Prelude: This will be a post in two parts. This is the first part. I hope I have the courage to write the second. If I do, the second part will appear on December 26.
Mark was the son of a very good client of our three-man law firm. He was tall, blond, blue-eyed, and built like Adonis, the demigod of beauty and desire in Greek mythology. Despite his good looks, trouble seemed to find him no matter where he went. I suppose I got the job of bailing Mark out of his scrapes because I was not much older than he was and my senior partner probably assumed that I could talk some sense into him. That–the sense part–I was never able to accomplish, but we did get along very well. Mark was smart and shared my sense of humor. But there was also a darkness in Mark that began to show itself with frightening frequency the older Mark became.
Mark had been at the Blue Lounge all night. He stayed until closing, and then offered the pretty mother of two, who was supporting herself tending bar, a ride home. While on the way home, he forced the woman to perform oral sex in the front seat of his souped up Camaro. I know that because the day after the assault, her prompt report to the police and Mark’s arrest, I interviewed the young woman at her small, ratty trailer. Our office manager came with me as a witness, and recorded the conversation on one of those fancy new cassette recorders that were all the rage. I was dismayed. The tender of the bar at the Blue Lounge was entirely credible and, worse yet, demure and most likeable.
It was clear to me that Mark had crossed a line. The assault could not be explained by the drugs he took or the alcohol he consumed. Mark was a lot things, but not this. Something dramatic had happened to Mark.
My conversations with Mark at Big John’s jail confirmed my suspicions. Mark was almost incoherent with rantings. With that, I hired Dr. Jim Cole, an eminent clinical psychologist from the University of Nebraska with tons of forensic experience. He agreed to take the case on one condition. I had to let his doctoral students do the testing, although Jim would do the clinical interviews and review the testing results.
Jim and I became friends. He taught me a lot including my first introduction to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Jim liked to call me compulsive. The first time he did, I laughed and asked him what that meant. He told me to look it up. I said I would. He said he knew that.
After two days of testing and clinical interviews, Jim told me what he thought. He said Mark was truly and seriously mentally ill and plainly still suffering from a long-standing addiction to hard drugs. The two in combination likely suppressed a very superior intellect. He added that he thought Mark was dangerous but treatable. And that’s when an idea began to form, although it did not spring fully to life until after Mark escaped.
On Sundays, Big John’s jail, on the second floor of the cinder block building across from the courthouse, was attended by only one jailor. He was a small, young man with a cleft palate. When he gave Mark a bucket and mop to clean his cell, Mark grabbed him around the neck through the bars and stuck a “knife” (fashioned out of some pencils and aluminium foil taken from a TV dinner) against the man’s jugular. Mark grabbed the keys, unlocked and opened the door, shoved the jailor into the cell and was gone.
Mark’s father came to the office and we talked. He said that he thought Mark would go to the large and beautiful family home out in the country. No one else was home. Mark was likely to hide in an unfinished loft area behind a small door built to blend into the panelled wall in an upstairs recreation room. Mark’s dad was justifiably worried. The highway patrol air wing was out searching for Mark’s Camaro, and the county was abuzz with all manner of cops with guns at the ready. As you might imagine, Mark was not a favorite of the constabulary. Anyway, Mark’s dad and I decided that I should drive out to the home, and talk Mark into turning himself in.
When I got to the home that sat in a secluded but beautiful spot near a sand pit lake, I walked in and called for Mark. Pretty soon Mark appeared. He was standing above me on the second floor that overlooked the main floor. Mark held a shotgun. We talked for a moment, and he allowed me to come up. We went into the hidden loft and Mark closed the door. Mark was swilling bourbon out of a bottle and was gulping Darvon from a pill bottle he must have found in his parent’s bathroom. He was wild-eyed.
Mark was adamant that he would not surrender. I reminded him of the slight jailor with the cleft palate. I made a horrible joke about the jailor and mimicked his tortured speech. I informed Mark that the jailor had told the Sheriff that he didn’t resist Mark’s escape because he “wasn’t goin’ be no fuckin’ heroo.” As I said those words, and to my shame, I mimicked, as best I could, the poor man’s speech defect. That made Mark laugh, and it broke the tension.
We talked about how “funny” it would be for Mark to return and confront the little guy the following Sunday when the fellow patrolled the jail once again. That seemed to tickle Mark’s fancy. Finally, after several hours and a long aimless drive around the county while Mark held a butcher knife, Mark allowed me to drive him back to town. With guns drawn, our car was stopped by the police just short of the jail. Mark was safe and back in custody.
When I told Jim Cole of these events, he reiterated how truly sick Mark was and how desperately Mark needed hospitalization. It was then that my earlier germ of an idea began to take shape.
Mike was the prosecutor. He was (and is) a very good lawyer and terribly decent man. With Mark’s escape, and the slam dunk conviction that would surely follow from a trial on the escape charges, we had only one slight bit of leverage. While the State could easily prosecute the escape, the sexual assault matter would have been more challenging. Moreover, it would have required the victim to testify and, even though she was credible, we could certainly do a variety of things to make her life miserable on the witness stand. It was this tiny bit of “hard ball” reality that ultimately convinced Mike to go along with my scheme.
Jim Cole had located an inpatient, locked ward, psychiatric hospital in Dallas. It was a very good one, but also terribly expensive. I talked Mark’s parents into footing the bill if I could get Mark into the hospital. So, I proposed to Mike, the prosecutor, the following deal: (1) Mark would admit the assault and the escape in a sworn deposition that I would take so as to avoid any possibility that the confession would be found involuntary; (2) Mike would defer Mark’s trial for as long as Mark remained behind the walls of the nut house getting treatment; and (3) immediately after Mark was discharged, he would enter his guilty plea and be sentenced. Mike agreed to the deal in concept, but only if he was satisfied that the hospital was secure. That seemed entirely reasonable, and so one morning Mike, Jim Cole and I flew to Dallas.
When we got to Dallas, Jim Cole and the head psychiatrist went over Mark’s medical and mental health records in detail. Although originally satisfied that they could treat Mark, the more the Dallas doctor reviewed the records and talked to Jim the more he became unsure. Finally, he told us that Mark was simply too dangerous and too sick for his hospital to treat. I was crushed.
The Dallas doctor did have a suggestion. He had called a colleague in New Orleans at another very expensive psychiatric hospital (River Oaks, I think) and if we could get to New Orleans that day a very experienced psychiatrist would see us and possibly consider taking Mark as a patient in the their secure facility. So, off to New Orleans we went.
We met the New Orleans shrink in his darkly panelled office. The doctor wore a white linen suit. The collected works of Sigmund Freud were prominently displayed in the book shelves behind the doctor’s beautiful desk. Incongruously, the doctor had thumb tacked a photo of Freud to the bottom shelf.
The doc had all the credentials and then some. He was willing to take Mark, and we were shown the locked ward. Mike was satisfied, and arrangements were made to get Mark to the hospital. We took Mark’s deposition, had it transcribed, and gave it to Mike. We told the judge (Keith Windrum) that trial would be delayed. He wasn’t happy, but there was nothing he could do.
As Mark headed to New Orleans, my late wife said something to me that I will never forget. I was sort of bragging to her about how things were working out, when she said, “Rich, I don’t think you have done them any favors.” She added that she thought Mark would surely break his parent’s heart and do something to screw up the deal after costing them tons of money.
About six months after Mark’s treatment began, he was beginning to make significant progress. As Jim Cole predicted, IQ testing showed that Mark now scored in the superior range and the therapists were certain that Mark’s mental illness was treatable and controllable. But, as Mark neared his one year anniversary at the hospital, and the likelihood that he would be discharged relatively soon only to return to Nebraska to face a certain prison sentence, the old darkness returned.
Somehow, Mark got out of the hospital and dove into the nether regions of New Orleans. A FBI swat team ultimately found him. Mark returned to Nebraska, was sentenced and sent to the Nebraska prison that housed the tough guys.
In the end, my wife was right. In my egotistical compulsion to remake the world and then control it, I didn’t do my clients any favors. I regret that still.