Several years ago a Richmond man charged with a brutal murder made one more bad decision. The jury was out deliberating his fate, and it stayed out for a long time. But the defendant couldn’t take it anymore. Thoughts of the electric chair simply were too much for him. At the last moment he changed his plea to guilty. That way he could look forward to life in prison without being fried.
So it was done. The judge accepted the plea and called for the jury to return. Well, the jury was returning anyway, with … a not guilty verdict. Oops. I don’t recall the defendant’s name, but I know that he’s spending his life in prison. If he’d waited a few more moments, he would have been free to continue his criminal career.
I spent my adult life as a newscaster, and during that time was constantly amazed at the decisions made by some criminals. One of my favorite stories came from Baltimore, where a couple of bank robbers made off with the cash in what appeared to be a clean getaway. At that time there were no security cameras in banks and nobody had a clue who the robbers were. But this particular robbery occurred on a snowy day, and police were able to follow the robbers’ footprints in the snow to a nearby house where they were sitting at a kitchen table counting the money.
In Virginia Beach, sixth-grader Adrionna Harris took a razor away from a troubled classmate who was cutting himself. Adrionna threw the razor blade in a nearby trash can. When school officials heard about it, they suspended the young girl for 10 days and recommended that she be expelled. The school argued that Adrionna violated the zero-tolerance policy because for a few seconds she was in possession of a dangerous weapon. How did the school know what happened? Adrionna told them, that’s how. Why did she throw it away instead of turning in? Because she said she didn’t want to violate the zero-tolerance policy. Besides, she said, the trash can was right there.
Stories like these aren’t unusual. They can be found in almost every school district in the country. Some of our school administrators don’t use their supposed capacity to think.
We had a TV reporter at one of those television stations I worked for who wasn’t very good to begin with but who probably would have survived if he didn’t call in sick every Friday. It was like clockwork, every Thursday night or Friday morning, Ralph (not his real name) would call in sick. In time, management noticed that Ralph was working a four-day week, always selecting to have a three-day weekend. In my business, workers are usually fired on Friday, but Ralph apparently knew that and never came to work on Friday. But figuring out Ralph didn’t take all that long. Ultimately he was let go. Don’t remember what day it happened. They probably fired him on Thursday.
I have a friend in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service because for several years he failed to pay his taxes — didn’t even file. Smart guy, this friend, a college graduate who had a successful career as a federal government employee. You’d think he would know better. You would think!
Many people who do stupid things are repeat offenders. Our prisons are filled by people who have been there before. Actually, most of them have been there before. Many of them will get out some day, then go back. Right, O.J.?
Motorists who get speeding tickets usually get more than one. Thieves steal again. Drug addicts, well they have to do it again because it never occurred to them that the first hit of crystal meth might be the start of something really awful. Bad behavior can be habit-forming.
Some of us are just programmed to make the news. Fortunately most of us know better and wade through life without doing anything really stupid. I can’t begin to tell you about the dumb things I’ve done. Well, actually I could begin to tell you but I won’t. It would take too long.
The important difference is that I got away with it. So far. S
Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.