‘In the Heat of the Night’ Italian Style: the Amanda Knox Verdict

Fast forward to the past, the American South of old: small town justice, small town sheriff, justice by prejudice. Only now it’s Perugia, the conservative, provincial Italian town, and the victim is Amanda Knox, the “angel faced” American college student plowed under by a railroad of bad press, bad judgment and bad practices in jurisprudence.

Here are a few good sources for this disturbing story:

  1. Vanity Fair contributing editor Judy Bachrach, who lived in Italy for four years and covered the Knox trial gavel to gavel. As she explained last night on CNN, the small-town Italian justice system derives directly from “the ancient inquisition.” The Knox prosecutor is himself the subject of an inquiry regarding other recent heavy-handed practices. Also, the Italian trial system is devoid of jury vetting and defense challenges to evidence, among other primitive processes.
  2. Such Knox family members as aunt Janet Huff. Huff has an astute understanding of the Perugia phenomenon, which includes gross prejudices fueled by a paparazzi-style Italian tabloid press that distorted innocent behavior and drew false conclusions from the get-go. See Huff’s video statement.
  3. West Seattle Herald reporter Steve Shay, who draws the same conclusions as Bachrach and Knox, from his independent investigation. He commented last night on CNN, with Jim Moret who was sitting in for Larry King.

Meanwhile, as Knox’s family pursues the painful appeals process overseas, Maria Cantwell, a U.S. senator from Knox’s home state of Washington, issued the following statement:

I am saddened by the verdict. I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. I will be conveying my concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Manson Family: Still Evil After All These Years

Like Forrest Gump, I seem to be placed in historic moments. In the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 11, 1969, the Los Angeles Police stopped my travel companions and me. We were on our way out of town in my 1948 Cadillac hearse. It was the morning after the LaBianca murders, and just two days beyond the Sharon Tate massacre.

They searched the 22-foot-long vehicle and checked out its hirsute occupants. At the time, we had no idea why they had stopped us. They released us, to continue on our way to, oh yeah, Woodstock.

Our path through history had also taken us through Eureka, California the morning the Apollo 11 crew took their first giant step for mankind just a month earlier. My post “Moon Landing is Backdrop to Song” captures the irony of that moment.

Actually, we all seem to be reliving these events as 40th anniversaries abound. But this post isn’t my “On the Road” chronicle. It’s about the Manson clan and their quest for freedom.

My take is simple: no. No parole. No freedom. No leniency. Not for Susan Atkins. Not for Leslie Van Houten.

I’ve never been big on the death penalty, but I’m sorry the Manson team wasn’t fried. Their original death sentences were commuted to life behind bars, when the Supreme Court struck down death penalty laws in 1972. Consequently, now the families of Sharon Tate, her murdered friends and the LaBiancas must suffer the pain of further hearings, of impassioned pleas for mercy from the famous and the infamous, and of the possibility that one or more of the clan — specifically Atkins and Van Houten — could be set free.

True, Atkins, 61, is paralyzed and has terminal brain cancer. According to CNN, in her 1993 parole board hearing, Atkins said Tate:

asked me to let her baby live. … I told her I didn’t have any mercy on her.

But, according to Time.com (Time Warner owns CNN), Atkins really said:

Look bitch, I don’t care about you. I don’t care if you are having a baby. You are going to die and I don’t feel a thing about it.

The latter account is just a tad bit different in the evil department. Maybe Atkins’ reinvented, kind persona just “can’t handle the truth.”

Sharon’s sister, Debra Tate told CNN this spring that Manson family members convicted of murder should remain behind bars. She said the slayings were:

so vicious, so inhumane, so depraved, that there is no turning back. The ‘Manson Family’ murderers are sociopaths, and from that, they can never be rehabilitated. They should all stay right where they are — in prison — until they die. There will never be true justice for my sister Sharon and the other victims of the ‘Manson Family.’ Keeping the murderers in prison is the least we, as a society who values justice, can do.

Meanwhile, Van Houten continues her request for release. Her latest supporter is filmmaker John Waters. In a recent piece on Huffpost, he says, believe it or not:

I have a really good friend who was convicted of killing two innocent people when she was nineteen years old on a horrible night of 1969 cult madness. Her name is Leslie Van Houten and I think you would like her as much as I do.

CNN’s Erica Hill featured Waters on a show earlier this week. He pitched his latest book, “Crackpot,” and attempted to explain his friendship with Van Houten. CNN’s AC360 is doing a weeklong special on the Manson murders.

Water’s sense of justice is misplaced at best. Maybe he’s just trying to reclaim his past celebrity. He’s always courted the outrageous, so why should his appeal hold, uh, water.

So I’ll think of the victims of the Tate-LaBianca murders on this anniversary and forget once again the evil clan who took their lives in such cruel fashion. Then, I’ll move on to celebrate Woodstock as I did when I pulled away from the Los Angeles police back in 1969.
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Moon Landing is Backdrop to Song

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 1969, I’m releasing the video of a song I wrote that includes that very scene as backdrop. The song is called “Miss America,” a raw tableau.

And how strange it is that the venerable Walter Cronkite, who defined that very moment, should pass right now. It’s as if he and Neil Armstrong will somehow launch into eternity together, in a fitting orbit.

I was in a second-rate hotel in Eureka, California the day the Apollo 11 crew landed. I was with my own merry band of pranksters on a cross country trip in my 1948 Cadillac hearse. As we descended into the hotel lobby, Cronkite’s voice crackled from a TV, saying something like, “What a great county…I just don’t understand these hippies…” The TV was a table model that sat on a broken Sylvania console. Behind these proceedings, a broken American Indian lumbered in the hot California sun. What an ironic scene. Could have been out of an Antonioni film.

The “Miss America” video is as raw as the song, which will be released on a forthcoming album. Here are the lyrics:

MISS AMERICA

Her cherry red lights in Tulane
her white fences in Springfield
her black gloves around your neck
dancing to “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”
her white panties always only
a twirl away on the silver screen
her darker dreams always only
a thrill away on the back streets

Oh, Miss America
Oh, Miss America

Her John Garfield Joan Crawford face
in the clutches of industrial light
her cocktail lie under the nightclub table
her tires kissing always kissing the feremoned pavement
her cowboy stand on the drifting plains
her palaces of corn and artichoke queens
her dumb fuck Brooklyn hallways
stinging of Pampers and malt liquor dreams

We hung our balls from a Cadillac hearse
we were young and full of cream
we screwed a waitress in Barstow
to see her dessert hunger breath
we sang the Lord’s Prayer on Market Street
“Uncle John’s Band” in Birmingham
we blew our guts in a Eureka Hotel
the day they took a giant leap for mankind

Copyright Allen Shadow
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Waffle House

This country is a thrill ride. No shit — the roar of Macks and Peterbilts down Route 81 south through Maryland, Virginia, red diodes bleeding into the night. My wife and I just returned from a road trip: New York to North Carolina.

Sailing on traffic thermals along Virginia 220 toward Rocky Mount, Martinsville — shear hillsides, split Blue Ridge mounts, ghost cabins, Jesus on the AM, breakfast in Waffle House, eggs, grits, hash browns scattered and smothered.

Brings to mind a poem I wrote in Florida:

WAFFLE HOUSE

In the shrill light
against the black pearl glass
across the shimmering counter
large globe hanging

bearded rail of a man
hung over country eggs
hashbrowns

waitress in Christmas nails
flatchested, hardscrabble

“My momma and my sister
had nary any polish remover
so I scratched off the Santa
and the Christmas Tree”

man faces window
onyx oblivion
and Denny’s neon
in the West Florida night

Also calls to mind the paintings of Jeffrey L. Neumann – motels, bars, eateries. Take a wild ride through his Web site, where you’ll see roadside America at its best. Pictured here is “Lota Burger” (oil, 38” x 72”), a real gem.

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

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Twitter to Ahmadinejad: ‘Tear Down this Wall’

Where’s Don Johnson when you need him? It was Don and New-Wave South Beach deco that brought down “the Wall.” You know, the one in Berlin. Reagan? Nah. That’s a bunch of Republican rubbish.

No kidding. An AP story back in 1989 made a case for how the fall of the Berlin Wall was largely due to yearning among West Berliners for the good life, the goodies, in particular, portrayed in the seminal “Miami Vice,” which breached the Wall via satellite transmissions from the West. It was technology, after all, killed the beast — iron-fisted communism, in the case.

Now, the new Iron Curtain that is being spun around Iran is already threatened by technology. This time in the form of YouTube, Facebook, and, yes, the Almighty Twitter.

Isn’t it fitting on the day that freedom-starved Iranians harnessed Twitter and YouTube to tell its story to the world, the Associated Press’ Stylebook sanctioned the lowercasing of the verb form of Twitter (as in to tweet) and the noun form (as in a tweet). On this momentous day, they should have declared them all caps.
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