(CNN)Pharmacist Barry Cadden was sentenced to nine years in prison Monday after his facility caused at least 76 deaths in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak.
(CNN)Pharmacist Barry Cadden was sentenced to nine years in prison Monday after his facility caused at least 76 deaths in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak.
The pro-Trump super PAC that vowed an ad campaign against Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller within hours of him on Friday opposing the GOPs ObamaCare overhaul bill previewed its attack Saturday on social media.
Why did @SenDeanHeller lie to voters about #RepealAndReplace? Hes now with @NancyPelosi. NOT GOOD! #HellerVotesYes, tweeted America First Policies, run by former President Trump and Vice President Pence campaign staffers.
The group has bought $1 million worth of traditional ads (typically TV and radio) and is expected to start running them next week in Nevada, in addition to a digital ad campaign.
Heller is one of five GOP senators opposing the bill. The chamber has 52 GOP senators. Leaders of the GOP-controlled chamber need 51 votes to pass their ObamaCare bill. That means a maximum of two can defect, and that would require Pence to cast the deciding vote in what would be a 50-50 tie with Senate Democrats.
Heller is up for re-election in 2018 and is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP senators.
“Obamacare is collapsing. This is a crisis for the American people. There is no excuse for any Republican or Democrat to oppose the Senate health care bill outright,” group President Brian Walsh said Friday. “Senator Heller … appears to be heading down a path with Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the radical left.”
The other GOP senators who oppose the bill are Sens. Ted Cruz, Texas; Ron Johnson, Wisconsin; Mike Lee, Utah; and Rand Paul, Kentucky.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released the bill Thursday, which awaits a financial analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and a floor vote by as early as next week.
This bill currently in front of the United States Senate is not the answer. Heller said Friday. In this form, I will not support it.
LOS ANGELES A grand jury in California that investigated an Orange County jailhouse informant program, which a Superior Court judge and a state appeals court have agreed clearly exists, issued an unsettling report last week claiming that it is a myth largely created by the defense in a mass murder case and the media and that there is no widespread cheating by district attorneys and sheriffs officials, even though another ruling Friday in a murder case again indicated it is true.
At the center of the scandal are allegations that sheriffs deputies have for decades planted informants next to targeted inmates in the countys jails and have directed them to fish for incriminating evidence to help secure convictions. While its legal for law enforcement authorities to use informants to help bolster cases, in many Orange County trials, its alleged that the informants questioned inmates who were represented by lawyers, violating their right to counsel. Prosecutors are accused of presenting damning evidence gathered by the informants in court while withholding other evidence that could have been beneficial to the defense. That would violate a defendants right to due process.
While the Orange County grand jury conceded that there have been some violations in a small number of cases, its largely due to laxness in supervision at the agencies, which, the grand jury said, have moved to correct course.
The grand jury also found that ongoing hearings related to the misuse of informants inside county jails, which are being conducted as part of the penalty phase in the case against mass killer Scott Dekraai, are nothing more than a witch hunt that the grand jury suggested should be stopped.
Dekraai pleaded guilty to murdering eight people in a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. He is still awaiting sentencing while the courts wrangle over allegations of malfeasance in the use of a jail informant who was allegedly planted in a cell next to Dekraai. At stake is whether the court will impose a death sentence.
The Orange County Sheriffs Department and Orange County district attorneys office have long denied that their officials have cheated to secure convictions. And the grand jury indicated that they should be believed.
But the grand jurys findings fly in the face of years of litigation, a mountain of evidence and multiple court rulings.
Just Friday, an appeals court unanimously affirmed a ruling that the district attorneys office improperly withheld records on a jailhouse informant used in the 2005 double-murder trial of Henry Rodriguez, who was freed in May 2016 after spending 18 years in prison. His attorney told the Los Angeles Times that he was never contacted by the grand jury about Rodriguezs case.
The grand jurys findings have left many legal experts startled and deeply concerned that there must be an outside, independent probe of the allegations, beyond the investigation by the countys grand jury.
I was surprised and distressed by the grand jury report, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of law at the University of California, Berkeley, told HuffPost.
Laura Fernandez, a senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School who studies prosecutorial misconduct around the nation, said that this situation calls for a genuinely independent inquiry, one that asks real questions in the hopes of getting real answers.
Heres some of the reasons the report left many feeling that an independent probe is desperately needed now more than ever before.
While the grand jury accepts that the Orange County Sheriffs Department may be using jailhouse informants, in its report it advances a narrative that sheriffs supervisors gave at recent Superior Court hearings linked to the jail informant scandal. They testified that it was merely a small group of rogue deputies who were illegally working with informants that violated the rights of numerous defendants and that it was done behind the backs of their supervisors.
But that narrative disintegrated over the last two weeks of testimony as a deputy and a supervisor indicated that the departments upper management were aware of deputies actions with jail informants and that deputies received supervisor approval to do that work. Theres also a stack of internal memos that have been produced in court that detail the clear understanding of widespread use of jailhouse informants all the way up the chain of command at the sheriffs office for more than a decade.
One internal memo, dated March 2007 and sent from a sheriffs sergeant on up to a captain, celebrates the intelligence gathering skills of the Special Handling unit at one county jail. It states that the jail unit possesses an excellent expertise in the cultivation and management of informants expertise recognized by the Orange County District Attorneys Office as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California.
A 2009 internal OCSD memo sent to command staff requests permission from an assistant sheriff to place an informant next to an inmate charged with murder so the conversation can be recorded. The assistant sheriff granted permission the same day it was requested.
A 2008 memo from deputies to members of the departments command staff indicates that nearly a decade ago the OCSD admitted it had already cultivated hundreds of confidential informants.
Another internal memo from 2007 details a large informant presence in the jails, saying there were in excess of 40 [informants] throughout the facility at the time.
Theres also an internal memo once posted on a wall in the office of the Special Handling unit, which dealt with jail informants. The memo listed deputies duties, including Cultivate/manage Confidential Informants.
Before their report was published, grand jurors heard the testimony and observed the key documents being discussed in the courtroom. Grand jurors also had access to court briefs on the internal OCSD memos and other evidence. But the report doesnt address that testimony or evidence.
The sheriffs department, responding to a request for comment, directed HuffPost to its statement last week on the release of the grand jury report that says it validates many past statements made by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens regarding the use of jailhouse informants and confirms a departmentally sanctioned program does not exist.
The Orange County district attorneys office maintains a database of informant records called the Orange County Informant Index, a set of records on jailhouse informants maintained by the prosecutors office stretching back decades. But Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders Dekraais defense attorney, who, in a series of bombshell motions, has unearthed evidence of a long-concealed snitch program operating inside county jails argues that the D.A.s office has repeatedly failed to turn over those records in various cases and has struggled with producing these records for at least two decades.
Sanders obtained a 1999 lettersent to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from the California attorney generals office in which David Druliner, who headed the state attorney generals criminal division, describes his serious concern about the unwillingness of prosecutors including the head of Rackauckas homicide unit to turn over informant evidence favorable to a man on death row. Druliner threatened to turn the evidence over himself, which ultimately forced the district attorneys office to comply.
The grand jury report does address the existence of an informant database and concedes that some prosecutors have used flawed legal reasoning when deciding not to disclose informant information from it, but the report gives little sense of the scope of the problem, it does not address the letter nor what it suggests about Rackauckas apparent ambivalence to determining whether other cases were affected.
Sanders told HuffPost that he sat down with the grand jurys informant committee and its adviser, former U.S. Attorney Andrea Ordin, and raised the issue of the Rackauckas-Druliner exchange but that they appeared disinterested.
Omitting from the report any mention of the letter and the cases in which index entries were hidden over the past three decades corroborates that the grand jury was simply never going to call it straight when it came to the D.A.s office, Sanders said.
Ordin did not respond to HuffPosts requests for comment.
The D.A.s office misconduct identified by Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals in the Dekraai penalty phase, which led to the OCDA office being recused from the case, was affirmed last November by the states 4th District Court of Appeal, but that ruling is addressed in the report only as a footnote.
The D.A.s office was also found to be attempting to steer murder cases away from Goethals, a tactic called blanket papering. In 55 of 58 cases over two years, county prosecutors apparently tried to avoid Goethals. Superior Court Judge Richard King said the tactic had substantially disrupted the orderly administration of criminal justice in the county.
Remember here the Court of Appeal described the behavior of the OC district attorney as egregious, Chemerinsky said. The D.A.s office abused its power by papering Judge Goethals in retaliation in 55 of 58 cases over a two-year period. The D.A.s own commission made recommendations that have been ignored. None of this is reflected in the grand jury report.
Rackauckas has long maintained that no one in his office intentionally behaved inappropriately in relation to the jailhouse informant program and that no prosecutors have illegally withheld evidence.
The district attorneys office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in response to the grand jury findings, it said last week that the report confirms the steadfast position of the district attorneys office and that the grand jury debunked the media witch hunt for agency corruption.
The grand jury strongly condemned the claims of what it called a structured jailhouse informant program operating in the Orange County jails and argued that allegations that the district attorneys office and sheriffs department conspired to violate inmates rights through the use of such a program are unfounded.
That narrative does not stand up to factual validation, the report reads. The grand jury says it found no evidence of a strategic plan or schedule for jail snitches, no formal training, dedicated budget, codified job descriptions or calendaring of events for a jailhouse informant program.
Legal experts were puzzled by this insistence that a shadow program in county jails wouldnt exist without having a formal organization.
Noting the absence of definitive evidence of a structured jailhouse informant program, the grand jury simply dismissed outright the possibility of something more covert and loosely organized than what it allegedly set out to find, Fernandez, the Yale fellow, told HuffPost. The grand jury, Fernandez argued, never stopped to consider whether evidence of strategic plans, dedicated budgets and calendared events was something one might really hope to find in the context of an (illegal) informant program.
Moreover, the grand jury does not explain why it has focused on determining whether a formally structured informant program existed instead of analyzing case by case how fair trials may have been affected by jail informant evidence.
For instance, court records indicate that one section of the jail, called L-20, which was officially designated a mental health ward but has recently come to be understood as an informant tank, appears to have been used for years to obtain evidence in violation of defendants rights. The use of informant tanks is not discussed in the grand jury report.
They omitted everything that would have decimated their conclusions, Sanders told HuffPost. For instance, before the rogue deputies did their work, supervisors bragged about the cultivation of hundreds of jail informants done by different deputies. Would those deputies qualify as rogue, too, even as their bosses gloated about the informant work they orchestrated? This group … showed not the slightest sign they were concerned about all the evidence kept from indigent defendants.
The grand jurys report implies that Judge Goethals should cease the ongoing evidentiary hearings in the Dekraai case.
Any further investigation of potential widespread, systemic institutional wrongdoing surrounding discovery or informant issues in Orange County would be far more appropriately addressed by these agencies and not by the trial court for the largest confessed mass murderer in Orange County history, the report reads.
While a grand jury has broad authority granted by statute to investigate matters of local, city or county concern, it does not have the authority to investigate matters of state concern. Superior Courts are considered state courts.
So, questioning an ongoing hearing conducted by a Superior Court judge appears to fall outside its mission.
The grand jury report must be authorized by the Superior Court, but the court does have the right to refuse the filing if the report exceeds established legal limits, according to state statute. The courts are not bound to act upon the grand jury report other than to be informed by it.
The public information officer for the Orange County Superior Court system, under which the grand jury falls, told HuffPost in a statement that the Superior Court signed off on the grand jury report before it was published and posted but that the presiding judge can reject a report if it exceeds the grand jurys authority. When asked if the court believed the grand jury may have exceeded its authority, the office said it could not provide insight into the judicial decision-making process.
The tone of the report, whichis dismissive of the years-long efforts by multiple lawyers and judges in the county, has also raised questions about its fairness, particularly with information coming to light that the grand jurors met with dozens of prosecutors but few defense attorneys.
The jail informant program is a myth, the grand jury declared. Current investigations of the sheriffs department and prosecutors are a witch hunt, it said. And even when the grand jury argued that just a few deputies might have illegally used jail informants, the deputies were presented as having somewhat noble intensions, that they had gotten carried away with efforts to be crime-fighters.
Once I saw them describe the investigation as a witch hunt, I was very skeptical of the report, Chemerinsky said.
Fernandez said that the grand jury opting to use such incendiary language was disturbing because it flies in the face of contrary, carefully reasoned findings by the two courts who have considered the question the most closely.
That language, like the reports broader findings, has left everyone familiar with the situation scratching their heads including, unfortunately, some of the victims, Fernandez said.
Fernandez referred to the reaction of Paul Wilson, whose wife, Christy, was one of the eight people killed by Dekraai. A myth? What a slap in the face to each of these families, Wilson said to the court. We have had to suffer through this, and they call it a myth.
The Orange County allegations have prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation.
Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama on Thursday spoke out against a proposed GOP Senate bill that dismantles the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
(CNN)Batool Ali is six years old, though you would never guess that from her huge, haunted eyes and emaciated frame. Ribs jutting out over her distended belly, Batool weighs less than 16 kilograms (35 pounds). She is one of nearly half a million children in Yemen suffering from severe malnutrition.
(CNN)The family of American college student Otto Warmbier objected to an autopsy, leaving the former North Korea detainee’s official cause of death a mystery for the time being.
At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday.
The American Eagle regional flights in question use the Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a top operating temperature of 118 degrees, according to an American Airlines statement provided to The Arizona Republic.
Extreme temperatures hamper a planes ability to get off the ground. The higher the temperatures rise, the more speed the plane needs to take off. Runways may not be long enough to accommodate the extra need.
Jets like Airbus and Boeing have bigger engines and arent expected to be sidelined by the heat.
Flight changes, American Airlines said, would be free of charge. Customers have been encouraged to contact the airline for rebooking options or to get their money back.
The airline is the only one so far to have reported cancellations.
ST. LOUISJust before daybreak, sitting at the edge of her bed in an upper bedroom, she clutched her pale blue housecoat and listened tearfully to the transistor radio on the nightstand. At the top of the hour, a familiar, melodic voice confirmed what she already knew: Her husband was dead.
It had been a tumultuous relationship, at times beautiful and at others marred with ugliness. They were separated and had been for several years, living worlds apart and with other people now, but he was still hersstill her husband and the father of her youngest child. The news that he had been murderedfound shot in the head and pronounced dead on arrival at a city-run hospitalwas devastating.
Shed gotten the fateful call from nightclub owner Gene Normanwho doubled as a disc jockey on KATZ-AM 1600as she closed her shift as a cocktail waitress at The Windjammer. She left the bar, situated atop the Marriott Hotel near Lambert Field, and began the 20-mile drive home east along Interstate 70. As she crossed the Mississippi River into East St. Louis, Norman took to the airwaves and dedicated a songGladys Knights Midnight Train to Georgiato Jerry.
he couldnt make it,so hes leaving the life hes come to know
It was still dark out when she pulled into the public housing complex in the Duck Hill neighborhood. She wailed, screaming and shaking in her car.
Id rather live in his world,than live without him in mine
I watched my mother descend the stairs that Sunday morning. Overcome with grief, her voice breaking and her body still trembling, she reached for me. Hes gone, she whispered, grabbing me with both hands. Your daddy was killed.
It was 1973 and I was 5 years old. Even then, I knew what death meant. As our family gathered at Aunt Geraldines house on 10th Street that evening, my uncle held me through the night. I curled up in his lap and sobbed until I slept.
I am 48 now, with grown children and grandchildren of my own, butin so many waysthose tears have never stopped falling. I still think about him every dayhow our lives might have been different, about who killed him and why. Some 43 years later, his murder remains unsolved.
In the months and years following his death, relatives floated theories when they thought I wouldnt understand or was out of earshot. I quietly tallied the names and places as I listened to grown folks recount pieces of the story, some fact and some folly, over liquor and card games.
When I was old enough to ask questions, few answers came. Each person I asked came to the same dark, dead-end alleyway and stopped. For my fathers mother, Catherine, and for my mother, Mary Alice, I know, the memories were far too painful.
Let sleeping dogs lie, Grandmother Catherine said, repeatedly, until I stopped asking.
When Grandma Cat died in 1994, Id started digging through old newspaper clippings and scouring court documents for clues, finding loose threads to pull on in the story that no onewhether out of fear or loyaltywould tell me. In doing so, I discovered things about the man my father had been, things that made it tough to keep going. It could not have been easy to love this dreamer with delusions of grandeur, as my mother described himcertainly not to love him as hard and as thoroughly as both she and my grandmother had.
He kept dreaming,That someday hed be a starBut he sure found out the hard way,That dreams dont always come true
With stops and starts, I have spent decades looking for answers, slowly and methodically stitching together the fabric of a story no one would talk about. New questions and new answers have emerged over the years as I chased down a faceless killer. But in the end, I came up shortunable to answer the driving question: Who murdered my father?
My search ended where it had begun: with a man named Roland B. Norton Jr.
Roland was a desperate mandesperate to survive the violent drug war brewing in north St. Louis and desperate to stay out of prison. Charged with two counts of dealing heroin, Norton was quickly released on bond and hit the street with one end in mind: find the government informant threatening his freedom and kill him.
In the weeks leading up to his November 1973 federal drug-trafficking trial, two men were shot, in separate incidents, execution-style. The second man, Wyart Taylor, was my father. He was found, blocks from his house in north St. Louis, face down on a sidewalk in a pool of blood.
A grand jury indictmentannounced by Donald J. Stohr, the U.S. district attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri in the fall of 1973spelled out the damning case against Norton, who was suspected of having connections to at least two notorious drug rings that kept north St. Louis awash in brown sugar and snow. On Aug. 10 of that year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that 24-year-old Nortonwho was then employed as an auditor in the city license collectors officeand another man named Bernard Pratt were allegedly part of a large-scale narcotics sales operation.
Secured in March, the Norton indictment had been sealed for nearly six months to protect the identity of a federal witness and the integrity of other ongoing investigations. However, once Norton was arrested that August, the document became public and Norton immediately launched a city-wide manhunt for the witness.
Eager to unmask the unnamed informant, Nortons defense attorneys filed a bill of particulars on Sept. 6, demanding that the government furnish him with the time, place, and name of the party, if there is any, who are witnesses to the transactions. They also moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the delay had prejudiced his ability to present an effective defense, thereby violating his Fifth Amendment right to due process.
The judge in the case, John F. Nagle, denied both motions, leaving Norton to guess who was cooperating with the FBI and DEA.
According to court records, there were two transactions on or about Feb. 26 of that yearone for $350, the other for $500, together weighing 3.9 gramsand, based on that information, Norton figured out who set him up. Just over a month after the indictment was unsealed and the defendant was released on bond from federal custody, Michael Big Mike Jones was tracked down and killed on Sept. 17. Although he was not among the listed witnesses and had no known drug involvement, the second manmy father, Wyartwas murdered on Nov. 5 as he walked home from an illicit card game.
Nortonthe son of a disgraced St. Louis police officerwas never charged in the murders, nor is there any evidence that he was an official suspect in either shooting. According to Grandma Cat, local authorities quickly wrote off both as robberies gone bad and she said the investigations were summarily closed. When she went downtown to police headquarters to offer a cash reward for information about her sons murder, the desk sergeant allegedly told her, Go home, lady. Nobody cares who killed your boy.
But the streets were whispering about the likelihood that Norton, also a reputed pimp who was said to be fond of fine clothes, flashy jewelry, and beautiful women, was involved. Before his arrest on federal drug-trafficking charges, Norton enjoyed the high lifereplete with full-length fur coats, silk-ribboned wide-brimmed hats, and scantily clad, cooing cocktail waitresses who answered at his beckoning. Despite those trappings, and a well-paying city job secured with his fathers connections, he frequently borrowed money from a local loan shark named Papa Joe Henry.
The younger Norton also relied heavily on his father, with whom he still lived in the 4500 block of McMillan Avenue at the time of his indictment.
From the first time I overheard his name in the early 1980s, I was told Norton was the son of a Korean War veteran and dirty cop said to have taken bribes to protect area drug dealers and underground nightclubs, and to have fed police information to Italian mobsters. How much of what my older cousins said was fact or folly I did not know. However, some of that information was confirmed recently when I learned that Norton Sr. had been brought up on decidedly thin charges of public corruption and demoted by the St. Louis Police Department in 1959, after just three years on the force. He resigned five years after that, amid a second investigation into allegations of wrongdoing and after hed allegedly been seen frequenting a tavern of ill-repute as an off-duty officer.
The formal charge cited specific instances that he was alleged to have collected admittance fees, removed objectionable customers and closed the doors at closing hours. He had also associated with a woman wanted for burglary. Two years later, in 1966, Norton Sr. was shot in the leg during an altercation over a strip tease dancer. Tragically, his wife, Ellyn, was killed along with two others in a 1970 car accident on Illinois Route 127, just north of Greenville, Illinois, after another vehicle crossed the centerline and struck them head-on.
By 1973, Norton Sr. was a widower living on his military pension who did not have the means to make his sons five-figure bail. A few months ago, I tracked down a woman, a family acquaintance who had been the live-in girlfriend of a rival drug lord. She hesitantly told me that a pair of Norton Jr.s midlevel drug captains posted the $50,000 cash bond. I was unable to find a trace of either man in public records, but she said they were looking after their own interests. The drug-runners needed Norton out of jail, away from federal agents and potential jailhouse informants. They need Norton to handle that business, the ex-girlfriend told me.
The government witness needed to be found and silenced.
When Norton was first taken into custody, investigators reportedly pressured him about his ties to drug gangs operating in St. Louisincluding the notorious Petty Brothersand offered him a deal that included immunity but no federal protection. Norton refused to tell FBI and DEA agents who he was working for. Roland aint wanna die, the rivals ex-girlfriend said, and he damn sure aint wanna to go to jail.
Norton had few real options and, the way he saw it, there was just one way out. He knew who made the buys from him based on the dates and amounts listed in the indictment. Prosecutors believed by sealing the indictment against Norton they were buying time to make headway in breaking up a suspected ring of high-end dealers and put an end to the bloodshed. The document, unsealed by federal law upon Nortons arrest, might as well have been a death warrant.
Big Mike was a dead man walking, an older female cousin told me.
Described by my cousin as a large flamboyant gay man, Big Mike was making a decent living setting up dealers for the federal investigators. He was a small-time hustler, she said, and court records confirm that Jones was actively helping in several cases.
Bodies were dropping every other day, my cousin, who was once engaged to one of St. Louiss most notorious crime bosses, told me.
Feweven my cousinwould talk with me on the record without anonymity about the drug war that was touched off in the early 1970s and lasted into the early 80s. Almost no one wanted to talk about the violencewhich included car bombings and movie-theater shootingsthat littered the nightly newscasts.
But Dennis Haymon, a former drug kingpin himself who led one of the areas deadliest gangs, knew both Norton and Jones well. My cousin told me about Haymon, and I quickly found him still living in St. Louis.
Haymon remembers that Big Mike was a drug addict who knew how to get money. Jones, he said, was also a well-known booster and a money-getter who peddled stolen goods around the corner of Pendleton and Finney avenues.
Despite Nortons legal predicament, he wasnt a real killer, Haymon, who was once one of the most feared men to walk the streets of St. Louis, told me over a series of phone calls spanning hours in recent months. Now an ordained minister and an anti-gang activist writing his memoirs, Haymon served 25 years of a life sentence after he was convicted on murder charges in 1979.
Haymon confirmed what Id read in old newspaper clips, that he had been locked in a bloody war with the Petty BrothersSamuel, Lorenzo, and Josephfor nearly a decade. In one incident, he said the Pettys climbed atop a nightclub and sprayed a crowd with bullets in a failed attempt to kill him. Five club-goers were shot and a woman standing five feet from Haymon was killed in the incident, but Haymon got away.
My family had been close to the Pettys when I was growing up. As a child, I had been fond of Joewho was engaged to my cousin and fathered two of her now grown daughters. He was a good-looking man with wide, nickel-sized eyes and a full beard. I remember how he had always been especially kind to me, even helping me land my first job at 14 as a dining-room attendant in a downtown St. Louis restaurant that was reputedly run by the mob.
I knew nothing of about his life as a drug dealer or about the string of gangland shootings in which he had allegedly been involved. Joe had been shot once, I knew, while sitting outside a convenience store that he owned. He refused to talk to the responding police officers about the incident, saying only that he would take care of it.
When I asked him about my father back in 1983, Joe kissed my forehead and said, You cant bring him back.
Joe, who died after a suspicious motorcycle accident the following year, used to tell me how much I looked like my father. If he knew what happened to him, he never said, and that secret was buried with him. But in so many ways, Joe had been my protector. A once stern music teacher in junior high school suddenly treated me more gently after she learned that I had family ties to Joe. I never met his brother Sam, an ex-convict who was sent away on federal drug-trafficking charges and died of bone cancer in the 1990s.
But recently, I contacted Lorenzothe only surviving brotherafter cajoling a mutual acquaintance for his cell number. Though I had never actually met Lorenzo, I had always been told that he was an evil man. His first arrest came in 1964, at just 15 years old, when he stabbed 21-year-old Leroy Chappel over 25 cents.
Lorenzo is one mean dude, and just about everybody is scared to death of him, a detective said after he was arrested in 1978. Maybe, just maybe with him being locked up, things will cool down. A search warrant for his Northwoods house turned up sticks of dynamite, assault rifles, ammunition, and a bullet-proof vest.
My fingers twitched as I dialed the number. I stammered, at first, then told him why I was calling.
I cant help you with that, Lorenzo said, repeatedly, as I peppered him with questions about Roland Norton Jr. and Big Mike Jones. He hung up at the mere mention of my fathers name.
If the Petty Brothers knew what happened to Big Mike or my father, those secrets will almost certainly die with the last of them. I phoned Haymon again, pressing him for more details.
Roland was soft, Haymonthe only person willing to talk on the record with his name attachedsaid of Big Mikes murder. He had problems pulling the trigger.
A second, unidentified man supposedly took the pistol from Norton and finished the job.
But even with Big Mike dead, there remained at least one potential witness to testify against Nortonone of his closest associates, in whom he confided nearly everything and to whom, a source said, Norton purportedly owed a piece of money.
Seven weeks after Big Mike was killed, minutes after a resident on Kossuth Avenue called police to report shouting and gunshots, a 30-year-old man was discovered face down on the sidewalk. The victim had been shot four times in the head, at close range, with a .22 caliber pistol. Three rounds were still lodged in his brain. The last blast entered his left temple and exited the right side of his face.
Die nigger. Nigger, die quick, the gunman reportedly said, according to the St. Louis Daily Whirl, a notorious local crime tabloid.
Given the circumstances and the coroners report, I thought it had to be more than a robbery gone bad, as my grandmother had been told. Everything I knew about my fathers killingfour bullets to the head at close range and the words allegedly said as he lay dyingsuggested it was personal. The shooting reeked of vengeance and malice. And the more I learned about Norton and his connections to St. Louiss underworld, the more convinced I became that my fathers association with Norton had cost him his life.
How much did my father actually know about Roland Nortons dealings? Was he one of the governments witnesses in the federal drug case? Was he in league with the drug gangs that ruled the streets of St. Louis? And perhaps more critically, was my father the trigger man in the murder of Big Mike Jones?
Candidly, there were moments when I did not want to know the truth. Over four decades later, I know that most of those questions will go unanswered. To find some of them, I had to search the annals of my own family history.
Florence Blackard (ne Carroll) was a drug-addled prostitute. In the mid-1930s, my great-grandmother was penniless and estranged from her husband, Murray, when she was forced to give up her two daughters after child services intervened. The timid, malnourished girlsmarked with old scars, mended bone fractures, and fresh bruiseswere led from the rodent-infested apartment on Pine Street that had no running water or electricity.
A busted radiator, situated near a sheet-covered window overlooking the avenue below, emitted no heat. The bone-cold, three-room unit was festooned with cockroaches, rotting garbage, and empty bottles of cheap liquor still in their brown carry-out sacks. A well-used douche bag, stained with a deep red Betadine solution, hung on a hanger in the moldy bathroom.
The beatings, Florences youngest daughter, Catherine, would later tell child welfare workers, came almost daily, and they rarely attended school. She and her older sister, Juanita, had been whipped by their mother, she said, with electrical cords and flogged with the buckle end of a leather belt. Social workers also deemed their father, an alcoholic who worked as a janitor and lived in a rooming house, unfit to care for his daughters, who were sent to the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home (now known as Annie Malone Children and Family Services).
In the late 1930s, Catherine and Juanita were adopted by a former chicken picker turned cement mixer from Middle Fork, a tiny settlement in northeast Missouri near Macon, and his college-educated wife, who hailed from the same town. Raised in The Ville section of St. Louisonce home to tennis star Arthur Ashe, boxer Sonny Liston, comedian Dick Gregory, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Chuck Berry and Tina Turnerthe girls flourished under the watchful eyes of Thomas Angell Hubbard and his wife, Nina Grant.
Catherine and Juanita, who took their adopted fathers name, spent holidays and summers in Macon enjoying hayrides along with a bevy of new cousins. In old photographs, they appear healthy and well-fed, beaming at the camera and wearing new clothes for the first time.
However, when 15-year-old Catherine became pregnant in 1942, she was sent to live with Hubbards family in northern Illinois. She gave birth to her first and only child the following summer.
Born on July 17, 1943, in Galesburg, Wyart Taylor Jr. was a slight boy with an apple-shaped cleft chin and serious eyes. With the his biological father largely absent, Catherine married an Army private the following year and moved to Minneapolis, where he was stationed at Fort Snelling.
Catherine, my paternal grandmother, spoke little about her early life and said almost nothing about her life in Minnesota. She did tell me that my father had a son with his girlfriend. In 1963, my oldest brother, Terrence, was born in Minneapolis. I tracked him down in 1993, the year before our grandmother died, when I was 25. At the time, he was a 30-year old Navy officer, stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. Terry, who looks strikingly like our father, never really knew him. It had been my grandmothers dying wish to see Terrynow retired from military serviceand me together. We missed that chance, but he was with me at her small memorial service and, in the years since, Ive tried to give him the family he missed.
As I came of age, my grandmother enjoyed telling and retelling stories about my father and their exploits, and Ive shared many of them with my brother. Over breakfast in her Miami kitchen, the retired housekeeper would launch into soaring tales.
There was the time, in 1965, when my father was holed up in a motel room. Four or five armed men, to whom he owed a sizable gambling debt, had the building surrounded. Every exit was covered. According to Grandma Cat, they were careful about who they allowed in or out, and my father didnt have his pistol.
Cat hatched a plan. At nightfall, she stuffed an overnight bag with three handguns, a box of ammunition, and some old rags. She slipped on an old tattered dress, a floppy hat, and a pair of house slippers. Pretending to be drunk, she stumbled past the men and into the lobby. Once upstairs, grandmother handed over the suitcase of weapons. Cat claimed that she and my father shot their way out of the lobby.
A week later, the same men drove up on my father as he walked to work. Someone sitting in the back seat opened fire. Shot in the upper shoulder, he rolled under a parked car and played dead. He stayed there until his brother-in-law, my Uncle Ross, had the vehicle moved and took him to the hospital.
Years after my biological grandfatherWyart Taylor Sr.was crushed to death in an elevator shaft, allegedly by his stepfather, Richard, my father ran into Richard tossing back whiskey shots at a local tavern. Wyart Sr.s death was ruled an accident but, when my father saw Richard, he promptly introduced himself and, according to my grandmother, he beat the old man to within an inch of his life.
My father was the hero in every story my grandmother ever told.
Cat didnt talk about the time my father broke a long-neck beer bottle over a bar and sliced a mans throat for calling my mother a black bitch. I overheard my late Aunt Doris Jean saying the manknown on the streets as Redsurvived, but only because my dad had him dropped off at a nearby emergency room. It was Doris Jean, my Uncle Willie Byrds wife who was prone to gossip, who revealed another incident in 1967.
After a neighbor told my father that it was my mothers nephew who had robbed our house in broad daylight, my father beat him so badly that his jaw had to be wired shut. Because he was family, Daddy then drove my cousin to the hospital himself and paid the bill in cash.
But the year before he succumbed to HIV/AIDS in 1995, my brother Donniemy mothers son from a previous marriageopened up about the beatings he suffered as a child. I will never forget how he broke down that Thanksgiving, sobbing as he told me what my father had done to him.
There were few mentions about my fathers life in the newspapers of the day. I do not know if he was arrested in any of the incidents my grandmother described or others that she would not talk about. But recently, while tracing through the archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I learned that he had in fact been arrested once and charged with aggravated battery related to a fight on March 5, 1967. The charge was upgraded to involuntary manslaughter when the victim, a foreign exchange student, died after languishing on life support at Barnes Hospital.
Bog Soo Byun, a third-degree black belt from Seoul, South Korea, studying engineering at Washington University, suffered a skull fracture after being repeatedly stomped and kicked. His brother Ho Soo escaped with cuts and bruises. They had come to my godmothers bar, the Gold Room, on the corner of Delmar and Euclid, to take Polaroid photographs and sell them to customers. My father ordered them out. The fight allegedly started when Bog Soo karate-kicked my father, according to defense attorneys.
They told the jury that my father had acted in self-defense.
The trial, held in September 1968, ended in a hung jury, and the charge against my father was abandoned.
Learning of moments like these, I wanted to forget that I was his child. The more I looked, the less he looked like the loving son and devoted husband and father I had been told about. I wondered how a man could truly love his children if he lived that life.
Even though my mother relayed side-splitting stories about her high school classmate, Anna Mae Bullockwho would later become known the world over as Tina Turnerit wasnt until two years ago, sipping salted margaritas on my sisters back porch in Tampa, that my mother told me how she met my father. Those were good times, she said, as she giddily recalled spotting the man with movie-star looks walking up the street. Riding in the car with my Aunt Geraldine, she begged her sister to turn around and follow him. She watched as he went into a nearby nightspot.
My mother went home, quickly dressed up in her finest clothes, and went back to the tavern. She sat at the far end of the bar, night after night, watching woman after woman make his acquaintance. He was a hairdresser, she learned, who specialized in bouffants, roller-sets, up-dos, and the women who wore them.
She decided to send him a drink, and that was enough to get his attention. A few weeks later, when he took sick with the flu, she nursed him back to health while his then girlfriend was watching television in the living room.
After a brief courtship, they married in my Grandmother Alices living room in a small house on Cabanne Avenue in 1966 and settled in University City. If my math is right, he was 23 and she was 25. My brother Christopher and I were born two years later.
In the summer of 68, hed been out on a bender to celebrate his birthday when my mother went into labor. When he stumbled into St. Lukes Hospital the next day, the nurse said we were gone. Thinking his wife and children were dead, he went back to the Gold Room and continued drinking until somebody saw fit to carry him home, where he discovered us happy and healthy. He proudly hoisted his babies onto the bar. I was named after its owner, my godmother, Goldie Holly.
During their time together, he adorned my mother with fur coats and expensive clothes, including Chanel nightgowns, and diamond rings. A sought-after hairstylist who worked nights and weekends at the Gold Room, he frequented social balls and some of the citys most notable nightclubs with my mother.
Until a few weeks ago, I never knew the details of why she left him, though I had my suspicions. The drinking and the women were likely too much. Until two years ago, when my mother finally began to crack the door on her life with my father, no one ever talked about that snowy night in January 1969. In a drunken jealous rage, hed slammed my mothers face through a plate-glass window. That story rests in a keloid scar still visible above her eyebrow. If there were other incidents of violence in our house, my mother never spoke of them.
Your daddy was the love of my life, she told me, time and time again. But that night would be the straw that broke the camels back, she said.
She hid her two older children from a previous marriage with her sister, Geraldine, and her husband, Albert Ross, separated her babies, and went to stay with a friend at Fort Leonard Wood until she could figure out where to go. Within weeks, she was living a new life five hours away in Chicago. On April 1, 1969, she started a job as a waitress in a family restaurant at the Marriott Hotel next to OHare Airport. She saved her money, got a place of her own, and sent for her children.
One afternoon, my father showed up unannounced at the restaurant, sat in her station, and ordered coffee. He begged for forgiveness. She told me she was too afraid to go back to work the next day.
Youre a damn fool if you go back to him, her mother, Alice, scolded. He soon moved to Chicago, took a job at the post office, and continued his entreaties.
Though they never reconciled, in time things cooled and in 1971 they returned separately to St. Louis, where she continued working for a Marriott Hotel near Lambert Field. He later moved in with a woman named Sylvia, and my mother began dating Tony, a diminutive Italian man with his own checkered past who was easy on the eyes. Despite their newfound relationships, my father never gave up on my mother. He cajoled her with sweet talk and gifts, but my mother never took him back. He never stopped being hers.
My father was killed less than two years later.
I sometimes remember more than I want to about him. Sometimes I want to forget the haunting stories and hold on to Christmas mornings and the buckets of pennies he would deliver on my birthday. I still have fond memories of the yellow kite he bought for me from Miss Cherrys store and how I felt like the luckiest little girl in the world. Hed come to Aunt Geraldine and Uncle Rosss house in East St. Louis for a family cookout. It was Memorial Day 1973, and he was still trying to find his way back into my mothers heart.
We never could get that kite to fly.
By all accounts, my father was a cautious man who kept few friends and allowed almost no one into his personal space. Fatefully, the night he was killed, hed decided at the last minute to go to a late night poker game.
He was worried, hed told my motherabout what and who he did not saybut couldnt resist the temptation of easy money. He never played back his winnings and knew, if he was sober, when to walk away. Besides, the address in the 4700 block of Kossuth Avenue was less than a half-mile from his job and mere blocks from his house on the corner of Margaretta and Euclid avenues.
Aunt Doris Jean said the invitation came from someone he trusted: Roland Norton.
At closing time on Nov. 5, 1973 just before Norton was set to stand trial in the federal drug casemy father left his part-time job at the Polynesian Room, a Tiki-style local haunt situated on the ground floor of the Carousel Motel on North Kingshighway, and walked to the address hed been given.
Except there was no game that night.
As he knocked on the door of a dark house on Kossuth Avenuea narrow, tree-lined street two blocks from his own househe was hit with a baseball bat and then shot four times in the head with a small-caliber handgun.
Two gold and diamond rings were stripped from his fingers. His gold necklace and the watch his mother had given him for his birthday that summer were also taken, and his empty pockets left turned inside out. The nearest emergency room was less than a mile away, but according to the death certificate, the victim was pronounced dead on arrival at Homer G. Phillips Hospital.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, Aunt Doris Jean said of his murder.
Though they never said as much, my conversations with Haymon and others led me to believe that my father might have been targeted because he had been the trigger man in the killing of Big Mike. My grandmother would have strongly disputed that notion, saying my father never shot anyone who didnt point a gun at him first. However, everything I know about this caseabout the trail of violence that seemed to follow my fathersays it is possible.
After Big Mike was murdered, prosecutors in the federal drug case against Norton were forced to rely on written statements that detailed his alleged participation in a heroin ring being operated out of the Hi-Note Lounge located in the 4800 block of Delmar Avenue. With Jones dead, on Nov. 26, Nortons defense attorneys saw another opportunity. They appealed to the court again in an attempt to get the case against him tossed out before a verdict could be rendered.
This time, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to produce a material witness for the defendant to interview, claiming that by not arresting Norton when the indictment was initially handed down and denied the ability to question potential witnesses that he had been irreparably harmed. The irony, of course, was that Big Mike Jones was dead and Norton had likely planned and helped carry out his murder. And, with my father now lying in the city morgue, I found it reasonable to think that Nortons tracks had been sufficiently covered.
The motion was denied. Norton was convicted on Nov. 28, 1973. He was sentenced to a federal prison camp on Dec. 21, 1973. He lost a subsequent appeal, but would be released within 10 years.
In 1973, Bernard Pratt and former state representative John F. Conley were also found guilty after being charged with selling heroin from the same lounge.
I believe the three men are dead now; Im certain that Conley and Norton are dead. My older cousin told me Norton was destitute when he died getting high in 2002. Few of his surviving associates will talk about him. Some wont even admit that they knew him, and others, like Lorenzo Petty, simply hang up the phone at the mention of his name.
When I first went looking for Norton, as an 18-year-old, first-semester college freshman in 1986, he was back in federal custody. This time on credit card and mail fraud charges, after he and a live-in girlfriend filled out hundreds of department store applications and made purchases under fake identities. In June 1986, I wrote him a letter in hopes that he could tell me something, anything, about my father. The envelope had been opened but was re-sealed when it arrived in my student mailbox, marked return to sender.
Court records show Norton was arrested again in 1988 and convicted the following year for possession of cocaine and heroin with the intent to distribute. U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh sentenced the 38-year-old to 41 months at a federal prison camp.
Haymon says Norton didnt work directly for the Pettys in the early 70s. But multiple sources confirmed that Norton had a close relationship with the brothers and that they reconnected shortly after his second release from a federal prison.
But if Haymon is right about Norton, he did not have the stomach to kill a man. Over the course of three decades, Ive had doors slammed in my face, been hung up on, and had mail returned. That silence, and a lengthy conversation with others who knew Norton, left me convinced of two things: Norton was indeed involved in the murders. And at least one of the co-conspiratorsmaybe even the man who killed my fathermay still be alive.
The answers, I have now come to believe, are unknowable. As my father had been when he was alive, they feel just out of reach.
I remember the funeral. I remember the throng of mourners, the hundreds of people who filed into the pews at Mercy Seat Missionary Baptist Church on Washington Streetwhere my maternal grandmother, Alice, had been a member since 1941. Her pastor, Pastor Roosevelt Brown, gave the eulogy.
I remember the baptismal pool, situated high above the pulpit and the choir stand, and the four chandeliers that dangled over the altar. I remember the beautiful brown suit mother chose for him, his jet-black, shoulder-length hair and receding hairline. I remember the white flowers draped over the bronze and gold casket. The smell of lilies never left me. The wailing started when a soloist began singing His Eye Is on the Sparrow.
I sing because Im happy, I sing because Im free,His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me
One by one, each of ushis wife, his mother, and his childrenwere escorted to the altar to say goodbye. My mother, brother Christopher, and I were the last to stand, the last to touch him before the funeral director closed and locked the coffin. But Ive never forgotten the stillness of his face, his perfectly etched mustache and silky smooth skin. And then, the next day, being scooped up by my godmother, carried over the gravel driveway and across the lawn at Greenwood Cemetery off Lucas and Hunt Road on St. Louis Avenue.
Of the boys and men present at the memorial service, almost none have survived. Nearly 20 years after we laid my father to rest, my brother Christopher was shot dead in a remarkably similar ambush, and my brother Donnie succumbed to HIV/AIDS in 1995. The oldest living man in my immediate family, excluding my long-lost brother Terry, was born in 1986. For me, there are no fathers, no uncles, no grandfathers, and no brothers left whom I was raised with. We are a family of women. My mother, who retired after nearly 40 years with Marriott, raised us on her own.
Curiously, a pallbearer discovered a folded two-dollar bill tucked into my fathers suit pocketan omen, my decidedly superstitious Aunt Doris Jean said, of bad luck. My fathers killer was said to have been among the mourners.
EDITORS NOTE: This story is an excerpt from Taylors forthcoming memoir, Let Me Still Be Singing When Evening Comes.
Google honored a deserving figure in American history on Saturday: Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American to earn a medical degree.
Picotte was illustrated as the Google homepage’s Google Doodle on Saturday in honor of what would have been her 152nd birthday.
Picotte was a doctor and an activist. The Omaha Native American physician advocated for land, and money for the sale of land to be paid to members of the Omaha tribe. As a reformer for public health, she was a leader in the temperance movement and fought tuberculosis on the reservation where she worked as a physician.
She also advocated for the elimination of communal drinking cups and the installation of screen doors to keep out disease-carrying insects, Google said in their description.
The Google Doodle features the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, where Picotte earned her medical degree, and the hospital she built on her hometown reservation in 1913.
Happy birthday, Dr. Sue!
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