November 5, 2013
Just an update. I remain married to Deion. She has the assignment of submitting her own legal appeals. I continue to help her but have basically taken the position that it is to her life long interests to overcome her dependent personality disorder and get herself out of prison. Again, after all these years, I still have no doubt she is innocent of her conviction and for me the real question is "who are these people, the people of Tennessee and America, who so callously imprison the innocent?" I find an interesting resistance to me getting inside the heads of the people who generate false convictions. This says much about our sometimes dysfunctional society.
Februrary, 2012. The focus of this website has shifted to examination of the mindset of the battered and abused woman. I do this not just for Deion but for all the battered women in and out of prison. i am a man seeking to say those things a woman cannot say about herself. This is soft ground to be sure. I will be wrong many times, but I will open this subject. Help me ladies if you can. I will love you all in turn. You deserve love. Accept and correct my clumsy effort. Let us together expose that gap that alienates you from the world and keeps so many of you in prison.
The basics of Deion's incarceration are here:
The crime occurred on Highway 114 in Carroll County, TN, approximately 1 AM July 30, 1993.
The victim was 19 year old Dennis Brooks Jr. of Clarksburg, TN
Present at the crime scene were Walter Smothers, 24
Teresa Deion Harris 22
Stacy Ramsey 21
Deion and Stacy went to trial in 1994 both receiving sentences of life w/o parole.
Walter Smothers, the killer, testified against the other two and for that received life w/o parole. He did not go to trial. (the only significant error in the TV episode "Prison wives")
Walter; once married and one child from that union.
Deion, married once before has two children, 3 and 4 at the time of her arrest
Stacy has no children.
I met Deion when I answered her Internet add in February 2000.
We first visited in September of 2000.
We married in June of 2003.
Stacy was married briefly during his early years of incarceration. He married again 4/23/2012.
Walter was married just out of high school when he went in the Navy. He married the daughter of the local police chief. They were still married at the time of the crime.
Deion is 8th Generation Carroll County Tennessee. Her family traces back to at least 1822 when West Tennessee was taken from the Native Americans. All family members were farmers until the 20th century when her paternal grandfather left the farm to take a job in the Milan Arsenal as a carpenter. Both he and his sister, recently departed seem to have been quite good people and citizens though both were illiterate. Knowing Deion’s great Aunt, “Aunt Ver” was one of the brightest spots of my residency in Carroll County.
Deion’s father worked briefly in a factory in Chicago before returning south to drive first mail then school bus, a part time job he still does. Unlike his own father, Deion's father graduated from Huntingdon High School.
On the maternal Grandparent side go Deion’s deepest known roots back to Virginia and England. Her 9th removed grandfather was of the Lees in Virginia and a Major in the Revolutionary Army. Deion is thus a Daughter of the American Revolution. As I am only third generation born in America these roots seem honorable and significant though they get little mention. Helen Jackson Smith, Deion’s paternal grandmother, exerted the most positive influence of Deion’s childhood and her death when Deion was in the seventh grade took away the only strong and righteous guidance of Deion’s life.
From Deion’s mother’s side misfortune seems prevalent. Deion’s maternal grandmother died when her mother was less than four. Her maternal grandfather was known to be a terribly heavy drinker and a course man as well. His re-marriage was to a woman no different than he and brought a rough element of cousins to Deion’s life. Many would later rape and drug her, something she had to get used to.
Deion's mother suffered injuries and disabilities from her teenage years. She completed eighth grade but never took a career or regular work. But for the intervention of Grandma Smith she may have been bedridden her whole life.
Deion’s parents receive little criticism for what they did raising children. Thus, with heavy significance, it is what they did not do and what they allowed that made the 1970 birth of Teresa Deion Smith Harris a futile life that would result in tragedy. Parenting is weak across America and rural Tennessee is perhaps worse than average.
A Prison Woman's Perspective
Action Committee For Women in Prison (ACWIP) aired an interview with Marla Paterson, a battered woman who spent years battered by her police officer husband then years in prison for a crime during her second marriage. Marla echoes what Deion and many other women will say, “I wasn’t arrested, I was rescued.” Getting them out of their abused lifestyles is the beginning of recovery. The prison bars keep their abusers, their communities, away. Hard as it is for most people to understand the hidden dark secrets of abuse, the most telling damage is to the mind and psyche of the woman.
Deion grew up being held responsible for her abuse. She was responsible for throwing up at age nine when her sister gave her alcohol. She was responsible for being gang raped at age eleven or twelve since she was passed out drunk. Throughout her life guilt and blame followed her and she succumbed easily to overbearing males, and females, who insisted she take guilt. Her jail time and conviction in Carroll County were just more of what she had been given her whole life of 22 years.
Anatomy of a Lynch Mob
The community, led by the victim’s family and the newspapers, chose to see differently. After being condemned by her court appointed lawyers, by the press, and by public opinion, and that is not to mention the foregone conclusion of the judges and prosecutors, Deion attempted suicide and was sent to a mental institution. There she was again condemned by staff and reeling from the imposed guilt, she related to Doctors, “I don’t deserve to live after what I done.” Her guilt, imposed on a weak and drug addicted young woman, was complete. The trial was merely a courtroom lynching of a foregone conclusion.
Seven years later I would visit this woman in a prison and be alarmed at the measure of guilt she took for everything, the crime itself, her own rapes, and even a soda can I might spill at the table. Thus began a long investigation into the life of Teresa Deion Smith Harris and the community that raised and convicted her. Slowly, the guilt has come into perspective. Initially it was just getting over the guilt for the sexual abused she endured as a child. By this date, she is able to state with confidence; “I am innocent of murder.” Herein lays the real problem to be dealt with. If Deion, and so many others, are innocent, then the community; Huntingdon, Carroll County, Tennessee, and America, are guilty. What will the community say?
8,13,2010 Please visit the free Deion website and sign the petition;
February 8, 2012
After a hiatus of sixteen months I am back to work. Much has happened in these last sixteen months. The slow never ending approach to truth consists in perpetually forming and testing hypotheses, accepting those which at the time seem to fit the facts and rejecting the others.
The innocence of Deion is not because she was a sexually abused and battered woman, rather, she is innocent because she took the proper citizen action to an unexpected event. She tried to save the life of Dennis Brooks Jr. When an accident intervened and he died, she then had to save herself. The "battered person syndrome" only explains her actions to save that boy then herself. To the uninformed, she is complicit in murder. The opposite is true. To the knowledgeable she is a heroine who deserves recognition for her courage.
February 8, 2012
As we move into a new era in our lives Deion and I have separate roles. Her specific role at this time is to pursue her own case on a pro se basis in the courts. Self discovery and character development are the keystones to this work.
Mine is of course to support her as I always have but as well, to use what we have both learned to shed light on the thousands, if not millions, of battered women, some in prison, some not, but metaphorically, all of them are in the vast American Prison system. America has a cruel side. No one knows it better than these women who suffer at the hands of men and the system.
In my own way, I was just another of Deion’s batters. Hubris, that overconfident certainty that I, we, know best, was my downfall. After that I would add anger. When you see injustice in your own land you become very angry and my first instinct is to attack that injustice and all the people who carry it out. Regretfully, that only brings more injustice. Deion is the one to keep reminding me to “stop making enemies.” I will endeavor to put forth the plight of Deion, and all battered women without accusing or offending the batterers. This is hard to do but I can only try. The rationale is that not only the battered woman must find a new way of living but her batterers must also. Attacking batterers only causes them put harden their defenses. It does not help them recover.
I begin with my first meeting with Deion which was through an exchange of letters. I have said before, her handwriting caught my attention before I ever opened that first envelope. I encountered few prisoners whose handwriting showed both spiritual and earthbound extensions, upper and lower zones. Most of the prisoners I encounter live in the "now," that is, they are stuck in adolescence. We began a regular correspondence of perhaps two or three letters a week. This went on several months and with each letter I would ask for a visitation form or offer to send money. Never have I, a man writing over a hundred prisoners, male and female, been rebuffed over visits or money. But Deion had no interest in either. The money she did not need since she made over $3000 per year as a TENNCARE hotline operator. The absence of a visitation form she tells me today was “to avoid disappointment.” She felt I would soon lose interest in her due to her life sentence and she did not want the pain of getting then losing me. She was defeatist about relationships. Thus, I had to find by myself a way to see who I was writing. I traveled to Nashville in early July 2000. I went to the Nashville library and found a little of her case. At this time, I had no knowledge whatsoever of the crime bringing her incarceration. I also knew she had a Post Conviction hearing that week and with some effort, I knew next to nothing of the court system, I found my way to Paris, TN, the location of her hearing and the courtroom of her conviction. Sitting in that courtroom in July of 2000 fate had my life in its hands. I would never be the same.
An abused woman has many batterers. Some are woman who would otherwise seek to help them. Some are women who would seek to destroy them. Deion was represented at Post Conviction by a Paris lawyer Teresa McCraig Marshall. Ms. Marshall was a young female divorce lawyer whose office and parking lot adjoined Deion’s trial judge, Julian Guinn. She would be one of Deion’s abusers though that was never her intent. Julian Guinn on the other hand was one of Deion’s abusers and he felt it was his obligation, right, and likely his joy. He judged Deion a bad person who needed to be convicted and sent away and he set out to structure her legal rights to be certain she was imprisoned forever. Julian Guinn is one of the notorious figures of handwriting analysis whose signature might cover an entire page on a simple courtroom memo. (over compensation for inadequate ego, also known as "small man in a tall place.") His personality, as we will see, is common to the area. But Ms. Marshall is not an abusive person. She was simply another of those women on the opposite side of the vast chasm that separates abused women from non-abused women.
I am a white Northerner in the South. I do not appreciate the “N” word and do not use it. I go years without hearing the word. When I encounter Southern White who otherwise use the word they immediately sense who I am and refrain from the “N” word. But out of my hearing, among their own kind, it is in daily use. This is “self select” behavior. There is self selection in every group.
Here it is instructive to contrast the childhood and parenting of two different species of women. For lack of a better term I call them the non-abused women and the
Raising a Non Battered Woman
I have this from a local woman of prominence.
my mother drilled in my head that No man was suppose to take
sexual privileges with a woman.
This woman‘s mother would likely associate only with other mothers and women who felt the same way. The like minded mom’s would be successful in teaching their daughters to control their own sex life and the tools they would use could be many but obviously, in this pre-spousal rape law era, they had to be strong willed and clever to control their sex life after marriage. Few of this group ever goes to prison.
We must contrast the newswoman’s mom with the mom of many prison ladies. During my early research into prisons I met a young woman whose mom sold her for drugs. Later I would meet dozens of women whose mothers ignored or facilitated the rape of their daughters. Some simply taught their daughters nothing and let them fall prey to the fortunes of fate, most often, abuse.
What I must leave to others is to examine in depth the relationship between abused and non-abused women. Suffice to say, the two never understand one another. To a non-abused young girl a girl like Deion is just a “slut.” She is a contemptuous creature who sleeps with many men and, in the view of the non-abused adolescent girl, is somewhat popular for it. Perhaps this early popularity engenders jealousy on the part of the non-abused girl. Obviously, non-abused women are threatened by abused women since their husbands will easily stray for sex. Either way, the reality of the abused girl’s position, that much if not all her sex is coerced or forced, never occurs to the self styled “good girls” A chasm of mis-understanding develops here that will last a lifetime and spread to generations. The abused young girl fails to understand the “good girls” as well. All she ever understands is “they are better than me.” She never really understands they control their own sex life and she certainly does not understand the methods they use. For herself, her only survival tool (besides drugs) is accepting her helplessness and trying to mitigate the damage.
"Good Women" I Have Known
In the 1999 I was a member of the League of Women Voters in Snohomish County Washington. We held a county wide forum on homelessness in the Court House Annex. Our panel for discussion included county officials, local charity organizations, and a solitary woman in her 30’s who had been homeless for years. I knew most of the women in the room and knew them to be confident, educated and active. Their faces alone showed courage, calmness and determination. That single homeless woman sat at the end of the table of panelists. She was terrified. It was clear from her face she was scared to be here, scared to leave, scared to speak, and scared of life. Who brought her and how I do not recall. Her small address to the group was in a strained voice. Somehow, I had the feeling I was the only person who noticed, or cared for the trauma she experienced just to be in this room. After the meeting, since she said she did carpentry work when she found it, I asked her to come to my building location and help put siding on a re-cycled house. This she did the next day and I confirmed my impression of her individual capability and of her fear in that room. Good women as those league ladies were, and are, they were oblivious to the trauma they put that woman through. This is the chasm I speak of.
The battered and abused woman does not get trained and created overnight. The abuse usually starts at a young age and escalates into adulthood. I will identify sexual abuse as separate from straight physical abuse, beatings. I would also separate emotional abuse as that of neglect and that of belittlement. It is speculative on my part, and on Deion’s part, to identify the type of abuse that her mother and her aunts received. Neither of us knows for the code of silence prevails. But Deion has opened up her own life and the physical abuse, beatings, did not start until she was eighteen and out of high school. A teen mom already.
The sexual abuse started when a family member used a toothbrush to rape her at about five years of age. This followed by a male cousin raping her at age eight. At age eleven or twelve gang rapes began at her sisters’ house and continued for several years. The physical act is obvious here. What is not is the emotional damage and the learned response of a girl like Deion. She reports shame from an early age. She reports the feeling of being dirty or inferior. She reports alcohol and drug use as both a tool to block out the shame and a tool to mitigate the physical pain of rape. In every case the intervention of adults never came. In fact, worst of all, what adult intervention or attention did come was to accuse her of misconduct, not of being victimized. It is strange how an adult woman can look at a little girl and believe she is intentionally having sex with dozens of men. Adult women seem to fear the beauty of the young girl. They bring themselves to believe this young girl has chosen harmful sex; sex that brings shame, disease, and pregnancy. I do not believe this is ever the case. The young girl does not choose but she is certainly TOLD she chose both by the men who used her and the women who do not help her.
The young woman in Texas I visited reported her mother would prostitute her for drugs later giving her half the drugs, (which the girl did not want) saying “you said those guys were cool.” The mother here is planting in the daughters mind that if she even thinks a guy is “cool” she is required to give him sex. Deion had this type of mind control. It adds confusion to the shame and guilt. No matter how it is done the message is always the same to the girl;
“Your body is not for you to control.”
“You chose the activities even while you said you did not. “
“You wanted it even if you did not know it.”
“Others know better than you what you think and why you do things.”
“Everything adults, authority figures, say is your fault IS your fault.”
With this type of confused mind drugs and alcohol are the best answer for peace of mind. Of course, addiction soon sets in and the painkiller becomes the source of more pain.
Again, I must contrast the non abused woman. She will be taught to control her own body. Then she will be taught to control her own thoughts. Then she will be taught to formulate her own desires. Finally she is taught to pursue her desires in a logical and safe manner. Education will be stressed along with self control and prior planning. She will assume other girls were taught the same thing and believe a girl like Deion chose her lifestyle. All of this is false but the non abused girl never sees into the life of the abused girl. “We learn what we live.” Years will go by before a non abused woman will realize other girls were in fact abused, if ever they learn it.
An abused and battered woman develops hypersensitivity from childhood. In fact, that is her major survival skill and one she does not even know she has but uses is every day. She has given up trying to understand herself. Introspection she has none. The battered woman knows what her batterer wants even before he can formulate the thought in his own head. She knows by having watched him (his kind since they all are much the same). Deion perfected this knowledge of what the batterer wants to a high degree. Walter Smothers was busy cutting up the Brooks boy’s body to hide the crime. He took out the heart just as he had taken out the heart of a dozen poached deer. When he looked up at Deion and said, “You want the heart?” Deion knew the correct answer. That answer was “yes.” A “no” answer would have tipped off Walter that she was not on his side. Here was a man who had just killed a boy, still had the shotgun, and was intent upon hiding the crime to save himself. Both Stacy and Deion were potential threats. Either could report him to authorities. Walter would kill again to save himself. Deion knows this automatically. She knows her batterer. So the answer is clear in her mind, say “yes” if you want to live. Beyond this she knows she must do something with the heart. She knows Walter expects this even if he has not formulated the thought yet. Deion takes the heart and puts it to her lips. Years ago Deion asked me a rare moment of self questioning, “Why did I know I had to do that?” I could not answer at the time. Today I can. She knew her batterer and the direction his mind goes. Putting the heart to her lips reduces the chances he will kill her.
Later, as Deion recalled her rape in jail by a guard she said, “I knew as soon as he told me to get my s… together and come with him I knew he was going to rape me.” (at the time she would not have used the word rape. She would simply say, “he was going to have sex with me.”) The hypersensitive woman, having been raped all her life, makes a decision how to deal with the rape. If she resists she can get hurt. She can have vaginal damage as well as a simple good beating to the face and body. Often her decision, since the rape is inevitable, is to take the necessary action to get it over with as simply and quickly as possible. She goes along with the rapist. She may even give him oral sex or hickies on his neck if she believes this will get it over with sooner. Her only goal is to get it over, quickly. Obviously, the courts and mainstream society, non-abused women, view this as complicity. From across the vast chasm that separates abused women from the world they see her cooperation as meaning ‘she wanted it.” Even her rapist comes to believe this.”I didn’t rape her, she wanted it.” Nothing is further from the truth.
In the words of a recovering battered woman; “We choose the men we think we deserve.” I emphasize “think” since it is purely an internal thing. It is a decision of the heart. In her mind a battered woman can understand who she is and what she has done. It may take her years but with help and support she will realize why she does what she does. However, while a legal defense is put on by the brain a choice of mates is purely an action of the heart. A sexually abused and battered woman is, in common parlance, “damaged property.” She knows that. She has heard it whispered and overtly said all her life. As one battered woman said, “I never tell people my past. I don’t want to be assigned to the trash pile of ‘damaged goods’.” In her heart she feels the shame and the guilt. She does not want rejection. None of us do. I mentioned Deion rejecting my overtures early in our writing relationship. She was simply rejecting me in advance of what she assumed would be my rejection of her once I knew who she was. That’s not fair.
There are literarily thousands of sexually abused women who are drop dead gorgeous. There are again thousands of upstanding professional or well employed men who admire them. But if that good man approaches the battered woman he will be rejected. The woman will say to herself, “I don’t deserve him. I’ll spare myself the rejection by turning him away before he gets to know me.” That is not fair. It first of all is an unfair assessment of herself. It is second an unfair assessment of the man. I love my wife and yet I know very well her background. I see her kindness. I see the way children flock to her, and children intuitively know. I believe Deion would do everything she could to make me happy were she out. But to the battered woman, she condemns herself, the worst condemnation of all. Regretfully, the battered woman follows her misguided heart and chooses the worst men in the room. She thinks that is all she deserves. She is wrong. But the heart knows no logic. This is no reason to imprison or judge them. But it is done.
The Tough Front
I cannot assign these traits to any specific group of women other than lower class, or “white trash” as will be said. This trait is the proclivity to curse. To enlarge the statement, to vent emotion. A simple example seen in any Wal Mart is the young mother whose children roam the aisles knocking things over. A stream of curses will come from the mother toward her little children who may be four or five. She also sounds very angry, as if by putting anger in her voice the children will behave better, or just listen. The words are commonly “you little s…s. You m…fers.” The more mature parent will cringe and ask themselves “Can’t she find better words to make her children mind?” She makes it sound like she hates her children. If one follows her to check out you will see numerous kisses, stroking of hair, and other signs of deep affection for the children. So why the course language? Because, ….she knows no other way. Deion reports this behavior on her part and says it was worse when she was drinking. She cannot make an apology. As she says, “That’s who I was. It doesn’t make me a killer.”
There is a certain, or maybe just hoped for advantage in this tough language and tough front. It keeps men away. It however falsely makes her feel she has more courage or power than she does. I think it is just wishful thinking. The men abuse her anyway. Perhaps some battered woman can tell me of a time her crude behavior benefited her.
Battering after Marriage
You do not have to be married in order to be battered. Any type of relationship that is long term and has private moments, meaning only you and the batterer are there. Marriage just makes it easier. All women who have been in this describe the incremental battering. First it is simple name calling, low key. The name calling escalates and moves into a region of constantly describing your faults. Soon enough, everything wrong in the marriage, in the house, or in the world becomes the woman’s fault. The words “stupid” and “crazy” become frequent. The idea is that no one but the batterer would ever “love you, have you, tolerate you,” etc. Food, money, necessities, are denied because the victim does not deserve them. The professionals call this “belittlement.” It is the same thing prison nurses and guards do to prisoners but since America is a Democracy and Democracy is a perfect form of government this is never called battering. In the cohabitation scheme belittlement leads often to physical abuse, hitting. Deion reports her first black eye at age 18 before she was married to her first husband. They lived together and the advantage is always the man’s, he is stronger and has societies’ backing, even the Bible’s backing, of superiority. Eventually Deion’s first husband would leave her lying on a concrete floor in a coma for two days. Later he would say that their marriage was not violent or abusive. Hospitalizing your wife is normal in Carroll County.
What is crucial to understand here is the mindset of the woman. She is told, and believes, this is all her fault. Once she gets the message she becomes hyper vigilant to her abuser. She begins to see the small things that she does to set him off. She develops a sixth sense of his anger and actions. In all cases she considers that she is the one who controls the level of violence. It is she he is angry at and she who has done something wrong. Since the battered woman lacks introspection, or sufficient or accurate introspection, she takes this all on her shoulders, his battering. She develops manipulative techniques to control his anger. Deion reports using sex to defuse a beating, or using an old favorite, the kids. Often sufficient alcohol or drugs will defuse outbreaks but at other times the alcohol and drugs will escalate it. It is up to the battered woman to know the difference and manipulate the man, the situation, to achieve the least harm.
Manipulation actually starts at childbirth. Crying brings milk, blankets, or coddling. As a child matures it is expected the parents will teach the child how to get its needs met in other ways. The child learns to ask for food, even say please. The child learns to ask for attention not just cry. Obviously, the child is also taught to meet its own needs through responsible action, they are expected to get a job when they grow up. My experience in Deion’s family is manipulation becomes a habit, a pastime. It seems always to be women manipulating men.
Clearly for manipulation to work is cannot be recognized as such by the object of that scheming.
Deion has manipulated me and for my part, I often play right into it. Seldom do I get mad but it has happened. Most often I press her for conversation, a statement of wants and viewpoints. From there I seek to form a consensus and this has worked fairly well even while she never did it before in her life. It works best with raising children, or has for me. But I still marvel at how women in Deion’s family can set up tragedy and allow others to solve their problem. A simple case is the automobile. Deion’s daughter will drive her car even with a noisy front end. You can tell her, “you have a front wheel bearing going out.” She will do nothing. She puts on a great act of ignorance or forgetfulness. Finally the car breaks down on the road and the available and willing man is called. It has been me, it has been, dad, grandfather, and friends. The woman feigns surprise and ignorance (here is where male superiority works to his disadvantage) but the man ends up paying for the tow and the repair. Deion’s daughter’s car got so bad once that I insisted she take it to the shop for repair. When the repair was done I insisted she pay. It was only logical, it was her car, she was working, she needed to budget her money for car repairs. She was quite angry at me for this but I saved someone the tow bill for a broken front axle. Deion reports the same incidents almost event for event, repair for repair. She never had to plan ahead, someone always rescued her. Yes, more on this later.
All of this reflects a failure to communicate. The concept of stating your needs or feelings, listening to the other person state their needs and feelings, then forming a win-win solution does not exist. My handwriting analysis hobby takes quick notice of the amount of introversion in Tennessee. In all walks of life I see an uncommon amount of back slope handwriting. This sure sign of introversion reflects an inability to get out of themselves, a fear of opening up. I remember a woman who worked in a bank and my long conversation with her. No matter how many leading questions I asked or common friends I mentioned she would not open up. I saw her later with her husband and I would judge it to be a calm but unfulfilling marriage. This would be my most frequent assessment of marriages among those women who do not experience abuse. There is emptiness inside them. Deion has vertical handwriting. She is cautious but can be drawn out and as time goes by, she is more confident and more willing to open herself.
Drew Smith, Deion’s son, at age fourteen made the brilliant observation; “Tim, you gotta understand everyone in Huntingdon thinks the same or they don’t think.” That is good for a young boy but only half correct. More correctly “they think the same or they don’t speak out.” Japanese people are noted for conformity but white Rural South is equally as good w/o the Japanese methods of indirectness for expressing disagreement. I attribute this to moral cowardliness. But if you cannot speak out how can you communicate? It is obvious we do not all agree. Why can’t there be an avenue for expressing disagreement? Again, Deion falls into this. We had a week end visit once where I left her with the usual short hug and kiss at the end of visitation. Everything was great. She reported later, she went back to her room and told her cell mate “That was the worst visit I ever had.” Her cell mate retorted, “Did you tell that to Tim?” She got the point and told me next visit. It’s small progress but it is there.
Women’s Status in Carroll County
Deion’s life and conviction need to be viewed in light of the status of women in Carroll County. This example serves to enlighten. “A virgin in Carroll County is a twelve year old girl whose brother has not pinned her down yet.” This from a barber who remarked recent arrests for child rape were “about f…ing time.” . Obviously in Deion’s case he meant 8 year old girl whose cousin pinned her down. But that is only sex.
This from a lifelong resident, “When I grew up the women would fix a meal, the men would sit to eat and when they were done the women would sit to finish what was left. Now, the women just sit right down with the men. So you ask me how women have it in Carroll County. I’d say they have it pretty good.”
I have two separate stories of the Pickup truck battering. These stories happened long enough ago that you can be certain there were bench seats in the pickup then. Apparently the argument will start in the truck while the guy is driving. As the exchange becomes more heated the guy leans over, unlatches the passenger door, and using one foot as he slows down, he ejects his wife, girlfriend, out the door onto the road. At low speed she gets up and rejoins him “with a better attitude.” At higher speed she goes to the hospital to improve her attitude. In either case, it is her fault. She needed to control the level of violence better. Both these men are good fellows and upstanding citizens. What do the “good women’ think of this? “They must have done something to cause it. My husband never does that to me.” And the chasm enlarges.
I have a project to determine the ratio of battered women to non-battered women. I simply ask the question “How many women in Carroll County have control over their sex life?” So far the best ratio I can determine to be 50-50. Half are battered and half are not. Neither side understands the other but clearly the power in the community lies with the non-abused women and the abused women “have it coming.”
In 2006 I attended a meeting of men and women in Huntingdon. About 30 people listened as the speaker gave his life tale. I remember nothing of the story except when he got to the part of his daughter getting married. “I told her that if her husband just out and out beats her that is wrong but if she troubles him like she troubled me growing up then I hope he wups her good.” A thoughtful father.
Introspection is that mean whereby we look inside ourselves, at our desires, motives, and methods. Of all the mental processes this one likely requires the most courage.
It is time to talk of the batterers, those men who seek to rise higher in their own self esteem by stepping on a woman, their wife, girlfriend, sister or any convenient female whose only requirement for battering is that she be female. But the attitude could not have started in the recent years. I am surrounded by a region, a culture, noted by putting down others. Frederick Douglas, the great Black American, an escaped slave, remarked with ominous accuracy, “Slavery has brutalized the white race.” Cruelty and meanness are learned activities, no baby is born cruel. During the 250 year slave era the idea became well entrenched that we live among persons, blacks and Indians, who are something less than us, the dominent culture. There is something uplifting to know that no matter how illiterate, degenerate, or useless we are, there is still someone below us on the social ladder and they will stay there regardless of anything we do or they do. This born aristocracy is the legacy of the white male and one easily picked up by males of any race. One can only try to imagine what type of inner twisted logic and feeling accompanied the massive enslavement of Africans and the subsequent torture of them. Slave narratives are replete with examples of the white man’s frustration being taken out on blacks. This continues up to the current era. The rape of female slaves that was so routine it is never even identified as rape in the annals of history. It was the white males Christian God given right. But the emotion so pertinent to Deion’s life was not just the rape of women, the simple using of them for sex, but the power over them that transcends any physical pleasure. Deion found herself growing up in a culture that subjugated females to males and granted the male authority or license over the female, at any age. Lacking the wide knowledge or introspection to think otherwise, Deion accepted this and merely learned to live with it. “It’s what men do,” she would say years later. Where the skin color identified the black as deserving of abuse, the sexual identify, identifies the female. Why a man looks down on someone who will not exert violence on others is unclear but here in the local culture it exists. Women are inferior.
Deion suffered rape from an early age due to her physical inability to defend herself. As a girl grows to womanhood her physical inability becomes an emotional inability. She has been conditioned by life, culture, to be passive and not fight back, even when she gains the ability. This attitude of males crosses social boundaries. Rich, poor, educated or illiterate, males maintain that simple superiority of violence. Rape through the ages has become that tool whereby all men terrorize women, all women, into subjection. Countless men of Carroll County engaged in raping Deion, observed it, or simply knew and shrugged their shoulders. It was her lot in life and since she never changed it they assumed she “wanted” or accepted it. The clear presumption being that rape was harmless and only a brutal beating in rape was notable. My observation investigating Deion’s life reveals that no practice, not beating or belittlement, so destroys the character of a little girl as rape. It destroys her will for life.
The Male Tormenter
For centuries on end a scene repeated itself. A overseer/slave owner would admonish the slave for some supposed error. Slow work, sickness, insubordination, or no real reason at all, led the slave to conscious awareness that he was about to be whipped. The slaves eyes would grow alarmed or sad, he would plead repeatedly, “Please massa,” “ No massa” all to no avail. But it was not the hitting that some men liked (and one can presume even some women). It was the installation of fear, the conscious acknowledgement of the other human being that the oppressor has power over them. The will to power is universal. The means to power lies in subjugating others. I believe a learned behavior arose widespread in the South, the pleasure of instilling fear in others and seeing them grovel at your feet. It seems to transcend sex as emotional pleasure. It so enlarges the oppressor that they will prolong the moment to enjoy the look of fear. Walter Smothers, among others, took trouble to create this circumstance. Walter was the one who invited the most drunken man/boy at a party to fight. a true sign of cowardliness. but his most joy seemed to be simply terrorizing others, men or women; the creating of fear; the enjoyment of seeing that fear. Deion learned somehow through experience that you “Never let Walter know you are scared. It only gets worse.”
All strange tales grow with the telling and it remains to the outsider,
The strange combination of warrior and scholar,
To bring order and truth to this chaos of the day.
The end of life is not merely to have a woman
But to accomplish something with her.
Walter’s step father, Steve Smothers, now deceased, was known to be an abusive profane man. Drunk most of the time, Deion encountered him when she first became friends with Kim Smothers, a girl in her grade. Deion first stayed over with Kim in the eighth grade. That Walter grew up being abused there can be little doubt.
Drunken fathers are not confined to that class of citizen who never shine their shoes. Deion’s prosecutor at trial, District Attorney Robert “Gus” Radford likewise had a father observed to be mean and drunk. Young Radford grew up to be a stutterer, a trait he used to advantage as prosecutor. While Walter invented stories and events to instill that much loved fear in his victims, Radford went on to be a lawyer, then prosecutor. He could legally, and with the admiration of his peers and public, torment witnesses on the witness stand. When he got Deion on the stand it may have been as joyful tormenting her as Walter found in tormenting the Brooks boy. Suffice to say, Deion was at disadvantage with the prosecutor for manipulation was not possible and all she could do is fumble and cower as she was raped in the courtroom. Deion’s father remembers the look of joy on the prosecutors face as he turned to his audience in the courtroom. It was the same look one can imagine on Walter’s face many times and again, a helpless woman.
In respect of the position it is sad to note that as a long standing drinker the prosecutor has such high profile in the community that recovery through such programs as AA are impossible. There should be a remedy for this.
The batterer knows. They read from across the room, just a glance, that is all it takes. A woman who is defenseless against battering might as well have it tattooed on her forehead. The honest men, the men in recovery will say to her, “We know you.” For me, a man who values a woman for closeness I can only notice that certain women never roll their hips, assert their presence, or show any display of forwardness. Their eyes are sad but will brighten with kind notice. Children will be their specialty, they play with children, love children, live in a world of children. Children do not batter them. If they could live in a world comprised only of children they would do so. Children are to be trusted. Maybe it is their attraction to children that alerts the batterers. Certainly it is the fear in their eyes. Whatever is the clue, the man knows. He knows instantly and sure. Deion attracted batterers, many of them. She was a woman men always knew they could take license with. She would endure and say nothing.
Most people charged with murder and facing the death penalty do not have the money to hire their own lawyers. Thus the system of court appointed lawyers who work for the public dollar. These lawyers, obviously coming from different backgrounds that those charged, are expected to put on some defense for their clients. In the case of a battered woman, what are they to do? They are men, batterers. Most of what a battered woman does is counter intuitive to the general public. How many battered women went through law school and if they did, were they aware they were battered? It would take a level of knowledge well beyond legalese to adequately defend battered women. In the case of Deion, not only did she not understand her instinctive actions to save the Brooks boy, but her lawyers condemned her for it. Her lawyers basically took the approach “You are guilty and our effort will be to avoid the death penalty.” They never asked her about the crime. Never sought to understand what happened. They knew so little about the crime they failed to recognize when the prosecutor misled the jury over a critical point. They did know about Deion’s sexual history. When she was raped several times in the county jail awaiting trial one remarked, “You’re getting more sex in jail than I am at home,” they made her feel guilty about being raped. How were they to defend her against a murder charge? But these were two male lawyers.
Teresa Marshall was a young woman Deion’s own age. Obviously they had vastly different upbringings since one was a lawyer and the other in prison for life. What did they have in common but their sex? Being a new lawyer Ms. Marshall lectured Deion about the horribleness of the crime, the futility of Post Convictions, and that she should be thankful for the good work her lawyers did to avoid the death penalty. She brow beat Deion insisting she do own work on this Post Conviction since it was her life. Deion wrote to me the following on May 2, 2000:
She (Marshall) told me she wasn’t getting paid enough to work very hard on my case. ..she said a lot of mean things to me and I never once tried to defend myself. All I could do it cry.
Obviously, Ms. Marshall never asked about the crime either. What becomes apparent is many public defenders are defending the criminal justice system first and their client second if at all. Deion’s mother placed great hope that a woman lawyer would help Deion. Deion’s mother failed to recognize the chasm; the fact that women are of two types, the battered and the unbattered and the two do not communicate at all. In spite of this, Ms. Marshall would insist to me that her communication with Deion was good. Obviously this was a one sided opinion.
It is subjective to interpret lawyer’s attitudes but that has to be done, it is certainly done against the defendant. Steve West, Deion’s original defense lawyer seems to have taken the attitude “You have embarrassed the community and need to be sent away for good.” He was a local lawyer not known for his prowess and seems more concerned about making the community look good. When Deion began to get sympathy from local jail Christian Volunteers Steve West brought in a minister to convince Deion she deserved to die. He was her batterer.
Ship Weems, an elected public defender from a nearby district, was a more astute and experienced man. Still, in keeping with the misogynist attitudes of Tennessee, he saw Deion as a promiscuous woman and it never occurred to him her sex life was much unchosen and forced on her. He would flirt and flatter her when what she needed was sincere counseling. The readers may recall a recent local murder trial where a minister’s wife killed her husband in bed. The accused, a battered woman also, according to news reports met over fifty times with a counselor to get her head straight to defend herself at trial. Deion had none of this. She suffered conviction for it.
Police As Batterers
A woman of Deion’s peers remarked, “At baseball practice there would be the cars of men hanging by the ball field preying on the little girls waiting for them to finish their games. They were the proverbial dirty old men in dark sedans but in this case, they were sheriff’s patrol cars.” Certainly police officers knew, and participated, in the use of underage girls for sex and the week end parties held at Deion’s sister’s house. One town officer passed through regularly. It becomes quite regional as to where the most abuse occurs. In the South police have more leeway to rape women than in the North. Certainly rapes by officers in jails are common and Deion’s experience is not exceptional. The reader may find the website from the National Center for Women and Policing informative. The simple statement that police officers are two to four times more likely to batter women than the general public is enough to know.
Battering By Women’s Groups
Battering by police has its advocate oddly enough in women’s groups. It is not an overt advocacy of battering rather a passive advocacy. Here in Tennessee the battered women’s advocates are heavily teamed with law enforcement and women in government to address women’s rape and battering issues. They hold many workshops to teach the signs of battering and sexual assault all the while ignoring the fact that police are major oppressors. I know several of these good ladies and I can testify to their commitment and poise. But if I ask them to prevent rape of incarcerated women or help for a battered woman at trial they quietly ignore me with pleasantries and charm. For all their sincere work, an accommodation seems to have been reached with the male rape system; “If you confine your rape and beatings to women socially unacceptable we will look the other way.” This is reminiscent of the rape of black women that has gone on for centuries and still receives scant sympathy from good white women. When it comes to trials of battered women, Casey Anthony and Mary Winkler as example, the women’s groups take a decided hands off approach leaving these women vulnerable to the state. (Both these women were much luckier than Deion but years have gone by and sensitivities are improved)
The rape of incarcerated women is an epidemic in jails and prison but no women’s group in America has stood up for them. Why is this except the idea “Rather them than me.”
The last thing to note about women who seek to end rape, or say they do, is that they seem to place the responsibility to arrest rapists in the hands of men, the police state. But rape, as battering, is an exercise of power. Women seek power through men. As long as they do this, rape will persist.
Blame the Victim
It has taken many years but there has been general acceptance of the idea that battering victims cannot just up and leave their batterers. The mind control exercised by overbearing batterers is extensive. There is also the proven track record; too often when a batterer says “I will kill you if you leave” he not only means it but carries it out. It must be remembered, the batterer is just as sick as his victim, if not more. He may easily harbor a death wish.
When Deion was convicted in 1994 there was little knowledge of the symptoms and results, the learned behavior, of battering. Deion was judged by the same standard applied to non-battered women of the opposite shore of the vast chasm. The common statements include “If I had been there I would have…” “No one could make me do that…” “Why didn’t she just drive away?” “She caused it all.”
Today, thankfully, there are organizations, however imperfect, who address these misconceptions. As I have already said, I wish they would address the misconceptions that the police are always on the battered woman’s side. My wife’s recent (two years ago now) rape in prison is another example of shameful behavior on the part of police and women’s groups.
Battered Women as Mothers
As mentioned, the batterer is often a sick person. The battered woman is often the only one to hold the household together. When there are children there are at least three different behaviors. I have heard women say “It’s all right if he abuses me but I’ll draw the line at the children.” I have also seen example where children and mother are abused with equality. And lastly is the battered woman who in turn batters her own children. It is learned behavior after all. In Deion’s case her children were at risk and she knew it. She protected them in ways counterintuitive. Deion reports that her son once pestered Walter for attention as a four year old will do. Deion only had to hear the man’s impatient rising voice to know violence against her child would soon follow. Taking the lesser of two evils Deion spanked Drew herself to prevent the Walter from doing worse.
When Is A Victim Not A Victim?
We throw this word “victim” around too easily but in essence, once you are charged with a capital crime you are no longer a victim but a criminal. Some victims are criminals and some are not. It is so common in America that once identified in the press and charged with crime, the conviction follows the headline. Deion experienced this of course and the press has yet, if ever they do, or will, admit error. The number of people that will challenge convictions by news media is slim and certainly does not include organizations that live by grant money.
A child lives what it learns. Most of our prison population comes from abusive childhoods. America, the good American people, look away from this abuse and hold the child accountable for adult decisions at ages below the age of majority. But the child can only act as it was taught. We are all in our twenties before we begin to find our unique ways. It takes a whole village to raise a child to go to prison.
The status of battered women involves much denial as much on their part as on the batterers. Perhaps the only group in America dedicated to honesty is Alcoholics Anonymous. Consider this from the “Big Book”, the manual for AA:Alcoholics Anonymous -
How it worksRARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.….Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter of the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.
These famous words are the salvation of our culture. The twelve step program works if you work it. But I insert the preamble for those who fail in order to identify a constant trait in social change, denial. Batterers will deny they batter women. Enablers will deny they enable battering. Victims will deny they are victims. There is an emotional and psychic toll here that tears at the fundamental character of our country and allows our hallowed governmental systems, the Courts, to batter women and not be held accountable. America is a nation of addicts; alcohol, drugs, or consumer goods. Only rigorous self honesty will resolve our problems and make us a just society. Those who know the courts and legal professional would do well to examine the rampant use of alcohol in all legal affairs.
What Really Happened?
This after all is about a single crime and a single innocent woman, Deion. It is time to recapture what happened that night in 1993 when Dennis Brooks Jr. was killed.
There is agreement that Deion had been “girlfriend” to Walter less than two weeks. She had known him or of him for almost ten years. He was not atypical to the men she already knew so well. He fairly represented a large segment of Carroll County’s population in his attitude and demeanor. He was a little more reckless and at a point in life where he was becoming more so for whatever reason.
Stacy Ramsey joined Deion about 8:30 or 9:00 PM July 29, 1993. Stacy had never met Walter until this day. David Hampton, the former abusive boyfriend to Deion, had called several times during the day pestering Deion ostensibly over payment for a leather jacket. Walter for his part would speak with Hampton on the phone when he called offering to fight him as he had done to so many others. When late evening came Walter, not Deion or Stacy, made the decision to go after Hampton. Walter was in control and the other two along for a ride. They all had been drinking heavily by this time. Dropping the kids at Deion’s former husband’s parental home there was an altercation where Walter had to pick Deion up and put her physically into Stacy’s pick up. Deion did not want to go further. The ride to find Hampton’s home was a point Deion alone had control over. Neither Stacy or Walter knew where he lived. Deion had lived with Hampton almost a year and knew how to find his home under any measure of drunkenness. In the fall of 2001 she immediately picked out a photograph of his turn off Highway 114. I had taken the picture in with me when I visited her with an attorney. I have no doubt she could have found Hampton if she wanted to. But the battered woman manipulates and her role was easy, simply never find Hampton’s house. As Stacy’s pick up proceeded north on Highway 114 it broke down about a half mile past the home of one Keith Noles. It had a blown head gasket and overheated is the common assessment. Stacy got out to lift the hood of his truck. As he inspected the engine headlights appeared coming from the north. Walter told Deion to get out and stop the vehicle for a ride. That was a reasonable request and an order as well. Deion complied. The Ford Ranger pickup truck was driven by Dennis brooks Jr, a nineteen year old boy originally from Memphis. He was on his way home from work at the Subway shop in town. It was past midnight.
The prosecution alleged, Walter Smothers testified, that the trio all discussed stopping the next car and possibly killing the driver to steal their car. Walter had taken a plea bargain to escape the death penalty. If he could not offer something to convict his charge partners then he had nothing to offer for a plea bargain. Trial testimony on this point became ludicrous and defense attorney’s fell far short of competency in examining Walter on this point. Walter testified that they agreed to kill whoever came done the road. The prosecutor emphasized “anyone.” This would have meant Walter’s mom or sister, anyone in Deion’s family or Stacy’s family, a person they knew, or, if the truck contained more than one occupant, say three red neck hunters with rifles on the gun rack, they would still be killed. Obviously, the sweeping allegation that anyone in the coming vehicle would be killed meant they would attack a police officer should that have proven the case. The reader should know that Walter had only a single shot 20 gauge shot gun at his disposal. Not a great offensive weapon and against more than one person, difficult. Still, the prosecutor persisted that anyone coming down the road would be killed and that all three had agreed to that point of consensus. Deion and Stacy each testified in turn that no discussion ever took place and that Walter’s actions seemed spontaneous. Upon this single point rests Stacy and Deion’s actual conviction for felony murder. Lawyers have poorly handled it.
The role of Walter Smothers as a batterer enters in here. Would he have sought consensus from his girlfriend? Would he have acted, forceful as he clearly was, on his own? The role of the trio as premeditated murderers seems questionable. Would any of us seek murder consensus from a fellow we have only known four hours as was the case with Stacy Ramsey? Finally, what was the mood of Walter, to kill or to torment? It is reasonable to insist some joy was to come out of this hoped for fight with Hampton, some macho display. But Walter was the sole person seeking that joy. Stacy and Deion did not.
Stopping the Truck
I have discussed the alertness of a batterer, he knows his victims. The Brooks boy halted just past Deion, backed up slightly and rolled down the window. This was fully enough time for Walter to assess his victim. A young boy, alone, no sign of a weapon, that childlike innocence. Brooks was a perfect victim and Walter, consummate bully, certainly never sought a fair fight. Walter’s jumping on the boy was surprising and frightening. He had a gun and he pointed it. The Brooks boy fell into the role of terrorized victim as Walter correctly thought he would. Walter had pulled him to the ground and threatened him by loud language and pointed gun. Deion also recognized the Brooks boy as an easy target for her standard oppressor and like so many battered women, she moved to protect the innocent. To her eyes he was just a child. Confrontation with Walter was out of the question for her. The Brooks boy was on the ground terrorized, panicked, and pleading for mercy. Those who know bullies understand his mistake, this only makes it worse. This enlarges the pleasure of this bully, he has power and someone is cowering before him. For the bully, this is the joy of life. Deion knew instinctively the Brooks boy’s mistake. He was a child getting himself in trouble. In a battered woman’s mind, the victim controls the level of violence. It is up to the victim to control and defuse the abuser. After all, she has been told all her life she is the cause of his abuse. Thus, it is up to the victim to de-escalate the moment.
The Brooks boy obviously does not know what he has done. Deion does and she moves immediately to save him. Stepping between the muzzle of the gun and the boy, she feigns to go along with the abuser, feigns to hit the boy and delivers the magic words that will save his life. “SHUT UP.”
The reader may pause to consider one other victim whose life would have never been at risk at this point. Had the driver been an elderly black man, perhaps slow of speech and tired of life, what would he have done? I speculated early on in my investigation of this case that should the driver have simply choked, held up their hands and sat there speechless there would have been no joy for Walter. He would have contemptuously shoved the driver off the road, taken the car, and shouted “hey N..., look for your car in the Wal Mart parking lot.” The object of this evening is to torment someone. Deion has deceived him and prevented him from finding his primary victim.
But the Brooks boy is young. He does not know this. A man out of prison after 26 years read the simple account of the killing with derision and stated, “The boy killed himself. The last thing you do is ask a bully for mercy. That just makes it worse.” ( I still remember my amazement that he saw things so immediately and clearly and asked him “How do you know?” His answer was simple, “With 26 years in prison I’ve seen a hundred of these guys.”) This same man speculated that Walter himself did not know the eventual outcome of the evening. He was just having a good time tormenting someone and it got out of control.
But there the situation is, a frightened boy on the ground, a battered woman trying to get him to stop encouraging the bully, and a shot gun pointed rather irresponsibly. I challenged Deion about her decision to place herself in harm’s way, that is, in front of the gun (that gun would later go off accidentally) and over the boy. Strange that Deion’s lawyer never asked about this. She replies that she gave it no thought. The Brooks boy was in danger and making things worse for himself. He had to “shut up” and he had to stop showing fear. Her only recourse was to “get in his face” and convince him to stop and at the same time, not make her batterer angrier by taking the victim’s side. The coarseness of Deion’s language in doing this is not just excusable but we can all wish she had hit the boy harder (if indeed she hit him at all) and got his attention. As it was, she failed in this first attempt. The boy’s eyes remained fixed on the gun and his tormenter. He gave all power to Walter.
The decision to get in the truck, drive off with the boy was certainly not one of consensus. Walter had the gun, he was in a high state of anxiety, he gave the orders and others complied. Deion once told me early on in our relationship that “When a man starts hollering and acting crazy you do whatever he wants.” In actuality, time was on Deion’s side and on the Brooks boy’s side. Eventually, Walter’s bullying session was going to get old and he would tire of his victim. Deion would sense this even before Walter did. She would jump in with that old standby excuse, “Walter I have to get home the kids are sick, (or needing a bath, or having to go to my cousins’ etc.) Deion would have forced Walter to end the game and at that point the excuses would be made as to why the stopping, the gun, the kidnapping. Walter was an intelligent, spontaneous, and creative fellow. I recognized that by his early courtroom appearance. He would have created an excuse to end the evening without danger to himself. Others would have just been happy to end the events.
With no explanation whatsoever, no rational reason to kidnap the boy, a supposed consensus to kill the driver, how does the kidnap idea even fit into this crime?(and no legal team even tried to examine this point,) Walter in command had everyone driving down the road and the Brooks boy in back, Walter there with a gun pointed at him and Brooks continuing his foolish pleas for mercy. The reader may examine the crime location and know the Brooks truck was southbound when stopped a half mile North of the Knowles house. Somewhere, it has not been determined where, the vehicle with Stacy driving turned around. It came to a halt in front of the house of Keith and Johnnie Knowles. Stacy for his part seemed reluctant to drive much further. Walter for his part continued enjoying his outburst of anger, bullying, and domination of the three. Deion sat and waited for her chance when the bully’s rage would run its course. Knowles, woken up from sleep by the noise, reported a loud voice saying something to wit “if you move this truck one more time I’ll blow your f…head off.” But the truck did move, possibly a driver unfamiliar with the clutch in this vehicle not his own. The gun went off accidentally and the Brooks boy was mortally wounded. He cried out loudly in pain. Deion knew in a split second Walter would silence him if he did not silence himself. She panicked herself and cursed loudly and wildly for the boy to shut up calling him names to get his attention. It was to no avail. The boy could not listen. Driving north with a wounded boy crying out Walter had lost control of the situation. Ask any battered woman, “What happens when your batterer loses control of the situation?” Answer, “he does what he has to in order to regain control”. Walter’s entreaties to the boy to shut up and that they were taking him to a hospital did no good. With his strength waning the boy cried out “help, help”, for the first time. Walter was being forced into a situation not of his making. The Knowles heard the first shot in front of their house. It was they who called police. They later recalled hearing the second shot but never testified at trial to that effect. Dennis Brooks Jr. would have suffered perhaps four minutes before Walter regained control of the evening by placing the gun muzzle under his chin and pulling the trigger.
Deion and Stacy of course heard the shot. Walter for his part simply said “I blew his f… head off.” It was not a conscious or premeditated decision. None of the events that evening were. Walter did what he had to do to gain control. In his own mind, the Brooks boy forced his hand. Deion and Stacy were in shock but even in shock they knew there was a dangerous fellow in the rear of the truck and that he still had the gun. Would any of us felt threatened or in danger at this point?
The actual murder ends at this point. What follows is simply post death events. These events themselves would serve to convict all three. Carroll County is a back wash of America. Unemployment is high, education is low. There is not a book store in the entire county and the only espresso bar opened long after this crime. This is classic rural South with all its superstition and shallow graciousness. There are a lot of good people in Carroll County but by and large, they fall short of good citizenship in a Democracy. The community thinks it is far better than it is; at least they keep telling themselves that they are better. The crime sullied their reputation, their self image. It was not just vengeance that set in, nor was it the joy of voyeurism and that relief of bucolic boredom, it was a sincere desire to absolve the community of its own guilt by sending away all three present during this killing. A hundred Baptist pulpits will shout that “Christ died for your sins.” Deion and Stacy went to prison for the sins of Carroll County.
The three with corpse drive to Deion’s house in the Brooks boy’s truck. Along the way Walter insists “we’re all in this together.” The assembling of tools under Walter’s instructions, the drive to the “Haunted Bridge;” all of this is well recorded in trial testimony. Deion followed in her car to the bridge as the Ford Ranger carried the two men and the corpse. She stood on the far side of the road as the two cut up the body as ever they had cut up a deer. Deion hated to watch deer cut up and one can only imagine her feelings watching this innocent boy cut up. That Walter was alert enough to call Deion over to stab the body testifies to his shrewd knowledge that she had to be more involved in order to assure her silence. Walter knows by now that only two people can convict him. He also guesses he can hide the crime and if those two keep their mouths shut he will get away with it. Ever the one to find opportunity, Walter both plays with the corpse and blames the boy, talking to the corpse as if the boy were alive, “you dumb b…., you made me do it. You wouldn’t shut up, you make me do it.” Ever the batterer who will not take responsibility, Walter blames the boy for his own death. Deion and Stacy know very well their own situation. They are with a desperate man. He has already killed; he will kill again to cover this crime. Why not? In the TV documentary “Women Behind Bars” Walter admitted he considered killing Stacy and Deion. As an outsider I don’t mind telling him his mistake, if nothing else, he needed to kill Deion. She was the weak link, she’d talk.
The decision to cut up the body was Walter’s of course. His first idea was to bury it with Stacy’s dad's backhoe. The idea to bury the body with the backhoe would seem to have to have been Walter's. According to Stacy, the backhoe had a flat tire for several months and had not been started in a like amount of time. Some mention has been made by Walter’s family cutting up the body was Deion's idea but Deion not only denies thi but as one of Deion’s peers said of her then, “She never had an original idea in her life.” Deion’s concern after the death was to save herself, and her kids. Perhaps Walter wishes to distance himself from what clearly was a mistake, the cutting up and playing with the body. He does not like admitting error any more than the prosecutor. Walter does have a sense of humor. The first thing a deer hunter does in butchering a buck is to cut off the penis. Walter cut the boys penis and placed it back in his pants with gruesome humor. deion remembers the words; “You might need this where you’re going.” Stacy remembers the words as; "You won't be needing this anymore." Either way, such is Walter. The heart he naturally cut from every deer he shot and this I have from his close friend Deion’s ex-husband. But a drama between Deion and Walter caught the public’s attention with the heart. Deion was away from the corpse in disgust, shock and fear. Her life depended on her showing no fear and not repeating the Brook’s boy’s mistake. If Walter thought she’d tell, he’d have to kill her and he’d again blame her not himself. When he had the heart (ever a symbol of love and of women) in his hand the thought occurred to him and he looked up. “You want the heart” was all he said. There is only one correct answer if you want to live. “Yes.” To say no would indicate you are not going along with the agenda, his agenda. Deion would later say to me, “Why did I know I had to put it to my lips?” My answer today is simple, “You knew what to do to survive, just like you always did.” Deion reports Walter taking the heart back after scolding her for dropping it. Stacy reports that as Walter handed him the heart Stacy pulled his hand back and the heart then fell to the ground. Again, either way, Walter faked tearing it apart and drinking the blood but it was pure gruesome humor, again and for his own enlargement. I have yet to hear anyone tell me drinking blood from the heart at this point was even possible. None of us know if there was any blood left in the heart. The autopsy report indicated it had coagulated. But sucking blood makes a good story and sells a lot of newspapers. That is enough. Fable wins out over fact.
The burning one mile from Deion’s house was likewise foolish and would only have worked if the vehicle and body had burned to ashes, something it did not do. All of this occurred between midnight and daybreak of the 30 of July, a Friday. Deion cooperated with Walter cleaning clothes and we must presume attending to food though she does not remember. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, had again set in. This was something Deion suffered most of her life. There is a trait about Deion that others than I have to have noticed. That is she cannot keep a secret. She will buy a gift and tell you what is in it before you get it. She simply has to unload, to tell in advance. Her daughter likewise can be quite naïve once talking and tell all without being asked. The Friday passed with some tension as Walter sought to be certain both Stacy and Deion understood they were never to tell. A visit to the mobile nearby where Stacy lived with his sister enlarged this idea with Walter using both innuendo and overt threat to Stacy. The last occurred according to his sister as they both pushed Deion car, which had no reverse gear, away from where it was parked at his house.
That there was at least one visit to stacy's home is certain. Stacy recalls: Walter came over to Donna's trailer where Donna, Amanda (her 7 yr old daughter at the time), Rick Beckman & his wife & Stacy were all present. Walter picked Amanda up sitting her on his knee & told Donna while LOOKING directly at Stacy, that she needed to keep a close eye on her kid because there was a madman on the loose killing people. This is Donna & Stacy's version as well as the testimony & statement that was given to TBI & the P.I. by Rick Beckman
Casey’s Bar and Grill
Much alcohol was consumed again Friday and by evening when Walter and Deion went to the local tavern Walter must have felt quite good about himself. His mother was at the tavern and Walter told her the story of the killing. Since his mother was not repelled in horror as the community was we must assume she saw it Walter’s way; a joke that accidentally got out of hand and a young boy who would not shut up. To placate Walter, to convince him she was “okay” with the killing, Deion had worn the boy’s sunglasses and hat to the tavern. These she was wearing when Carolyn Smothers, Walter’s mom, glanced her way with an angry accusative look that said “You’d better not tell.” Deion may have kept Walter fooled as to how she felt about the killing but his mother certainly knew better. The hand of God was on Deion’s side as Walter failed to heed any concern his mother may have had.
Deion would say later when I asked if Walter made overt threat to her, “He did not have to, I knew and he knew I knew without a word being said.” Battered women and their batterers actually do communicate and they communicate very well. Always about the violence to come. But it need not be openly mentioned. Deion was hard pressed to cover her fear, the demonstration of which would kill her. The glance from Walter’s mom sent her to the jute box dancing in place as if nothing were amiss. Inside she could barely hold herself together.
It was the following day the sheriff along with TBI came to the house on Dillahunty Road where Deion lived. Stacy had already been arrested the previous night since it was his pickup the police had identified near the Knowles house. Deion and Walter obviously knew the police were closing in. Walter knew well Deion’s weakness in front of overbearing men and would not let Deion out of his sight. By the time of the second visit from the police someone made the correct guess that Deion would tell if she were only to be separated from Walter. With that, one officer took Deion out on the porch for questioning. She carefully extracted his pledge to protect her from Walter and gratefully told the story of the night’s event. She was arrested along with him and went to jail fully expecting to be released in a short while. She had done her civic duty.
The concept of a subculture is well established. Many subcultures are associated with music but an online list includes Alcoholics Anonymous, Deaf Culture, as well as the usual gay, lesbian, punk. Some of these subcultures, Deaf, handicapped, and gay/lesbian have formed pressure groups for legislative actions, recognition and special treatment/buildings. Handicapped and Deaf sub cultures are generally obvious. Other subcultures have clothing or accessories to life so members formerly unknown can find each other. While most subcultures are by choice, physical handicaps are imposed by birth or accident. Those helping, as in married to a deaf person, will become a member of the sub-culture while not having the specific handicap. Obviously, prisoners are a sub culture and their families are members as well, but no list of subcultures I found online identifies them. Likewise the battered woman.
The Battered/Sexually Abused Woman Sub-Culture
I assert that this unnatural subculture is the result of mostly men who batter and rape women, but I also assert it is the creation of good women who look the other way and refuse to recognize the plight of their sisters. America accepts many subcultures. There is acceptance of the vegetarian subculture, or the “punk” subculture. There is grudging and argumentive acceptance of the gay/lesbian subculture. There is acceptance of Asian, Mexican , or immigrant African subcultures. But the acceptance of a battered woman subculture is not there. We seem unable to accept the idea that America can destroy its own children and look passively on as it is done.
Membership in a battered/sexually abused subculture would come from upbringing. It would not bring a source of pride and we cannot imagine a young girl looking on at her mother being beaten and say “I want that, it’s cool.” Even more than that, membership in the battered woman subculture is a point to be ashamed of. Deion recalls wearing sunglasses to hide the black eyes or not going to work to hide the bruises. When she went to the hospital she often said her injuries were an accident. Millions of others have done this. If she could leave her subculture she would but the very sickness holds her in. She does not know she is in a subculture. A single beating or rape may not put a woman into this subculture. She would have to absorb the long time habits and attitudes in order to do that. Basically, she needs to believe the rapes and beatings are her fault and adjust her life to living with the batterer, and continue an outwardly normal life.
Carroll and Henry Counties
About six years ago I encountered a woman in Paris, TN. This was the city of Deion’s trial just north of Huntingdon. The woman confided in a candid moment that she had once opened a battered women’s shelter in Paris, TN. She reported that the city shut her down and I did not ask what mechanism was used but it probably was zoning laws. Most significantly was her assertion that she was closed down because “By opening a shelter for women I was stating there were battered women in Paris Tennessee and the community was not willing to face that. They told me the shelter was unnecessary since there were no battered women in Paris or Henry County.”
This was ten years after Deion’s trial. Even if Deion had been of a mind set to put on her honest defense; that as an abused woman she had made her proper citizen effort to save the Brooks boy’s life and then, after he was dead, she had to save her own. It was an unacceptable idea that would make the community look bad. Her lawyers would never have raised it.
Absence of Identification
The failure of the college educated communities,( the psychiatric and psychologist communities,) to identify this sub-culture is behind Deion’s false conviction. Deion passed through the hands of many doctors and psychologists during her time in jail before trial. None ever grasped who she was or what she had done to save the Brooks boy. It was outside of their educational studies. None of them were inquiring curious people. This is a common trait of the South, or as we would say in the North, “They cannot think outside the box.” This takes me back to the statement, “Tim, you have to understand that everyone in Huntingdon thinks the same or they don’t think.” (Drew Smith 2003) I know full well there are exceptions here but the general rule still holds I believe.
Size of Subculture
I have begun inquiries into the size of the battered/sexually abused subculture. In rural Tennessee where Deion grew up it appears to be half the female population. In other regions outside the South where women feel more equal (Washington and California with their two female senators each come to mind) the proportion will be much less. But primary in this discussion is that the subculture membership is learned, involuntary, and enforced by the male society and their female assistants. By and large, women do not consciously know they are in it. They know other women are being raped and abused and like the “good women” I spoke of earlier, they will often blame the victim. Deion reports she did this. Always remember the mantra “if he beats or rapes you it because of something you did.” “He,” like God, is the final authority. Tennessee was the last State in the Union to adopt spousal rape laws around 2006. It is not a bastion of female empowerment or enlightenment even if the women “now just sit down with the men to eat.” This worked to convict Deion.
The reader is now faced with concepts, ideas, beyond the normal daily news. The instinctive attitude is rejection; to reject both the ideas I put forth and me, the protagonist of your beliefs.
But my own self confidence comes from previous experience. In 1978 I proposed an employee representative on the Board of Directors of my company, Northwest Airlines. I still remember my sort of anti-labor-traditional-unionist words, “We all have to do something for this company besides collect a paycheck and go home.” This before an audience of 300 pilots on strike. Fifteen years went by and I was proven right. Ten years more and Northwest Airlines would survive bankruptcy because of Union representation on their Board of Directors.
In 1993, while serving on a local school board in Arlington, Washington, I correlated the odd fact that our freshman high school classes exceeded 300 students but when I stood on graduation day to hand out diplomas I counted 186 names. This started me on an in depth study of high school completion rates. With charts, table, and graphs I soon realized that over a third of our students never finished. When I presented my findings in public, to the board, I was attacked by staff members and their supporters in the community No one was willing to admit we were that bad and besides, these were kids that “came from families with problems” which was merely code for “THEY DON’T MATTER.” Many of these kids that did not matter were from prison families. We had no racial minorities. I had the pleasure of presenting my tables and graphs to a researcher for the Tennessee Department of Higher Education in 2001. He verified my data and commiserated with me. He was also attacked for exposing the dismal rate of high school completion. There is the old observation, “If they don’t like the message they shoot the messenger.” I really don’t deserve to be shot and hope no one is inspired to do so.
My investigation of Deion and her supposed crime was typical of my work. Non-typically I hired a forensic psychiatrist in March 2001 to verify my findings before I got more involved. The fellow helped me but even he made the tragic mistake of hubris, he failed to understand the crime even while he somewhat understood Deion. The first year with Deion was just getting to know her. Like everyone else who sat to talk with her the conviction did not fit the crime.. After a year I formulated an opinion of her innocence. I spent the next two years, and actually every year since, verifying my opinion. Every year has brought more information and by now I cannot say I am objective, I only wait for more information and more knowledge of the community. The killing was short and relatively simple, the action of one man. The convictions, and Deion’s prior life, were the doing of the whole community, even a nation. This is a much more interesting and a much larger story. Through the life and conviction of Teresa Deion Harris one can come to a better understand of this country and its mad rush to incarceration and scapegoating. The people of Carroll County WANTED Deion to be guilty.
Community Outrage/News Media
But there Deion was, arrested in the county jail and every cop and clerk anxious to gossip and spread the word of this bizarre and heinous crime. She herself became the major celebrity of the jail. Other women grouped around her to hear her account of the killing and all I am sure repeated it with as many lurid details as possible. Female Christian volunteers descended on Deion. This crime took place less than a hundred miles and about six months after the “West Memphis Three” were convicted of devil worship, killing, and mutilating of boys. Ten years after the fact a woman confidently told me that just killing the boy was not so bad but to cut up his body was devil worshiping. I also have to recall the “Central Park Jogger” and the term “wilding.” Major news media were so enamored of this term assigned to a group of young men in New York City that the very concept became central to the conviction of five men for a rape and beating they had nothing to do with. The boys were later exonerated by the confession of the actual assailant but not before they served a combined 42 years in prison and had their lives ruined. Theirs of course was a racial conviction, four blacks and a Latino, Deion’s was a social class/subculture conviction.
The regional new outlets, the Carroll County News-Leader leading the pack, could not make enough of the story. When I studied Criminal Justice in 2000 I learned the phrase “If it bleeds it leads.” Every newspaper editor knows how well crime sells and the more lurid the better. It gives people that placebo they seem to need; the idea that good and evil are black and white and that America is a great country and good always triumphs over evil. Bondage photos of Ms. Harris, a pretty young woman, were never ignored. I have never heard a newsperson say they believe they cause convictions. They insist they just report the news. Every person in the prison subculture knows better. Shortly after the crime the two men were moved for their own protection.
Christian ladies descended on Deion from the time devil worshiping got into the gossip. Notoriety, the claim “I met the terrible Teresa Harris,” the even more sought for title; “I brought the terrible killer to God” dominated these volunteers. I would later interview them and find after ten years they still argued who brought Teresa Harris to God. Regrettably, these good women from the other side of the great chasm did not recognize her innocence. In fact if she is innocence their achievements bringing sinners to God are destroyed so of course, she must be guilty for their sake. I hope Deion’s case is exceptional and I do believe Christian volunteers serve a worthwhile purpose.
Men and Drugs
It is strange Deion’s lawyers never considered getting counseling for her while in jail. She suffered PTSD and had only barely escaped death herself. But they left her in the county jail and to keep herself sane she had to find diversion. Alcohol was available from some guards. Marijuana was available from trustees. I may take this moment to thank the good fellows, trustees, who never actually saw Deion but were considerate enough to pass marijuana into her cell so she could stay self-medicated. The subculture of jail/prison will occasionally take care of its own. But the greatest diversion of all, and for a woman with a dependant personality disorder, men were a necessity. Yes, the men she chose were inevitably harmful to her but that is not different from alcoholics choosing alcohol. Deion struck up an acquaintance with a prisoner named Robert. The reader may recall the idea battered women choose the men they think they deserve. With small subterfuge Deion was smuggled into the men’s cell in the jail. With a blanket around a bunk Robert and Deion had sex. I have Deion’s diary kept while she was in jail and her entries about this Robert strike one as desperate and childish. She naively speculates how much he loves her. But that is what she wanted, love.
This tryst was discovered by a jail guard and it was he who entered the cell and demanded of Deion in a loud voice “get your s… together and come with me.” Deion, ever alert to her batters, knew what was coming. As well, “when a man hollers and acts crazy you do what he says.” Deion would put up no fight. He used her for sex in an isolated cell and would return several times over the next days for more. When finally he was discovered and turned in by another female inmate it was Deion in just as much, or more trouble than the guard. She remembers being taken to a room and interrogated by the sheriff and other deputies. She was made to feel guilty and threatened with punishment. When her lawyers found out from the newspapers of the jail sex they interviewed her. Again, she was made to feel guilty and even when Ship Weems asked the critical question “did you consent” to sex with the guard; she hesitated and answered “no.” It was at this point his memorable statement “you’re getting more sex in jail than I am at home,” followed by laughter. There is something in men that makes them want to believe women want sex just as much as they want sex. There is a rapist in every man.
The coming of winter found Deion in isolation, a single cell, because of her misdeeds. For an insecure person like Deion this was the worst punishment. With no one to talk to she was left alone with her thoughts which, like so many battered and molested women involve guilt, depression, and thoughts of suicide. By January her diary clearly indicates she is getting close to the end. Her guilt over the trauma of her children became uppermost in her mind. The community, all the good people, the power structure, the adults, everyone convicted her and Deion did not have the sophistication of mind to analyze her actions in front of Walter and determine her own level of guilt. In simple terms, she could not think for herself and accepted others ideas and values. As with so many battered women, she depended on her children for the love she never got from life and in turn from herself. Now, seeing the damage done her children and seeing the futility of her situation, Deion attempted suicide.
The Helping Community
Ever since Sigmund Freud developed the science of psychiatry we have had a growth in those people who study other people and allege to know why they behave as they do. There can be no doubt there is good work and valuable insights to be gained from their work but at the same time, they each have their own agenda and faults that will blind them to the truth. I have already identified the alcoholic who lacks the fundamentals of honesty. Law enforcement, lawyers, and doctors are well represented in these groups who become dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Deion was cut down from her place of hanging in the cell. She was referred to a doctor who referred her to the Western Mental Health Hospital in Bolivar, TN. The doctor who referred her was well known to her. He had attended her in previous years and was the one who prescribed marijuana for her pregnancy (to keep her appetite up) and was himself a pot user who bought from Deion’s ex-husband. Life can be confusing when doctors do such things.
Arriving at Bolivar Deion found her fame preceded her. The woman who checked her in told Deion she thought it was awful what they did to that boy and hoped she got what she deserved. Deion of course took her words to heart and attempted suicide again in Bolivar. Her first stay in Bolivar was short, the prosecutor wanted her back to give her the death penalty and he did not want to be cheated out of the killing himself by her suicide. To some men killing is only fun when you carry it out yourself.
Deion’s second time at Bolivar she finally received thoughtful attention from a Dr Phil Morson. Morson actually attempted to communicate with Deion about the crime. To his astonishment he found she actually did not believe she was guilty. This even while she would say; “I don’t deserve to live after what I done,” He understood a bit of her background and as he would say to me years later, “the person he met did not match the (supposed) crime.” Morson wrote his report and did as good as anyone identify that Deion was an unwilling participant in that nights events. He utterly failed to identify her subculture. Being unable to understand battered women he could not identify her efforts to save the Brooks boy and carrying his mistake further he reported she was “allowed to experiment with alcohol and drugs.” Deion’s early alcohol and drugs life was a requirement for having a family, definitely not an experiment. Just as her early rapes, they were forced on her and the good doctor would have found himself sharply criticizing an entire culture to correctly identify Deion’s actions. When an individual finds themselves at odds with the greater society they will lose. Society is larger and has more resources to enforce their mistakes.
The Legal Team
When I finally made the decision to help Deion with her legal case it was after much legal damage had already been done. No defense had been put on and her limited rights had been squandered. But I hired a new lawyer and got my hands on the records of her conviction. The civilian to legal matters should know how carefully lawyers keep legal records out of the hands of not just their clients but any persons who may come to help. With the written authorization, from our new lawyer (a written request from Deion was not enough) to pick up Deion’s records I drove to Ashland, TN, and the public defender’s office. Here there were two bankers boxes of records, all Shipp Weems had collected and used on Deion’s case. In it were his personal hand written notes as well. Many were notes of telephone conversations and private musings, thoughts. With the researcher’s insight, I knew I had but one chance at these records. Before I delivered these to the lawyer I had hired I copied everything in the file boxes including the notes. Significantly, when I retrieved the boxes from the hired lawyer some nine years later, these hand written notes were gone. Lawyers protect lawyers first and their clients second. The notes in those boxes gave insight to the mind of the man who led Deion’s purported defense. It must be understood by any who would try to avoid prison without a lawyer that little help and much hindrance will come from the legal community. Deion’s files are full of requests for records, even simple trial transcripts. None were ever delivered to her and seldom was she even answered.
Weems was the better of the two lawyers. He was brought in for his experience in capital crime cases. Steve West was an amateur with a law degree. Weems was a typical Tennessee man with typical attitudes in this misogynist culture. He was quite ready to believe Deion participated in this crime just as he was ready to believe she consented to sex with a jailer. As the case wore on he apparently found himself where Phil Morson was, “My client does not match this crime.” It likely took time for him to acknowledge this even to himself. As a defense lawyer he is accustomed to clients who are guilty. His notes contain musings about “who is Teresa Harris?” He tries to contrast the unknown sides of her but is handicapped by his own male chauvinism. Deion is the creation of the misogynist culture. Weems is part of it. How can he self accuse? In conversation with Phil Morson he asks that question about the foul language and the telling the boy to shut up. He correctly sees this as a detail out of place. Morson, knowing no better, responds “Just caught up in the moment.” Both men lacked the character insight of that ex-con from the prison system. Neither recognized the Brooks boy was creating his own doom and Deion was giving him the tool to survive, i.e. “shut up.” But how were they to know?
Shipp would file Deion’s requisite appeals from Ashland City, 22 miles from Deion’s prison. He never once made the trip to see her. When he was called to her post conviction in August of 2000 he had not seen her since conviction in 1994. True to form, he went in the back room where a 29 year old Deion was held in handcuffs and simply said words to how well she looked and asked that she turn around for him. I can safely tell Mr. Weems and any other lawyer representing a woman; “You’d best concern yourself with what is in her heart and mind and forget about how her body looks.” But this is Tennessee and Shipp means well.
Me as Batterer
This post conviction is where I enter Deion’s life. Deion had been imprisoned over seven years when I first sat with her in the visitation room. I had seen her at post conviction but we did not meet. I already knew most of her good points, she was a beautiful and a dedicated mother. She had a magic softness and deference that men like so well. What I knew but did not fully assimilate was her dependent personality disorder. This along with her dysfunctional background, she had a naïve and incomplete vision of her own life and the values and workings of the world. She was 29 chronologically but an adolescent in other respects.
Those first several visits were memorable. It was about the third visit I began to suspect something different with her thinking. I boldly asked her about her sex life. This began an intensive questioning of who, where, why, at what age. As the events tumbled out I was shocked not the least because I had to inform her that having sex when you are passed out drunk at the age of 11 or twelve is not consensual and not “your fault.” This was the first idea I had that she was from a subculture and I failed to patiently follow the idea. Instead, by January 2001 I had listened to enough stories of rape, and read what scant information was available, to know Deion’s mind was not her own. I soon formulated the opinion that she could not be guilty of the crime for she lacked the “mens rea,” the capacity to formulate the crime in her mind. She had been but a shell of a human being and as her friend said, “never had an original thought.” Over the next several visits, now being every other weekend, I commuted from Washington State and built her defense in my mind. But I was in unknown territory and sought a second opinion. A lawyer recommended a forensic psychiatrist at Vanderbuilt University. I made an appointment and sat down with the fellow to hand over my ideas and discoveries and verify I was correct. Significantly the fellow advised that he would use my discoveries since this was most efficient use of his $250/hr time. He took about 20 pages of material I had gleaned from Deion’s past and went out to visit her.
Shipp and the Shrinks
It seems unfair to speak so intimately of a person I never met and spoke to but once. But I must sketch in the broad outline and while the details may be wrong the broad outline I think will be the same. We have common friends after all.
Deion faced the death penalty and the mood of the community indicated she may very well get it. The Brooks family had hired a private attorney to “make sure the prosecutor didn’t screw up.” They hired an ambitious former lawyer of Deion’s; the long time lawyer and old acquaintance of her ex-husband. The fellow sought a seat on the Criminal Court of Appeals and needed a higher profile to be appointed. The fact that he was convicting his former client bothered him not the least. Shipp had to have known this was a desperate situation.
A person facing death at the hands of the court is allowed to have “mitigation;” some background information about their life to make them appear human in some regard to the court system. America is a kind killer. Mitigation is done with private investigators and psychologists. It takes money and experience and like all such matters, the outcome is only as good as the input.
In November of 1993 Shipp petitioned the court for a mitigation specialist. He got a woman making her first experimental foray into this area; a woman of no experience and no visible commitment to the process. She billed the court for 34.5 hours at $50/hr, mostly travel time, and turned in no report. By the time Deion was in Bolivar Weems found a psychologist in Nashville. She was taken there under guard. Deion remembers the casual distain and indifference this women showed for her. She was a professional operating within the limits of her professional field. The battered woman subculture did not yet exist and this woman simply filled in the blanks of Deion’s conviction. She never asked about the crime and likely did not want to know Deion’s participation. For her to have grasped Deion tried to save the boy was beyond the capacity of a woman from the opposite side of the chasm. For her part, Deion was just a shell, a criminal of no consequence. The world was truly a cruel place. There is mention in the report that the psychologist was puzzled that so often she felt she was talking to an immature teenager not a twenty-two year old mother of two. The Dr. fails to understand that the outcome of abuse is the inability to grow to normal maturity through the common phases of life such as having children and growing with the children. Abuse at age eleven stops maturity until that abuse is overcome. Deion’s mother at sixty-four would exhibit the maturity of a fourteen year old. Such is life on the far side of the chasm. This is the gulf Deion faced.
But among her criticisms of Deion’s character is the notation: Judgment…abysmal.
A smile crosses my lips and I wonder how well the good doctor would survive in the front of a pick up when a man has just killed a young boy in the back. For thirty-six hours Deion exercised impeccable judgment and lived to indentify the killer to police. She may have had poor judgment in life but in the time of crisis her judgment was sound. She survived. I was a professional pilot for 25 years, in war and in peace. I know only too well the bragging opinions of those who have never been tested. The world is full of hollow people.
You would think some of the inconsistencies would have been followed. For a person intent on covering the crime the wearing of those sunglasses to Casey’s Bar and Grill should have brought inquiry. It was not a consistent fact. Again, the chasm of logic, the interviewer is from the dominant class and is content to dismiss inconsistencies with the idea, “she’s just stupid.”
It may be said that Deion refused to speak of the killing to any of her doctors. Still, someone had to break through her wall of defense and get her to realize her life and the lives of her children depended on her opening up. But that would have taken love and love is in short supply at a lynching.
The Hopeless Expenditure of Money
I have recounted often enough that I soon moved to Huntingdon to both get a more complete grasp of Deion’s life and to keep her children from following her to prison. My statement that “any woman working as hard as you to raise children from a prison cell deserves help and I guess I am it” still holds true today. My regrets are that I was so ill prepared to raise children in that poisoned environment. My efforts were futile. That her son went to prison is my own failure to recognize the need to smother him in love; love from a father figure he never had. But the community was the stronger in their need to destroy and fail I did. Partial success came from bringing in Deion’s ex-husband who gave sterling duty while he would maintain sobriety. He surpassed me by far.
The $135,000 I spent on Deion’s legal defense was wasted money. Her story was yet to be told and while the battered woman defense might have helped at trial by the time the careless wheels of injustice wore through post conviction the forces of vengeance had the upper hand. America is the world’s leading prison nation. This does not happen because courts are arranged in favor of the accused. The notion that “criminal’s have more rights” is wishful thinking and with over a hundred exonerations from death row we can only wonder how many more are falsely convicted but have no access to DNA evidence. But the release of the guilty gets more attention in the press than the release of the falsely convicted. The public would have it no other way.
Carroll County is situated in West Tennessee half way between Memphis and Nashville on the North side of interstate 40. It is roughly square in shape with no distinguishing features. The rolling landscape supports cotton, soybean, and corn. The population of about 29,000 has remained stagnant though most of the last hundred years. The county was settled in 1822 and Deion’s roots, along with perhaps half the blood line in the county, stem from two brothers who married two sisters, their cousins. Names in cemeteries tend to be repetitive. NAFTA took away the textile industry and still today, unemployment runs high.
Historically, law enforcement and moon shining went hand in hand with sheriffs on regular payoffs according to older residents. Carroll County is “dry” in the sense that no hard liquor is for sale except from the local “boot-legger” who is not prosecuted for his trade. The stranger to the city of Huntingdon is aghast to find local residents consider the General Sessions Judge to be a cocaine dealer and whether true or not it is popular belief. He gets re-elected without trouble.
From the town police chief to the county sheriffs the history is of a hard drinking lot and no resident is surprised if the police are drunk or using the popular drugs. Walter’s police chief father-in-law was no exception. The attitude of young people growing up among such polysubstance abuse can be found in the local high school where drug use and alcohol is common. Deion reports smoking marijuana in the school parking lot and having teachers walk by smelling the joints but only teasing them. Today meth labs are more popular and given the right circumstance, meaning the right people, the police will ignore what they find. Deion found her child arrested for bringing prescription drugs to school while in “better” families vehicular homicide is overlooked.
A hierarchy of prominent names seems little changed from generation to generation as each group of adults uses their family influence to secure what few good jobs are available. Nepotism is so common as to be expected. The prosecutor’s wife was naturally working in the courthouse, Director of Elections, and the school principal’s spouse would be working in the school as well. Except for an aluminum rolling mill, most good jobs are in government.
For all this, or because of this, I found the community safe and quiet with strict social controls keeping crime confined to the appropriate people and areas. Perhaps better stated is that crime is defined uniquely in Carroll County to preserve the status quo.
While there is a small percentage of blacks, 14%, it is poor whites making up the dominant underclass. The illiterate persons I encountered where white and of low profile. Dyslexia seems often the cause of this. Education in clerical positions will be scant with counseling agency secretaries unable to read with fluency. It is uncommon to encounter a swift mind, if at all. Deion grew up not as an exceptional drug addict save perhaps by degrees.
When I first came to Huntingdon I remember a Chamber of Commerce secretary staring at my California plates (they came with the car) and asking incredulously if I was really from California. My accent alone has kept me apart and after people found out I was marrying Deion I was decidedly unwelcome. For my part, I never learned the local pleasantries and coded phrases telling who I was and what social class I belonged. I failed to fit in and an alert lady told me much later I failed to join the right church and make the right acquaintances. Unfortunately, I am a solitary creature of habit and two-faced subterfuge would not fit me.
A Desperate Need to Feel Good
Before my involvement with Deion became known I was readily accepted for my “upstanding accomplished white boy” credentials. If a retired 747 Captain chose to live in Huntingdon then the community basked in reflected approval. The family of Dennis Brooks Jr. were widely known to have moved from Memphis to Carroll County to escape crime. This reinforced the popular myth that Carroll County, like all rural America, is a great place to raise children. Images of healthy farm boys and girls persist in the American mind long after children stopped chopping corn and picking cotton. In fact, rural unemployed is the norm. But Huntingdon will turn out the 7000 persons for the homecoming football game as 15 or so young boys from the high school carry the community ego on their young shoulders. Stacy Ramsey was one of these. Deion’s boy was also. Both followed high school with prison and a team roster ten years after the last great game would show more State Champion rings in a pawnshop than in a home drawer. . Memories of Friday night are short. But the myth is life-giving and necessary.
The Psychology of Scapegoating
In the not so distant past it was an annual routine to cast out the community devil through ceremony and scapegoating. An animal or person was selected for sacrifice. Goat often were used and thuis the term, scapegoat. The community gathered and assigned to the victims all the evil and misfortunes of the community then killed or banished the carrier of their own misfortune or misdeeds. When Deion was arrested and word of the crime got out it the condemnation was so spontaneous as to invite suspicion. A petition was circulated to get the death penalty for all three before they were formally charged. With the notion of devil worship due to the cutting up of the body the community had found the receptacle for all its ills and was united in their desire to kill. I have never been able to understand how a community which thinks so highly of itself can be so eager to believe three young members were devil worshippers. One can only look to the community subconscious for the answer. Deion and two men were to pay for the communities own crimes. What more could be asked but for two men and “promiscuous” female. It was the perfect outlet.
Apology by Conviction
I sat behind the parent’s of the Brooks boy at the post conviction hearing of Stacy. I was impressed how the assistant to his lawyer, a nice young lady, came over and apologized to the unhappy couple. She wanted them to know she was only defending Stacy because the court ordered her to do so. I could only wonder what kind of defense Stacy got under such circumstance. Often I had heard, and have heard since, that the family of the victim “was such nice people.” The imprisoned persons and families were not considered. The good name of the victim’s family seemed to necessitate these convictions whether Stacy and Deion were guilty or not. It was the community’s way of saying “we are sorry.” Historically, this is not unprecedented. Vengeance, guilt, and scapegoating are a powerful combination. This is not about fair trial or truth. This is about a community’s need.
Levels of Guilt
The level of guilt in this case is not easily determined. For the prosecutor that needed to be elected in the fall; for the community that sought to cover up Deion’s abuse; the level of guilt was 100% Deion (and at Stacy’s trial it became %100 his.) What has never been assessed is what level of responsibility the dead have.
I am of course a former Airline Pilot. As a pilot I have seen often how dead pilots have been blamed for accidents, their own deaths. There is often a measure of truth in these statements but if air safety stopped there we would not have the largest and safest transportation system in the history of mankind.
I would now introduce the simple concept of reaction to events. Example: There is a grease fire in a kitchen, you did not cause it, but there is a fire extinguisher next to the stove. If you are in the kitchen and do not pick up the fire extinguishers are you responsible if the house burns down?
Another example: You fell into deep water and cannot swim but as you frantically thrash in the water someone throws you a life ring. You fail to grab it. What is your level of responsibility for your own death?
I bring this up to assess the Brooks boy’s failure heed Deion’s warning to “shut up.” Deion knew that showing fear to a bully would only make things worse and as we all know, things did get worse. So he died for his failure to pick up the life ring she tossed him. What level of responsibility is here, for Deion for Brooks?
Deion was unable to confront the bully, of this there is no doubt. Instead, she tried to give the victim the tool she used in similar situations to escape. She would go stoically passive. Had the Brooks boy done this he would most likely be alive today. But he did not. Is this Deion’s fault or his? Did Deion meet her citizen responsibility to simply offer him the means to escape? These questions need to be answered to assign guilt in this death.
In a trial strewn with absurdities one which seemed to me so foolishly overlooked by defense was the assertion by the prosecutor that Walter, Deion, and Stacy plotted that the next car that came by they would hijack the car and likely kill the driver. Walter testified, as part of his plea bargain to escape the death penalty, that this was the case. As I have already stated, there was no such discussion. Both Stacy and Deion denied this but the cornerstone of “felony murder” is advance knowledge of a felony during which someone is killed. The prosecutor needed to make this point to get his convictions and thus his re-election in the fall.
The personality of Walter was that of a bully. He mentioned in his now famous retraction letter (more later) to Deion that he is the “forceful” one. Deion for her part was diagnosed with a dependant personality disorder; she was passive. I cannot imagine Walter discussing with her his intentions one way or the other. He would typically just act and tell her what her part was. Add to that, he had only met Stacy Ramsey four hours before. Stacy was a rather passive low key fellow properly employed. He had no misdemeanors or other convictions. You could not have called him a hood in any sense of the word. He will today state that in his entire time in prison he has “never gotten into one fight.” I must ask how it is that Walter so simply plotted with such a new acquaintance about stealing and killing. The prosecutor is alleging consensus from a person, Walter, who does not seem to be capable of doing anything by consensus let alone plan a murder with someone he just met.
The allegation of stealing “the next car” to come seems questionable as well. The defense might have asked what Walter intended had a deputy sheriff vehicle been the next car. What if the next car had been a family member who most certainly would have volunteered a ride? Perhaps the next vehicle would have been a pickup with three deer hunters, rifles in the rack, just out poaching deer. After all, that is what Keith Noles the neighbor who heard the shot in front of his house thought. Obviously deer hunters could have been expected at that hour on that road. Would Walter have accosted them with his single shot shotgun? I have already raised the idea that a non-threatening elderly person would have not suited Walter’s need to bully someone that night. Thus, the felony murder rule, the advance planning, is highly questionable to any intelligent mind.
Walter stated that he hoped to cut up the body and “Make it look like nobody around here did it.” (trial transcript P 1232) What he is stating is that in his mind anyway, the local community would not expect a local person to cut up and burn the body. As we all know, one cannot think for others, we can only think for ourselves. I find it amazing how quickly the community not only thought it natural for a local trio to cut up and burn the body but they were quick to enlarge the crime to satanic worship and ritualistic murder. I myself have heard such absurd stories as to cause me to question how far into the age of reason this backwater of America ever came. The story of a white cross on the ground, a dance to the devil in Stacy’s dad’s barn, and the ritualistic killing of the boy tops the list of what I have heard. The idea of Deion having sex with the corpse is right up there as well. Somehow, the community is quite willing to think the most egregious crimes from their own citizens. What does this say of the community’s self image?
There are many loose facts that were never questioned in this case. Deion testified she simply put the heart to her lips to appease Walter and never testified she “kissed” or “sucked blood.” Still, the idea is so attractive to the voyeuristic population that it remains to this day, and is enlarged upon, that the trio cut out the heart and sucked the victim’s blood. It alone will sell a news article. I question if this is even possible. The body was perhaps two hours dead when Walter cut it up. I suspect it had started to cool. Walter, deer poacher that he was, immediately cut off the penis which is among the first things done when butchering a buck. Walter has a gallows humor about him and replacing the penis with the remark “you might need this where you’re going” is not surprising. That Walter cut open the sternum and removed the heart is what he testified in “Women Behind Bars.” Again common sense brings us to ask if there was any blood left in the heart after he pulled it out. Had the blood coagulated? Since it is a sticky soft muscle how exactly does one drink the blood and how much does one get? Deion asserts this never happened and the only event was Walter comically holding the heart overhead and acting the part of the movie monster who tears the heart apart and drinks the blood. It was humor for Walter and terror to the other two.
Deion remembers Walter talking to the corpse as if the boy were still alive. This was one of the first things she told me so many years ago when we discussed the crime. Walter stood over the corpse telling the boy to effect “you made me do this.” Walter belabors the point that he pulled the trigger that second time because the boy would not “shut up.” In his own mind, he holds the victim responsible for that second shot. This contrasts with his testimony that the killing was planned. Walter insisting he killed the boy because he would not “shut up” confirms Deion’s effort to save his life. He had to “shut up.” I had cause to recall Walter’s words when a local reported insisted “Ms Harris is totally responsible for her own incarceration.” If this is a wrongful conviction who is responsible? The prosecutor? The victims family” The press? The community? Who bears responsibility for the 140 wrongful convictions, later exonerations, from death row? I was an airline captain. I took responsibility for everything on the aircraft.
If Walter could in his own mind relieve himself of responsibility for killing that boy it was Deion who was susceptible to guilt. After being raped in jail and attempting suicide she stated in the mental hospital “I don’t deserve to live after what I done.” Some seek to escape responsibility, others, battered women in particular, will accept imposed guilt for whatever their abusers hand them.
It is often brought up that the father of the victim took the witness stand and pleaded for the life of Deion. He asked that she be spared the death penalty so no other family would have to go through what his family did. This seems on the surface a noble idea. When I first got to Huntingdon in 2002 I was advised by a local civic official that he understood the family wanted Deion to get life in prison so “she would suffer more.” I have also the unconfirmed mention that Dennis Brooks Sr was a former prison guard. If this is so he is quite right. I have at least one letter from a woman serving life stating she wishes she had the death penalty. She does not want to spend all her life in prison. She went in at about 20 years of age. Indeed, life is a brutal sentence and America has no qualms of giving teenagers life sentences. We are nothing if not a cruel nation.
Beyond the desire to have Deion suffer as much is possible is the reality of upholding the conviction. The Brooks family had hired Deion’s former lawyer to help with the prosecution. This man, John Everett Williams, is capable of now being a Criminals Appeal Judge and has at least a modicum of knowledge about the intentions of other judges. No one doubted who killed the Brooks boy. Walter makes no secret of his firing the gun. He took a pleas bargain to escape the death penalty. Had Deion gotten the death sentence two things would have happened. First, her post conviction lawyer would most certainly not have been an inexperienced divorce lawyer. She would have had the brightest legal minds in Tennessee. Second, they would have had a very valid argument for “disproportionate sentencing.” The higher courts and eventually the public would have had a hard time executing Deion for a secondary role while the actual killer got life. If Mr. Williams advised his client to oppose the death sentence he earned his pay as the traitor in this case. It was a wise decision.
It is a late hour in my home here in Tennessee. I note my word processor says I have over 30 pages now. Eventually I will have a book though I certainly don’t want one. I have behind me 17 bankers’ boxes of records, interviews, and various writings of this case, Deion’s life, and the so called criminal justice system, etc. As I get near the end, or mid-point of this drama I needs feels refresh my memory of things I read or wrote many years ago. This murder and lynching is now 18 years old. I need to retrieve exact quotes. Of the exact quotes I will retrieve for the reader is the political platform of the elder Brooks. Dennis Brooks senior ran for State Representative for his district about 1996. In running he used as a platform that appeals for criminals should all be abolished. He sought to prevent any convicted person from appealing their conviction or sentence. I can only wonder how he feels of the 140 men exonerated from death row not to mention the many other wrongful convictions to America’s credit. By his logic, they should have been killed by the state and their innocence buried.
I was given conversation from our hired lawyer that the Brooks family contacted the State Prosecutor’s office to prevent our marriage. Since marriage would have been seen as a positive step in her life, an opportunity for love and support in prison, their objections would fit in with their desire she be made to suffer the maximum. Obviously, my rights to marry who I chose meant nothing to them. But they are good people of Tennessee.
The criminal justice system is so broken that I have long ceased to ask anyone in prison what they are in for. Between outright false convictions and plea bargains for odd charges it is impossible to understand anyone by simply what they are in for. To know anyone in prison you must dig well beneath the surface of their alleged crime. Often, as in Deion’s case, the conviction tells more of the community than of the convicted.
Tennessee's Self Image
The idea of Deion and the other two sucking blood from the victims heart is a good example of a community’s self projection. That is, the community projects that image of itself on to others.
Sucking blood from a victim’s heart is an act of cannibalism. It deeply offends our human sensibility. However, less than one hundred years ago black, people were hung from tress and it was considered great entertainment as crowds of white people came to have their pictures taken by the hanging corpses. Even worse were examples, again in the last hundred years, of black people being burned alive and crowds of whites, women and children, watching the torture purely as entertainment. James Weldon Johnson, an early Secretary of the NAACP, reports in his autobiography of bones being taken as souvenirs by the white onlookers. This may not be cannibalism but it is gruesome in the worst way.
All three of the defendants in the Brooks killing were born after the civil rights acts of 1964. When Walter suggested cutting up and burning the body to make it look like “no one around here did it” he is speaking from a youthful prospective. The news reporters, the judge, the prosecutor, and many adults each knew what a savage past Tennessee had. To them the idea of cannibalism fit right in with Tennessee’s white population. Only in this case, the victim was white. Far from saying “no one around here would engage in cannibalism, the public immediately jumped to the conclusion even while it was never shown in court that anyone of the three sucked blood and in fact, Deion testified Stacy never handled the heart as Stacy also insisted at his trial. But the community projected its past into the present, even to the idea of ritual cannibalism. Walter may have faked “the Monster” in playing with the boy’s heart but the community saw itself and chose to believe even while court testimony was unconvincing.
Guilt by association with Walter
Deion first became aware of Walter when she was about 13 and friends with Walter’s sister, classmate Kim Smothers. He reports having sex with her in high school but Deion does not remember and this would indicate another of her many rapes while passed out drunk.
Walter married Lisa Simpson out of high school. She was the daughter of a local RN and step daughter to Thomas Brown, City Police Chief. Walter went in the navy and after a few years returned with his wife to Huntingdon. He worked for a relative a while and was described as “a good worker, diligent etc.” Lisa and Walter had one child and maintained a home life in Huntingdon several years. There was an event in the fall of 1990 when Walter raped Deion but it is almost inconsequential to her lifetime of rape and only serves to illustrate Walther’s character as well as Deion’s coping skills. But as the marriage between Lisa and Walter fell on hard times Walter returned to live with his mother in the Sanders Trailer Court. This is when Deion met him again and it was about ten days or two weeks before the killing. Deion does not remember how she got together with Walter. He testified he picked her up at a bar. She would have been drunk.. A curious incident took place in the first few days Walter and Deion were together. Thomas Brown, City Police Chief, sent a squad car to fetch Deion to his office. There he intimidated Deion and basically said Walter was a married man and too good for you. The Brown family was quite happy with Walter and wanted him back. This in spite of Walter’s several misdemeanors. I have it from family would choose Walter as son-in-law over the next fellow their daughter married.
So I answer the question how Deion got together with such a bad person I point out Walter was married into a good family and was thought well of and is still thought well of today. Now I must ask, how does the City of Huntingdon allow a man like Thomas Brown to be a uniformed officer let alone police chief? It would seem the mere fact he approved of Walter ( the Walter the community sees today) as family member disqualifies him for service. But obviously this is not so.
Who did Deion see in Walter? He was of a good family that wanted him back. He did not beat her like her ex-husband and David Hampton did. He was strong and resourceful and met her needs for drugs and alcohol. Yes, he drank too much and got nasty. There is a long list of men in Huntingdon; police, prosecutors, and judges whose lives lean this way. Deion would not have found this bad or unusual. Walter was known to force sex on women and girls. This is not wrong in Carroll County. I have many stories of rape by public officials and men but as a woman in DCS remarked, “No one does anything.” Deion did not even know she was being raped as a little girl. She accepted blame herself. Such is the mindset of your community.
It is only in hindsight that Deion is criticized for who she associated with. If you look at her the day before the killing you cannot but hope she has found a good man. So who actually is Walter Smothers and what actually happened that night and in the ensuing 36 hours?
The Lure of Cannabalism
The idea of Deion and the other two sucking blood from the victims heart is a good example of a community’s self projection. That is, the community projects that image of itself on to others.
Sucking blood from a victim’s heart is an act of cannibalism. It deeply offends our human sensibility. However, less than one hundred years ago black, people were hung from trees and it was considered great entertainment as crowds of white people came to have their pictures taken by the hanging corpses. Even worse were examples, again in the last hundred years, of black people being burned alive and crowds of whites, women and children, watching the torture purely as entertainment. James Weldon Johnson, an early Secretary of the NAACP, reports in his autobiography of bones being taken as souvenirs by the white onlookers. This may not be cannibalism but it is gruesome in the worst way.
All three of the defendants in the Brooks killing were born after the civil rights acts of 1964. When Walter suggested cutting up and burning the body to make it look like “no one around here did it” he is speaking from a youthful prospective. The news reporters, the judge, the prosecutor, and many adults each knew what a savage past Tennessee had. To them the idea of cannibalism fit right in with Tennessee’s white population. Only in this case, the victim was white. Far from saying “no one around here would engage in cannibalism, the public immediately jumped to the conclusion even while it was never shown in court that anyone of the three sucked blood and in fact, Deion testified Stacy never handled the heart as Stacy also insisted at his trial. But the community projected its past into the present, even to the idea of ritual cannibalism. Walter may have faked “the Monster” in playing with the boy’s heart but the community saw itself and chose to believe even while court testimony was unconvincing.
Court Records Show
The earlier mentioned “True Crime” article brings a good point about the American Court system. The writer Judith Yates reports “…removed his heart, each sucking blood from the organ. This last act was done, according to court records, at the request of Teresa Deion Smith Harris.
At Deion’s trial she stated she held the heart to her lips at Smothers request saying he was in charge and as well “I was scared for my life, and I was scared for my kids too.” No kidding? He just killed someone and you fear for your life. Is this strange? But this act, among others, probably saved her life. No one else held the heart to their mouth. But where is the language from? Stacy Ramsey’s 2007 Post Conviction Appellate Court decision contains the wording, “At Harris’ behest, Smothers removed the victim’s heart, and all three held the victims heart to their mouths.” Interesting point. At Deion’s trial she said Stacy never did this. Stacy at his trial said he never did this. Stacy never testified this was Deion’s idea. The court chooses the words of the killer who has struck a plea bargain to take down the other two in exchange for his life. More to the point, Deion never got the chance to refute this point at Stacy’s trial. Further is must be recognized that her former lawyer, the lawyer for the Brooks family, sits on the appellate Court. It is a failing of the American legal system that you can be convicted at someone else’s trial without having a chance to answer the charge. Is this one reason America created the world’s largest prison system, by conviction without defense in absentia? The Criminal Courts of America may be good enough for Joseph Stalin but here we should be rejecting this idea.
Deion had been in jail over a month. September had gone by and with it her two children’s birthdays. They turned five and four. On the Fourth of October Deion turned twenty three. Sheriff Wendal Bartholomew consented to Deion’s parents bringing the kids in for a fifteen minute birthday party including a small cake Drew carried, and to Deion’s chagrin, dropped. The short episode was a grimmer of humanity in an otherwise cruel community. But word leaked to the press and Deion’s major antagonist, reporter and editor Shirley Nanney ran a large indignant headline in the next edition of the Carroll County News-Leader “JAILHOUSE ROCK.” She wrote to attack the sheriff for his lenient treatment of media-convicted Teresa Harris. All Deion’s children got from that is the idea their birthdays alone are wrong to exist. Maybe the kids suspected they were wrong to exist. I did have this suggested to me by a court witness. “That boy never had kids why should she?” Deion’s traitorous ex-lawyer, Judge Williams, still repeats the JAILHOUSE ROCK story today as an example of the “favoritism” Deion was shown. The worst thing about a lie and a wrongful conviction is you must spend the rest of your life convicting.
It is not easy growing up with a parent in prison. In a small town like Huntingdon it is poisoness. Everyone knows everyone and a crime depicted as the worst ever (Black lynchings don’t count) follows the children through school. Deion’s daughter remarks “People look at you as if you have a disease.” I myself witnessed local leading citizens secretly (in their minds) viewing the children as if they were freaks. Without compassion, without empathy, they automatically attach guilt to the children. Deion’s kids grew up in terror and fear. They never knew what to expect. They only knew the community hated their mom and thus, themselves. The child psychologist can venture that this community hatred of the children grew to self hatred and this is her son’s cause of drug addiction and imprisonment. In fairness, I do know of one family that tried to help.
A reporter from nearby McKenzie, Tennessee, attended the trial and hearings, or so he says, and wrote a bland condemning book about the crime. In it he called Deion an “animal” and the trio “miscreants.” Imagine growing up the children of a miscreant and animal. Self esteem does not come easy in such a case. But I am sure the reporter never gave any thought to her children. Why should he? No one else did in this purported Mecca of family values. I spoke to the reporter briefly on the phone after the books appearance. He did no investigative work and simply repeated what could have been the court transcript. His only remark to me was the accusative “Are you a liberal?” It is notable that those reporters claiming to know the most about Deion have never met her. In Carroll County the less you know the more you know, or believe you know.
Frederick Olmstead in his book “The Cotton Kingdom,” published in 1860 remarks on a strange character unique to the South. He met men who would pronounce expertise on a subject, any subject, and would not back off their wrongful views even in the face of clear evidence they were wrong. This personality still exists in Carroll County in significant numbers. Walter Smothers was one of these. A woman who grew up with him remarks, “He’d say the most ridiculous things and stick to his words so confidently you’d believe him even when you knew it was wrong.” Facts do not come easy in the rural South and no one wants to spoil a good story with the truth.
The Pastor and the Lawyer
Deion impressed the Christian Volunteers as the jail with her pleasant disposition and interest to find religion. After a few visits they would brag they had brought her to be “Born Again.” Deion’s lawyer, Steve West, a Huntingdon resident, heard these proclamations of his client and was disturbed. Perhaps her gaining public sympathy was too much for him. He enlisted the services of a local pastor, Rufus Chandler, and they went to the jail to visit Deion. There, as West looked on, Chandler interrogated Deion about her “born again” experience. He insisted she was not “born again“ and counseled her to prepare to die. With a lawyer such as this there should be no need of a prosecutor. In fairness to West, his practice depended on local people and might suffer if he did not allow her to be convicted. The pastor is a fellow who's church I attended several times and it was I who obtained his affidavit. He is a good man but used for evil intent. I doubt he knew anybetter.
3,26,12 My thanks to Michelle from Ohio who called me today after seeing the TV film “Prison Wives.” Michelle understood Deion’s innocence and answered the magic question.
I am indebted to those battered women who have shared with me. As an upstanding citizen from the other side of the vast battered woman chasm I have been slow to understand Deion, her life and motives that night now 18 years ago. When a woman answers so quickly the one vital question about Deion I am encouraged to keep supporting her struggle for freedom. It will not end until justice is done. Deion’s case, along with thousands of others, brings the issue of “jury of peers.” A battered woman deserves a jury of peers, other battered women, just as Black people deserved Black jurors. America has done much wrong and is in denial.
A Michael Morton was just released after 25 years in a Texas prison for supposedly killing his wife. A prosecutor convinced a jury of his guilt even while the same prosecutor withheld evidence to the contrary. Naturally, DNA was the key. There have been 140 exonerations from death row based on DNA, 3% of the total on death row in America these last 25 years. Yet DNA only is used in about 10% of the death row convictions. Carry that idea out and it is possible 30% of the people on death row are innocent. Like Huntingdon, TN, convictions are largely done in the press and no one really cares for justice. This is a sad commentary on this country. Those that put Deion in prison have done a great injustice to the memory of the victim. Again, does anyone care?