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"IF ONLY I WERE DEAD"



"Are you Roger Kiser?" Asked the black man who now stood in the doorway of my cell.

"Can I help you?" I asked him.

"I hear that you do writs and petitions for some of the other inmates. Is there any way that you might consider doing one for me?" He asked.

"Well I am really tied up. I am working on more than fifty cases right now." I responded.

"Is it true that the police are supposed to tell you that you have the right to remain silent and that you have the right to a lawyer." He questioned.

"That's the courts ruling." I replied.

"No body told me nothing like that." He stated.

"Almost everyone who comes in here tells me that exact same thing." I told him.

"But it's true. It really is. They didn't tell me anything about that kind of thing because I was laying on the ground. I was dead." He said.

I looked up at him and saw that his eyes were open wider than any eyes that I had ever seen before. I laid my notebook down on my bunk and I just sat there staring at him.

"If you were dead then what the hell are you doing standing in my doorway?" I asked him.

"NO! I wasn't really dead. The police shot me and they thought I was dead. So they covered me up with a tarp and called the ambulance. When they were taking me to the hospital they found out that I wasn't really dead." He explained.

"You have to many cases to worry about to take on another." I said to myself, as I continued to stare at him.

I don't know quite what it was about his story; but I knew, without a doubt, that this was a case that could be won.

"Meet me in the library at 7:00 this evening." I told him.

"There's something else. I can't pay you anything. I don't have anything to give." He mumbled.

"Just meet me in the library at 7:00. " I said again.

After eating supper I gathered my books and I walked to the library. As I entered the room I saw the young man sitting at the back of the room with his head laying on the table. I walked over and I sat down in front of him.

"What the hell are you in here for anyway?" I asked him.

"Bank robbery." He replied.

"Why the hell would you do something stupid like that?" I asked him.

"Probably for the same stupid reason that you are in here for doing whatever it was that you did." He replied.

I just smiled back at him.

It was amazing to me how many of the men that I met in prison seemed like rather nice fellows. Most were not hard and cruel. Most were well mannered and appeared to be considerate of others. Of course that does not mean that there were not a few who would cut your throat in a heartbeat. Inmates like that were easily spotted. You could see it in their eyes. There was this deep, dark, inward stare that they would give you. They never blinked, or moved their head. It was as if they were going to push you off a cliff, with their eyes, if you did not look away.

"Hello. Are you with me?" Asked the black man.

"I'm here." I replied.

For the next hour I sat and I listened to his story. He told me that he was involved in the bank robbery. He also told me that he had given two of his friends a ride in his new car that his parents has given him just hours before. That he did not know of the robbery until his buddies asked him to pull up in front of the bank. They then pulled out their guns and told him to wait. The two of them jumped out of the car and ran into the bank. He told me that me just sat there confused, his mind racing in a circle. That he was so scared that he could not even move a muscle. The next thing that he knew the police were everywhere. He was ordered, by the police, to get out of the vehicle. When he reached down to open the car door shots rang out. That was the last thing that he remembers before waking up in the hospital.

"Ok, Let me tell you this. I think you have a very strong case. I can almost guarantee you that you will get a hearing on this matter. You may even get a new trail. But that is not going to help you. You are still guilty of the bank robbery." I told him.

"But I really wasn't" He stated.

"I am going to base this case on the fact that no police officer is going to advise a dead man of his rights.

Within two weeks I had a petition ready to be filed in federal court. It was signed, notarized and mailed.

A few months later the man was transferred from the Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc. Two federal marshals flew him back for a hearing before the original sentencing judge. Within two weeks he was returned to prison.

I was standing in the hallway when I saw him coming toward me. He was shaking his head.

"The cop lied and said that he advised me of my rights." He told me.

"When did he say that he advised you of your rights?" I asked.

"While I was under the tarp." He stated.

"And the court believed that?" I asked him.

"Maybe it would have been better if only I were dead." Said the man.

The man just raised his shoulders and then he let them drop. He said not a word. Then he turned around and he walked away.

I don't know what it was about this man but something told me that he was not guilty. His demeanor and the look on his face was not the look of a man who was guilty.

I worked for three days hand writing an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Several days later it was filed. Some time later the case was accepted for review by the appeals court.

Before the case was heard I was transferred to the Federal Medical Center at Springfield, Missouri. I never found out anything more about the case or what happened to the man. A man that I honestly believed to be innocent.



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