The Right Coast

March 21, 2005
A lovely little story
By Tom Smith

Wondering whether the judges might be missing what is going on behind the briefs in the Terri Schiavo case reminded me of this nice little incident from my childhood. My dad was a state court trial judge in Idaho and his district included a little town in the mountains called Idaho City. It was a mining town in pioneer days, with a probably well deserved reputation as a sink of iniquity. It is still nothing to write home about. It has a few souvenir shops, a hot springs pool, and a genuinely creepy pioneer cemetary that is haunted if anyplace is. My father was always pressing me and my siblings to accompany him on his junkets to hear motions or pleas in these places, in part of his ongoing campaign to raise lawyers, which was quite successful, as he produced one litigator, one federal judge, one prosecutor and one law professor. Anyway, that day he was hearing the guilty plea of this vile creature who had gunned down his wife one morning in a local bar restaurant general store. The Mrs. was apparently having her first drink of the day when hubby walked in with a big revolver (maybe a .45) and pumped one into her back. This of course in full view of the regulars in the joint. Idahoans being tough stock, she fell from the stool, but did not die, and crawled over to the frozen food section. So Wilbur or whatever he was called shot her a couple more times. The prosecutor then allowed as she was dead. My father questioned the defendant to make sure he understood what he was pleading to. Somehow my dad got the notion he might be trying to get smart and set up some sort of issue of appeal, which was touching, given that the defendant probably could not spell appeal, let alone create an appealable issue. Nobody asked him why he shot his wife; I suppose it wasn't necessary. But I wondered. After the proceeding, I was walking out of the courthouse, some sort of historic building, and I walked past the chain-link fence holding pen where our sharpshooter was being housed for the time being. He had struck a James Dean pose, and there was a very pretty 15 year old girl, in full flirt mode, obviously taken with our gun slingling hero. On the drive home I asked my dad if the slay-ee had a daughter and he said yes, a pretty 15 year old. The Idaho city James Dean was the step dad. I explained my hypothesis that pretty daughter was the causis belli between husband and wife that had ended so tragically or at least sordidly on the floor of the Idaho City saloon. My father agreed that it made sense. He sighed. Toward the end of his judicial career, he got really sick of violent crimes.