Who Must Police the Police? Concerned Citizens

Perhaps four months ago, I wrote a couple of pieces in response to Episode Six of the Netflix series, The Confession Tapes.  I wasn’t entirely prepossessed by these documentaries on extorted, distorted, or abused confessions.  Oh, I was outraged, like everyone else, at how two college boys were manipulated in Canadian sting (illegal on this side of the border) into admitting that they had brutally bludgeoned to death the family of the younger lad… but then, I also didn’t understand how both could have been left utterly without adult supervision.  The black D.C. teenagers convicted of gang-raping and murdering an old woman simply played one-by-one into the suggestions of the police interrogators; that story repeats itself almost every day, for reasons that the blanket “racism” explanation obscures more than elucidates.  Then there was the bizarre case of the father whose foot twitched on the gas pedal: he was able to extricate himself and his wife from the car as it sank into a river, but his three children went down.  As a father myself, I couldn’t understand caring about life as much as this man does after having lost all my children through some klutzy accident.  The fellow was not simpatico.

I don’t know why the Buddy Woodall case nagged at me as had none of the others.  They all bothered me, all right… but my “bother” threshold had perhaps been somewhat surpassed, as well.  The other cases had left me feeling jaded. It was all just too much… all those dramatized injustices on top of others that Netflix and the Hollywood/Newsroom elite have wanted very much to keep out of the news.  I sensed that I had been watching our “justice” system melt down for a long time. I had watched it send soldiers away for twenty years because they defended themselves in an Afghan wasteland or snapped a shot of a submarine to share with the kids… watched it export thousands of deadly weapons to Mexican cartels in a covert bid to subvert the Second Amendment… watched officers of that system destroy subpoenaed evidence with bleach and hammer even as their cronies were writing up a full exoneration… watched a dedicated cop with a spotless record be jailed for life because a feminist district attorney found him too masculine… watched a distinguished general take a plea after being “stung” (yes, those operations are supposed to be illegal) by the goons of a Special Counsel who promised to target his son if he resisted….  I’m getting sick all over again just in reviving the memory of a few cases from the past six or eight years.

Our justice system is crap.  I don’t trust it any more.  I just want to grow walnuts, pecans, sweet potatoes, and beans on my twenty-five acres.  Screw the system.  The republic is collapsing in the acid byproduct of overheated brains reared on iPhones, weed, kinky sex, and long conversations with “comfort” animals.  Screw it all, and stay off my land.  “Keep out: dangerous old white guy here.”

So what made Buddy Woodall any different?  To this day, I don’t really know.  He wasn’t a spoiled frat boy, nor was he a black kid from the inner city.  Either of those environments is as far from me as the other, and I feel powerless in both.  It is that feeling of powerlessness, perhaps, that makes one morose and defensive.  Buddy’s world, however, was not so very far from mine, either geographically or demographically.  And I didn’t detect the presence of pompous, virtue-signaling political theatrics in his prosecution (as in the West Coast tale of the two college students) or a media-fed rush to clear a sensationally lurid case (as in the D.C.P.D.’s ramrodding of several black youths through the system).  Nobody involved in the Woodall case seemed to be particularly malevolent.  There was just too much carelessness—too much laziness.

Laziness: Tocqueville noticed almost two hundred years ago that it is a distinguishing characteristic of us Southerners.  The climate is somewhat responsible, no doubt (for every Southerner did not have a slave, contrary to an assertion made in one of Tocqueville’s many rhetorical flourishes: not one in ten owned a slave).  So Buddy Woodall serves three life sentences because… because likeable but lazy detectives didn’t follow leads, and because a probably quite likeable but plainly lazy jury didn’t ponder the evidence put before it.  Everybody just dozed off.  Yeah.  A friend of mine back in Texas once lost his business because the judge dozed off during the critical portion of the testimony.  It happens a lot down here.

I wanted to see if other people of approximately my socio-economic, political, and religious profile would react to this case as I had… and so I assembled a kind of panel (whose exchanges required much editing, just because all of us passed long days devoted to other pursuits).  You can see the result of this nearly three-month experiment at Amazon.  The e-book is titled, Anatomy of a Murder Trial: A Citizen Autopsy of Buddy Woodall’s Conviction for “The Labor Day Murders”.  I hope my sometimes intrusive engineering produced a fairly readable text.  I’m far too close to it to say if the thirty-two chapters of analyzing trial transcripts are riveting or suffocating.  I only hope, like Hippocrates, I have done no harm in my groping efforts to do a little good.

I’ll leave off by advancing this remark, which reprises one I made in this space perhaps a quarter-year ago.  One of my respondents expressed his surprise that the prosecution seems to model leftist rhetorical tactics: specifically, that it employs “moral equivalency” (e.g., “You say our opening remarks alleged facts never offered in evidence.  Hypocrite!  Why, you also say that the defendant was sweated by interrogators for half a day!”  You’d have to be there… but the “facts” at issue were not remotely proved, whereas the period of psychological pressure was arranged by the interrogators themselves to extend beyond the tight room at the station.)  This recalled to me a remark I’d made about how courtroom dramas on TV have shifted from the defense attorney’s to the prosecutor’s table.  It’s true.  In the Fifties, Hamilton Burger represented Eisenhower America: hardworking, decent, upright, gray-flannel-suited… and also apt to stifle creativity or discount anomaly.  Perry Mason’s clients were innocent but slightly off-beat—society’s free spirits or ne’er-do-well’s who were in the docks for straying from the Standard Deviation.  Perry was the guardian of liberalism, that beloved American creed that licenses the individual to go his own way.

Now the political Left occupies the other side of the room: it is—or would be—the new orthodoxy.  All must condone gay marriage, late-term abortion, gun bans, ungendered pronouns, Sharia communities, hatred of white privilege, and anti-hate speech codes.  All must wear the gray flannel suit.  Though all may not think in the prescribed manner, they must speak and behave according to prescription.  Liberalism is dead.  The foolish, tardy Right hasn’t even abandoned the well-worn habit of defaming the word, although defense of the liberal is precisely where the conservative should be pitching his battle.  Profiting from this fatal confusion of his adversary, the leftist progressive proceeds to pound society into clones with the force of SWAT teams and stiff prison terms that the system has placed in his fist.

I don’t say that Buddy Woodall is some lovable, misunderstood beatnik: I say this, however, to my brethren on the Right in the aftermath of Buddy’s conviction.  Do not support police activities unconditionally just because the kneeling at NFL games and the wicked caricature of honest cops patrolling risky neighborhoods outrages you.  Police are but human beings, like you and me, and they are also minions toiling under the authority of a complex hierarchy.  If ordered one day to break down your door or my door and search our house for guns or porn or books about Nazism or liter-bottles of Coke or plastic straws or a garden glove that has dried in the “okay” sign, most of them will execute the order.  We need to protect the human being within the uniform, lest the uniform compel him to discard his humanity.

Don’t let these witless lines in the shifting sand blind you to the immutable presence of abstract moral issues.

Criminal Investigation: Too Much Blueprint and Not Enough Bricks? (Part I)

A Netflix serial titled The Confession Tapes crossed my bow a few months ago.  At the time, I was growing so weary of cases where our judicial system—whether through incompetence or malice afterthought—had put innocent people in a cage for life that I couldn’t take any more.  I wasn’t denying the evidence; I was just trying to fight back a mounting depression, whose waters were already rising a hell of a lot faster around me that anything threatened by “climate change”.

I happened to Tweet something about my dismay—a found a whole new cause to grow depressed.  In the time that it takes a neutrino to travel from the sun, I acquired all kinds of liberal friends… all of whom dropped me the next day, as soon as I shared a sentiment about our need for a national border.  Gee, sorry: I didn’t realize that the desire for a just “justice system” was a partisan issue.

One Tweet, however, had a haunting quality. It contained little more than something like, “We are Episode 6.”  Curious, I watched that episode: “The Labor Day Murders”.  It involved a double homicide with the objective of lightening one victim’s wallet by about $450 (or $490, as I see in some sources).  The crime was evidently an ambush along Glynn county’s rural Bladen Road in extreme southeastern Georgia, not far from Savannah.  I believe there was a railroad track running beside the road at that point.  Lavelle Lynn, owner of a garage and dealer in auto parts (and anything else that made money, legal or illegal) was shot between the eyes with a .22 caliber handgun.  His friend and employee, Robert Arthur Van Allen, was also shot in the head—twice—and was found lying on his back.

I’m not making a bid here for drama.  I insist upon the details because, while I have no expertise at all in forensics, I do flatter myself that I know something about human psychology.  Getting shot between the eyes with a pistol, dead center… how does that happen?  Old Westerns notwithstanding, you can’t hit a bull’s eye with a hipshot.  The weapon must have been extended into the victim’s face at close range.  Why would a burly mechanic and sometime drug dealer like Lavelle Lynn let a gun’s bore settle over his forehead without trying to swat it away—and maybe getting himself killed, but at least spoiling the perfectly centered entry?  The shot must have come as a surprise: he must have thought that some kind of transaction or negotiation was ongoing.  “Okay, you’ve got my wallet.  What more do you want?”  “Okay, so you’re selling weed on this side of the track.  My customers already know me.”  He must not have realized that the assailant had murder in mind before he had stopped their truck.

Lynn must have been shot first, which would have made Van Allen a less willing and stable target.  I suppose that’s why he required two shots that weren’t as “clean”.

The man who did this was a cold-blooded killer.  I think a turf war between drug dealers makes a lot of sense, because that’s where you find an abundance of… yes, animals.  A fellow who needed quick cash and was aware that Lavelle carried a wad of it around might not have left him alive—but I figure he would have shot him in the torso first and then finished him through the head when the eyes were turned away.  To pull the switch on a human life as two vibrant eyes stare straight at you is psychopathic.  Shades of Che and his death squads.

So, naturally, after months of spinning their wheels, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation decided to zero in on Buddy Woodall, Lavelle Lynn’s all-American boy of a nephew: loving husband and father, working hard at two jobs (two legal jobs), no record of violent crime or antisocial behavior, and—by the way—very fond of Uncle Lavelle, who would cheerfully have loaned him cash if he were in dire straits.

The author of the Tweet that had alerted me to this case was Buddy’s wife Kristy.

I’m not Kathleen Zellner: I’ve already said that.  I have no prosecutorial or forensic experience whatever.  I have indeed had just a little experience, as a burglary victim, of how little focus local cops sometimes bring to their task and how shaky their awareness of human nature can be.  Just because facing down bad guys from behind a badge appeals to you doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand how human beings tick.  It may increase the probability, I’m afraid, that you do not possess such understanding.

I’m going to continue these posts for at least two more occasions, unless Kristy Woodall asks me to desist.  My hope is that someone having the competencies so severely lacking in my own resume may take an interest in the case, whose “guilty” verdict was confirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court in late January of 2014.  Naturally, of special interest in the Netflix series were the dubious conditions under which Buddy’s “confession” was elicited—and I’ll get to that, for the online document publicly confirming the verdict is itself at odds with the televised account of the interrogation on at least one major issue.

For now, however, I’ll wrap up by mentioning what was the most damning item of evidence to me: the shell casings found on the property of Buddy’s parents.  These were said to have made a perfect match with casings recovered from the crime scene.  The murder weapon itself was never retrieved, so any further ballistics analysis was impossible.

When you stop and think about it, that in itself is puzzling: I mean, that you would commit a double homicide to harvest about $500 knowing that you’d have to discard the weapon—and knowing that the semi-automatic pistol itself (sold before the crime) might have brought a couple of hundred in a pawn shop.

But as for the shell casings: I was unaware before doing further research that the imprint of the firing pin could become a unique identifier.  There seems to be some slight question even today about its being so.  Almost twenty years ago, was the state of forensic science at the point where the identification could be considered foolproof?  If those tests were run again in 2019, what results would they yield?

The implied narrative behind the shells recovered in the back yard of Woodall Senior was obviously that Buddy would take target practice there.  Can we confirm that?  Did neighbors routinely hear gunshots from that direction?  (I can tell you as a resident of rural Georgia myself: you would hear, even if you lived miles away.)

Did Buddy in fact have a .22 semi-automatic registered to him at the time?  If so, and if it was never recovered… what was the reason given by him for its disappearance?  If it was stolen before September 3, 2000, can anyone confirm the theft from remarks or documentation preceding the murders?

These were details, naturally, that didn’t make it into the show, whose spotlight shone on the confession; but I have to wonder if they were details that local detectives ever attempted to supply.

My impression of certain cases is that their “architects” eagerly fill in pieces that contribute to the desired effect as they appear—and either ignore or don’t seek out other pieces that might detract from the emerging whole.  I have further reason to believe that such “artistry” may have played a role in Woodall’s conviction.  I’ll speak further of that later.