11 June, 2021

A Travesty at Twenty

The fact that I am a murderer is well established. You can learn from many sources about my three-day trial, about how a jury of my peers decided that I must be guilty of killing my friend Anastasia WitbolsFeugen, of shooting her in the head just to see what it felt like to end another person's life. Not just any murder, either. Those jurors found me guilty of murder in the first degree – a killing accomplished after some calculation, homicide committed after a period of cool deliberation. Those dozen people on my jury had the power, as all juries do, to define what thereafter is called the truth.

In the decades since, courts either found nothing procedurally unsound in my jury's verdict, or they otherwise declined to review my case. Because the courts didn't dispute it, the verdict stands. It follows, therefore, that the jury's opinion must be true. And here we are.

Saying "my jury" implies ownership. Nothing could be less accurate. I don't even remember "my" jurors' names. The same goes for "my" case. I lay no claim to the events leading to my imprisonment, and certainly not to the cause of Anastasia's death itself. The vast majority of those things happened without my participation, beyond my knowledge.

The Internet, the great democratizer, offers enough information on which to base an informed decision about everything from politicians to peanut butter brands, if you pick decent sources. Because such information is free, the group convinced of my innocence, the Free Byron Case campaign, is bigger than the group that believes I murdered my friend. Unfortunately, fifty thousand people could believe in my innocence; it wouldn't outweigh the hope of the handful who want me to die in prison. Nor would numbers below a certain threshold change the fact that a conviction – any conviction – is far easier to get than to shake off.

I've tried, believe me.

Wait, do you believe me? Check your preconceived ideas. Are you part of the "Keep Byron Case In Prison" group, hate-reading my blog because the all-consuming fires of righteous indignation in your heart are easier to stoke than your grief and guilt are to assuage? Emotion has to come out somehow. I forgive you your wrongs against me, but is this the healthiest way to live?

Even before my arrest and trial, you people just knew that I was guilty. And you refused to rest until my guilt was declared. A couple of you interviewed friends and acquaintances, searched my car in my driveway, took photographs of my vehicles, dug through my trash, pushed the case's investigators to more deeply scrutinize me, and probably took other steps that I'll never find out about. If not for you, the authorities might never have suspected me of anything but dressing oddly.

I write this in "my" cell in a maximum-security prison. The date listed for my earliest possible release, in the Missouri Department of Corrections database, is 99/99/9999. It might as well be the thirty-second of Octember. My sentence of life without parole will allow me to leave prison only on the day that employees of the county coroner wheel my corpse out on a gurney, bound for some cold storage vault, and points beyond. And although this is exactly what certain of you asked for, you remain restless and unsatisfied.

These words don't come from a place of malice; despite my reputation as a provocateur, in this post I want only to point things out and ask questions that spark radical honesty. I want you to consider what is meant by "fact," by "peers," by "truth." Certainty plays no part. Records of my case exists, but what do they say? Interpretation is required, but who can we trust to perform it? Contrary to the popular conception, justice isn't about right and wrong. It's about who can deploy a more convincing argument. If we dispute one court's ruling, which court do we trust to decide otherwise? And what do we do when that court's rulings are questioned?

Who thinks of corporations as people, following the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the same rights as individuals? If I were exonerated tomorrow, cleared of wrongdoing by a court of law, I'd be released from prison and the fact of my conviction would be removed – stricken, erased, undone. It will be as though it never happened. Would my memories of these lost decades be wrong? And who'd accept my new status? Would your mind change about me, based on that decision? If you say yes, isn't that just letting others do the thinking for you? If you say no, then what would it take to change your mind? If you know, why wait? What's stopping you from changing it now? How committed are you to your ideas? From where do your thoughts about my guilt or innocence arise?

These aren't easy questions. What makes life most worth living doesn't benefit from asking easy questions. The hard ones are another story, and the ones you can't answer at all are the ones that best define you.

I'm an innocent man who's been locked in prison for twenty years. I was twenty-two on the day armed men in black body armor thundered into my bedroom to take me away at gunpoint. I haven't been home since. I'm now forty-three. Despite years and years of emotional trauma, I have neither nightmares nor panic attacks, lasting depression nor crying jags, disruptive compulsions nor fixed obsessions, outbursts of rage nor periods of withdrawal. I doubt anyone would fault me if I did. But in reality my mental health is quite good.

I wake up in the morning and make my bed. I dress. I meditate. I make a cup of black coffee. I eat breakfast in a loud dining hall, surrounded by myriad human beings, some of whom don't bathe, many of whom are ignorant of inside voices, and I don't hate them. At 8 o'clock I go to work. I love my job; I like my coworkers. We laugh a lot together and do good things that affect a lot of people, whether they recognize it or not. When I'm not at my job in the Media Center, I'm reading or writing. The people I love keep in regular contact. I'm very fortunate to have a lot of good, caring people in my life.

If you think I killed Anastasia WitbolsFeugen, you're mistaken. Yet I'm also unequivocally guilty. I'm a murderer who didn't kill anyone. Am I making myself understood? If so, how can you stand it? Answer the question!

1 comment:

Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.