To Kill the President
by James D. Ballotti
“Look John, you’ve got to give me something to work with here. We go to court tomorrow and I still don’t know how I’m going to defend you,” Angela Chavez said. She was standing, hands balled into fists, knuckles flat on the table in front of her. They were in one of the three small rooms in the prison’s administration building used by lawyers to meet with their clients. She was leaning over looking at John Gideon. Her look was pleading; she needed him to talk to her.
Angela Chavez was a public defender for the federal government. Smart and experienced, she’d been in the job for fifteen years. She liked what she did and worked hard at it, but she’d never had a client as recalcitrant as this one.
John Gideon was a man seventeen years older than Angela. He was a white male, five-foot ten, one hundred and sixty pounds, blue eyes, brown hair (balding) with a mustache. He had been indicted by the Grand Jury a little more than three months ago. The indictment had read:
JONATHON MITCHELL GIDEON
knowingly and wilfully made a written threat by email to take the life of, and to inflict bodily harm upon, George W. Bush, the President of the United States.
In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 871(a).
There were actually three indictments, one for each email he sent.
He was holding his head in his hands as Angela was glaring at him. He looked up at her and asked, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yea, sure, please, anything you want,” she replied, the frustration evident in her voice.
“You’re my lawyer so you can’t repeat anything I say to you right?”
It was the first time he said more than four words in a row to her since she was assigned to his case. “That’s right. If I did it would be an ethics violation and I could be disbarred.”
“Angela, I’m right where I want to be,” John said, his voice calm and measured.
She looked at him dumbfounded. “I don’t understand. You want to be in Federal prison?”
“Mind telling me why?” she asked as she finally sat down.
“What?” she almost screamed.
“Health care, if I’m in prison the government has to provide me health care.”
“Let me make sure I’ve got this right. You threatened to kill President Bush so you could go to prison so you could get health care?”
“Pretty much. I’m 57 years old with diabetes, and my doctor is worried about declining renal activity.”
Angela just stared at him. Her mind struggling to grasp the meaning of what he was telling her. It was just too absurd. Yet the implication of what he was saying was mind-boggling. There were forty-three million Americans without health insurance, one out of every seven people in the U.S.
If just one-tenth of one percent of those did what John was about to do — take refuge in the federal prison system — ten new prisons would have to be built. Guards and administrators hired. Food, clothing, and other supplies purchased. How much would that cost? Where would the money come from with all these new tax cuts? The Federal Prison system could become the new welfare system. These and other thoughts replaced her concerns about how to defend this man.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” John asked her.
“Because, John, what you have told me is preposterous.”
“Preposterous means contrary to reason or common sense. Why do you think this is preposterous?”
She hadn’t expected the question, especially phrased that way; she just continued to stare at him. He stared back. Finally, she said, “Why don’t you tell me why it’s not preposterous?”
“Okay, it’s like this. A little over two years ago I was gainfully employed as a telecommunications engineer. I was making eighty-one thousand a year, plus bonuses and stock options. I’d been working in the industry for almost thirty years. Life was good. My wife and I lived in nice house in a nice part of town. Six months after that moron got elected I lost my job. My wife eventually divorced me, and now I’m driving a taxi and living in a one-room apartment in a shitty part of town.”
“So you don’t like the President?” Angela interrupted.
“The fact that I think that George W. Bush is an arrogant, uncaring, imperious, lying grandson of a fascist robber baron really doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
Angela stifled a guffaw. The incongruity of the remark compared to the rest of John’s rhetoric — plus the fact that she agreed with him — made her want to laugh.
“Anyway, six months after his election, I lost my job. The telecommunications industry collapsed: Enron, Global Crossing, Worldcom, Lucent, and a dozen smaller companies — they all went under, and tens of thousands of people just like me were out of work.
“But I didn’t worry. I’d been laid off before and always found another job within two or three months. I had an unemployment check coming in. I got on the Internet and started looking for jobs. I posted my résumé on all the major job sites and signed up for the automatic emails. Jobs showed up every now and then and I applied. In the last two years, I’ve sent out hundreds of résumés and haven’t even got a call back, much less an interview.
“Time went on: my savings began to dwindle; my wife divorced me, like I said; and finally my savings were gone and I had to move into the dump I’m in now. Driving a taxi — even twelve hours a day — only nets me about $550.00 a week. I was having problems paying for my insulin, let alone the more expensive meds my doctor wants me to take. So, I started to think about other options, and then it came to me: if you’re a prisoner, the government has to provide you health care.”
“But going to jail seems like such an extreme solution,” Angela said, fascinated by John’s story. After all, she was employed, she had never really given much thought to how or who had been impacted by what was happening in the current economy.
“Prison’s really not all that bad,” he said. “I’ve been to prison before. It’s not like they portray it in the movies, especially the minimum-security federal prisons.”
Angela opened the file in front of her and found the conviction for distribution of cocaine twenty-seven years earlier.
“So I had to come up with a crime that would guarantee federal time. I also wanted a crime where no one would get hurt.”
“So you never actually intended to hurt the President?”
“Of course not. I just wanted to get thrown in prison. The food is free; the clothes, like this orange jumpsuit, are free; you don’t have to work if you don’t want to; there’s TV and books to read, exercise equipment; I even hear that some prisons have tennis courts. All in all, it’s a very low-stress lifestyle. Plus you get free health care. Threatening the life of the President is the perfect way to break into federal prison.”
“But aren’t you afraid of the other inmates you’ll be with?”
“Who? Accountants, attorneys, multi-millionaire businessmen convicted of securities fraud? I might even get to meet Ken Lay, the President’s good buddy. I’ll probably come out of prison with better contacts then I have now.
“Besides, you never know what kind of new skills I might learn in prison. I thought I might try writing. Lord knows I’ll have the time, and just think of the story material I can gather while I’m in there.
“I’ll bet publishers never ask novelists whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime before they publish their books, or make them take drug tests. Not that I’m into drugs anymore.”
Angela was shaking her head. “You’re absolutely serious about this, aren’t you?
“As a heart attack.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing. Tomorrow we go to court. You let the prosecution present its case. When they’re done, you stand up and say, ‘Your Honor, my client is the only person who can refute these charges and he refuses to take the stand. Defense rests’, or something to that effect.”
“Why don’t you just plead guilty?”
“If I plead guilty and cooperate, the judge might take pity on me and be lenient. I don’t want that. I want him to throw the book at me. I figure the best way to do that is to piss him off. What pisses off a judge more than an uncooperative defendant?”
“You know that the maximum penalty you can receive is five years. With good behavior, you’ll be out in three or three and a half years. What do you do when you get out?”
John looked into his lawyer’s eyes and just smiled.
“You’ve really thought this through haven’t you?” Angela said, realizing that she was dealing with an intelligent and thoroughly intriguing individual.
“All the way.”
“Okay, John, you really haven’t left me any other choice.”
Angela was still shaking her head as she left the prison and headed back to her office. When she got there, she looked at the clock and realized there was only another half hour left in the day — she refused to work past 5:00 PM. Without even checking her voice mail, she turned around and left for home.
The next day Angela was at the courthouse just before 9:00 a.m. The case of The United States of America versus Jonathon Mitchell Gideon was first on the docket. A bailiff escorted John — shuffling in leg irons and handcuffs, dressed in his orange prison jumpsuit — into the courtroom through the side door where prisoners were kept until their cases were called. He looked every bit the very dangerous person that Angela knew he wasn’t.
The prosecutor, Scott Fitzsimmons, a young, energetic, and ambitious U.S. Attorney, presented his case. It took him less than ninety minutes, including the testimony of the two Secret Service agents who had arrested John. When the prosecutor was done, Angela stood and did exactly as John had instructed her the day before.
Scott immediately stood up and said, “Your Honor, I move for an immediate finding of guilty.”
“Motion granted,” the Judge replied. “Mr. Gideon, please rise.”
“Mr. Gideon, this court finds you guilty of all three counts of violating Title 18, Section 871 of the U.S. Code. Sentencing will be one week from today. Do you have any questions, Mr. Gideon?”
“Yeah. If I’m guilty, why don’t you just sentence me now?” John asked, his tone defiant, combative, and hostile.
Angela dropped her head, looked at the legal pad lying on the table in front of her, and tried to suppress a smile; she knew what John was doing.
The judge looked up from the writing he was doing. “Mr. Gideon, the court will sentence you at its pleasure, not yours. Bailiff.”
The bailiff came over to the defense table to take John back to the prisoner holding area. As he was being led away, he called out to Angela. When she looked over at him, he winked.
Scott Fitzsimmons, seeing the exchange, came over to the table where Angela was putting her paperwork back into her briefcase and asked, “What was that all about?”
“Attorney-client privilege, Scott. I can’t tell you,” Angela said as she closed her briefcase and left the courtroom, leaving Scott scratching his head.
Copyright © 2006 by James D. Ballotti