Remember, the criminal prime directive says: “Get over on as many people as possible. Get away with crime as often as you can! If and when caught, do whatever you have to, including lying, shifting blame, saying whatever people want to hear, including confessing, as long as you lie and shift blame, and plea bargain enough to reduce the burden of justly deserved consequences.”
I saw this directive acted out in a recent Durham (NC) court case. Police had charged Calvin Nicholson with gunning down 18-year-old Todd Antonio Douglas about three years ago. In a local newspaper account of court testimony from the director of the Durham Police Department’s homicide squad, we read the following: “First degree murder defendant Calvin Nicholson appeared to be ‘forthcoming, very truthful and remorseful’ when he confessed nearly three years ago to fatally shooting another man as part of an alleged gang initiation ritual, the head of the Durham Police Department’s homicide squad testified Thursday (March 20, 2008). “Nicholson told officers he needed to ‘put in work’ for the Bloods criminal street gang if he wished to join, according to Sgt. Jack Cates. Quoting Nicholson, Cates said the order to do ‘work’ came from a man named Justin Hatch, a co-defendant in the homicide who will be tried later. Such orders are common in the gangland arena, Cates added. The sergeant testified that in his experience gang ‘work’ includes robberies, rapes, assaults and even murders. The more serious the crimes people commit, the higher they can rise in a gang’s hierarchy, Cates added.”
Nicholson was just 16-years-old when he killed Douglas.
I don’t doubt that what detective Cates said in court, based upon Nicholson’s confession is the confessed murderer’s version of the “truth.” Please remember, though, that this story, as Nicholson tells it, is designed to reduce as much as possible the justly deserved consequences of his crime. According to Nicholson’s so-called confession, he fired twice at Douglas, but others in the car were also shooting in the 18-year-old’s direction. So, according to the defense attorney’s theory of this case, someone else’s bullet could have and probably did kill Douglas. In his confession, Nicholson told police: “I don’t know if I hit him or not.”
Do you see the prime directive? He shifted blame. He didn’t want to kill Douglas. The Bloods–a so-called street gang– initiated the murder by setting this crime as one of its initiation rites. In this specific killing, Nicholson attempted to shift responsibility from himself to an alleged gang leader–Justin Hatch–who, according to the defendant in this case, handed Nicholson a high powered handgun and said: “It’s time to do some shooting.” That part of Nicholson’s version of this murderous scenario probably occurred pretty much as he described it, though I have questions about who provided the handgun and who said: “It’s time to do some shooting.”
Now here comes the lie, the heart and core of Nicholson’s strategy to reduce the responsibility burden, and get out with a sentence somewhat lighter than the mandatory life sentence he faced if convicted on the first degree murder charge. In his confession to the Durham police, Nicholson is quoted as saying: “The reason I shot the gun at [Douglas] was because I thought I wanted to join the gang. When I realized I didn’t, it was too late . . . I’m truly sorry for what I did and know that I don’t want to be a gang member.” How convenient! According to Nicholson, his desire to be a “Blood” ended as a young man’s life seeped away from bullet wounds. Why didn’t that epiphany occur before Nicholson began shooting? Here’s the key question that reveals Nicholson’s lie: How could the Bloods initiate several people into the gang when no one knew for certain who fired the killing shot, if killing someone was the price of initiation?
What a convenient epiphany! I’ve had them myself! One in particular that occurred in the early Fall of 1959 sticks indelibly in my mind. On this particular Sunday, I was relaxing at Clementine’s house. Clementine, a beautiful young woman in Durham, was my girlfriend. Two criminal cohorts came by and declared that they had a lot of good stuff stashed from a Saturday night break-in. They wanted me to help them sell it. They also wanted me to go and help them get it from the stash, because, as they said, it was too much for the two of them to carry. In a valiant, but ineffective effort to save me from myself, Clem begged me not to go, not to leave her. “This won’t take long,” I declared. “Let me get this money and then I’ll get back to you.” Wrong! I never made it back.
Wait a minute, I think now, not then, if the stolen property is too much for the two of you to carry on Sunday, then how did you get it stashed on Saturday night? Why didn’t I ask that question? Because crime is stupid and the more you do it, the more stupid you become. Why didn’t Nicholson ask Hatch: “Why is killing an innocent person the price of joining this gang? What if I’m not willing to pay that price? Same answer! Crime is stupid! Nicholson, like myself in the late 1950s, had done crime so long that he, like I did then, teeters on the brink of incurable stupidity.
Now my epiphany! On the way back to the house, my two cohorts in crime decided to rob a drunk man. A woman called the police. We ran. I needed to get back to Hayti, to the the security of Clem’s house. As I ran down a path between some houses onto South Roxboro Street, the cold words of a Durham police officer stopped me in my tracks: “Get your black a . . on the ground ni . . . r, or we will blow you away. I was armed. I had two pistols. But as I felt myself easing closer and closer to the ground, I said to myself: “I wish I had never gone and picked up any of this hot s . . . Besides, if I was as bad as I claimed to be, I would pull my two pistols and go down in a blaze of glory.” What an epiphany!
At the police station, I declared as sincerely as possible that none of this was my fault. I had met these two guys whom I knew casually and they had asked me to help them carry some things. I had no idea, according to what I told police, that the stuff had been stolen. No, I had nothing to do with trying to rob the old man. In fact, I tried to talk them out of it. That’s when I realized that I had made a mistake and tried to run home.
You see, I know Nicholson was lying about being sorry or remorseful that he killed Douglas. I know he was lying about no longer wanting to be part of a gang. You see, here’s what’s not in his confession or revealed in his stoic demeanor in court: 1) a renouncing of his criminal mindset, lifestyle and cohorts, 2) an acceptance of total responsibility for his current circumstances, 3) an acknowledgment that if he ever expects to become a contributing member of society, he must change his thinking and his behavior.
So-called remorsefulness is simply not enough! A young man is dead! A mother continues to grieve! All of us have been cheated out of whatever contributions Douglas could have made to his times. As God said to Cain, the first murderer, “An entire bloodline of unborn children cry for justice.”
Here’s the really bad news! Nicholson’s ploy worked! He was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. Imagine that! An 18-year-old young man was viciously murdered, and his convicted killer will be 29-years-old when released from prison in November 2017. All we can do now is hope one day Nicholson will realize that even with having to spend 12 years in prison, he still got a better end of this sorry deal than Douglas did.