life on the Oklahoma reservation, making deals with Texas cattlemen instead of raiding them, and became quite wealthy, living until 1911.

The name "Hittson" is not that common. It's not unlikely that Siskiyou County's Jesse Bo Hittson was a descendant who remembered this story on that fateful night when he was off-duty, but responded to a radio call about an attempted convenience store robbery by a group of Indians.

This story is topical when we read about the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard, who could have been a classmate of my younger daughter. Let's hope that she and her daughters fare better than the unfortunate Cynthia Parker, and have a bright future.

I want to write more about the Hittson case. If any local readers (dream on) can put me in contact with some of the people who were there, please contact me. For those who aren't at all familiar with the case, the bare outlines are that a car chase followed by a shootout led to the death of Hittson. Croy and two family members were wounded. Croy was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Eight years later, an appeals court ordered a new trial. Famed defense attorney Tony Serra got a change of venue to San Francisco, and convinced the jury there that Croy was reacting in self-defense to a racist cop. Ironically, the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit murder was not retried, and his life sentence for this offense remained technically in effect. He was paroled, but when he was caught with a marijuana cigaret, a judge reinstated the life sentence, and he served a total of 19 years and seven months before being released in 2005.

Six Year Old Sent to Reform School for Camping Tool

Here is a sad commentary on how the perceived mandate to avoid disparate impacts on different races leads school officials to ignore common sense.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Have we learned nothing from the financial meltdown.

Here is a good essay on the causes of the financial crisis. Jerome's native language is not English, but you wouldn't know it.

Murder on the Klamath, continued

Oct. 12, 2009
The most recent reported testimony in the trial of Greg Nelson for the murder of Willie Cook in 1976 gives further details of the recorded questioning of Nelson by Sergeant Mark Hilsenberg of the Siskiyou Co. sheriff's office. After numerous denials, Nelson says, "“This is obvious – I put him in the barrel, drove him up and dropped him off I guess.”
Is this a full confession, a restatement of the question, or a sarcastic retort? We don't really know without hearing the tape. (I would like to spend a few days at the courthouse getting this firsthand, but I have a life, sort of.) But his statement definitely places him on the scene on the day of the murder. The most promising defense tactic might be to try to get this statement suppressed on appeal. It has been admitted into the trial, so there is no clear evidence that he had asked for a lawyer. At one point, he said he gave Cook to Daniel "Johnson" Colgrove. Testimony from other witnesses implied that another member of this notorious family, Agnes "Jeeps" Colgrove, was involved.
The Karuk Tribe is the main group of Native Americans between Orleans and Yreka. Their native language is in the Hokan group, and they are linguistically related to the Shasta, Pit River and Yana tribes. The Yurok Tribe lives primarily downstream, from Weitchpec to the Coast. Their language is related to the Algonquian group. The Hoopa Tribe occupy the Hoopa Reservation on the Trinity River, and spoke an Athabascan Language. The culture of the three tribes is similar, and there is a lot of intermarriage. The native Americans involved in this case are primarily Karuk. Defendant Suzanne Aubrey Little is a mixture of Hupa, Karuk and Wiyot.  Before the white man came, there was a significant amount of feuding between family groups. There was no legal authority. Traditionally, the way to break a cycle of killing and revenge was for the killer's family to make an appropriate payment to the victim's family. There is no history of military action between the United States and the Karuk Tribe, but there were many individual conflicts and murders in the early days. There are probably no full-blood Karuks. The karuk tribe declined from about 2,500 in 1850 to about 900 in 1900, but then began to recover. currently, there are about 5,000 people who claim at least 1/8 karuk ancestry.  The Karuk tribe survived as well as it did because the gold deposits were not especially valuable. After the mining declined, there was little to attract white settlers to the canyon until commercial logging picked up in the 1960's.  In the 1850's relationships between white men and native women were generally rape, but by the 1870's the white men who remained on the river were more interested in making a life than in getting rich quick, and often married native women.    It is tempting to say that the white settlers were Scotch-Irish and brought with them the traditions of violence mentioned in "Albion's Seed." The name Croy is associated with Scotch-Irish settlers, but Aubrey appears to be a Norman name, and Colgrove is associated with Buckinghamshire in Southeast England.  The name Cook is probably English.  Willie's grandfather was white, and both of his parents were mixed. 
Of course, the introduction of methamphetamine into a culture that doesn't have a strong tradition of law and order has even more disastrous consequences than it does elsewhere. The susceptibility of Native Americans to alcoholism has a genetic basis, and there may be genetics involved in susceptibility to other drugs.

Update: The prosecution rested after presenting testimony from the medical examiner. The examiner said from what she could determine with a 30 year old body, the manner of death could be asphyxiation, consistent with the prosecution theory. However, it could also have been poisoning, a non-fracturing blow to the head, or a horrible slow death inside the barrel. She ruled out shooting, stabbing and skull fracture. In an embarrassment for the prosecution, the original medical examiner's report was lost, and the original medical examiner is now deceased.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Murder on the Klamath

The big local news story in Siskiyou County is a Hatfield-McCoy story of feuds and unsolved murders going back at least to 1976, when the body of six year old Willie Cook was found in a barrel near Happy Camp. The case went cold until last year, when some locals started to talk. The participants are several Native American families. Of course, the white men who married into these families were likely also Hatfield-McCoy types. The Siskiyou Daily News has been carrying detailed stories on the trial. I feel compelled to follow this story because I think I knew the main defendant, Greg Nelson, in 1973, when he was in the Youth Conservation Corps crew in Somes Bar. (That is an employment and training program for high school age kids.) I also talked sometimes with an in-law of the the other main defendant, Susanne Aubrey Little, at the local bar. He would have a few beers and start running down the Forest Service, which was my employer. He said he was proud that his one non-Indian grandfather was a German, not a white man. . .
A third alleged participant, Joyce Croy, now deceased, was related somehow to Patrick "Hoody" Croy, who was convicted a few years back of murdering a police officer near Yreka. However, a bay area appeals court overturned the conviction on the grounds that we are all racist in Siskiyou County.
The prosecution's case seems to be floundering, with witnesses providing hear/say, contradicting their earlier statements, and admitting to long-term meth addiction. One informant said he had a psychic vision that Nelson committed the murder. The investigators are recalled to the stand to explain what the witnesses really meant. One of the investigators let slip that an elderly witness, Sylvina Logan, may be slipping into dementia. Logan's house burned down, and the prosecution claims it was set by Nelson because Logan talked to the prosecution.

However, as shaky as the prosecution's case may be, it looks like Nelson has convicted himself at least as an accessory to murder and a kidnapping participant, by admitting to being on the scene and transporting the victim. Susanne Little's trial will follow.
One other facet of the case is a defense attempt to blame the murder on "Jeeps" a Hoopa woman whose real name was Agnes Colgrove. She would have been a logical suspect, having been in an out of prison several times. Sam, one of my coworkers when I was at Willow Creek, was her neighbor. He said whenever he went away, he would ask Jeeps to watch his place. He figured if the biggest thief around was watching your place for you it should be pretty safe. But she hasn't been placed in the area at the time of the kidnapping and murder, and a number of witnesses do implicate the defendants in one way or another.
The press has followed the custom of not mentioning the race of the defendants, but it did publish photos, and most locals know. Actually Nelson looks mostly white, but a lot of downriver people claim Native American even if they only have one eighth.

So why is this my first blog post? My main interests are gardening, peak oil and fishing. I guess like many, I have a certain fascination with the dark side of human nature. And the subject of race and crime needs a healthy dose of sunshine and objectivity.