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The Dead Father

The judgment and sentencing of Jewel E. Dyer began last Wednesday, May 15th and will continue this Wednesday, May 22nd. Mr. Dyer has pled guilty to voluntary patricide, to killing his “biological” (Mr. Dyer’s clarification in a Letter to the Editor) father, Sanford Sternick, 58, with a baseball bat on March 28th, 2016.

What do we think about fathers? Here is what Rousseau says:

“The oldest of all societies, and the only natural one, is that of the family, yet children remain tied to their father by nature only as long as they need him for their preservation.”

If that is too fusty a reference, keep in mind that the courts have a perverse way of maintaining an antediluvian pretense that American mores haven’t changed since Earl Stanley Gardner was writing his Perry Mason episodes back in the black-and-white television days. I say “perversely” because everyone is acutely aware here in Mendocino County that even the more modern Southern-color courtroom dramas on TV like Matlock are laughably old-hat by local standards of what’s hip; and what the courts so studiously avoid is the ubiquitous postmodern presumption that the father-figure is passé, kaput, out of fashion, a relic of the past. The women who run the courts (there’s only two male judges left) are especially careful not to let the illusion slip away that there’s something to resist – a male effigy, as it were, a glass ceiling, an overbearing patriarchy still stolidly in place.


But that’s all a well-rehearsed farce and Mr. Dyer, an old hand at soliciting sympathy from women, as we shall see anon, knows it perfectly well. He’s not crazy – despite what the psych docs say to the contrary (one doc diagnosed Dyer with “malingering,” adding that there was currently no medication available that would alleviate the symptoms, to which we might safely interject that this is one malady that the miracle drug cannabis would only exacerbate) – and he’s certainly not stupid – just take a look at his Letters to the Editor in the AVA archive; and he most decidedly appears to fully appreciate that fathers are, deservedly in many cases, out of vogue; so contemptuously so, in fact, that he actually thinks he can get away with murdering one or more of them (I’m well aware that I’m next on his bucket list) in Mendocino County.

Incidentally, the title of this story is borrowed from the postmodern novel by Donald Barthleme, about dragging a gigantic Dead Father to his burial place across a surreal landscape, and passing along the way, through an indigenous people, the Wends, who have done away with deplorable fatherhood, by having the adorable sons impregnate their mothers… but I fear I digress into profanity.

When Mr. Dyer killed his father he had only been living with the “old retard” (again, Dyer’s words) for about a month. Dyer’s brother, Clayton Sternick was living there also, ostensibly “caring for their father,” who had been in a motorcycle wreck and was disabled, walked with a shuffling gait (like the dead father in Barthleme’s novel, coincidentally enough!) and had a metal plate in his head. And here I would like to raise another point the courts refuse to acknowledge: These young men – Dyer was 25 at the time – were getting paid by the county to take care of the old man, through In Home Supportive Services, and yet one of the reasons Dyer gave for killing his father was he (Dyer) didn’t approve of the cooking and had become infuriated by a hair found in the food served to him (again, Dyer) by his father.

So: Who was taking care of whom? This takes us back to Rousseau’s dictum that if the father is not proving useful, he may be done away with. The courts won’t mention the abuses of the IHSS, nor yet the very obvious (none of them having any visible means of support, except Sternick’s disability check) explanation that they were growing weed on the old man’s property – even though Dyer had been busted on a grow previously in Covelo.

So if none of this highly relevant material came out in court, then what did?

Not much, actually. Mainly, it turned into an argument between Deputy DA Scott McMenomey and Public Defender Jeffrey Aaron as to whether Dyer had shown a proper amount of remorse.

The probation pre-sentencing report and recommendations were underway when Jewel Dyer sent his latest missive to the AVA and it (the letter) wasn’t exactly the epitome of contrition and remorse. And Probation noted that even when directly asked, Mr. Dyer showed no remorse. And this is what stalled the sentencing on Wednesday – Mr. Aaron said there was remorse indicated in the transcripts of the police interviews with his client, and that Judge Ann Moorman should take a week to read those transcripts before finishing the sentencing. This was agreed to and May 23rd was set for the proceeding to continue.

In the meantime, the defense was built on the hope that probation would be the appropriate sentence since it was Dyer’s claim that the dead father had abused him physically, mentally, and sexually. Prosecution said that there was absolutely no basis in evidence for any of these accusations, and even the neighbor woman who called Mr. Sternick “an asshole” (“all men are assholes,” is a common refrain in Mendoland) admitted that she’d never once seen Sternick abuse Dyer physically, mentally or sexually.

But here again, the clever Mr. Dyer knows something the officers of the court cannot or will not utter either on or off the record: About 10 years ago there was another killing of a father figure for alleged sexual abuse – this one went national, bringing in Oprah Winfrey and Good Morning America when Aaron Vargas shot and killed Darrell McNeil in Fort Bragg. Vargas plead to voluntary manslaughter and got nine years for the killing and is no doubt a free man today. It is unlikely that Dyer will get more time than that; and he may – if his lawyer is successful – get off on probation with credit for time served. 

Stay tuned for updates.

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