BROTHERS AND VICTIMS

Eric Kane is never mentioned by name; nor is there any description of his life or background. It is as though Eric Kane never existed. He was an object that suddenly appeared on the scene and ruined Jacob Wideman's life.

Finally, the piece closes with John Edgar Wideman looking back in a Faulknerian reverie to his ancestral slave roots in a small place he calls Promised Land, South Carolina: "a region, a country, and its practice of human bondage, its tradition of stealing, or distorting, black people's lives, begins to crowd out the possibility of seeing my ancestors as human beings."

Wideman concludes by charging that the history of slavery "still rises like a shadow, a wall between my grandfathers and me, my father and me, between the two of us, father and son, son and father."

Does Wideman mean what I think he means? Does he hold slavery responsible for both his brother's and son's convictions for murder and their subsequent life sentences?

I sit there, stunned. I read the passage, two times, three times, four times. I can't figure it out.

And then a thought strikes me. It pops into mind because author Wideman had also slighted the victim in his description in Brothers and Keepers--the man gunned down on November 15, 1975, by three men, including Wideman's brother, Robby. The tone of that tale, too, was a remarkable display of emotional control. Or should I call it what it actually appears to be, a display of insensitivity toward any victim whose name doesn't happen to be Wideman?

In the book, he quotes his brother's account of the event:
"I'm telling you the whole bit now. Ain't holding nothing back. That's the way we was. Stone gangsters. Robbing people. Waving guns in people's faces. Serious shit. But it was like playing, too. A game. A big game and we was just big kids having fun. Guns wasn't real. Bullets wasn't real. Wasn't planning on hurting nobody. Pow. Pow. You know. Fall over. I got you. No, you didn't. You missed. You lying. I got you first.

"I remember the scraggly hair and them hippie-type clothes but ain't nothing where his face supposed to be. I can hear that soft voice but I can't see no mouth, no face. . . . Last time I saw the dude he was holding his shoulder and hauling ass. Could have blowed him away easy. A real easy shot. I'm remembering how he looked and figuring couldn't be nothing wrong with a cat running as hard as he was. He was grabbing at his shoulder but he was steady truckin'.

"How's he dead, man? The cat was running, man."
@rule:
@body:I decided the only way I was ever going to find anything out about the murder in Flagstaff was to visit the courthouse up there and search through the criminal file.

The ancient courthouse is tiny by the Phoenix standard. The halls are narrow and the courtrooms small and cramped. The building is only two stories high. There is, of course, no elevator.

I learn right away that Eric Kane did, indeed, have a family. Wideman has never mentioned them in any of his writings. In fact, he never got to tell them he was sorry.

But their imprint is all over Jacob Wideman's criminal file.
The Kanes made not one, but two written statements for the court explaining their feelings about the case. The first was entered on November 22, 1986, and the second two years later, on September 28, 1988.

Here are some passages from the second statement:
"When Jacob Wideman brutally stabbed Eric while he slept, and left him to die, he took a loving son, a caring grandson and a close friend.

"The pain and emptiness is forever. The loss is forever. The pain is forever.
"Eric was killed by an animal. Eric was asleep. There was no provocation or ill will. Wideman simply needed to kill. In addition to murdering Eric, he has been charged with killing a young girl in Wyoming in 1985, and he attempted to kill a boy in Boston in October 1986. He has a violent history, including such acts as fighting, sexual molestation of his sister and stealing. Jacob Wideman deserves no place in society today or at any time. If justice were properly served in this case, he would be sentenced to death.

"We have no doubt that he will kill again. If he were to be released when first eligible for parole in 25 years, he will be only 41 years old and will have had plenty of time to work on his animal instincts and need to kill. The justice system must protect us against this animal."
In the file are records of interviews with principals in the case.
There is a fascinating interview with Jacob Wideman's high school basketball coach in Laramie, Wyoming.

The coach said that one of Jacob's problems seemed to be that the family revolved around his older brother, Danny, who was a star basketball player.

Jacob was also an outstanding player, but two years younger. When the coach moved Jacob up to the starting five for one game to replace Danny, the family's reaction was one of horror, because Danny had been sent to the bench. John Edgar Wideman, who never missed a game, went to the coach to complain.

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