Spleen Man

David Hans Schmidt cackles gleefully every time he sees the 13-inch surgical scar down the belly of Jefferson Davis McGee.

It's just such a great visual: Here's this 21st-century American with what looks like a Civil War triage scar. Combine that with McGee's perpetually bewildered "what just happened to me?" expression and you've got some rich martyr mojo for the jury.

But Schmidt doesn't want this to reach a jury. He's a deal maker, not a lawyer. He ain't Johnnie Cochran, he's the guy who created the deals to get Tonya Harding and Paula Jones and a few other momentary female celebrities buck naked in major skin magazines.

But Schmidt may now have a new cottage industry -- pre-litigation personal-injury brokering. Last week, Schmidt asked county officials to give McGee $6.5 million. If they didn't, Schmidt would shell the county with attorneys and daily television images of how poor Jefferson Davis McGee got throttled in county jail and then gutted in county hospital.

As McGee's agent, Schmidt would make $1.5 million, a slim 23 percent of the take.

Apparently, Schmidt is the only promoter/agent in America trying such a stunt. Apparently, as long as Schmidt doesn't try to represent McGee in court, there is no law barring such a stunt.

It would appear, too, that the county is willing to deal with the terrorist -- sort of.

Schmidt says a county risk-management official countered with an offer of $2,000. County officials wouldn't discuss the negotiations.

Offended with the offer, Schmidt, as promised, has loosened his cannon and begun his PR march to the sea.

Getting lost in this battle is Jefferson Davis McGee, whose passive narrative of woe basically goes like this:

In late May, McGee was brought in for questioning in the rape and murder of 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd, who lived nearby. After an extensive interrogation, he was put in county jail on an outstanding warrant on petty theft charges.

He was put in maximum security, which is usually reserved only for former convicts, known gang members and people charged with the most violent felonies.

One night, as inmates watched the NBA playoffs, a television news promo stated that McGee was an "investigative lead" in the murder. Inmates translated that into "child molester," or, in jail tongue, "Chomo," the rabid dog in the hard-time inmate code of ethics. They walked into McGee's cell and worked in three-man shifts to beat him delirious.

McGee describes the scene:

"Three guys come in my cell, look at my ID and say, 'Are you Jefferson McGee?' I was eating dinner, I had my mouth full of food. I said, 'Yeah, what's up?' Then they hold me up, one guy at a time going at me, boom, boom, boom. Then they kind of get tired, so another three guys come in and have their time with me. I thought to myself, how much more can I take?"

McGee woke up in the county hospital with an angry scar running from his solar plexus to his pubic bone. He was told his spleen had been removed.

Then the cops found the real killer. Then McGee got sent back to the jail infirmary because he didn't have $250 to bond out on the petty theft charges.

David Hans Schmidt, then just out of jail for what now appear to be inflated charges of abusing his daughter, read about McGee. He wondered why detention officers didn't put him in protective custody, knowing that child molesters always get beat up by inmates.

Schmidt believes officers fed McGee to the wolves.

So Schmidt bonded McGee out. To Schmidt's delight, every television news crew in the Valley arrived as he escorted a shirtless McGee from jail.

The afternoon summer sun glistened on McGee's surgical staples. On television, the wound looked like a long, glowing strip of model railroad track.

And McGee, gaunt, weary, longhaired, innocent and gutted, looked like Jesus Christ slouching toward the crucifixion.

"I said, 'Thank you, God!'" Schmidt yells as he reaches skyward, Moses-like, in his living room during a recent interview. "It was absolutely gorgeous!"

Martyrdom traditionally requires calm dignity in the face of tortuous injustice. Jefferson Davis McGee, a quiet, basically homeless part-time lawn mower, makes a serviceable martyr until he's in a room with David Hans Schmidt.

Schmidt, conversely, is the anti-martyr, a perpetually roiling mass of gleeful hubris, avarice, chutzpah, vindictiveness, irreverence and Porsche-driving alpha male predaciousness.

In dealing with his own ferocious custody battle that spawned questionable charges of harassment and abuse against him, Schmidt has come to hate the county. He hates Phoenix PD and the sheriff's office and the County Attorney's Office. He hates the media but sees them as a necessary evil.

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Robert Nelson