(I posted this piece Wednesday to the Shriek Shack. Now I’m posting it here, by request. It’s an edited and abridged version of something Ken Conner and I wrote in April of 1980. More about it in the postscript.)
They stared back with the same vacant, emotionless expressions they’d worn throughout their attorneys’ final futile pleas. Sentenced to twenty-five years to life for the random, racially-motivated murder of Jimmy Lee Campbell, they remained impassive, outwardly cool, wholly unmoved.
Noor, his wavy brown hair flowing down over the shoulders of his black shirt, rocked gently, steadily back and forth in his chair, his dark narcoleptic eyes fixed upon the judge. McCarter sat still as stone, a blue bandanna riding across his pale forehead, pinning back his thin straight hair.
Morony faced the courtroom, and began to read.
“Marvin Dean Noor and James Thomas McCarter have demonstrated for some time their total disregard for the rights of others. Their act in this case was callous and malicious, with a total, wanton disregard for the right of another to live. The record speaks for itself. They have forfeited their right to freedom and to live in a free society, as they are a perpetual danger to the lives and safety of others.”
Patsy Campbell, the slain man’s sister, slumped forward, caught her face in her slender hands and began to sob. Her mother and a friend reached over and tried to comfort her, running their hands over her small quivering back.
“Therefore, as sentencing judge, it is my recommendation that their terms be fixed for life, and that they be kept in prison for life, without any parole, whatsoever, at any time.” Noor and McCarter, their wrists handcuffed to their waists, rose woodenly in the grasp of three sheriff’s deputies. Without a backward glance, they disappeared, quickly vanished behind the polished oak doors.
Morony announced a recess and the crowded courtroom came to life. Reporters bolted for the door, racing to phone in their stories. Patsy Campbell left the courtroom in the arms of a friend, passing District Attorney Will Mattly, who was already engulfed by waves of clamoring writers.
Mattly’s soft round face was as pink and full as a warm spring moon. He shifted his weight from leg to leg, balancing an enormous folder of briefs against his hip as he tried to deal with the incessant questions. He seemed preoccupied, apprehensive. He tried hard to answer each question in a confident manner, forced himself to concentrate.
In the lobby Patsy Campbell twisted from her friend’s grasp, turned and shouted back into the courtroom: “I hope you’re happy you motherfucker!”
Patsy was hastily pulled from the building and taken outside to her mother’s car. There she stood alone, weeping in anger and loss. Frankie Brass, her mother, stood on the other side of the car, struggling to control her own grief.
Mattly had slowly made his way from the courtroom, through the lobby and onto the front steps of the building, gathering newspeople as he went. Seldom had a Butte County District Attorney received so much attention, and Mattly both relished and feared his moment before the cameras. “I expected to get the kind of sentence handed down today,” he pronounced. Once again he defended his decision to abandon pursuit of the death penalty in exchange for pleas to first-degree murder. “I did so to foreclose any chance of appeal and to be sure they got committed to prison for the longest possible time.”
He turned to the side, seeing only more cameras, hastily cleared his throat, and looked up as a local black TV newscaster thrust his mike forward. “Will, did you or did you not promise Frankie Brass you would push for the death penalty?”
“I told Frankie Brass I would prosecute to the full extent of the law,” Mattly answered. “I fully intended to go for the death penalty. But I believe that—”
“Liar! Fuckin’-ass liar!” The reporters and Mattly spun around, saw Patsy standing at the bottom of the steps, glaring furiously at the DA. “You goddam lying motherfucking son of a bitch!”
When Frankie Brass awoke on the morning of January 14, 1979, she noticed the slow grey drizzle of the night before had become a driving rain. Her two small granddaughters were camped on the living room floor, watching television, when there came a knock on the door. Frankie rose from the kitchen table, waded through the stuffed animals to answer it. She was surprised to find a uniformed officer of the Chico Police Department standing on her shallow slab porch.
“It’s Jimmy,” the officer said.
Couldn’t be, she told him. She had talked to him just the night before.
The officer nodded, nodded again, then began to cry. Brass’ daughter Patsy broke down behind her, fled screaming back to her bedroom.
The officer was too upset to give any details. He thought her son had been found in a field, apparently shot the previous night, but he couldn’t be sure. The police had no idea who had killed him, or why. Brass reached out and took his arm, told him to come in and sit down, but he shook his head, said that he couldn’t.
Brass drew back and watched him hurry through the rain to his car, then closed the door. She called a friend and asked for a ride down to the police station. But before she could leave, the officer returned to ask if he could take her. She told him no, thanked him, explained that she’d already made arrangements.
Once downtown, Brass walked up the slick concrete steps of the City Hall building, passed through the large glass doors, and was met by Investigator Art Suniga. He told her she’d have to go down to Brusie Funeral Home to make a positive identification.
“It is Jimmy,” Suniga told her. But it wasn’t until she saw her son’s body lying on the cold metal table at the morgue that she knew that it was true.
Frankie Brass moved her family from Oakland to Chico in 1966. Having experienced Chico on visits to her mother, she loved the town’s quiet rural beauty. Set among almond and walnut orchards at the base of the Sierra, it seemed friendly and warm, a stark contrast to the turbulent streets of Oakland. Frankie Brass saw Chico as a good environment in which to finish raising her children.
Her son Jimmy was deaf. And since she had to work full-time to support her family of five, she eventually determined that she simply couldn’t provide the care that he needed, and so reluctantly placed him in a foster home, when he was thirteen, four years after the family had moved to Chico.
The serious extent of Jimmy’s deafness went undetected for years. Only after extensive testing was it determined that he was almost completely deaf: even with a hearing aid, he could barely hear sirens passing right by him on the street.
Staff members at the Chico Work Training Center remember not being able to get through to him. When spoken to, Campbell would sometimes turn and walk away, behavior not infrequently interpreted as belligerence or insolence, when in fact he simply hadn’t heard what was said, didn’t even know anyone was talking to him.
While the world blundered along waiting to discover the full extent of his deafness, Campbell taught himself how to repair small engines quickly and efficiently. He liked to fish the Sacramento River and the small creeks that pass through Chico; he took long hikes in sprawling Bidwell Park, and walked through town from the low-income neighborhoods to the south up to the malls and high-priced subdivisions at the northern edge of town. He bowled, skated, bicycled. But his deafness remained a constant obstacle, one that could land him suddenly in trouble.
Once, while Campbell was riding his bicycle near Chico State University, he inadvertently swerved into the path of another bicyclist, a white student. They crashed and fell to the ground. The student was furious. Campbell merely dusted himself off, muttered a few words, and rode on. The enraged student yelled for him to return. When his shouts were seemingly ignored, he began chasing Campbell, eventually enlisting a passing sheriff’s deputy to aid in the pursuit. The deputy caught up to Campbell in his patrol vehicle, and through his loudspeaker ordered Campbell to halt. Campbell kept riding. The deputy turned on his siren. When Campbell continued to ride on, the deputy accelerated, passed him, and pulled over, blocking his path. Campbell had little idea what was going on, and, when both the deputy and the student got in his face, Campbell took a swing, which resulted in a year on probation.
Once the extent of Campbell’s deafness was discovered, things began moving more his way. He began to learn signing, and was referred for advance signing instruction in Orland, a community twenty miles west of Chico. There he lived at the Doss Family Home with four other deaf young men. Campbell often visited Chico to see his family and friends, and occasionally made trips to Oakland to visit his father. He picked up work on nearby farms and ranches, buying a 175cc Yamaha with the money he earned. At the time of his death he was saving to buy insurance.
On the evening of January 13, 1979, a light rain began to fall as the Dosses drove Campbell and the four other young men into Chico to watch a movie, Every Which Way But Loose. As Campbell got out of the car he discovered he’d left his wallet at home, and so borrowed ten dollars from Linda Doss. They agreed to meet at 11:00 p.m. at the Orchard Lanes Bowling Alley, where the Dosses would be spending the evening.
As the Dosses drove off, Campbell realized he wasn’t all that interested in watching a movie. From the theatre he called his mother and asked her if he could go skating. Not knowing her son was in town, she told him to seek permission from the Dosses, his legal guardians. Instead, Campbell had one of his companions call a taxi. Campbell was picked up in front of the theatre and driven across town to Cal-Skate.
For the next two hours Campbell circled the large blue rink, periodically resting against the waist-high wall that surrounds the floor. Campbell loved to skate, loved the speed and the air rushing into his face as he wove through the other skaters. He went to Cal-Skate often, so frequently he was recognized and greeted by the security guards each time he arrived.
At 10:00 p.m., knowing he had to get back across town to meet the Dosses for the ride home, he checked in his rented skates, took his jacket from his locker, pulled it on, then pushed through the doors and into the steady rain.
He walked a block down Carmichael Street to the Chico-Paradise Skyway, and after a half-mile turned onto Park Boulevard, a four-lane road leading into town through a stretch of tire companies, used-car lots, and building-supply houses. For awhile he tried to hitchhike, but in the rain and the dark his chances were slim. So he kept walking, splashing his way through the puddles forming at the edge of the street, moving towards the large Chamber of Commerce sign that welcomes visitors coming into town from the south.
He couldn’t have heard the shot that killed him.
An almond rancher driving into Chico for a cup of coffee spotted Campbell’s body, sprawled on the tracks, at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. He called the police to report a “man down.”
Eventually a dozen Chico police officers and county sheriff’s deputies responded to the call. Campbell was lying on his back inside the rails, his arms and legs splayed out across the oil-soaked ties, his head to the south.
Sergeant Bill Bragdon, the officer in charge, knelt beside Campbell, saw the ugly bruise rising from his forehead where he’d struck the rail as he fell. There was no doubt he was dead. The .30 caliber bullet had entered Campbell’s left arm at mid-shoulder, splintered several ribs, passed through his left lung, punctured the heart sac, and severed the aorta, finally exiting at the sternum and coming to rest inside the jacket sleeve of his right arm. From the time the bullet entered his body, he couldn’t have lived more than twenty seconds.
Beyond the bullet and the two pools of blood on the gravel and cinders beneath Campbell’s body, there was no physical evidence. The law-enforcement officers found nothing.
When Investigator Suniga arrived at the tracks, he immediately recognized the victim as Jimmy Campbell. Suniga had known the family for several years, and knew there could be no motive for killing Campbell—he was simply not the kind of person anyone would have a reason to kill. Suniga accompanied Brass to the funeral home while other officers worked on initial reports and prepared a statement for the press.
In that statement certain details of the killing were withheld, including the victim’s race. Law-enforcement officers hoped somebody somewhere would have something to report to them.
They didn’t have long to wait. At 2:20 that afternoon Sergeant Bragdon received an anonymous phone call. The nervous, frightened source, and then sources—two women, who took turns on the phone—were familiar with details of the killing which had not been publicized, including the fact that the victim was black. These sources provided information that clearly implicated both Marvin Noor and Dani Shope.
Dani Shope, Marvin Noor, and James McCarter were arraigned on Tuesday, January 16 in Chico Municipal Court, Judge Ann Rutherford presiding. Butte County District Attorney Will Mattly charged them with first-degree murder with special circumstances—a murder motivated by racial animus. If convicted of the enhanced first-degree murder charge, the defendants would face death in the gas chamber.
Two days later, Chico attorney Jerry Kenkel, appointed by the court to represent McCarter, filed a motion with Judge Rutherford requesting a protective “gag order” be issued. Noor’s attorney, Robert Mueller, and Joe Vandervoort, Shope’s lawyer, joined in the motion, as did DA Mattly. Rutherford granted the order, barring anyone in the case from discussing it with members of the press or the public, and sealing the bulk of the transcripts and court documents.
The gag order was later described, particularly by those who labored under it, as “too broad and sweeping.” But at the time all parties involved wanted it: defense counsel for a chance to seat impartial jurors untainted by pretrial publicity, DA Mattly to avoid defense motions seeking a change of venue. Too, the gag order served another purpose: it enabled the people of Butte County to avoid, for a time, confronting a particularly poisonous upbubbling of the racism that subsumes them.
Butte County is the domain of white people. It is alternatively virulently and casually racist, and has been ever since white people moved into the joint. Indians were exiled and exterminated, Chinese were burnt out, Mexicans labor like serfs in the fields. Black people—well, there aren’t many of them, but those that are here never quite know when they might experience something more commonly associated with knuckles dragging through a place like Mississippi.
Six years ago Edwina Gibbs arrived in Butte County to take a job as tutoring coordinator for the Oroville School District. Not long after, she attended a small party in Oroville during which three uninvited, bumptious white guests were asked to leave by the host. They left, the party continued, and the incident was forgotten. Gibbs had to leave early, and as she got into her car and began the drive home, she noticed she was being followed by the three evicted would-be partygoers. They accelerated, drew alongside her, leveled a shotgun at her head, and fired. She ducked, barely in time, glass from the shattered window raining onto her neck and arms.
Organizations rooted in racial hatred spatter Butte County. Blacks who attended a school board meeting in Oroville found Nazi Party flyers under the windshield of their cars, flyers urging that “black scum” be thrown out of school and onto the streets. The John Birch Society, Posse Comitatus, and Ku Klux Klan all have active chapters in Butte County.
Besides these overtly racist organizations, black people in Butte County face a systematic pattern of discrimination that touches virtually every facet of their lives. The majority of the county’s small black population is even more or less corralled into two specific areas, which are systematically ignored, when it comes to things like sewers and sidewalks and streetlights and street cops, by city and county governments alike: Chico’s Chapmantown, and South Oroville.
At 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning, January 13, Marvin Noor and Dani Shope rolled out of bed, and began drinking beer. They started every day this way, and had for more than a month. They drank steadily throughout the morning, watching television, wondering what to do with the day. They had a little money, seeing as how Shope had cashed one of her ex-husband’s unemployment checks. So they thought they’d drive Noor’s 1961 Pontiac down to Marysville to buy a tape deck and some tapes.
Shortly after 11:00 a.m. they left Shope’s small, two-bedroom apartment on Nelson Avenue; Noor brought along a quart of rum, and they stopped at a local market to purchase beer for Shope.
Noor had been released from the California Youth Authority facility in Preston less than three months before, after serving time on a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon. Shortly after his release he moved in with Shope, who herself had recently left her husband and three children. They spent nearly every waking moment together drinking and smoking pot—”partying.” They considered themselves married.
Noor had been in and out of juvenile correctional facilities since the age of 15. He first went to Chino, a noted hellhole, sent up on malicious mischief and petty theft. He escaped Chino twice, which tacked on more time. Shortly after his release, he went back in again, this time for assault and battery. Released for that offense, he was on the street but a matter of days before he was rung up for assault with a deadly weapon and sent to Preston. This time, he had been turned loose as an “adult.”
Noor and Shope decided they’d invite James McCarter to accompany them on their little sojourn to Marysville. McCarter lived in a small cottage back of Noor’s grandmother’s house at the edge of South Oroville. A pale, thin, self-effacing young man, who generally liked to keep to himself, McCarter had twice been expelled from high school for playing the miscreant with Noor. Though these expulsions were for relatively minor matters, the two had also pulled off a string of burglaries, for which they had never been apprehended.
It was shortly before noon, and McCarter was just waking up, when Noor and Shope knocked on his door. McCarter hadn’t seen Noor in over a year, and had never met Shope, but he invited them in, asked them to stay while he ate breakfast. Noor and Shope made themselves at home, drank a few beers, smoked a joint, and told McCarter he should go with them to Marysville. McCarter didn’t really feel like it, but, having nothing else to do that day, he eventually agreed to go.
The trip south to Marysville consumed the rest of the day. Tape deck and tapes secured, by the time they returned to Oroville it was almost dark. Noor, having made it halfway through his quart of rum, suggested the trio pick up his brother David and then drive into the hills to poach deer. Shope liked the idea; McCarter didn’t care. They found David Noor at A&A Auto Parts; he said he wasn’t interested in shooting any deer, but would convince their mother to relinquish to Marvin her 30-30 Winchester.
This mission accomplished, McCarter thought maybe he should go home. “Come on,” Noor urged; he and Shope were quite excited about the prospect of plugging deer, couldn’t understand why McCarter didn’t want to come along. McCarter shrugged, said he didn’t really know why he didn’t feel like hunting, so, okay, he’d come along.
A stop for another case of beer, and then up the road into the hills around Cherokee, a ghost town once possessed, long ago, with gold fever. Noor pulled to the side of the road and removed the Winchester from the back seat. Setting his quart of rum on the dirt-streaked hood, he loaded the rifle, brought it to his shoulder, and fired several blind shots into the night. The reports rang loud through the drizzling rain; Noor held the rifle at his waist as the echoes faded away. He told McCarter to get out and take his turn. Why not, McCarter asked himself.
Driving slowly down Cherokee Road, they failed to spot any deer. Noor, his bottle nearly empty, decided they should go back to Shope’s to secure another quart. This they did, also picking up a bottle of scotch, which McCarter began imbibing. They piled back into the car—Noor driving, McCarter pressed against the passenger door, Shope between the two men.
Driving around the fringes of Lake Oroville, they still couldn’t find any deer. Shope was getting pettish, running her hand along Noor’s thigh, demanding to know when they would find something to shoot; she wanted them to shoot something. McCarter recalled the large herds of cattle along the country roads between Chico and Oroville, and suggested they head that way, to see if any cows were out grazing in the rain. So they doubled back, drove through Oroville again, and headed up Highway 149, hunting now for cattle.
But no cattle obliged. Peering through the rain and the dark of the January night, Noor eventually concluded that the search for cattle would be as futile as had been the quest for deer.
Noor didn’t say anything as they traveled Highway 149 towards Chico. The three rode for a time in silence, drinking, smoking another joint, as the wipers slapped a weary cadence across the windshield.
It was Noor who finally broke the silence. “Why not,” he asked, “get us a critter?”
“There’s one,” Noor said, leaning across the front seat and pointing at the black man walking along the wet gravel shoulder of Park Avenue. Noor took his foot off the gas, slowing the car as they drove past the man. Noor pulled over to the side, the rum bottle wedged between his thighs. He glanced in the rearview mirror, watched the man walk steadily on, his hands thrust deep inside the pockets of his rainsoaked jacket.
Noor made a quick U-turn, heading south. “You want to get him, Jim?” he asked.
McCarter didn’t answer. Shope twisted around, reaching for the rifle lying across the back seat. Empty beer cans clattered on the floorboards, scattered by her feet, as she lifted the rifle over her shoulder, and set it on McCarter’s lap.
McCarter thought he’d give it a try. Minutes before, as they’d entered Chico from the south, all had agreed it was time for “a nigger hunt.” And the man walking along the road was the first “game” they’d seen all night—a “critter,” an “animal,” “dark meat.”
They passed the man again, still walking. Noor turned around again, the tires slipping on the wet asphalt, then approached very slowly from behind, edging closer at no more than five miles an hour. McCarter rolled the window down, had to press hard on it with his hands to convince it to slide down into the door. He leveled the barrel on the sill.
“There you go, Jim,” Noor urged, guiding the Pontiac closer. “You can do it.”
They drew alongside the man, who was still not looking their way, closed to within six feet of him.
McCarter pulled the trigger.
The man jerked, clutched his shoulder, took four final stumbling steps, and collapsed onto the tracks.
In the car, they turned away before he fell. Noor accelerated quickly. He and Shope were ebullient, delighted, as McCarter stared emptily out the window. He felt confused, detached, as if somebody else had pulled the trigger, somebody he’d never known.
“You got the motherfucker!” Noor yelped.
They drove on into Chico along Park Avenue, stopped at Bar-X Liquors for more alcohol. Armed with coke and more beer, Noor slid behind the wheel, turning the key and bringing the Pontiac rumbling to life, and asked Shope where she wanted to go now. She was excited, reached out and pulled open another can of beer. “Let’s get some more niggers,” she said. “Let’s go to deepest, darkest Africa.”
Noor and McCarter knew where she meant: South Oroville. Noor rolled the car out of the lot and headed back towards Highway 99. They sped south down the highway, turning east on 149, and Noor then floored it, pushed the Pontiac to nearly a hundred miles an hour. He was sure no one had seen them shoot that black man in Chico, was ecstatic, racing through the rain, trying to see how fast the battered Pontiac would go.
But he forgot about the intersection of 70 and 149, didn’t see the stop sign until it was too late to slow down and make the turn. They plowed through the crossroads at high speed, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a car attempting to turn left, crashed through a wooden fence. For a second they were shaken, sat quietly in the front seat without moving, wondering what had happened. Noor looked over to McCarter, then to Shope. No one said anything. Then Shope suddenly burst out laughing.
Several passing motorists saw the Pontiac stranded in the field and stopped, cautiously approaching the car. They were somewhat astonished to see Noor and McCarter climb out unharmed. The car was stuck in the soft muddy soil of the field and Noor couldn’t back it out. But with the help of several of the people who’d stopped, Noor and McCarter managed to push the Pontiac back onto the road. Shope thought it all hilarious, remaining in the front seat, laughing as the car was heaved back onto the roadway.
When Noor and McCarter slipped back into the front seat they too began laughing. Noor dropped it into gear; they sped off towards South Oroville, as if nothing had happened.
Three black men, Marlon Jones, Darrell Johnson, and Daniel Davidson, were gathered around Jackson’s red Chevy Luv pickup, parked outside the fence surrounding South Oroville’s Wyandotte Park. Jones was leaning against the fence, Davidson up against the right side of the cab, Jackson sitting in the bed of the pickup with his back to the street. They’d been there for several hours, hanging out, listening to taped music.
“Hi,” Shope said, as the Pontiac passed them by.
“Hey,” they replied, paying no real attention, returning to their conversation.
Two blocks away, Noor turned the car around, propped the rifle out the window, and drove back towards the three men.
Jones glanced over Jackson’s shoulder, saw the barrel of the Winchester pointed at his chest. Davidson saw the rifle at the same time; simultaneously, the two men hit the ground. Jackson, his back to the street, saw nothing, thought Jones and Davidson were playing some sort of joke on him. He leaned over the side of the truck and saw them laying on the grass; then a sound made him turn around. He saw the barrel of the rifle, and hurled himself out of the bed. Noor was trying desperately to fire, but his finger kept hitting the trigger guard. Frustrated, he hit the gas and roared off, screeching around the corner onto Roseben Avenue.
It was just after midnight. Michelle King, a young black woman, was walking north on Roseben, three blocks from Wyandotte Park, when she saw the single headlight of an oncoming car swerve towards her, then zoom by, missing her by inches. She told herself the driver must have been drunk, assured herself that the danger had passed.
But a block behind her the Pontiac stopped; then, she heard it turn around. She forced herself to keep walking, not turn and look. She kept moving, her purse in her left hand, an umbrella in her right. She heard the car creeping up behind her.
“Hey,” Noor barked, “look at this.”
King lifted a corner of her umbrella. “What?” she asked.
“Guess what,” Noor sneered, and fired.
The shot missed, but passed so close to her face that she later discovered it had left powder burns on her cheek. She screamed and crumpled to the ground, too frightened and dazed to know if she’d been hit.
“You’re dead,” Noor said flatly. The trio stared at her in silence for a few moments, then raced off, convinced they’d bagged their second “critter.”
McCarter and Shope had, minutes before, protested Noor’s decision to “hunt” a black woman.
“Shooting a dude is one thing, but a chick is something else,” McCarter had argued.
But Noor would have none of that. “What’s the difference?” he shot back. “A critter’s a critter.”
McCarter had had enough, and told Noor to drop him off at his house, just five blocks from where they’d left Michelle King. Drunk, exhausted, he went inside and fell into bed.
Noor and Shope weren’t finished.
First they drove out to the Thermalito Afterbay, so Noor could shoot out some streetlights and pepper a few power poles. Then they dropped by his brother’s house, so they might fill him in on what all he’d missed.
David Noor had been asleep for an hour, but his wife, Paula Phillips, hadn’t been able to sleep, lying on her back in the darkened house, and so she heard their knock on the door. When she opened it, Noor and Shope more or less fell inside—obviously drunk, laughing uproariously, Shope hanging on Noor’s shoulder as he waved the rifle in the air.
“You know what we just did, Paula?” Noor kept asking. “You know what we did?”
Phillips didn’t answer; Noor drunk and waving the Winchester around her house scared her. She kept the lights off, hoping that would encourage them to leave. The dim blue light of the stereo provided the only illumination.
“We just killed some niggers,” Shope boasted. “It was so neat, you should have seen the way they fell, you should have heard her.”
Noor stumbled back into the bedroom to rouse his brother, but David wanted to remain asleep, shaking his brother off, telling him he didn’t care what they’d done. “But you should have seen the guy we shot in Chico,” Noor insisted. “We just pulled up and said ‘hey’.” Again David pushed him off, forcing Noor to rejoin Shope and Phillips in the living room.
Phillips told them to go home, that they were drunk and disturbing her, but Shope kept laughing, hanging on Noor’s shoulder. “No, it’s my turn now, I’m going to get one,” she said.
After fifteen minutes, Phillips managed to get them out of the apartment. She heard them go up the stairs to the apartment of Tanya Fryar, Shope’s cousin. Noor had decided to pay Fryar a visit because she had told him earlier that she might be pregnant with his child.
Noor banged open Fryar’s door, barged in, dragged her out of bed, and pressed a knife to her throat.
“I ain’t goin’ for it!” he yelled. “You better not be pregnant!”
Noor spun around and ordered Shope to go downstairs and get the rest of the shells. Shope refused, saying Fryar was her cousin, and so she wouldn’t be party to killing her. Noor was beside himself with rage, stomping around the apartment, screaming at both of them. He left only after promising to come back later to shoot out all of Fryar’s windows.
Shope and Noor finally returned to their Nelson Avenue apartment. Shope went into the kitchen to fix something to eat. As Noor followed her in, she pulled a carton of eggs from the refrigerator. Soon they were laughing ecstatically, playfully involved in a raucous egg fight, tossing the raw eggs at one another, cracking them against the walls.
Noor walked out of the kitchen, leaving Shope to clean up the mess, and cook up the surviving eggs. He went into the back bedroom and pulled a chair beneath the window. He spent the next half-hour burying slugs in a storage shed across the street, and firing at cars cruising by on the freeway.
At 2:20 the next afternoon, Linda Kay Hammersley, neighbor to David Noor and Paula Phillips, placed a call to the Chico Police Department.
Hammersley had been awake the night before, watching television and reading, and on a trip to the bathroom had overheard Noor and Shope bragging that they’d “bagged two niggers.” The wall between the adjacent apartment bathrooms is thin and hollow, and when the medicine cabinets are open on both sides, sound travels freely from apartment to apartment.
The next morning Hammersley told Phillips what she’d overheard. Phillips was scared. She’d tried to persuade her husband to call Noor and ask if he had really killed anybody, but David refused, told his wife to keep her mouth shut, that the less they knew the less they would become involved. But when both women heard over the radio the report of Campbell’s body on the tracks, Phillips agreed to slip out of the apartment under the pretense of going next door to borrow something, and together the two women would call and speak to the police.
From Hammersley and Phillips’ forty-five minute call, Sergeant Bragdon obtained enough information to convince Gridley District Court Judge Steven McNelis to authorize search warrants for Shope’s apartment and Noor’s mother’s house. Hammersley and Phillips had provided both Noor and Shope’s names, as well as details of what they claimed to have done, and why.
McNelis not only signed the warrants, he also boarded a patrol vehicle and accompanied the officers dispatched to serve them.
Noor and Shope had awakened that morning around 9:00 a.m. They left the apartment and returned the rifle to Noor’s mother. They stayed there for about an hour, casually dismissing their deer-hunting expedition as a failure. They then returned to the apartment and spent the rest of the day watching television.
At around 10:00 that evening, Shope rose to answer a knock on the door. The voice first identified itself as “Mike”; when Shope responded that she knew no “Mike,” Suniga identified himself as a police officer, with a warrant, and demanded that she open the door. She declined. When three law-enforcement officers, after some difficulty, succeeded in kicking the door in, they found Shope standing to the right of the door; Noor was on his way out the back window. Suniga’s drawn revolver convinced Noor to ease himself back inside.
Shope began talking immediately and without hesitation, quickly implicating McCarter. After locating the rifle at Noor’s mother’s house, Suniga and three other officers arrived at McCarter’s cottage. Suniga pulled open the screen door and knocked. McCarter peered through the windowshade, then opened the door.
“Police officer,” Suniga explained.
“Oh,” McCarter said.
Down at the Oroville Police Department. McCarter said he’d had nothing to do with any killing. He’d remained at home on Saturday night, he said, watching television and working on his CB radio.
“I don’t shoot people. I’m not a killer. I don’t believe in killing a human being,” McCarter insisted. “I think with all this going on my mind’s not exactly going right. I’m sitting at home playing with my radio when I’m arrested for investigation of murder. You can’t expect anybody to think normally.”
Bragdon offered that he wouldn’t expect anyone to casually shoot somebody he didn’t know, either.
“Well, that’s pretty crazy,” McCarter agreed. “He must be a pretty crazy person to do something like that.”
Unlike Noor, McCarter had never been arrested before. Yet he had been expelled from school twice, on both occasions for offenses committed with Noor. Early in life McCarter had been diagnosed as a hyperkinetic child, and had been dosed with Ritalin. It led to trouble in school: McCarter’s attention span was abnormally short, he had difficulty making and keeping friends, he was easily dominated by stronger, more forceful personalities.
Shortly after his 18th birthday, McCarter was told by his father that he needed to vacate the family home. For the next eight months, McCarter lived with Kari Koga, a Japanese-American woman. He was employed in a variety of CETA jobs, including a neighborhood improvement program. He was laid off by Las Plumas Lumber Company at around the same time as Noor was released on parole.
McCarter had a number of black friends, although he admitted to a certain wariness when first meeting black people; this he attributed to the fact that he’d been “burned on a couple of drug deals with them.” While working in the CETA program he became good friends with Kathy Walker, a black woman who later wrote the court to state that she and several other black people had visited McCarter’s home on several occasions, and that she couldn’t believe McCarter had been motivated by racial animus in the killing of Jimmy Campbell.
Noor, by contrast, flat hated black people. He claimed to have been set upon and beat up by a gang of black kids when he was five years old. Later, while incarcerated at the Preston facility, he was stabbed by a black man. This capped a long line of scrapes involving black prisoners in various juvenile facilities.
Noor initially told Suniga that McCarter had borrowed his car on the night of Campbell’s killing and that he had no idea what McCarter might have done while roaming around in it.
Suniga told him to try again.
“Okay, Jim and my wife and I did go to Chico and Jim did shoot that guy, but I didn’t know he was going to do it,” Noor averred. “I didn’t mean for it to happen; it just happened. I got scared, and the only thing I could think of was getting out. But I didn’t shoot that nigger.”
Shope wanted to talk. In her initial interrogation, she described the events of that night in cold, remorseless, clinical detail. She made no effort to deny her involvement, to cover for Noor, or to blame the crime on anyone else.
Danielle Adkins was already the mother of a child when she married William Thomas Shope at the age of sixteen. The marriage produced two more children, and Danielle Adkins, now Dani Shope, moved to Oroville from Pennsylvania with her husband and family in the fall of 1978.
Once having reached California, however, Shope told her husband that she was leaving him and the children, that she “wanted to feel like a kid again.”
“I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” Shope told him. “I’m just going to be rotten.”
Shope’s new life began about the same time as Noor was released from Preston. As has been seen, Shope’s cousin, Tanya Fryar, lived in the same apartment complex as David Noor; this twin familial connection is how the two met. They began seeing each other regularly, and when Noor quit the job he’d held after his release from prison, Shope encouraged him to remain unemployed so they could spend all their time together.
Upon her arrest, Shope changed her mind once again: now she wanted “to prove I’m good.” She cooperated with law enforcement and with the district attorney. On July 23, 1979, she agreed to testify for the prosecution against Noor and McCarter in exchange for a reduced charge of second-degree murder. On November 8 of that year she was sentenced to fifteen years to life and dispatched to Frontera to begin serving her time.
Will Mattly was sworn in as Butte County District Attorney on January 8, 1979, five days prior to Jimmy Campbell’s death. Mattly had been appointed to the DA’s office in 1972 by then-District Attorney Robert Mueller, who later slid over to the public defender’s office, where, in the fullness of time, he came to represent Marvin Noor.
California’s new death-penalty law had gone into effect on January 1, 1979, enabling a death sentence in a case of first-degree murder with special circumstances. Those circumstances included murdering a human being because of his race. When Mattly filed his death-penalty charges against Noor, McCarter, and Shope, it was the first time under the new law that anyone faced the gas chamber for a racial killing.
Mattly believes in the death penalty, sees it as just and necessary punishment. He promised Frankie Brass, and others, that he would “prosecute the defendants to the fullest extent of the law,” that he would press for the death penalty.
At first glance, the case seemed to Mattly a breeze. But as Mattly watched the defense attorneys file a seemingly endless series of motions, he began to realize he had problems. The defense filed over thirty motions, and each one seemed to lead to another, until the case began to resemble a test case for the bar exam. As Mattly struggled to keep up with the defense, he concluded his case had six major weaknesses, any one of which might scuttle the whole thing.
Three of the problems were evidentiary. Shope would testify that the three defendants had consumed a truly staggering amount of alcohol, and the defense would certainly allow this testimony to go unchallenged. The beer, rum, scotch, and pot could potentially provide an excellent diminished-capacity defense. Mueller and Kenkel could argue that in the midst of such a besotted marathon their clients were clearly not in full possession of their mental faculties, and therefore not legally culpable for first-degree murder.
Further, the law requires that the testimony of an accomplice be independently corroborated. The special-circumstances charge which asserted that Campbell had been shot because he was black could be established firsthand only through Shope’s testimony.
Third, to secure a first-degree murder conviction it must be established beyond a reasonable doubt that cold, deliberate premeditation preceded the act, that the decision was arrived at and reflected upon with malice and clear intent. Because of the defendants’ alleged diminished capacity, and because of McCarter’s psychological history, Mattly realized the amount of “reflection” preceding the murder could be effectively challenged, particularly by Kenkel.
Yet these problems might be minor, Mattly fretted, compared to three others.
Shope was interrogated five times before she consulted an attorney. Mattly himself was present during the fifth session, asking Shope several questions relating to the crime. Defense counsel argued that Mattly should be recused—prevented from trying the case—because of his contact with Shope prior to her arraignment, something that might require him to appear as a witness in his own case. The defense motion for recusal was originally granted by Judge Rutherford, and Mattly was severed from the proceedings. But the Superior Court reversed her decision and reinstated him. The motion was renewed before Judge Morony, and although he expressed strong reservations about doing so, he allowed Mattly to remain. An appeals court might not be so accommodating.
Judge McNelis’ decision to accompany law-enforcement officers when they arrested Noor and Shope posed another problem. McNelis entering Shope’s apartment after she and Noor had been served with the warrant compounded it. Defense counsel maintained that McNelis, as a judge, should have stepped forward and immediately advised the defendants of their Miranda rights. Defense counsel further argued that there was an unreasonable delay in bringing their clients before a magistrate, for despite the fact that such a magistrate—McNelis—was present when they were arrested, they were not officially arraigned until two days, and after many statements, later. Defense counsel couldn’t believe McNelis felt it necessary to “go around playing cops and robbers,” adding that “the Supreme Court would have danced all over that one.” Under the law, one attorney pointed out, “a magistrate is supposed to be ‘neutral and detached.’ I don’t think ‘neutral and detached’ is defined as leaping into a patrol vehicle and racing around town busting down doors to roust people.”
McNelis’ participation in the arrest bothered Mattly, as did the lack of arrest warrants for Noor and Shope, and the lack of any warrant for McCarter. The forty-five-minute tape of the informants’ phone call was clearly sufficient as probable cause for obtaining arrest warrants as well as search warrants, and there has yet to be a reasoned explanation for law-enforcement’s failure to request them: they were in a hurry, it wasn’t necessary, they “forgot.” An appellate court could decide to overturn any conviction on the ground that the lack of an arrest warrant violated the holding of People v. Ramey. Mattly’s case against McCarter was particularly vulnerable here: law-enforcement officials didn’t even know he was involved until after Shope had been taken into custody. McCarter was seized without either a search or an arrest warrant, solely on the basis of her statements.
Mattly saw a disturbing scenario developing. He would try the defendants in Butte County, and secure convictions, which would then be appealed. Somewhere up the appellate ladder, one or more of the convictions would be reversed and remanded, maybe based on McNelis’ Wyatt-Earping, his failure to advise the defendants, or the lack of arrest warrants. Mattly envisioned some sneering appellate panel stripping him of all of Shope’s statements, stretching all the way back to her arrest. All his best evidence would be declared “fruit of the poisonous tree,” rolled back to the original informing phone calls that implicated only Noor and Shope. Without Shope’s statements following her arrest, there was no appreciable evidence implicating McCarter, the man who actually pulled the trigger. Trying to secure a first-degree verdict for Noor would be difficult; McCarter, the triggerman, might actually walk.
From the beginning, Mueller and Kenkel had urged Mattly to consider a plea bargain; for over a year, Mattly had refused even to discuss it. Then, on January 23, 1980, the three men met for lunch at the Depot, an Oroville restaurant where much court business has traditionally been transacted. After an hour or so, they left with the mutual understanding that McCarter and Noor would plead guilty to first-degree murder, and Mattly would dismiss the special-circumstances charges. McCarter and Noor would not face the gas.
Seven days later, on January 30, 1980, Frankie Brass walked into her living room and sat down to read the Chico Enterprise-Record and watch the local evening news on television. She’d been released from Chico Community Hospital the previous night after minor surgery.
Brass was stunned by the newspaper headline announcing the plea bargain with the killers of her son; stared at the announcement on the TV news with shock. As the newscasters reported the deal, and then the crime, in all its grisly detail, she burst into tears. She couldn’t believe Mattly had closed the deal without speaking to her first.
Mattly had known he would have problems convincing Brass that the plea deal, in his view, was both necessary and just. Since Brass didn’t have a phone, he delegated to the Chico Police Department, asking that an officer go out to her home and ask Brass to call him. Officer Bragdon, arriving at Brass’ home, was told she was in the hospital. Bragdon didn’t want to go to the hospital, and he didn’t want to discuss the plea deal with Patsy Campbell, so he gave Patsy his card and asked her to tell Brass to call him when she returned from the hospital.
So Brass didn’t know that McCarter and Noor would appear in court to plead guilty to the first-degree murder of her son, didn’t know the gag order would then be lifted and the press would furiously spread the news across the land, until she opened the paper, and turned on her TV.
“It was a stupid mistake,” Mattly admitted. “I should have talked to her. I should have asked for a week’s postponement.” But he didn’t. And so Brass continues to maintain that Mattly lied to her, broke his promise to her. She, and Patsy, will not forgive him.
Lots of other people were livid, too. California Attorney General George Deukmejian demanded that Mattly explain why he had dumped the special circumstances. Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy pressed Deukmejian to investigate the events surrounding the case and require that Mattly answer three specific questions: (1) was the decision to abandon the death penalty justified; (2) does Mattly’s office pursue a racially neutral policy on capital punishment; and (3) does Butte County ordinarily litigate murder cases, as it had litigated this one, under “a shroud of secrecy.”
The NAACP repeatedly asked Mattly if he would have agreed to a similar deal if the victim had been white and the perpetrators black. Willie Hyman, legal representative for the local chapter of the NAACP, further noted that “Jimmy Lee Campbell is dead, and we’re not going to bring him back. And his mother knows that. But the problems that led to the killing of Jimmy Lee Campbell, we want solved.”
The NAACP demanded that the US Justice Department investigate racism in Butte County. It cited, among other things, the county’s dearth of black law-enforcement officers, and the use of a black man employed as a janitor as the “counselor” for black high-school students with disciplinary problems. Hyman matter-of-factly describes Oroville as “blatantly racist,” pronouncing Butte County “the Mississippi of California.”
“Oroville wants to move into the twentieth century,” Hyman says, “and they’re definitely going to need our help to do it.”
Less than a half mile from where he was shot, Jimmy Lee Campbell lies buried in Glen Oaks Cemetery, in an unmarked grave. There are no headstones at Glen Oaks, and Frankie Brass has yet to order the bronze plaque that will eventually mark her son’s end.
Brass wanted him buried there. Unlike Chico Cemetery, located in the heart of town, Glen Oaks lies quiet and removed, on Chico’s southernmost edge, beneath a grove of tall, broad-shouldered valley oaks.
“I wanted him buried there,” she says, “so I wouldn’t have to look at it. You know?”
* * *
(This story has been on my mind since I read princss6′s letter that appeared in this space last week, a letter that was itself occasioned by exposure to the foulness that is AracistPoet. They’re all, I think, of a piece.
(I shared a byline on this story with Ken Conner, who went on to write a couple of novels, and then worked 23 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, until taking early retirement in 2009, when they started shrinking the size of the paper unto near-invisibility.
(Some things have changed in 30 years, some things have not. Butte County is still more or less a nature preserve for white people, though compared to the Shriek Shack it’s a freaking Rainbow Coalition. For while that blog is as of this moment 94% white, 3% black, 1% Asian, and 1% Hispanic, Butte County, as of the 2000 census, was 74% white, 10% Hispanic, 1.4% black, 2% American Indian, 3% Asian, and 9% “other” or of mixed race. There remain in Butte County what are effectively separate judicial systems for the white people who own the fields, and the brown people who work them. Black folks are still more or less corralled in Chapmantown and South Oroville, where the services are still for shit. Every year foreign students who arrive in Chico from African countries to attend the university are shocked to find their cars defaced by vicious racist slogans; black students from elsewhere in the US are less surprised. Last year the university’s student-body president was black; he was also the victim of a racially motivated assault that sent him to the hospital.
(Will Mattly didn’t last too long as DA; his successor had no trouble at all pursuing the death penalty in the case of a poor black man accused of murdering a prominent Chico white couple. That man today sits on death row, though the case against him, it could be argued, had its problems, too. Some of the aspects of Mattly’s case that so concerned him did reach the appellate court; all the issues raised by defense counsel the court gave the back of its hand. Other items Mattly fretted over need no longer concern prosecutors hereabouts: California did away with the diminished-capacity defense after Dan White’s assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone was partially excused by a jury on the grounds that White’s mind was temporarily deformed by Twinkies. Also, you can no longer load up on things like whites and wine, go wild, and then claim you shouldn’t be held to account: that’s damned as “voluntary intoxication” nowadays, hoss, and you’ll go down just as if you’d been sober as a judge. I don’t think anybody bothers much with Ramey warrants in these times. A magistrate doing the Ride-Along Cassidy is, more or less, still frowned upon, though the appellate court did let McNelis slide.
(There is no more CETA program; Ronald Racist Reagan eliminated that on his first day in office. Chico Community Hospital is long closed, because it was for poor people; the place took anybody, and was subsidized by the state, and we simply can’t have any of that. All that is left is Enloe Hospital, a horror house of moneygrubbing malpracticioning butchers who were complicit in paralyzing my daughter.
(Willie Hyman, seemingly immortal, is still roaring around, making life difficult for the white folk. He regularly denounces the DA and various other important personages as racists, and still believes Butte County qualifies as “the Mississippi of California.” He most recently made the news when he discovered that Chico Cemetery—the one in town, not the one where Jimmy Lee Campbell lies buried—just up and decided a few decades ago to lay roads over graves containing black people. Hyman demanded that the roads be dug up and the black folk reinterred. As is usually the case with Hyman, a bunch of white people at first hemmed and hawed, saying there wasn’t really any proof, they’d have to look into it; but then, as is usually the case with Hyman, they eventually determined that he was, uh, right after all. In the meantime, it was additionally discovered that the cemetery’s owners at some point heaved a bunch of Chinese tombstones and apparently Chinese bodies out of the place, and also seemed to engage in the practice of burying poor white people stacked like cordwood. The full extent of the outrage will probably never be known, because the people in charge during this mayhem are all dead, and cemetery records seem to have “burned in a fire.”
(Jerry Kenkel, who I later worked for, died in 1999 of pancreatic cancer, probably brought on by exposure to Agent Orange and other foul poisons while serving in the Navy in Vietnam.
(McCarter, Noor, and Shope are all still in prison. Shope’s deal for second-degree was for naught, as the lily-livered parole boards and governors in this state almost never grant parole to anyone convicted of murder, whether it be murder in the first- or second-degree, and if someday they decide again to do so, she will hardly be at the top of the list.
(Shortly after this piece was originally printed, I was approached by a woman representing one of the edgy lefty splinter parties out of San Francisco—Socialist something-or-other, I forget which one now. She wanted me to agree to let her outfit reprint the story, and also share with her dirt that hadn’t made it, and still hasn’t made it, into the printed piece. I told her she first needed to talk to Frankie Brass, because Brass ran the story—Jimmy was her son—and Brass wasn’t much inclined to let people outside the NAACP “use” her son’s death; she and the family had agreed to talk to Conner and I only because Hyman had urged them to. But this woman had no interest whatsoever in meeting with Brass, informed me that I was a traitor to the struggle, or some such thing, and rode her high horse back to SF. That showed me something.
(Not that I was Mr. White Hat. This story, when it originally appeared, was called “The Nigger Hunt.” That seemed right at the time. It was a headline that was hard, and tough, and succinct, and that was, after all, what it had been, what the perpetrators had called it. But I realize now it was wrong. Especially because that head also appeared on the cover of the paper, superimposed over a rifle, 40,000 copies of that staring out from hundreds of newsstands, for a week. I shouldn’t have been party to that. I should have seen. But I hadn’t learned yet to be beyond my pale.
(There is a plaque now on Jimmy Lee Campbell’s grave. And he is still dead.)