Posts

Over forty years ago I’d made the entry in my notebook. I found my handwriting to be a bit difficult to read on some of the yellowing pages—the result of quickly-written memos then, and failing eyesight today. But I was able to make out the basics, and there was enough there to take me back to the time when I wore the brown over khaki uniform of a deputy sheriff.

Flipping through the pages of my log, one particular entry caught my eye. It was a Friday night during an unusually cool  for October. According to my notes, the skies were clear and brightly lit by a near full moon. The gas tank in my take-home car was full (as always, I’d filled it at the end of my shift the preceding morning) and the speedometer had just tripped 80,000 miles. The lights and siren were both in working order.

I’d signed on at 2342 hours that night, and in my mind I can still hear the dispatcher’s voice as she acknowledged my radio message. She spoke in a drawl that prompted a craving for mint juleps and an urge to plant a magnolia tree in my front yard.

It’s no secret that I was not born a southerner. In fact, before “the conversion,” I was such a Yankee that one of my relatives owned a house that was once used by Harriett Tubman as a stop on her vast Underground Railroad network. We lived nearby, where people didn’t say things like,  “Y’all” or “finer’n frog hair, or “fixin’ to” (going to).

“I’m fixin’ to head over to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up some chittlins’ for Sunday lunch. Y’all want anything?”

As a child born north of “the line”, the switch to the South was a major change. Everything was different, including schools and how they conducted business. Classes in our new southern location began each day with a child reading from the Bible, followed by a man’s deep but southern-twangy voice spewing from the wall-mounted speaker as he led us in prayer. We didn’t do that in my former northern school.

The thing about the South that stuck with me the most, though, was to see peanuts, tobacco, and cotton in their natural habitats—not nuts in jars or bags, tobacco rolled into cigarettes, or “cotton” as a word printed on the labels of my school clothes.

Okay, back to my notes. It hadn’t rained in nearly three weeks and the local farmers and their field hands had been hard at work for several days, picking cotton. They’d loaded large farm trailers to the point of overflowing, like giant pillows on wheels. But no matter how hard they tried, there was simply no way possible to gather every single piece of cotton, leaving lots of it scattered about in the fields. And, of course, it didn’t take long at all for the wind to blow the scraps of freshly picked raw cotton everywhere, sending it into trees, ditches, bushes, and roadways. The landscape looked as if it had been dusted by a light snowfall. You couldn’t spit in any direction without hitting a wad of the future shirts, pants, sheets, and stuffing for aspirin bottles.

Virginia cotton

At night, while on patrol, we often used our spotlights to scan fields and paths looking for illegal night hunters, or stolen cars and farm equipment that were sometimes abandoned in out of the way locations. Another target for our spotlights in those days were farmer’s fertilizer storage tanks that contained anhydrous ammonia. Farmers used the fertilizer to spray crops. Makers of methamphetamine stole it from farmers and farm supply companies to produce meth.

Meth makers siphoned the deadly liquid gas from the tanks and later used it and other hazardous ingredients, such as paint thinner, engine starter fluid, the innards of certain types of batteries, and ephedrine separated from its binding agent found in over-the-counter cold medicine, to manufacture the dangerous and illegal drug. This process required no heat since the chemical reaction was so volatile, and it is the reason clandestine meth labs notoriously and suddenly explode.


The method of making meth using anhydrous ammonia is sometimes called the “Nazi cook,” named after the meth distributed to German soldiers by Nazi leaders during World War II. For more, click here.


So yeah, that was a thing back then and it was a big reason we kept on eye on farms. And, of course, there were the people who stole livestock, such as pigs. Ah, the glamorous life of a deputy sheriff in the rural South.

In addition to highlighting stolen cars and fertilizer tanks, and the occasional “parking” teenage couples or pair of adulterers, the shining of a bright spotlight across the fields at night, the car-mounted devices also illuminated scores of wildlife—deer, foxes, raccoons, ‘possums, coyotes, and even an occasional black bear. And, on the night referenced in my spiral notebook, the light also showcased a woman’s body lying between two unpicked rows of cotton.

She was young, mid to late 30’s. Fully clothed with the exception of her bare feet. There were no shoes at the scene. Approximately 5’ 5″ tall. 150 lbs – 160 lbs, or so. Round face. Skin the color of Vermont maple syrup. Her eyes were open and without focus, and aimed toward the sky into infinity. Pupils fixed, and dilated. A bullet wound to her forehead, just above her left eye, and another near her right eyebrow, told me to save my CPR skills for another day.

Small clumps of loose cotton dotted the area around the body. Some were the brilliant white of summertime clouds. Others, the ones that clung to her wounds, were rusty red and mostly saturated with the victim’s drying blood.

Three sets of footprints entered the field—large boots, small tennis shoes, and a set ending with bare toes. Only two sets headed out. The toes remained.

The victim had two small children at home. A neighbor was called to sit with them while their father went out searching for his wife who’d called earlier to say the church meeting was running a bit longer than she’d expected. No, no need to pick her up. Wanda was at the meeting and would bring her home.

Twenty minutes later, after the husband left his children in the care of the sitter, Wanda called and asked the neighbor if she could please speak to the man’s wife. No, there was no church meeting that night.

The man knew, deep in his heart, that there was no meeting at the church and he where exactly where to look for his cheating wife.

The victim’s lover, a cotton farmer, escaped the gunfire.

There was no DNA. No fingerprints. No cell phone calls to trace, and no bullet casings.

Just a pair of womens shoes found five hours later, in the farmer’s truck. And a revolver containing four bullets in his jealous wife’s car.

If I’d kept a tally over the years I could’ve added another hash mark to the “life taken” column, and five to the “lives ruined” section.

My last notations on the page that night were four short lines that read …

“Murder warrant issued”

“17 gallons of gas, no oil”

“10-42 (off duty) – 0815”

“Sunny and warmer – a good day to pick cotton”

obstruction of justice

Obstruction of Justice (aka perverting the course of justice) is a broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

Penalties for obstruction of justice vary from state to state, and the federal government. For example, in Virginia, Obstruction of Justice is a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Misdemeanor Classes in Virginia

§ 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of a misdemeanor.

The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are:

(a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

(b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.

(c) For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.

(d) For Class 4 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $250.

The federal government sees the crime of obstruction in a different light. In their eyes, obstruction is a felony that carries a stiff penalty. For example, in 2010, a Georgia deputy sheriff, Mitnee Jones, was convicted of Obstruction for lying to the FBI and providing false statements as part of an investigation into the death of a Fulton County jail inmate.

The jury convicted Jones of filing a false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation, making a false material statement about the incident to a Special Agent of the FBI, and obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury investigating the death of the inmate.

Jones faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for filing the false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation; five years for making a false material statement about the incident to the FBI, and 10 years for obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury. However, at sentencing, Jones received a much lighter sentence of one year and three months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

Not all obstruction of justice cases are simple, with paper trails to follow. Remember Martha Stewart? The government’s criminal case against Stewart was based solely on the fact that she made false and misleading statements to the SEC, and those accusations led to Stewart’s conviction for obstruction of justice, and the charge of lying to federal investigators.

By the way, the feds love to add obstruction charges to their cases (every suspect lies to the police at some point, right?).

federal bureau investigation

They do so because the threat of the additional 5-year sentence for obstruction is a great bargaining tool when offering a plea deal (We’ll drop the obstruction charge if you plead guilty to possession of the cocaine).

Here’s the obstruction section from the Code of Virginia:

Obstruction of Justice – Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

A. If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

B. Except as provided in subsection C, any person who, by threats or force, knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

C. If any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court relating to a violation of or conspiracy to violate § 18.2-248 or subdivision (a) (3), (b) or (c) of § 18.2-248.1, or § 18.2-46.2 or § 18.2-46.3, or relating to the violation of or conspiracy to violate any violent felony offense listed in subsection C of § 17.1-805, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

* Not everyone who lies to local and state police is charged with obstruction. If so, nearly every person who’s been questioned by officers would be in jail, because, based on my experiences, approximately 9 out of 10 suspects lie when they’re in the “hot seat.”

When it comes to charging someone with obstruction, well, you’ve got to carefully pick your battles, and then fight them wisely.


“Don’t Tell Me No Lies” ~ The Golliwogs