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Sarah's Library

I read pretty much anything, from fantasy (City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett) to romance (Bared to You by Sylvia Day) to classics (Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad).  The only genres I don't read are self-help and comic books/graphic novels.

Currently reading

The Last Honeytrap
Louise Lee
Progress: 100/346 pages
Complete Works of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran

Murder in Mississippi - John Safran

15/11 - I've never watched any of John Safran's shows because I don't like to see journalists confronting and antagonising dangerous people, like KKK grand dragons (why on earth are they 'dragons'?). It's not like they're going to change their minds, and sometimes it doesn't seem too far-fetched to worry about the offending journalist's (and possibly their camera man) body being found hanging from a tree a week later.

If I was watching this, rather than reading it, I would be yelling at the tv demanding to know what the hell Safran was thinking getting in the face of and asking KKK big shots awkward (and also reasonably obvious) questions about who can and cannot join the KKK. It's just not a good idea (IMHO) if you value your health and wellbeing. Thankfully, I'm not watching it so I'm finding it much less stressful following on with Safran's 'adventures' in white supremacist country than I thought I would.

I really don't mean any offense to Mississippians, but your state sounds (from this book and movies like A Time to Kill, The Chamber, and Mississippi Burning) kind of scary crazy. I don't know how you live there, no matter what colour your skin is. I don't think I could stand the racism and how ingrained in the culture it is. Some of Safran's experiences sound like he stole them straight out of the 60s (or a movie), but what's most disturbing to me (a Melburnian who has seen very little racism in her lifetime) is that this book was written only last year. These things are still happening. The n word is still used with impunity, the KKK is still active and recruiting (even Safran if he hadn't had a Jewish mother), people believe that it was better before desegregation (even African Americans), African Americans still have to worry about being seen with a Caucasian person (especially in a dating/romantic situation) in case the Caucasian's family takes offense and decides to do something about it. I hate that this is still the reality for a whole state-full (or more, I don't know what Georgia and the other 'Southern' states are like) of people and it makes me angry to think about it too much.

I'm just going to try to concentrate on the 'true crime' aspect of the story, which doesn't actually seem to be related to race, and not think too much about the racism. The crime itself certainly is worth contemplating, it's so weird. Richard Barrett is like two different personalities in the one body, I'm not surprised some of his acquaintances thought he was an FBI plant. Some people saw the white supremacist fanatic (there's no gay people in the KKK), some saw a man who was a bit too touchy feely with teenage boys (and even one of Safran's producers). The accused murder came up with numerous different stories to explain what happened and why he murdered Barrett, but because he kept changing his story I don't feel that we have heard the true story. I will be very interested to read whatever of the court proceedings Safran decides to include in the book, as I can't imagine what his defence team is going to say or what the defendant's final explanation will be. To be continued...


16/11 - This has got to be the weirdest murder (plead down to manslaughter) non-trial of the 21st century. None of it makes any sense, no one's behaviour makes any sense, the whole case is very nonsensical. Because McGee plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, as well as the original charges of arson and burglary, there was no trial and therefore no argument over McGee's sentence - the prosecutor recommended 65 years, so the judge gave him 65 years. No trial means no witnesses taking the stand to explain the defendant's, or the victim's, actions, no cross examining of these witnesses by the prosecutor or McGee's lawyer in order to get to the truth. So Safran decided to take it upon himself to attempt to find the truth by questioning all the witnesses who were meant to take the stand during the trial. What he's uncovered (so far, not quite finished yet) is enlightening and confusing at the same time.

I'm not particularly impressed with the investigative skills of the two detectives assigned to the case. Within seconds of seeing Barrett's partially burnt body both men had decided that there were 'homosexual' motives behind the murder. All because Barrett had been stabbed numerous times around the chest and neck (enough so that he was nearly decapitated), in what the detectives considered 'homosexual overkill'. They (these homosexual murderers who the detectives have much experience with) get into a passionate rage (according to the officers) and go far beyond what is needed to kill their victim. Barrett had been stabbed 16 times, that was therefore, clearly, 'homosexual' overkill. They never gave any other motive for the overkill any consideration. At one point on page 192 Safran asks

"What does that mean? 'A homosexual murder?' Why would that be different from a non-homosexual murder?"
"I can't explain it," Tim
(one of the investigating detectives) says. "I don't have an answer for that."

So he (Tim) doesn't know how a homosexual murder is different from a non-homosexual murder, but he still knows one when he sees it. That logic gives me a real sense of security in the powers of his investigating skills. Confusion reigns over the whole investigation. On page 193 and 194 Safran tries to understand why the victim had been dragged through the house (evidence of this shown by drag marks made in Barrett's blood)

'"Why would Vincent want to drag him?" I ask. "Maybe closer to the fire?"
"Vincent moved him from the kitchen to the bedroom," Wayne says.
"And why do you think he did that?"
"I don't know."
If Vincent did drag Richard to the bedroom, he must have later dragged him back to the kitchen because that's where everyone's telling me - Wayne and Tim included - the body was found. Is it possible they're confusing the bedroom and the kitchen because that might be what happened in a homosexual murder?'

No one seems to be able to keep the facts of the case straight. On page 208 Safran describes his discussion with Adele Lewis, the forensic pathologist who performed Barrett's autopsy.

'"Sorry to be tacky," I say, "but there were suggestions at the start it was a sex crime and so did you do things like any tests on whether he'd had sex, or whether there was semen on him, or anything like that?"
"No, I wasn't made aware of that until after the autopsy had been completed and the body had been cleaned."
She doesn't sound happy about this.'

And then further down the page she continues with

'"Had they implied that it had been a sex crime or told me that it was, I would've asked them if they wanted me to do what's called a thorough rape kit, which is where we take cotton swabs and swab the mouth, the anus, and we also do fingernail clippings. Those can be examined for DNA and trace evidence."
Here's a weird thing. Investigator Wayne Humphrey took me through the autopsy process. He said he was in the room when they cut open Richard. And he said there was a 'sex test'. This is what Wayne told me he said to the autopsy people:
"I said,
I'm sorry I have to get you to do this, when they finished, but could you please do a visual look at his rectum to see if there's any foreign objects? Then they spread him and then made an incision - with, like, hedgers you use to prune - to cut up his anus so she could really get inside. She had a look and couldn't see anything."
Could one of them be misremembering, or confusing Richard with another corpse? Would you be more likely to remember accurately if you were the one using the hedgers or the one watching? Which one is more likely to get carried away with the story?'

I think whoever advised McGee to take a plea instead of going to trial made a huge mistake. From what I'm reading it seems to me there would be about a dozen different opportunities for an appeal to be granted.

I did notice a small editing error on page 97, where Safran mixes up Tina McGee's (Vincent's mother) name with Vallena Greer's (founder of the Vincent McGee defence fund). Safran is in McGee's house talking to his mother about what Vincent said happened the night he killed Barrett.

'"So after that," Vallena says, "I don't really know. But that's what my son told me, that he pulled it on him."'

Obviously, Safran means Tina when he writes Vallena, because it's Tina's son who is accused of the murder, Tina's house that he's sitting in, and Tina herself who he was talking to. Ooopsy daisy. To be continued...



18/11 - Oh dear, he did it again. On page 333 Safran mixes Vicky McGee (Vincent's aunt) up with Tina McGee (Vincent's mother). One minute Trip Bayles (one of the investigators) is talking to Vicky, then suddenly she's Tina, then back to Vicky again, exactly the same as when he confused Tina with Vallena.

'"He was a white supreme-ist."
Vicky leans in. "I don't know what that means," she says seriously.
"That means he didn't like black people very much."
"Well, I like everyone."
"Me too," says Trip.
"They one of those people that perform with the skinheads," Trip says. "You ever heard of that?"
"They're really extreme racist white people."
"Oh, well," says Tina, "that's his business. Long as he doesn't mess with me, I love him."

After finishing this yesterday morning I found both Vincent and Safran on Facebook and followed Safran (Vincent was of no interest to me). In one of his posts from earlier this month he discusses the fact that the book is being released in America under a different title (I never understand the motives behind this practice), with an extra 'epilogue' that wasn't included in the Australian edition. SPOILER DEAD AHEAD, LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE FINAL OUTCOME FOR THREE OF THE MAIN 'CHARACTERS' IN THIS STORY.
In this new epilogue he tells the reader the final fate of Vincent, Chokwe, and Precious. Chokwe ran for, and was elected, as mayor. Then within a few months (in April 2014) he's dead from a heart attack. Precious and his 10-year-old son were involved in a four-wheeler accident where he lost control, drove up an embankment, and flipped the vehicle. Precious died at the scene, his son sustained numerous broken bones, but will recover fully. Vincent was stabbed in the eye by a fellow prisoner who had somehow gotten hold of a knife. The last Safran had heard was that Vincent was in the prison hospital hooked up to a ventilator and the stabbed eye had been removed. No word on his future prognosis. A crazy end to a crazy series of events.