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Cruel & Unusual Appropriateness

On Friday, July 20th, Marvin Johnson and Simon Thornton were sentenced to prison for the murder of Joe Litteral and the attempted murder of Brandon Haggett.

Johnson will do at least 25 years, Thornton 34-to-life.

One year ago on the very same day, July 20th, their brutal work went down at the Bushay Campground on Lake Mendocino.

The timing of their sentence was, then, as we like to say in Mendoland, “appropriate.”

Anyway, happy anniversary to Marvelous Marvin and Simple Simon, the first two boys from the so-called Willits Mafia to fall, with two to go, as the triggerman and another accomplice go before their juries separately in October.

Both Marv and Si appeared lean and healthy at their sentencing. This was a good sign, reassuring, since they will both be wards of the state for most of the rest of their days, and we really can’t afford to be paying all the medical bills that attends obesity. The defendants were seldom employed, but whenever they were, they worked at fast food franchises like Burger King and McDonalds, perfect venues to get a head start on cardio-vascular emergencies. Now, however, after a year in jail, they’ve lost weight and look much healthier. They aren't the first people to get well in jail.

These guys would not agree with this estimation, of course. In fact, Simon Thornton has written a couple of letters to the editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal complaining about the change in his diet. He fears starving to death in the County jail where the menu options are 1. Take It. 2. Leave It.

On February 21st, Thornton ran up his first distress signals: “I was arrested in July of 2011 … In the 11 months I’ve been here [sic] I’ve gone down to 155 pounds … I’m not pleased with this at all.”

On July 4th he writes again: “I’ve lost an alarmingly large amount of weight … I originally came in in August, 2011…” Neighbors of the jail would have been grilling steaks on Independence Day, we might safely presume, the tantalizing odors from the sizzling meat drifting into the jail. Thornton says he suffers from loss of ability to concentrate, so maybe this is why he gets dates and times mixed up. “…since I’ve been here, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I am constantly hungry due to the ridiculously small and unsatisfying food we get at meal time … I’m eating every bite I can get. But still I’m not gaining weight … Anyone at all willing to donate some money to help me out I’d appreciate it.”

On the day of the sentencing, this reporter did what he could to help. I went to McDonald’s and bought two large sacks of Big Macs and large orders of fries. As the paddywagon from the jail bearing Mr. Thornton and Mr. Johnson arrived at the Courthouse, I stood on the corner and held up my offerings. Besides the unmistakable logos on the familiar white sacks, the odor of this food is known to carry for several city blocks, even in ambient airs. I stood up-wind and whistled shrilly; when Simon got a whiff of the contents, he squealed like a shoat, and nearly had to be tasered to get him in the Courthouse. My generous gesture was for naught, however. The corrections officers would not allow me to give my presents to the convicts.

This was cruel and unusual, in mine own humble opinion. I mean — crimeny, even a condemned man should get a last meal!

And I was extremely grateful to these guys, personally; grateful that Thornton and Johnson, and the rest of the Willits Mafia, had not stumbled upon me a few short years ago when I was sleeping at one of the hobo camps on the rusty old railroad tracks outside of Willits. Simon Thornton would certainly have used his signature aluminum baseball bat to break open my empty skull.

The Willits Mafia is known by homeless people all over NorCal as a nasty lot. They have beaten and robbed many of the habitually transient people who come through Willits and get stranded there, preying on the seasonal influx of pot trimmers when they run out of strays.

At one point in his letters Thornton says he's looking forward to prison where some cruel pranksters have, apparently, told him that the food is “better” and the portions more lavish — Super-Size me, Turnkey! — at the California Department of Corrections. I guess he hasn’t heard about the state budget deficit.

Thornton got 34 years for his part in the deadly stupidity that went down at Bushay. He was already on probation for statutory rape; his carnal appetites seem to demand multiple satisfactions. But his jail time (just under a year) awaiting trial will serve to cover that part of his sentencing. He'll do his first nine years for the attempted murder of Brandon Haggett, a young guy who survived Simon’s baseball bat attack as well as a gunshot wound to the chest from a big .45 slug. Then he will begin his 25 years for his part in the murder of Joe Litteral, an older man who came to Brandon Haggett’s rescue and took a second round from the .45. That bullet killed Litteral before Simon could finish him off with the bat.

An undisclosed source, familiar with the bat man's personality quirks, suggests that Simon will never make parole as he does his 34 years down a cold, hard hole. Moreover, because of his “sex jacket” from the rape, he’ll never go into general population where he might conceivably barter for more food. Sure, he might occasionally get the extra piece of cake or maybe a cookie in exchange for offering his boyish sexual self to the ChoMos he will spend the rest of his days with, but he will never again be able to throw 205 pounds  around like he did in his all-too-brief glory days with the Willits Mafia.

Simon Thornton’s father, a Mr. Doyle Thornton of Antioch, put $40 on his son's commissary account about four months ago. This would have bought Simon a case of Top Ramen noodles and the pen and paper for his starvation letters to the editor, his plea for alms. Keep in mind that these guys are practiced panhandlers; they rarely, if ever, work for money because begging the rich and robbing the poor are so easy. Everything costs more in jail. Forty bucks worth of negative food value items would last about a week.

The barter in the cellblocks is done with Ramen noodles. These third-world packets of basic carbohydrates sell in the US for approximately a quarter. In jail Ramen noodles are legal tender for all debts payable, such as money lost in card games, or bribing your way out of cleaning duties, and also paying others to change the TV channel so you can watch your favorite sitcom. But inflation runs rampant behind bars, and sometimes a package of Ramen noodles fetches as much as $5 in US currency. Do the math. Forty bucks doesn't go far.

Speaking of Thornton senior, there was a curious series of complaints about this gentleman made by Thornton junior when junior was on the stand. On his first trip to testify, Simon said his Old Man beat him mercilessly, implying that young Simon had inherited his violent tendencies while eliciting sympathy for his own sweet self.

“He whipped me so hard I couldn’t even stand.”

Second time at bat Simon said, “[His father spanked] me to where I couldn’t stand to sit down.”

“Which version are we to believe?” This from the prosecutor, Chief Deputy DA Paul Sequiera.

Simon's father was there in court for his son, so I'd say the father is probably a pretty good guy, a guy who tried to bring the boy up right, but....

Back at Lake Mendocino's Bushay campground a year ago, Simon swore he’d never used a baseball bat. It wasn’t his style, he said.

Second time, when the chips were down, and every juror knew full-well he had used the bat it was more like, “Wull, uh, yeah, but I’m very sorry, you see…”

Both letters to the Journal from Simon contended that “my ability to focus in court has been affected by a lack of food.”

Marvin Johnson was sentenced to the same terms in prison, nine years for the attempted murder of Brandon Haggett and 25 years for the murder of Joe Litteral; but the nine will run concurrently in Johnson’s case because his lawyer, Jan Cole-Wilson, successfully convinced the jury that Johnson wasn’t in on the robbery and only went along on the Bushay raid to get his wife back. Johnson will be back in Willits long before Simon joins him there for a Big Mac.

After the two were remanded into the custody of the California Department of Corrections, I made my way down the street to Safeway for some groceries before returning to the relative sanity of Boonville for the weekend. As I left the store, pausing to stow my food in my pack, a young couple came bulling through the crowd of shoppers. A checkout guy confirmed that there were a lot of people stocking up on camping supplies. Anyhow, this guy with the pack and the woman with him bull through the shoppers and buttonholes a passing gentleman: “Hand me your cellphone, old man, I need to make a call.”

Old man. I liked that. Jay and Daisy Gatsby at the Ukiah Safeway.

The old man kept walking. The Macho Punk with the backpack and the hippy babe with him were very put out.

The young beauty attending this prick rolled her eyes and heaved an exasperated sigh, but that was just an act. She was proud of loverboy’s insolence. And inspired more of it by telling her young stud that the old guy had dared say something back.

The old man, who was not young, was not entirely flummoxed. He’d come up with a fuck you of his own, it seemed. Studdley went into a rage and chased the old guy across busy State Street, shouting, “What did you say old man — what the fuck did you say to me?”

Anybody who shops at Safeway or the Natural Foods Co-Op has encountered two-bit thugs, and I hear that a coalition of fed up citizens is being formed to deal with them. The annual influx of street people looking for “seasonal agricultural work” are coming earlier than usual this year, and the new style for panhandling — known in some circles as “aggressive panhandling” — is more aggressive than you get from the year-round, permanently resident street people. Also, with “realignment” in the prison system, there are a lot of people in the “homeless community” who would otherwise be locked up.

When the dashing young stallion returned from intimidating the graybeard, having chased him through the heavy weekend traffic on State Street to a standoff by the movie theatre where the bold punk pushed the old man down, he basked in admiring vibes from Vagabond Girl.

True, the traffic was heavy and my eyes were on my backtrail. With people like these at large, you can’t be too careful. Sure enough, the nasty bastards fell in right behind me. I picked up my pace, demonstrating my civic courage. My running days are done, but I still know how to walk away from a fight, and I was picking ‘em up and slapping them down. "Feets, carry me home to Boonville!"

Nobody but a veteran can keep up with a route-step. I got out of the Corps 40 years ago when I still had a little sand left, and I’ve yet to meet a civilian who can keep pace with an old salt.

I outpaced the punks and, lo, soon came upon a welcome sight at the café in the next block. A couple of deputies, just finishing up their lunches were seated at a window booth. I went in and told them what I’d just seen.

By the time they settled up their bill, and stepped out onto the sidewalk — I was stalled at the next intersection by then and glanced back over my shoulder -- guess who they ran into?

* * *

In an entirely unrelated matter, Mr. Samuel X. Sin of Oakland, with the aid of a Chinese language interpreter, was fined $35,000, a figure Mr. Sin probably hoped would get lost in translation. It must be some kind of a record for abalone poaching. Mr. Sin had been caught with 85 abs, and is rumored to be the Mr. Big of organized ab poaching, although several round eyes are said to be bigger. Sin was placed on three years probation, all his gear was seized and ordered forfeit, his fishing privileges were revoked for life and his cellphone, which was also taken by the wardens, will be kept as well, to be used as evidence in the prosecution of his co-defendants.

Judge Clayton Brennan of the Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg is on a four-week vacation, so the case was brought before Judge Ann Moorman in Ukiah. Through his interpreter, Mr. Sin asked Judge Moorman if he would be allowed to go to China to visit his wife.

“That will be up to your probation officer, Mr. Sin,” the judge replied. “But you cannot leave the state of California without written permission from probation, and you must keep them informed of your whereabouts and living address. Do you understand?”

His interpreter said Sin understood and would sin no more.

“Otherwise,” Judge Moorman continued, “you may very well have some problems when you try to return to this country.”

Abalone fishing is temporarily suspended during July each summer, but the cases of abalone violations continue to run through the courts year-round. Even if the reader is only planning a little creekside fishing, be sure to check your current sportfishing regulations. The standard fine for fishing on a closed section of stream these days is $1700. One kid who was cited in April for fishing on the Russian River near the Potter Valley bridge was lucky to dodge this huge fine because he didn’t catch anything. The DA reduced the violation to an infraction and the kid only had to pay $530.

Huck Finn wouldn't recognize this country.

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