Day of Reckoning

Well, if the bankers stood there in court and said something they knew wasn't true, isn't that perjury?

"I didn't say that."
But he did, not 30 seconds ago. And that is the hallmark of John Dowd's style--when the evidence is held in front of his face, he denies it's there. Symington's mistake, after getting caught, was to hire a lawyer as arrogant as himself. A strut and a swagger might work when the evidence is circumstantial, but, when the feds have spent years compiling reams of damning evidence, you have to do more than tell the jury it's imagining it all. It's not just dishonesty that Fife Symington is going to prison for--it's a mixture of stupidity and arrogance, his own and his lawyer's.

The trial postmortem went from strange to bizarre when Dowd declared, "We won." Well, maybe he won--he doesn't work for minimum wage, and this case is worth millions and counting. But his client's headed for a federal prison.

And that seems to be causing some dissent among the assembled masses. Although most of us are ready to party, a few people are wringing their hands over the loss of a man's career and liberty, and the pain it will cause his family. Even some of the jury members say they took no satisfaction in the conviction. One even says he'd vote for Symington again. He's just convicted Symington of being a crook, but he'd like to have him govern the state. Welcome to Arizona.

In the days that follow, the media build the myth. Symington, whatever else he may have done, was a good governor. He just made some mistakes in his business dealings. Suddenly, he's halfway to being a sympathetic figure. So--shouldn't we show him some compassion? Isn't there something distasteful about so many people so happy about the misfortune of another human being?

No. Because the creature in question is only a human being in the biological sense of the term.

The most polite way to correctly describe J. Fife Symington III is to say that the man is a piece of phlegm.

Forget the nonsense about him being good for the economy--the entire country's economy is in good shape. Symington's behavior as governor was foul.

This is the man who sneered at a poor parent who was concerned about her child's schooling and told her that no one forced them to live in a ghetto and they should just move to neighborhoods with better schools.

The woman who cried with happiness in the courtroom isn't some vicious sadist who enjoys watching people suffering. Her name is Christina Hurst, and after the trial she stood outside holding up a sign that read, "Justice for the Hurst Family." Her 6-year-old daughter held one that read, "Arthur Hurst Is Smiling."

She isn't vindictive. She just wants the erstwhile governor to be treated the same as her husband.

In 1995, Arthur Hurst was sentenced to five years in prison for theft. Since then, he has suffered the kind of abuse that is a matter of course for prisoners in this state. (The Hurst family's story will be told in a future column.) He was suffering from full-blown AIDS at the time of his conviction. A farcical trial reached a chilling conclusion when Judge Michael O'Melia told him he wouldn't walk out of prison alive.

Even if Arthur Hurst were healthy, there are dubious grounds for putting him away for five years. He has never committed a violent crime. He went off the rails and got hooked on heroin after he found out he had AIDS. He got clean while awaiting trial. He's been a model prisoner.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency recognized this when it decided in October 1996 to apply to the governor for a commutation of sentence. Symington had allowed the sentences of violent offenders and drug dealers to be commuted, but he denied Arthur Hurst's. He gave no reason for doing so, and he wouldn't talk to Christina Hurst about it until she called him during his KFYI radio show. He finally said that he considered Hurst a threat to society.

How is a dying man who's never been violent a threat to society?
"Probably because he has AIDS," says his wife.
That's the kind of man Fife Symington is. Someone who'd deny a dying man the chance to spend his final months with his wife and kid. Symington scored political points by declaring that we had to be tough on crime, that criminals had to be held responsible for their actions and made to pay for what they'd done. When he is sentenced in November, we should hope Judge Roger Strand takes this sentiment to heart.

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com

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