We already know the real cause of death of Marcia Powell, the 48-year-old inmate at Goodyear's Perryville Prison who collapsed after being left in a shadeless cage for at least four hours in the pitiless Arizona sun: Department of Corrections honcho Charles Ryan ordered her plug pulled on May 20, hours after her collapse. This, despite the fact that Powell, who suffered from serious mental illness, had a guardian, Maricopa County's Office of the Public Fiduciary.
Medical examiner Mark Fischione's conclusion homes in on what led to Powell being in such a state that Ryan could opt to suspend life support on the woman, who was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution. In his recently released report, Fischione found that the cause of death was "complications of hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure." The manner of death is ruled an "accident." You can read the report online at my Feathered Bastard blog.
The external examination revealed blistering and first- and second-degree "thermal injuries" (otherwise known as burns) on her upper body, arms, and face. Toxicology showed several prescription medications in her body, including Benztropine, a medication for Parkinson's disease; the antipsychotic medication Haloperidol; and valproic acid, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat depression and epilepsy.
According to an ADC statement released at the time, Powell was "placed in an outside, uncovered, chain-linked holding cell at 11 a.m.," on a day temperatures reached 107 degrees.
"At 2:40 p.m., Powell collapsed," the ADC's statement says. "Powell was taken to West Valley Hospital at 3:12 p.m. She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday [May 20]."
Did Powell cry out for water or help before she lost consciousness? It seems likely. Did anyone hear her pleas? If so, why did they not act? Did the medications Powell was on contribute to her collapse in any way? Powell was under the care of a mental-health provider at the prison. Obviously, the meds she was on would have been known to authorities there.
"We are trying to reserve judgment until we see everything, including the [ADC's] investigation," said Donna Hamm, whose organization, Middle Ground Prison Reform, ultimately took custody of Powell's remains. "But the autopsy does seem to raise the question of how far prison officials can go before something they do is ruled a reckless homicide. I guess the county attorney will make that final decision. We will certainly be interested in how this plays out."
Powell's cremains were committed June 28 at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix. Her body may now be laid to rest, but the questions concerning her death resonate.
Ryan, known by his detractors as "Darth Ryan" on the corrections gossip Web site the Lumley Vampire, told me in May at a memorial service for Powell that he did not know Powell had a court-appointed guardian when he ordered her life support suspended on the advice of the physicians on duty at the hospital. He said ADC had no record of Powell's having a guardian. This information should have been part of Powell's file. If it wasn't, why wasn't it?
The Fiduciary's Office sought next of kin for Powell, someone to take custody of her remains. Powell's adoptive mother, Joanne Buck, 76, of La Quinta, California, was located by the fiduciary, but she said she'd had "very little contact" over the years with Powell, and most of it was unpleasant. She told the fiduciary that she didn't want to take custody of Powell's remains.
Other leads on the whereabouts of Powell's family did not pan out for the fiduciary. A son, Richard Hussman, had been murdered. A daughter, Eureka Breshard, had been adopted by family in Tempe, but there was no indication as to where she might be now.
Another person by the name of Troy Troutman (with the alternative spelling of "Trautman") was listed in one of Powell's mental health files as "next of kin," with no further explanation. In testimony before Commissioner Michael Hintze concerning the matter, a representative of the Fiduciary's Office speculated that Troutman might be a son, but it could not locate him.
Donna Hamm tells me that one of Powell's fellow inmates told her that Powell said she had a son named Troy. The medical examiner's report indicates Powell had several tattoos, one of which was the name "Troy" on her upper right arm. Others were of a flower, a teardrop, and the names "John" and "John C."
One thing's for certain, someone out there has one humdinger of a lawsuit they could file against the state, whether it be a son, a daughter, a mom, or all of the above. Imagine that teardrop tattoo on Powell's face as a dollar sign.
On the criminal tip, don't hold your breath. Ryan rejected calls for an independent investigation into Powell's death, leaving ADC instead to perform its own internal review. The results of that investigation have not yet been released.
If the Maricopa County Attorney's Office actually prosecutes someone as a result of the ADC review, I'll sell everything I own, move to Bora Bora, and live in a grass hut. But I won't be buying an airplane ticket anytime soon. Ever, actually.
FEAR AND LOATHING
You know the funniest part of my recent Sunday-evening visit to Tempe's Faithful Word Baptist Church, home of wacky, Obama-bashin' Bible thumper Pastor Steven Anderson?
It came when Anderson informed me after the service that he'd received numerous death threats for his "Why I Hate Obama" sermon, which has gone viral and become the subject of wide-ranging investigation and commentary, from CNN's Rick Sanchez show to Darrell Ankarlo's KTAR morning show, guest-hosted by middle-of-the-road conservative Austin Hill while wing-nut lip-flapper Ankarlo recovers from some weird brain injury.
The funny part ain't the death threats on Anderson. Nah, it was when I asked whether those threats gave Anderson second thoughts about praying for President Barack Obama to "melt like a snail" and for Obama's kids be left fatherless and for his wife Michelle be made a widow. Anderson said it didn't.
"Because, you know what the difference between me and him is?" asked Anderson, his wife and children waiting for him nearby. "He's guilty and I'm innocent."
I laughed, but both Anderson and his spiritual adherent, AR-15-slinger Christopher Broughton — known for donning a loaded assault rifle to protest the president's August 17 address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix — assured me seriously, "No, but it's true."
Broughton, BTW, was present the night I attended, as he was for the sermon in which he heard Anderson call for Obama's demise, just hours before taking part in a pre-arranged stunt with pistol-packin' militia apologist Ernie Hancock outside the Phoenix Convention Center downtown. That's where Hancock, the political P.T. Barnum behind the libertarian Web site Freedom's Phoenix, did his "interview" with Broughton.
In any case, as I listened to these two supposed Christians explain to me why Obama should croak, I couldn't help but think to myself that as much as I find Anderson and Broughton's words and deeds abhorrent, I would not wish death upon them in any form, much less for Anderson's tots to be dad-less or his wife to be a widow.
But, hey, what do I know? I'm an atheist.
Let me backtrack to Anderson's service itself. I got there right before the sermon started, so I pretty much rushed in and took a seat. The church is in a strip mall that houses a tailor, a salon, and other businesses nearby, and the plain interior of the place looks like it's meant for a commercial venture.
Past an empty main room with maps on the walls there's a room filled with armless chairs facing a rough-hewn pulpit. About 25 people were in attendance, though a church member named David told me there had been more present for the morning service and that there had been more media parked outside then, with at least one protester carrying a sign.
I sat for a moment next to a woman I later discovered to be Broughton's mom, who Broughton said was just checking the place out. Unfortunately, she amscrayed before I could ask her whether or not her son played well with others in kindergarten.
Anderson opened by leading congregants in a few hymns, then proceeded to preachify. There was nothing about Obama in this sermon. Having grown up in the South — with Sunday-go-to-meetin' as a practically unavoidable experience — I can tell you Anderson's sermon was the sort you hear in countless Protestant churches on any given Sunday. He mostly preached from Ecclesiastes, speaking of the "vanities" of this world, and how you can have access to all sorts of worldly delights and still be unhappy.
Crikey, who does this cat think he is, perpetually upbeat televangelist Joel O'Steen?
After the sermon, folks mingled in the larger front room, where I spoke for a few minutes with David, who told me about the lone protester earlier in the day. He also told me he agreed with Anderson's hate-Obama jeremiad and that he figured the outrage would probably die down after a week or so.
I spotted Broughton leaving, so I followed him as he walked to his motorcycle. When I said I was with New Times, he waved me away, but after a little cajoling, he relented. He wouldn't tell me how long he'd been going to Anderson's church (Anderson later told me it was for a few months), and he shrugged off a question about why he hadn't brought his AR-15 with him to church, because he supposedly has it with him at all times.
"Sometimes I take it," he mumbled. "Sometimes I take it on my motorcycle."
Um, thanks for the non sequitur, Chris. And this guy's allowed to have weapons? Wow.
We then got down to brass bullets, and he affirmed that he'd like to see President Obama deader than a doorknob.
"It would be good for the country if he were to go sooner than later," said Broughton, no doubt making his ma really proud.
Even if someone kills him, I wondered?
"However it happens, I'm going be happy that it happens," he boasted. "I'm gonna be a happy man . . . I would rejoice."
Broughton then removed all doubt that he's an idiot by asserting ye ole Adolf Hitler comparison, a sign you have no argument and zero originality. He asked me whether it would have been better had someone taken out Hitler, suggesting it would be cool if Obama got similar treatment.
I pointed out that this was incorrect. We don't live in Nazi Germany — or anything near it, and if we did, folks like Broughton showing up with loaded weapons to oppose such rallies would likely be imprisoned, tortured, and executed.
So, see, Chris, it's a dumb comparison. Simplistic. Moronic. Asinine.
(Sigh.) But of course Broughton isn't the only one peddling this poppycock, and that's why it's disturbing when a delusional young man such as Broughton, with a clear hatred for the president, shows up with a loaded AR-15 to the site where the president is speaking.
For the record, Broughton insisted that he wasn't threatening the president, and that he wouldn't be pulling the trigger. But he did offer up the shibboleth that Obama's guilty of countless murders.
"A lot of people want to call a murderer [by] a different name," he said. "That's fine if they want to call killing another human being something else. But killing a human being, an innocent human being, is murder."
Not that Obama's performed any abortions himself, of course. He just supports a woman's right to choose. And on planet Earth, in America, year 2009, abortions performed in the early stages of pregnancy are legal. Ask the U.S. Supreme Court, bubbee. Just wanting Obama to be guilty of murder doesn't make it so.
Broughton mentioned that things like slavery have been deemed legal in our nation's past, though they were still morally wrong. True, but those who were enslaved were living human beings, not masses of cells that might one day turn into human beings that can survive outside the womb.
I mean, we can disagree on abortion, but once again, this is another false analogy.
For the gals reading out there, keep in mind that, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for sexual and reproductive health, that "nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion."
So, imagine a world governed by the theology of American Taliban-types like Broughton and Anderson. Simply put, there would be a whole lot of women's heads on the chopping block if now-legal abortions were to be treated as murders. Ditto for the doctors involved, as well as the nurses, the people who manage the hospitals, etc.
Anderson emerged from the church with his family, and I cut short the confab with Chris to parlez with the pastor. He spoke to me while holding one of his kids in his arms, and though I still think he's a certifiable loon, he's an affable one, and far less defensive than Broughton. I complimented him on what I found to be an apolitical sermon.
"Most of my sermons are," he squawked. "I preach 156 sermons a year."
I asked him about an ex-Secret Service agent talking on CNN's Rick Sanchez show about how Anderson was walking a thin line with the law, and that he might be perceived as exhorting others to violence. Another analyst on the same show claimed the U.S. Secret Service had already visited Anderson. Anderson said that was not the case. At least not yet.
"Anyone who listens to that whole sermon will hear that I very clearly said, 'Hey, we shouldn't take the law into our own hands; we're not a vigilante [group],'" he claimed, adding, "'This is what justice is, but it's not our job to wrestle against flesh and blood. It's a spiritual battle.' And I made that very, very clear . . . That's why they haven't knocked on my door"
Anderson claimed he wasn't backpedaling a bit on his freaky fatwa, but that's exactly the way it sounded to me.
"I even said, clearly to many people, 'I hope he dies of natural causes, 'cause then he won't be a martyr, ya know? And what good is that?'" explained Anderson. "Stop and think about it: If someone were to kill Obama, okay, then we have [Vice President Joe] Biden, and whatever. It's not going to be any different.
"I'm not out saying, 'Let's kill him,'" continued the preacher. "I'm out saying, this is what the Bible teaches, that he is worthy of death for what he has done. God is the judge. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord."
Shucks, I feel so much better about it all now, Pastor. Thanks for setting me straight on that one.
When we parted ways, I kiddingly told Broughton and Anderson, "Now, you two try not to kill anyone, okay?"
Broughton stopped short, annoyed, as if taking me seriously. Anderson got the snark, and shot back something about having to pray for me. I think that pretty much tells you where these two guys are psychologically.
Anderson intrigues me, despite my disgust with his imam-like, anti-Obama curses. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this wacky pastor. Broughton is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, in my opinion. But Anderson — he may be crazy like a fox.