Monday, August 10, 2015

TRUE STORIES I Never Told My Kids

Here is what the publisher says about my new memoir, True Stories I Never Told My Kids:

“Whether crashing the film set of a Robert Redford movie, chasing down the true father of sex goddess Marilyn Monroe, or stumbling into a deadly shootout between cops and bank robbers, there was nary a dull moment in forty years of news reporting by R.D. Byron-Smith. In his witty, often irreverent memoir the author takes readers along for a bumpy joyride in pursuit of news at all costs. Readers ride shotgun as he confronts death row killers, introduces oddballs and media meatheads, and harasses Hollywood celebs. Readers even get a bleacher’s seat as he goes tête-à-tête with a disgraced U.S. president at the World Series. The author’s wild ride is worth admission. And best of all, they are, every tale, True Stories I Never Told My Kids.

This book has been four decades in the making. Unlike my first memoir, Dinner With A Killer, which is being featured in an upcoming CBS Television series on serial killers, this book focuses on my forty years as a newspaper reporter, and attempts to give readers some of the stories behind the stories, and to sneak them into the newsroom where a lot of zany people work.
For instance, here’s a tidbit from the book:

Even thinking about this story makes me laugh.
We had a college intern who must have been the most naive female in America. Editors sent her to cover a real cattle drive. It was an overnight affair in which a bunch of cowboys herded cattle all day, and at dusk made camp, ate beans and slept fireside under the stars. These cowboys had been on cattle drives before and one of their traditions was making beef jerky on the campfire.
This student reporter wrote a story about the cattle drive and described how the cowboys sat around the fire at night and made and ate beef jerky.
She filed the story and as it was being read by an editor an explosion of laughter erupted on the news desk.
Of course reporters wanted to know what was so hilarious. What she had written soon went viral in the newsroom.
The intern had written that after a hard day’s work the cowboys sat around the campfire and put strips of beef on the heat to dry and make jerky. She noted their ritual of “jerking the meat” lasted for hours.

Like most memoirs this isn’t autobiography, so don’t expect the literary equivalent of a television reality show, you know like “16 and Pregnant.” However, what you will find are stories I am sure you have never heard before. And you’ll be right behind me as I report them – but duck because bullets will fly.

Just published, the book is available exclusively at Amazon for 90 days. Go to Amazon and search “R.D. Byron-Smith and True Stories.” And thank you for reading my novels and nonfiction books, I truly appreciate it. R.D. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Invisible Print In The Iran Nuke Deal

Editor’s Note: our college intern, Alice Paradee, has submitted this “news scoop” from her unofficial White House sources. We publish it herewith and cannot vouch for its accuracy. We will allow, however, that in a world of sham, it could very well be the genuine article.

By A. Paradee

President Obama, emboldened by his successes in negotiating with Cuba and Iran, has his sights on negotiations with ISIS.

“POTUS . . . .”

I interrupted my confidential White House source as he was about to give me the details. “POTUS? What’s that?”

“President Of The United States,” said the source, who is familiar with the President’s thinking.

“That’s the ugliest acronym I’ve ever heard,” I put in.

“Not really,” he corrected me, “SCOTUS is.”


“Supreme Court Of The United States.”

“SCOTUS. Yuk! It makes me think of scrotum. You’re right, SCOTUS is uglier.”

“What do you think about when you hear, POTUS?” he asked me, suddenly amused at his own thoughts.

“I better not say,” I said, ducking it. “But, what about POTUS negotiating with ISIS?”

“I didn’t say he was going to negotiate,” the source said, a little angrily now. “That said, what people don’t know is the Iranian nuclear deal has a secret codicil.”

“You mean something President Obama hasn’t revealed?”

“I said it was secret.”

I confidently took a guess. “It’s probably about the Americans being held hostage in Iran. It’s what the President said he wasn’t ‘content’ with at his news conference.”

“Hostages? Nobody’s talking about hostages . . . .”

“That’s rather been the problem, hasn’t it?” I said.

“You’re as nonsensical as CBS reporter Major Garrett.”

“Be that as it may,” I said, “what does this secret Iran nuke deal codicil say, if not about releasing hostages?”

“To the effect that in exchange for letting Iran make a bomb, the Supreme Leader will attack the Islamic State.”

“You mean we’re putting Iranian boots on the ground in Iraq, to defeat ISIS?”

“Something like that.” The White House source formed a self-satisfied grin. “Not our boots, theirs. The President is so clever. Siccing Shia on the Sunni.”

“Maybe too clever by half.”

“Why would you say that?”

“What if Iran defeats ISIS and takes over Iraq, and then turns on Saudi Arabia and Jordan?”

“By then the Saudis and Jordanians will have a bomb of their own,” he said. “Call it Middle East nuclear détente.”


“It worked in the 1970s between the U.S. and Soviets!”

“I don’t remember President Obama ever saying anything about Mutual Assured Destruction in the Middle East.”

“And, he won’t,” said the source. “He learned reams from the ‘you-can-keep-your-doctor’ remark.”

My stomach was turning sour. “You’ll let Iran take Iraq, something even Saddam Hussein wouldn’t have let happen?” I could tell my questioning was pissing him off.

“Our calculation is it won’t come to that,” he said. “Iran and ISIS will battle to a stalemate. Like the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s.”

“That’s a good thing?” I asked, skeptically.

“It’s when POTUS steps in and negotiates with ISIS.”

“You said President Obama wasn’t going to do that?”

“You’re so naive, politically,” said the source, with distain similar in tone to the President’s condescension of CBS’s Major Garrett. “He won’t. That is the beauty of it. It will be for the next administration to deal with. Obama assumes Donald Trump will be elected in 2016.”

I looked at him shocked.

The source slightly nodded, raising his eyebrows.

“Not Hillary?!” I gasped.

The source ignored me, and stayed on talking point. “The President says Trump brags about his negotiating prowess. You know, The Art of the Deal, and all that. Trump will have to negotiate with ISIS and Iran. President Obama says he’ll delight in watching Trump getting beat up!”

I couldn’t resist. “Like Iran did to President Obama?”

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In the Middle of a Manhunt

The hunt for two escaped murderers in upstate New York is over. It went on for weeks and reminded me of thirty-five years ago when, working as a newspaper reporter, I stumbled into a manhunt-turned-shootout in Southern California.

It was a Friday, the day banks made sure they have plenty of money to cash workers’ paychecks. I was a fearless, paid-stringer for the Los Angeles Times.

Chatter came over the scanner of a hot police pursuit of bank robbers, and they were heading my way. The 40-mile chase was a throwback to the Wild West, with the sheriff’s posse galloping after the Clantons. Followed by a phalanx of lawmen on Interstate 15, the robbers disabled patrol cars by knocking out engines with an “elephant gun,” and fired assault rifles and tossed homemade grenades at the cops.

I phoned the Metro Desk of the LA Times and was told to get to the scene and report for the paper’s early edition. The first reporter to arrive, my adrenalin sank when I saw a CHP blocking the road the robbers used to flee into the eastern foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. “Nobody’s getting up in there,” the officer said. “A command post is being set up, and you can go there when they open, but not now.”

A man in a Jeep overheard him and came up to me, asking if I was a reporter. “There’s another way in,” he confided. “It’s on the other side of the creek. I’ll take you.” I jumped at the chance to get nearer to the action.

As we jumbled in his Jeep through brush and over river rocks a tragedy was unfolding a couple of miles north of the CHP roadblock. The bandits stopped their truck and formed a skirmish line with their assault rifles. When a deputy sheriff drove around a bend they ambushed him. On foot, the deputy’s killers fled into a heavy canopy of forest where fog was settling in.

Over the next hour hundreds of police special weapons officers from all over Southern California streamed into the area for the manhunt. They borrowed a military helicopter with high-seeking gear for the manhunt, which was unusual for the time.
Meanwhile, the man stopped his jeep. “I live back this way,” he said, pointing westerly. He dropped me where I couldn’t see fifty feet because of fog and thick vegetation, and drove away.

I was alone. Or, so I thought.

I slogged for a half mile northerly, determined, in the direction of the robbers. I faintly heard water trickling in the creek, which I couldn’t see but knew it was east of me. Periodically I heard rotors of a helicopter, but never saw it.

Suddenly. “Pop! Pop!”

I froze. The sound stopped my heart, and my bodily senses surged. It was gunfire – and damn close. For the first time since getting into the man’s Jeep, I realized how stupid I’d been. Scores of lawmen with assault rifles hunted for cop-killers and I had heedlessly stumbled into the middle of what I now figured was a cops-and-robbers shootout. My next thought slapped me hard: the cops might think I’m a crook and the crooks might think I’m a cop.

In the forest and fog I was in no-man’s land.

Breathlessly I ran back the way I’d come, tripping on tangles of brush and falling, breaking tree branches, and making far, far too much noise. Such fear had never braced me, not even as a teen when I was chased by a bear at night.

I “hightailed” it all right. But, little did I know: augh, for this scared rabbit, the real ordeal had just begun . . . .

– Excerpt (©2015 Pilar Publishing) from the memoir, TRUE STORIES I Never Told My Kids by R.D. Byron-Smith, whose books are available at Amazon and other online booksellers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Internet Cafes Lose Sweepstakes

The state’s Supreme Court has guaranteed that big games of chance in California remain a duopoly between the state Lottery and Indian gambling tribes.
In a precedent, a unanimous court ruled that computerized “sweepstakes” games in Internet cafés are illegal because they are “slot machines” of chance prohibited by state gambling law.
Cafés offered sweepstakes jackpots up to $10,000.
“Slot machines, sometimes called ‘one-armed bandits’ (although younger users might wonder why), have long been outlawed in California,” said the court in the June 25th opinion. “Under review are devices that resemble traditional casino-style slot machines in some ways and offer users the chance to win sweepstakes prizes. . . . We must decide whether the devices come within the statutory definition of a ‘slot machine or device’ in (the) Penal Code. We conclude they do.”
The case began in 2012 when the Kern County District Attorney’s Office in Bakersfield filed civil actions against the Internet cafés under anti-gambling laws, and lower courts ruled in favor of shutting down the sweepstakes part of the businesses.
Little noticed in the ruling is a brief discussion of other “sweepstakes” games in California, and these remarks by justices might send shivers down the backs of corporate America, and might energize law enforcement in the state.
While these both are big “mights,” here’s what the justices wrote: “Defendants (the cafés) assert that the devices here have features in common with sweepstakes operated by national companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and that a holding that the devices here are illegal slot machines would mean those and similar sweepstakes are also illegal slot machines. How similar the devices here are to other sweepstakes, and whether other sweepstakes would meet all of the elements set forth in (the Penal Code) is beyond the scope of this case. Such questions would have to be decided in a case in which someone claims some other sweepstakes system is an illegal slot machine.”
Uh-oh. Does that open a door, or what?
The Coca-Cola Company operates a “rewards” program accessed by home computers and McDonald’s USA is well known for giving freebie shakes and fries in its Monopoly game.
Not to worry. In fact, I’ll bet a Big Mac right now that the odds of prosecutors ever filing similar cases against either Coke or McDonald’s is a big fat Coke Zero.
Slot machines are illegal in California and the only slot machines allowed in the state are on Indian lands, which fall under the purview of the federal government. The other game of chance is the state-run California Lottery.
As a cynical Web poster said of the ruling against the Internet cafés: “If the payout were Lotto tickets, it would be OK.”
In essence, the café owners argued the sweepstakes games were legal because the results were predetermined by computer software and not by the machines customers used.
American Gaming Association, representing casinos which oppose sweepstakes operators, claims such games are offered in a dozen states and account for $10 billion in sales a year.
From the court records here is how the sweepstakes worked.
“The sweepstakes operations at issue here were similar to each other. In each instance, the business sold a product (either Internet time or telephone cards) and, along with the product, provided the opportunity to play sweepstakes games, with the possibility of winning substantial cash prizes. Customers could also receive a limited number of free sweepstakes entries per day or could receive more by mailing in a request form. The customer had the option of either obtaining an instant sweepstakes result or playing games at a computer terminal to reveal the result. To begin playing the sweepstakes games, the customer would swipe a magnetic card or enter a number at a computer terminal. Those choosing to play the games had a choice of games resembling slot machines or casino-style games. The sweepstakes operation was an integrated whole, with an outside company (in Canada) supplying the software to operate the game. The outside company’s software, which was connected to the computer terminals at the business, predetermined the result of each game. Neither employees at the business nor the customers themselves had any control over the outcome. The games themselves merely revealed the predetermined result; they had no influence on that result.”
The Supreme Court included a history of similar rulings in California in its opinion.
“We must decide whether the defendants’ sweepstakes operations come within this definition (of the Penal Code). We are not the first court to grapple with this definition in recent years. Numerous courts have found devices similar to the ones here to be slot machines under this definition.
“California courts have found (Penal Code) section 330b to prohibit a variety of devices where prizes may be won based on chance. In People ex rel. Lockyer v. Pacific Gaming Technologies, a vending machine that dispensed telephone cards for $1 included a sweepstakes feature with audio-visual displays resembling a slot machine. When customers purchased a phone card for $1, they were given a chance to win a cash prize of up to $100. A preset computer program determined the results. The Court of Appeal held the vending machine was a prohibited slot machine under the plain language of section 330b, because ‘by the insertion of money and purely by chance (without any skill whatsoever), the user may receive or become entitled to receive money.’ Similarly, in Trinkle v. Stroh, a jukebox that dispensed four songs for $1 was found to be a prohibited slot machine or device under section 330b because the operators also received a chance to win a cash jackpot. (In) Score Family Fun Center, Inc. v. County of San Diego (the court held that) an arcade video game that simulated card games violated 330b because operators could, as a matter of chance, win free games or extended play.”
The justices also said that a recent federal case applying California law to an Internet sweepstakes game provided another example of the illegality of the sweepstakes games. (In) Lucky Bob’s Internet Café , LLC v. California Department of Justice, “Customers were given 100 entries to the Sweepstakes for every $1 of purchased internet time. In addition, each customer was entitled to 100 free entries for every 24-hour period. Customers were also able to mail a request for $1 worth of sweepstakes entries to World Touch Gaming, but this option was never used. Purchased internet time was loaded onto a player card, which the customer swiped into an electronic card reader located at an assigned computer terminal. The user would then select a method for revealing his winnings from the monitor located at the terminal. First, a customer could immediately reveal whether he won a prize. Second, a customer could play one of the seventeen casino-style games, then reveal whether he had won a prize at the end of the game. Many of these casino-style games are commonly associated with slot machines. Plaintiffs’ equipment operated a sweepstakes gaming system that was manufactured and licensed by World Touch Gaming, Inc. The World Touch Gaming system predetermined prize outcomes based upon chance as set forth in predefined odds tables for the gaming system, prior to when customers revealed their game entries on player terminals. Based upon the odds tables, a game’s overall financial outcome would be set at the time the pool of outcomes was generated. The system would then sequentially assign entries to patrons from the pool. Playing the casino-type games could not change the game entries’ prize values.” The cash prizes in Lucky Bob’s ranged from 10 cents to $3,000. The players did not use most of the Internet time they purchased. At Lucky Bob’s, a total of $1,225,055 was spent for 204,176 hours of internet time and 97 percent of the total purchased internet time was unused.”
Relying heavily on Pacific Gaming Technologies, the Lucky Bob’s court found the device at issue to be an illegal slot machine under section 330b.
Here is how an Internet café worked, according to records.
“Defendant John C. Stidman owned the I Zone Internet Café in Bakersfield. Among other products, I Zone sold Internet time to the public for $20 per hour, which customers could use on computer terminals located on the I Zone premises. To promote the sale of Internet time and its other products, I Zone offered a sweepstakes to customers when they made a purchase. Non-customers might also enter the sweepstakes; that is, no purchase was necessary to enter. To enter a sweepstakes without purchasing Internet time or other products, a person could receive up to four free entries from the cashier each day on request. Four additional entries were available by mailing a form with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. A company known as Capital Bingo provided a computer software system that effectuated the sweepstakes.
“Under the software system, a purchaser of Internet time or other products at I Zone received sweepstakes points for each dollar spent. A customer also received sweepstakes points for the first purchase of the day and for being a new customer. The customer received a white plastic card with a magnetic strip, which an I Zone employee activated at the register. A customer swiping the card at an open computer terminal was given the option of using the Internet function or playing sweepstakes computer games. If the customer chose the games, the time playing them did not reduce the Internet time available. Both options were touch-screen operated and did not require a keyboard or mouse.
“In playing the sweepstakes computer games, I Zone customers used their sweepstakes points in selected increments (simulating bets) on games with names such as Buck Lucky, Tropical Treasures, or Baby Bucks. According to the I Zone sweepstakes rules, each increment level available for play ‘represents a separate sweepstakes.’ Gambling-themed games resembling slot machines were prominently displayed on the I Zone terminals. According to a detective investigating the business, ‘It appeared the subjects were playing casino-style slot machine games on the computers . . . The audible sounds were that of casino-style slot machines.’  The detective noted that on one occasion, no one was on the Internet, but instead ‘all the people using the computer terminals were playing the sweepstakes games.’ Participants in the sweepstakes had a chance to win cash prizes ranging from small amounts to a top prize of $3,000.
“In contending the sweepstakes games were not slot machines, Stidman presented evidence and argument regarding how they functioned. His position was that the computer sweepstakes games were merely an entertaining way for customers to reveal a sweepstakes result. A customer could also reveal a sweepstakes result by other means, such as by using a special function on the computer terminal or by asking an I Zone employee at the register to print out a result on paper. As Stidman described it, ‘Each time a customer reveals the results of a sweepstakes entry, (regardless of the means used), the next available sweepstakes entry in the ‘stack’ is revealed,’ in sequence, from a prearranged stack of entries. The ‘next available sweepstakes entry’ contains a predetermined result that would be the same regardless of which method was used to reveal it. Thus, when the customer engaged the sweepstakes computer games, the outcome was determined by the particular sweepstakes entry that was being revealed at that time, not by the workings of the game itself. That is, the game simply revealed the predetermined result of the next sequential sweepstakes entry.

“Stidman provided further documentary evidence of how I Zone’s software system conducted the sweepstakes. This evidence indicated there were three distinct servers: (1) the Management Terminal, (2) the Point of Sale Terminal, and (3) the Internet Terminal. As Stidman’s counsel summarized in the trial court, ‘It is at the Management Terminal where all sweepstakes entries are produced and arranged. Each batch of sweepstakes entries has a finite number of entries and a finite number of winners and losers. Once a batch of sweepstakes entries is produced at the Management Terminal, it is ‘stacked’ . . . and then transferred to the Point of Sale Terminal in exactly the same order as when it left the Management Terminal. Each time a customer reveals the results of a sweepstakes entry, either at the Internet Terminal or at the Point of Sale, the next available sweepstakes entry in the ‘stack’ is revealed. In other words, the Internet Terminal simply acts as a reader and displays the results of the next sequential sweepstakes entry in the stack as it was originally arranged and transferred from the Management Terminal – it is never the object of play. In fact, exactly the same results (are displayed) for a specified sweepstakes entry whether the customer chooses to have the results displayed in paper format at the Point of Sale Terminal or in electronic format at an Internet Terminal.’ Stidman’s evidence indicated that neither the Point of Sale Terminal nor the Internet Terminal had a random number generator and could not be ‘the object of play,’ since those servers could not influence or alter the result of a particular sweepstakes entry, but merely displayed that result.”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Lowlife Next Door

Editor’s Note: writer Lyman Dratt has lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, and tells me he has had many “lowlife” neighbors. I suggested he define the term “lowlife”or at least give us some examples. Below is his “Fifteen Rules of Low-Lifedom.” It could just as well be titled, “How to tell if a lowlife has moved in next door.”


Bar none, I’ve always lived next door to a lowlife. Sometimes a whole lowlife family – mom, dad, kids, cousins, uncles, aunts. I’ve become a kind of expert on them. I am writing this because more and more of them are moving into our neighborhoods, maybe next to you. So, how will you know if a lowlife has moved in?
Here’s what to look for.

1. When they watch from their front yard as their pit bull craps in your front yard.
2. When another junk car is abandoned in their yard.
3. When they set up a “permanent” yard sale on their weedy front lawn, which they never water.
4. When detectives show up at the yard sale, looking for stolen goods.
5. When you find out the “cousin” who visits each month is really their parole agent.
6. When you look them up on the Megan’s Law Registry and find them.
7. When they fire automatic weapons into the air on the 4th of July and New Year’s.
8. When you realize you have memorized the non-emergency number of the local police department.
9. When red flashing lights in front of their house wake you up in the middle of the night.
10. When they graffiti your wall, and misspell words.
11. When they have a flat, they replace it with the spare “donut” tire and drive on it for a year, when they have another flat.
12. When they tell you the show they miss most on television is All My Babies’ Mamas.
13. When the pregnant mom sucks down her fourth gin-over-ice while chain-smoking on the saggy sofa on their front porch.
14. When their diapered 5-year-old is outside, screaming on a caffeine-sugar high.
15. When you look in the front picture window of their home and see yourself in the tinfoil.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Case of 10-Year-Old Who Killed Nazi Dad Upheld

A California court has upheld sending the boy who murdered his Nazi father to the state’s prison for youthful offenders rather than a less-secure mental health facility.

Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall, 32, was shot with his own Rossi .357 Magnum by his 10-year-old son while he slept on a sofa in the family home May 1, 2011, near Riverside.

In 2013, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard, sitting as a juvenile court judge, ruled that the boy understood the “wrongfulness of his acts” and had “committed an act which would have been second-degree murder if committed by an adult” and sentenced him to a maximum of 40 years in confinement.

The boy’s attorneys appealed, and the case was affirmed June 8th by the appellate court in Riverside. Unless appealed to and accepted for review by the state’s Supreme Court, which is unlikely, the case has been fully adjudicated.

The boy, now 14, confessed to killing his dad.

He was sent to the state’s juvenile prison system, where he became the state’s youngest inmate.

When police arrived at the family home around 4 a.m., the boy was found under his covers in bed.

While Nazi hate speech and violence played in the background of the boy’s life, and obviously had some role in the crime, the boy said he killed his father because he got mad at him.
As he told a policeman while detained in a patrol car: “His father had abused him and other members of the family repeatedly, and that the previous night, his father had threatened to remove all the smoke detectors and burn the house down, while the family slept,” according to court records in the ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. “The boy explained that his father returned home and fell asleep on the couch, after which he got the gun from his stepmother’s bedroom, went downstairs and shot his father in the head.”

In addition to the crime itself, court documents cast a bright light on the troubled family – his biological mother’s prenatal drug use, the boy’s mental health issues, abusive home life and violence at school, and on his father’s neo-Nazi politics.


The Crime


Beginning at noon on the day before the shooting, Jeff Hall hosted a party of a dozen members of the National Socialist Movement at his home, and alcohol was served. Both Mr. Hall and his wife, the boy’s stepmother, drank.

Remarkably, a reporter attended this meeting to report on it. The reporter said that the boy sat quietly on the stairs and when he was asked if he were having fun, the boy said he was and showed the reporter his new belt bearing a Nazi insignia.

During the party Mr. Hall took some of the children into a dark room to show them his new glow-in-dark T-shirt with a Nazi insignia on it, and the reaction all ’round was “Wow!”

At about 7 p.m. the stepmother got a phone text message from Mr. Hall “indicating he intended to throw her out of the home.” After the party ended Mr. Hall left the house to drive a female Nazi home, and the stepmother fell asleep, watching television. The boy and his sister went to their own room.

Later the stepmother heard her husband come home and talking on the telephone. She went down stairs and found him in the kitchen drinking and in a “bad mood.” They “argued because” her husband learned she “planned to move out,” records stated.

In the very early hours of the next day, she was startled awake by a loud noise. Thinking that a kitchen shelf had fallen, she went downstairs, where she found the TV on. When she turned on the lights, she saw her husband on the couch, bleeding from a head wound.

At that point, the boy came downstairs and told her, “I shot dad.” The stepmother called police.

When police arrived they found Mr. Hall lying on the sofa in a large pool of blood from a single gunshot to the head.

While outside, an officer asked the stepmother what happened, and the boy “volunteered that he had grabbed the gun and shot his dad in the ear. He explained he did so because his father had beaten him and his stepmother, and his father had kicked him ‘in the ass’ the day before.”

The boy said he put the gun under his bed, where investigators later found it.

While unhand-cuffed and sitting with an officer in a patrol car, the boy talked about the crime. He “admitted he had shot his father, said he wished he had not done it, and indicated he knew it was wrong,” according to the records.

“He asked if his father were dead, or just injured, and explained the events leading up to the shooting . . . He did not mention being told by anyone else to shoot his father. However, he was worried that his sisters would be angry with him.” Later at the police station, he “described how the family decided to have a movie night (they watched Yogi Bear), then going to bed where he woke up after a little while and ‘started thinking that I should end the son versus father thing.’”

There was even spontaneous talk at the scene that tended to show that the boy had talked to his sister beforehand about his actions. An officer said that he heard the girl say, “I thought you were going to shoot him in the stomach.”

Showing his age, the boy even asked an officer: “Do people get more than one life?”


The Boy


Born in 2000, he and his younger sister lived with their biological mother until he was about four, “when they were placed with their father, Jeff, after numerous reports to Child Protective Services relating to neglect by their mother,” court records stated. The boy “had been exposed to heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana and alcohol ingested by his biological mother prenatally.” In addition, the records say, he “had been physically abused and severely neglected by his mother, and was sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend.”

By this time, his father was remarried to his stepmother and the couple had three additional children.

After her son’s arrest, his natural mother told a Los Angeles TV station that she was worried about her son’s safety in state custody. “With the current situation, it looks really dim,” his biological mother said. She said her son struggled with emotional issues and learning challenges as a result of his upbringing. “I’m very concerned,” she told the TV station. “It makes me wonder, will he ever graduate from high school?”

Court records outlined the extent of his emotional problems: “From the time he was three years old, his paternal grandmother could not babysit him because she could not control his outbursts. He suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, resulting in trouble at school due to his inability to sit still; he also engaged in impulsive and violent behavior towards both children and teachers, which included hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, stabbing with pencils or other sharp objects, and hitting with objects, as well as running out of class. At school, he also threw tantrums where he threw over all the students’ desks and chairs.”

In one school program for children with learning disabilities, he turned his wrath on his teacher, “kicking, hitting, and scratching the teacher, pulling the teacher’s hair, calling her a ‘fucking bitch,’ and threatening to kill the teacher.” While his father and stepmother got therapy for him, he attended “six different schools due to violent outbursts.” Eventually, Mr. Hall and his wife homeschooled the boy.

Court records “indicated that on the date of the shooting, (the boy) was not taking his psychotropic medications.”

Upon his arrest, his youth immediately presented problems for the justice system.

Riverside Prosecutor Michael Soccio told CBS TV’s Lesley Stahl in 2011 that when the lad was “taken into juvenile hall, he’s so little, they didn’t have shoes to fit him. So they had to go out and buy him a little pair of tennis shoes. And he asked if he’d be able to keep the shoes when he left. Which showed an absolute lack of understanding of what was going to be happening.”

Ms. Stahl reported that then the U.S. Department of Justice said there were nine cases of 10-year-olds killing a parent since 1980.

After the boy’s commitment to state custody, Mr. Soccio told a reporter: “He is a little boy, and his life has been very, very sad. I also would have been concerned had he been released. I think he’s a very dangerous boy.”

In the CBS interview, Ms. Stahl asked the prosecutor whether he thought the father’s neo-Nazi politics had anything to do with the killing. “When I first heard it I thought: there’s got to be some connection with Nazi views, with guns, with weapons, with violence,” he responded.

Ms. Stahl: “Hate speech?”

Mr. Soccio: “Hate speech, sure.”

At the boy’s court hearing, his defense argued that the Mr. Hall home glorified violence and, given his age, it left the boy unable to understand right from wrong. For instance, the defense offered a photo of the boy, with a toy gun, giving a Nazi salute and smiling beside a hooded Klansman.


Mr. Jeff Hall


Mr. Hall had an unstable work history and was unemployed for the three years leading up to his death, although he had worked for a time as a plumber.

Court records state that he was addicted to Percocet and methamphetamine, and was frequently violent towards both his wife and the boy. He was worse when intoxicated: on those occasions he would just lose control, and start beating on the boy, the records said. Sometimes the stepmother intervened. A few days before the shooting, Mr. Hall became violent with his wife, throwing a glass cup at her, which cut her. Mr. Hall’s mood swings and infidelity made her unhappy.

Mr. Hall’s Nazi affiliations began around 2007. That year his wife’s sister was killed in a hit-run accident involving an undocumented Mexican. As a result, Mr. Hall became involved in the National Socialist Movement and the Save Our State movement, both anti-illegal immigration groups.

Mr. Hall owned guns, which he frequently showed off, including the Rossi handgun that was kept in the closet of the bedroom. There were no child protection locks for the gun, which was kept loaded. He sometimes took his son to the Mexican border, where the Nazis patrolled, and he taught the boy how to shoot.

He was a rising star in the national Nazi movement. As California director of the National Socialist Movement, the nation’s largest neo-Nazi group, Mr. Hall helped lead demonstrations in Riverside and Los Angeles, where white supremacists waved swastika flags and gave Nazi salutes.

In 2010, Mr. Hall, who had a cross and skull tattooed on the back of his shaved head, ran unsuccessfully as a National Socialist for a seat on a Riverside water district. Before his death he promised to run again.

In his campaign literature for a seat on the Western Municipal Water Board, Division 2, he acknowledged his Nazi membership, and wrote: “I would like to remind everyone in my district that I’m not a career politician. My desire is to address the water issues and needs of our community and not use the seat as a stepping stone to establish a possible career in politics. A vote for me would be a vote for sensible water conservation and solutions.”

That sounded like any traditional candidate. But, then Mr. Hall added: “I would also like to remind the residents in my district that you have anonymity in the voting booth. If you are worried about being labeled as I have, you simply do not need to share the name of the candidate you voted for. You have the unique opportunity to cast a vote for someone who believes in White Civil Rights and serving his community. You will not be singled out or labelled as I have.”

Because water board members are paid about $18,000 in salary and another $17,000 in benefits, the post would have amounted to a part-time job for the unemployed Mr. Hall. However, he lost, garnering a respectable 28 percent of the vote.

Mr. Hall’s sister, told CBS’s Ms. Stahl that she hated his Nazi politics, but that she had always seen him as a “model father.” “He was an amazing father and would do anything for his kids,” she said. “And you know, my nephew (the shooter) would just look at him like he was a hero.” But, she added, in the years before his death, “The hero changed; darkened.”

Whether it was the power of being a neo-Nazi leader or the powerlessness of unemployment, she wasn’t sure. His mother told a reporter she believed the economic recession and his inability to find a job sent him into joining the neo-Nazis.


Legal Issues


In its arguments, the boy’s defense in the appeal contended that the judge who heard the original case: (1) the court erroneously considered statements obtained in violation of his Miranda rights; (2) his evaluation by a prosecution expert during trial, without counsel present, violated his due process rights; (3) the court improperly weighed the evidence in finding that he knew the wrongfulness of his conduct; (4) the true findings must be reversed due to cumulative errors during the adjudicatory hearing; and (5) the court abused its discretion in committing him to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The three appeals judges who ruled in the case rejected each of the assertions, including No. 5, which has set a precedent in California. The ruling, in fact, now stands as a road map for other California judges when confronted with an unusually youthful defendant charged with murder.

One important issue on appeal was whether the boy, required to be educated under federal law, would receive the proper schooling he needed while in the youthful offenders prison. In ruling that he would, the judge in the case made the right decision, as it turns out.

“The testimony adduced at the contested disposition hearing also showed that the minor had greatly improved cognitively while detained in juvenile hall, and had progressed academically,” the record stated. “Further, the minor reported that he liked it at the Division of Juvenile Justice.”

Additionally, a neuropsychologist testified that he “felt that the minor would have difficulty managing behaviors and emotional control outside a highly structured environment” and stated that the boy “requires supervision; it was not safe for either him or the public to be released into the community.”

But, the pivotal legal issue in the appeal was where to incarcerate the boy. California law requires judges to consider less restrictive alternatives to the youthful offender prison system. While the prosecutor argued for secure imprisonment with the Division of Juvenile Justice, the boy’s attorneys said he had serious emotional disabilities that the state wasn’t equipped to handle. They wanted him placed in a residential treatment center, where security would be lighter and the therapy would be more intense.

His attorneys suggested that he be sent to a kind of honor farm for troubled kids, which the judge rejected. “Minor’s counsel informed the court there were two additional possible placements to consider, namely the San Diego Children’s Center, and the Devereux School in Texas,” the records say.

The judge ordered the county probation department to check these facilities, and later, an officer “reported that neither of the alternative placements were secured facilities.”

In addition, the San Diego Center for Children rejected the boy because of the seriousness of the charge.

Independently, a description of Devereux’s program for children doesn’t sound like a good fit for a boy who had used a handgun to murder his dad. “The Children’s Program at Devereux-Victoria is a 24-hour residential treatment program that provides treatment to emotionally and cognitively affected children ages 5-14,” the school’s Web site states. “The program’s goals are to provide structure and therapeutic intervention with the aim of returning children to their homes or to lower levels of care.”

In addition, the court even considered a school in Utah that had accepted the boy. “The probation officer learned that the facility had accepted him without having interviewed him, based solely on the recommendation of an official with Department of Mental Health that the boy was a level-headed, polite kid,” the records stated. “The probation department had reservations about the acceptance because no out-of-state facility had ever accepted a minor without interviewing the minor either in person, or via telephone. The probation officer was also concerned that (the home) was a 197-bed facility with 119 openings. The probation officer again recommended commitment to a prison in the Division of Juvenile Justice.”

In October 2013, the judge ruled that “less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective and inappropriate, and that commitment to DJJ would be beneficial.”

Said the judge in the original ruling: “The court noted that the minor is a danger to the public who must be housed in a secure facility, and that he would not receive the intensive services he needs, nor would society be protected, in a less restrictive placement. The court adjudged the minor a ward of the court, found he was a person with exceptional needs, and committed him to the DJJ. The court set his maximum confinement time as 40 years to life, consisting of 15 years to life for the murder finding, plus 25 years to life for the gun discharge enhancement.”

However, the state’s juvenile justice system cannot hold a youthful offender beyond the age of 25.

Since sentencing it appears the boy has progressed relatively well.

“I have grown attached to him in an odd way,” Mr. Soccio, the prosecutor, told a London reporter. “I enjoy watching him grow and change but I am convinced he has done better in a quasi-military penal environment” because he “seems to like it, he knows what the rules are and what is expected, and he is treated with dignity.”
R.D. Byron-Smith's books are available at all online booksellers.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Requiem for Snow White


Editor’s Note: The Walt Disney Company has laid off American workers in its technology operations in Orlando, Florida, and replaced them with foreign tech workers brought into the United States from India on special work permits. The American workers even trained their foreign replacements. While the story made The New York Times there is another aspect of the drama that was hush-hush. It’s printed here in full glory of the First Amendment.

By A. Paradee

The lovely black-haired Snow White cooled her high-heels outside his office for an hour before the head of Disney films invited her in.

“Sir, you asked to see me?” she says, shyly, allowing him to take her delicate hand in his for a light greeting.

“Yes, it’s about your future with Disney, Snow White,” says Mr. Ignore. “Please sit down.” His sweeping, manicured hand offers a plush red leather chair, and she sits, properly adjusting her light blue dress, tugging it well below her knees.

She cannot contain her excitement. “Oh, I thought you would never call, sir,” gushes Snow White, an American born in 1937 who still looks eighteen. “I heard you’re casting a new Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and I can’t wait to get going on the project.” Her teeth gleam in the bright light, her smile as warm as the sun over Florida’s Disney World.

“That’s why I called you in.” His voice slightly tightens, and Mr. Ignore folds his hands in front of him on the huge cherry wood desk. In its sheen he sees the reflection of Snow White’s lovely, enthusiastic face.

Now she breathlessly continues like a schoolgirl. “. . . When do we begin production? Who is cast as Prince Charming? Zac Efron would be great. He’s so cute!”

“We’re still months away from filming,” Mr. Ignore says, dryly, clearing his throat of a catch as big as a piece of filet mignon. “But we have cast Snow White.”

She blushes a meek giggle, and says gleefully, “Well . . . of course, I know, Mr. Ignore, I’m Snow White. It’s the job I live for.” The words are barely out of her petal-shaped lips when his eyes lock sternly on hers. Seeing them Snow White’s voice tails off uneasily.

He watches two wholesome wrinkles on her forehead turn a puzzled grayish as her sparkling eyes stare back into his frowning managerial face. His hands unfold on the desk as if his fingers want to run away. “Snow White, have you ever heard of an H-1B work visa?” His words are dispassionate, corporate-like.

“Sounds governmental or something,” says Snow White, still carefree, but her nerves are latching up a tick. She shifts in the chair and her hands moisten with perspiration. H-1B, she thinks, H-1B. Did she read about that in Fairytale News? She can’t remember.

“It’s a special permit wherein American companies hire highly skilled foreign workers and bring them to the United States for jobs.” Mr. Ignore’s eyes brighten at his words. He appears fond of the ramifications of them.

She hasn’t worked since the last Snow White movie, and the thought of her mortgage and other monthly bills have been overwhelming her in this economy. She spends a lot of money on floor cleaners alone. Finally she speaks. “You mean this special permit lets you replace American workers like me?”

“No, they don’t replace them, exactly that is,” says the corporate executive. “However, there are certain H-1B loopholes and . . . .”

Uncharacteristically the overly polite Snow White interrupts him. “Mr. Ignore, you mean you called me to your office today to inform me about this visa program that benefits foreign workers?”

Mr. Ignore clears his throat again. “In a way, yes. We’re applying the H-1B visa to bring in a new Snow White from India for the movie.” There, it’s out, he thinks.

Her eyes widen, and she grimaces a hopeful smile. “You mean, she is to be my stunt double in the movie?”

“No, I mean she’s replacing you as Snow White, altogether.”

Her stomach lurches up and into her throat.

Mr. Ignore quickly continues with the rational. “She’ll work for a third of the Guild scale we’d have to pay you, and our shareholders expect me to watch expenses.”

“OMG! An East Indian Snow White?” Her voice stutters, with emotion.

He responds, “She’ll have to spend hours in make-up before shooting, of course.”

“But, Mr. Ignore, I am Snow White,” she pleads. “I’m an American. This is un-American, sir. You’re importing a foreigner, paying her way to the United States of America to take my job here, the job my family relies on so desperately.”

“You’ll go on unemployment benefits,” he says. Now an arrogant air settles around the executive. “Get used to it,” he snaps, wagging his finger at her. “It’s the future of American business, and collaterally, American jobs.”

Her entire being is embraced by unimaginable hurt. Tears trickle down her rosy cheeks, and Snow White manages: “Mr. Ignore, I knew Walt. Walt was a friend of mine, and you’re no Walt!” It is as vicious as virtuous Snow White can get.

“Certainly we expect you to stay on the job until you train her in the nuances of being Snow White,” he says, glibly. “A couple of weeks at most, and then you’re gone.”

She’s sobbing now, her face held by her trembling hands in her lap. “Mr. Ignore, I don’t think even my Evil Stepmother is that cruel.” Anguished tears fall onto her cotton dress.

“It’s free trade, honey,” Mr. Ignore intones to himself.

Her chest begins to tighten, and sniffing back tears, Snow White asks, “Is Prince Charming one of those H-1-Whatevers, too?”

“The whole cast is H-1B’s from India. For continuity’s sake.” Standing, Mr. Ignore turns his back on Snow White and gazes up at a massive portrait of Walt Disney, looking down at him in what he thinks is admiration.

“Even my beloved dwarves?” Her breath is short and the words come out in a faint, halting mutter. In disbelief she watches the back of Mr. Ignore’s head nod, affirmatively, and she begins to hyperventilate. With one hand on her chest, her other arm tingles with numbness. Her mouth dries and her head drains of nourishment, and she feels dizzy and faint.

Looking up at the iconic portrait, as if toasting it, Mr. Ignore proudly proclaims:

“Yes, all are H-1B’s from India. Obviously, we’ve renamed the Seven Dwarfs.” Behind him he cannot see Snow White gasping for air, as he ticks off the new Dwarf names one by one. “Doc is now Deepak; Grumpy will be called Ganesh; Sleepy is Sanjay; Bashful will be just as lovable as Bishwa; Happy becomes Harsha; Sneezy is Sonu; and Dopey is more stupid than ever as Debesh.”

Grinning, he turns around to her. Snow White is motionless, slumped in the chair, her eyes are closed, and she appears lost in eternal sleep.

R.D. Byron-Smith’s books are available at all online booksellers.