People often spoke of Pierce’s opponent, District Attorney Britt, in a whisper, as though he were the Voldemort of Robeson County. Stories of Lumbees and African Americans being coerced to plead guilty in court were as common as the ramshackle tobacco barns that dotted the landscape.
“It’s hard to comprehend how unwholesome and suffocating the system was,” testified Maurice Geiger — an attorney and founder of a nonprofit that monitored Robeson’s courts — in 1991. In a review of thousands of cases from the 1980s, Geiger estimated that at least 1,000 innocent people were wrongfully convicted every year; he also found that Britt’s office used a range of aggressive ploys to force guilty pleas. The court calendar was manipulated to make defendants appear in court for days or weeks on end while they waited for their cases to be called. Others were tricked into signing forms that waived their right to counsel — often easy to do, given the county’s adult illiteracy rate of 30 percent.
I’m entranced by the moment our secrets become our confessions. Over the past three years, I’ve confessed my fair share: Coming out as queer. Coming out as non-binary. Sharing crushes, deep-seated fears and ridiculous hopes with my friends, my partner and my boss. In these six stories, a drunk driver confesses via viral video; an ex-Catholic returns to confession; and a high-school cheater reveals her indiscretions. Elisa Albert writes about her training as a doula, and I respond with my own doubts. Finally, acclaimed essayist Leslie Jamison reviews two collections of deeply personal writing from Sarah Manguso, David Shields and Caleb Powell.
After a night of heavy drinking, Matthew Cordle killed Vincent Canzoni in a drunk-driving accident. Overcome with guilt and on the brink of suicide, Cordle made an earnest video through the organization because I said I would, confessing what he’d done. Alex Sheen, the creator of because I said I would, thought Cordle’s confession might get 100,000 views and provide some solace for Cordle. He underestimated a bit—2.6 million people watched Cordle’s video. His viral confession impacted the victim’s family, Cordle’s family and Cordle’s trial. Read more…
The following excerpt appears courtesy of Verso Books. The passage—the book’s opening chapter—details a single terrible crime, which Rodriguez Nieto uses as an inroad to discussing Juárez’s emergent culture of crime. Verso writes:
Sandra Rodríguez Nieto was an investigative reporter for the daily newspaper El Diario de Juárez for nearly a decade. Despite tremendous danger and the assassination of one of her closest colleagues, she persisted. She didn’t want the story of her city told solely by foreign reporters, because, in her words, “I know what is underneath the violence.” This book traces the rise of a national culture of murder and bloody retribution, and is a testament to the extraordinary bravery of its author. Among other things, The Story of Vicente is an account of how poverty, political corruption, failing government institutions and US meddling combined to create an explosion of violence in Juárez.
A warning: the excerpt below contains graphic violence.Read more…
In 1982, mere weeks before leaving Hawaii, author Linda Spalding had been summoned to serve as a juror on the murder trial of Maryann Acker. She ran five minutes late on the day the jury convened to reach a verdict; the judge promptly dismissed her and an alternate took her spot. Acker was found guilty and has spent the next 30 years in prison.
In this piece from Brick Magazine, Spalding reflects on memory, her own quixotic quest to help reverse Maryann’s conviction, and the outsized effect complete strangers can have on each other’s life.
A few months later, I spent three afternoons with Maryann behind the razor wire and chain-link fence at the California Institution for Women,where she had spent twenty-two years of her life. Because of the murder conviction in Hawaii, the California parole board considered her a serial killer, and with a life sentence they could hold her indefinitely. During those first visits I told her she had seemed frozen as she sat in our courtroom all those years before, never shaking her head or wiping her eyes. Never shouting. Never bursting into tears or insisting on her innocence. Even so, I had identified with her then, and now I watched her closely, trying to decide if my belief in her innocence had been justified.
This wasn’t Beirut. Mardiros put in long hours. He tweaked the menu; his mother tinkered with the spices. It took a full year to find a groove. The first crowd of regulars brought in a second crowd, and a buzz began to grow among the network of foodies. How did they make the chicken so tender and juicy? The answer was a simple rub of salt and not trusting the rotisserie to do all the work but raising and lowering the heat and shifting each bird as it cooked. What made the garlic paste so fluffy and white and piercing? This was a secret the family intended to keep. Some customers swore it was potatoes, others mayonnaise. At least one fanatic stuck his container in the freezer and examined each part as it congealed. He pronounced the secret ingredient a special kind of olive oil. None guessed right. The ingredients were simple and fresh, Mardiros pledged, no shortcuts. The magic was in his mother’s right hand.
“Though Alice said that her sister had never written the book, for years Harper told Tom Radney that it was near completion. In 1997, Radney told a newspaper reporter, “I still talk to Nelle twice a year, and every time we talk, she says she’s still working on it.” Madolyn Radney told me that while Lee procrastinated Tom persisted. “He’d call her and she’d say I’m just about finished with the draft, or it’s just going to be perfect, or I’ll send it to the publishers tomorrow,” she said. “He even went up to New York to get his files, and she told him it was headed to the publishers.”
“He was so trusting,” Radney said of her husband. “He gave Harper Lee everything he had: notes, transcripts, court documents. And she took it all with her.” None of it, the family says, was ever returned, and Tom Radney’s generosity has bothered the family since his death. Beyond hoping that Lee might still publish “The Reverend,” the family has tried to get Radney’s files back.
The Jinx—a six-part documentary miniseries about alleged murderer and real estate scion Robert Durst—aired its final episode this past Sunday, a day after Durst’s real life arrest for the murder of his close friend Susan Berman. Berman was killed in 2000. In 2002, Ned Zeman profiled Durst (and his alleged crimes) for Vanity Fair. The excerpt below offers a window into Durst’s early friendship with Berman:
The second influence was Susan Berman. Acerbic and lively, talking a mile a minute, controlling the room, Berman was, by almost any standard, an exotic. She had shiny, black Louise Brooks-style hair, and she had stories. She’d spent her childhood in Las Vegas and Hollywood, where her classmates included Liza Minnelli and Jann Wenner. Her late father, Dave Berman, had run the biggest hotels on the Las Vegas Strip—the Riviera, the El Dorado, and, most notably, the Flamingo, where his only daughter’s portrait hung over the reservation desk. That Dave Berman had been a confederate of Mob bosses Meyer Lansky’s and Bugsy Siegel’s—that, in fact, he was a notorious gangster whom one detective called “the toughest Jew I ever met”—was Susan’s obsession. Bobby was fascinated. They’d both lost their mothers. They both had paternal issues. They became fast friends. He doted on Susie, as he called her.
Like you, your coworker, that person on Twitter and the woman who sits in front of you on the train, I love Serial. As I fell asleep on Wednesday night, saddened by my imminent departure from New York City, I turned to my boyfriend and reassured him that I’d feel better in the morning; Serial would be on my iPhone. And yet, even as we revel in marvelous storytelling, let us not forget these are real people, not characters, and that these horrifying events actually happened. Here are three riveting, tragic stories of true crime. Read more…
A Dallas murder suspect is also a paranoid schizophrenic, and his changing mental state raises questions about whether he can stand trial:
With medication he becomes someone else entirely, capable even of calm rationality. He would have to be induced into a state of synthetic sanity before he could stand trial for a crime that he allegedly committed while unmedicated.
For now, though, he was just another uncooperative suspect.
“We need your help. Are you going to help us?” Thompson’s index finger jackhammered the photo. “Look at him!” With his slight build and his short, blond hair, Winder looked hunted, like a boy among men. He looked up at the detectives and murmured, “I don’t remember.”