Dora's Darlings

Prisoners are precious to Dora Schriro, Arizona's new corrections chief

This much is known. In Missouri, Schriro owned a sailboat. She likes to cook and grow her own herbs, according to decade-old St. Louis news clip. She's a widow.

Her husband was Gay Carraway, a retired police captain and the director of public safety in St. Louis, two notches above Schriro in the chain of command when she was workhouse warden. She married him on Valentine's Day, 1991, less than five months after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch gossip columnist noted that the couple was vacationing together in New England. After the relationship became public, Carraway left his post to become an aide in the mayor's office. Schriro insists there was nothing improper. "As director of public safety, he was in my chain of command, but not my boss," she explains. "When we were married, he had been in the mayor's office for some time. There was no reporting relationship except the reporting relationship of husband and wife."

On the surface, it was an unlikely match. For one thing, Carraway, who died of cancer 10 months after the marriage, was more than 20 years older than Schriro. Plus, he'd been a career police officer, an occupation not known for progressive thinkers in criminal-justice matters. But Carraway was an Everyman cop who could quote Shakespeare, perfect for a woman as bright as Schriro, says Harmon. "It didn't seem extraordinary, with the exception of the age difference," he says.

Schriro declines to discuss her marriage in any detail. "It's very personal," she explains. "It was splendid -- it was the most extraordinary relationship I've ever known. And when I talk about it, I still tear up." Today, she lives alone in a house in central Phoenix with Raffle, the cocker spaniel she owned with her late husband.

More recently, Schriro has been involved with a college professor from Illinois, Harmon says. "He's a poet, of all things," Harmon exclaims. "He's a guy who was a Vietnam vet, had been in the hard stuff in 'Nam -- a tough guy who writes poetry. He's as different from Gay as white is from black -- that's a literal kind of comment, too. I assume they're still dating, albeit long distance."

Schriro matched police in off-duty conversations about the workaday world of cops and robbers. "We coppers would sit around and tell our war stories," Harmon recalls. "Well, Dora talked about the social-service aspects, or the social-science aspects, of corrections, about turning lives around in the same way we told war stories. You're sort of standing there, trying to figure it out: She likes that? She made us understand they were human beings, some of whom had people who loved them, but also that they were not irredeemable."

Which isn't to say Harmon considers Schriro a softy. "She is polite, almost demure, but there's a veneer of toughness that you get a sense of: Don't cross this lady," he says.

And don't expect straight answers to questions Schriro doesn't like.

In Missouri, Williams and state Senator Harold Caskey recall Schriro objecting to corrections employees carrying firearms. In St. Louis, Williams says, Schriro tried to suspend guards who were caught carrying firearms off-duty, but the city's circuit attorney wouldn't prosecute on the grounds that state law allowed it, and the suspensions didn't stick. At the state level, Caskey remembers Schriro opposed a bill to allow probation-parole officers to carry guns. "She did not like that," Caskey says. "So I told her one day, it would be easier to get her fired than to change her mind."

The bill passed. And the senator and director eventually formed a bond, working together on a bill aimed at reducing sentences for nonviolent criminals.

Schriro dances around questions about her stance on corrections employees carrying firearms, saying she never spoke against Caskey's bill. Is the senator mistaken? "I had some concerns about some drafting," Schriro replies, without revealing any specifics. "That was a very long time ago. But I did not speak against the bill." A politically safe answer, but not an enlightening one.

In tight spots, Schriro can play coy, recall things differently than others or simply can't get things straight. During a 2002 hearing in St. Louis, she testified that she'd never considered anything short of firing for a workhouse official she tried to terminate after escapes. When the official's attorney produced a memo showing she'd recommended a transfer to another lockup, Schriro claimed she hadn't remembered it. In February, a federal judge presiding over an inmate lawsuit threw out an affidavit from Schriro on the grounds that it wasn't reliable ("Reasonable Doubt," February 19).

She also can't recall Roosevelt Pollard and Elroy Preston, murderers whose lives she spared by halting scheduled executions so judges could determine their mental competence.

Pollard, who killed a stranger at a highway rest stop, was less than two weeks from the gurney in 1997 when Schriro requested a competency hearing after meeting with his lawyers, who argued he was schizophrenic. In 1998, Schriro saved Preston's life by requesting a hearing less than a week before his execution date. Known as the Fried Chicken Killer, Preston had butchered two people with a knife, dipped a piece of chicken in their blood, then devoured it. Pollard is now off death row. Preston's case is still pending.

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