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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Peggy McCracken

Squarely Pegged

By Peggy McCracken

Teenaged murderer
hits the headlines

It’s funny the things you keep.

While clearing out drawer space for income tax returns Leon saved for decades, I came across a few newspapers and a bunch of shorthand notes of stories that impressed me enough to file them.

The saddest story is of an 18-year-old murderer from Georgia who was so proud of his “tough guy” image that he wouldn’t smile for the camera during our interview at Reeves County Jail. The kid who had celebrated five birthdays in jail, talked freely about his criminal history that started with smoking in school at age 13, for which his mother had him arrested, and the murder that probably put him in prison for life.

“The people looked up to me, the type of crowd I hung out with,” he said.

Reeves County jail was the subject of a lot of my stories, as the late Sheriff Raul Florez stayed in constant trouble over profits he made on inmate meals, escapes, grand jury investigation of his entire operation, allegations of misuse of funds donated to survivors of the Saragosa tornado and complaints that his jailers allowed inmate-on-inmate abuse, as well as threatening prisoners themselves.

On a different tack, I saved notes on the demise of farming in the Pecos Valley, which was tied in to a federal lawsuit involving a weed killer that didn’t work. Not only did the farmers who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the failed attempt to control weeds in their cotton patches go out of business, so did the chemical company that supplied it. Another man I had forgotten also earned a spot in my federal court file. Wayne DeGrassi was an insurance agent in Pecos until credit card debt pressured him into some questionable business practices. A civil suit filed by his bank and a bankruptcy petition are among the documents that tell the story of yet another victim of Pecos’ descent into economic oblivion.

A brighter note in the farm folder was a forward-looking press release about Guayule, a rubber plant that has been in the experimental stage in this area for decades. It made me wonder if anything ever came of that attempt to grow rubber in the desert. Since most of its rubber production occurs during cold weather, I doubt that much has happened in recent years.

Politics played a big part in my reporting career, as Hispanics began to realize they needed to vote in order to have a representative government. One of the photos in the file was of a Hispanic man in Monahans who was one of the first to test the waters. I wonder about him, too. Considering the flak he must have taken, does he consider it worthwhile?

Although police chiefs are two steps removed from voter control, they nevertheless got involved in controversy. Staff complaints put Chiefs Don Carlisle and Ed Krevit in the headlines. Most of Carlisle’s staff either quit or was fired. Krevit’s staff was split over an investigation into arson at his home. They made hot copy, but it was not fun to write.

Neither was it fun to interview a mother who claimed her husband had sexually abused their preschool daughter. I saved page after page of notes from that interview, but I don’t recall that it ever made it into print, since no charges were filed. The mother and daughter disappeared shortly thereafter, and I didn’t hear from her again until the daughter turned 18 and she felt it was safe to return home.

Loving County’s file I am leaving intact. You never know when something else will happen in the least-populated county in the nation. It is known nationwide, mostly for its politics, and has even made the Reader’s Digest.

It’s sad that so much of what we call news is about the dark side of human nature, like the juvenile murderer whose bragging about his crimes helped convict him. He should have taken this advice:

“If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hand over your mouth!” Proverbs 30:32, NIV

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