"I thought I had all the answers, and I don't know shit," Richard Horwitz is saying. He is hunched up in a chair in a tiny room for visitors at the Madison Street Jail, his feet in their prison-issue flip-flops braced against the edge of a tabletop. He is wearing a blue scrub suit and his face is so pasty it looks bleached.

He doesn't carry himself with the air of a lawyer anymore; he is just another 34-year-old prisoner with badly tended toenails, smelling sourly of cigarettes.

He says, "Everybody in here knows I'm an attorney, and people ask me for advice. I always preface it with the fact that my best thinking is what got me here." He says it with an unabashed humility that is somehow surprising. Who'd have thought that, after a year of nearly total silence, Horwitz would turn out to be a guy who is deeply sorry after all, who has in fact been tormented and flattened by the deaths of Danny Tunney and John Domblisky?

His humility turns out to be a hallmark of the interviews that span nearly four hours, his first since he was sentenced last month to eight years, his penalty for a traffic accident that killed two Phoenix police officers in July 1990.

The other hallmark is his defensiveness. If only one thing could be said about Horwitz, it should be that he's a complicated and contradictory fellow.

"I am defensive, because I know that I am not the person that has been portrayed," he admits. "I know I'm not this uncaring, selfish person who is unaffected by what happened."

He points out (defensively) that his probation officer's presentencing report was riddled with "inaccuracies," and he is particularly riled about the report's harsh conclusions. Adult probation officer Terri Capozzi wrote this about Horwitz to Judge Paul Katz, who presided at the trial: "Despite his apparent intelligence and ability to achieve highly, he has failed miserably in his efforts to cope with his substance abuse. . . . My feeling is that the defendant is an extremely high risk to relapse and may pose a considerable threat once more to the community upon his release from incarceration."

Horwitz angrily wants to know, What qualifies this woman to make such a prediction? How could she know anything about the 12-step recovery program he's embracing now, and damn him this way?

Then a slightly disturbing thing happens. Asked to mark on a copy of the report the inaccuracies he's referred to, the circles he draws have mainly to do with the amounts of drugs and alcohol that he has done at particular times in his life, estimates that the probation officer apparently has culled from police reports and personal interviews. He points to one place in the report and says, "I wasn't drinking every day." He points to another: "I wasn't doing a gram of coke every other day."

Throughout the interview, he emphasizes again and again the point that underscored his trial: That he lost control of his car on the day Tunney and Domblisky died because he was punching numbers into his car phone, not because he was a drug user. He emphasizes that blood samples drawn after the accident proved he hadn't been drinking that day, and that the amount of cocaine in his system was infinitesimal. (The part about the blood samples is objectively true.)

"I want people to know the truth: Cocaine apparently did not cause this accident," he says. "The only reason I took a plea bargain was that, although I know the state didn't prove their case, that doesn't mean the jury would have come back with that decision. I didn't take a plea bargain because I am guilty of the crime."

And then his ego collapses again. "But the bottom line is, I had an accident and two people are dead, and nothing else fucking matters," he says. "I do know that I'm an alcoholic. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't mourn the deaths of Danny Tunney and John Domblisky. I know that it doesn't bring them back, but I am truly sorry."

It is a confusing dialogue to follow. Horwitz admits to his problem, but then does he try to minimize its scope? Even if cocaine didn't cause his accident--and the state was never able to prove that it did--is he still having difficulty telling himself the truth about the shape of his life these last years? If one sign of an addict is that he's a con artist, is Horwitz still hooked?

A number of interested parties would like to know--Thelma Domblisky, for instance, the widow of one of Horwitz's victims. She says, "If he rehabilitates himself, fine, but I don't want to see him back on the streets the way he is. And I just have that doubt in my mind that he is sincere."

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Deborah Laake