Monday, October 12, 2009

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.

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