Ex ante judgment

Ex Ante Judgment of Officer May Complicate Investigation of Incident

By Ken K. Gourdin

An officer with Woods Cross UT police department pointed a gun at a young man who matched the general description of one of two robbery suspects police were seeking. Since the young man was not involved, the officer, his agency, and the agency’s administrator have come under withering public criticism.

That’s the problem with 20/20 hindsight: No one ever knows beforehand what the people who pass judgment with the benefit of hindsight know afterward, yet, often, those who pass such judgment proceed as though everything they know now was known by the person they are judging at the time he took the action for which they are judging him.

Did this officer do anything wrong? I have no idea. Will he be cleared of wrongdoing? Again, I have no idea. At this point, not enough information is available to be able to say either way. But that doesn’t mean that there will be any shortage of opinion and innuendo filling the gap where that information should be in the meantime. I pointed out as much in response to coverage of the incident in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News. The story can be found here (last accessed June 15, 2019):


I commented:

That’s the problem with “justice by mobocracy” via demonstrations and in opinion fora such as this: I may well believe the officer did something wrong, and it may well be the case that, indeed, he did do something wrong. But even if everyone in the world believes that, yes, he did, indeed, do something wrong, in order for that determination, somehow, to be just, it cannot be made a priori or ex ante or absent due process.

No one, no matter how egregious the apparent or seeming wrong done, should be convicted without some sort of due process and according to legally established procedures. That’s the problem with the “court”—the kangaroo court—of public opinion: there’s no agreement on what the rules of evidence and procedure are or how they should apply in any given case.

As I’ve written before, yes, perhaps how incidents such as this are investigated, how discipline (if warranted) is meted out, and how they are prosecuted (if necessary) needs to change. Anyone with a reasonable proposal should be welcome at the table. But I don’t see how demonstrations and calls for action without all the facts are conducive to necessary dialogue.

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Fire at LDS Meetinghouse

Firefighters Salvage Painting from Burned Meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Cynical Public Relations Ploy, or Something More?

By Ken K. Gourdin

In the 187th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Mark A. Bragg of the Seventy related an account of the response of Los Angeles County, California, USA firefighters to a grass fire in Glassell Park which then spread to an LDS meetinghouse in the area. For Elder Bragg’s address, see here (this and all other links last accessed April 26, 2017): https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/brighter-and-brighter-until-the-perfect-day?lang=eng.

Elder Bragg said a battalion commander called an Latter-day Saint friend to inquire where the sacrament cups and sacred relics were stored so that they could be salvaged from the building. The friend assured the battalion commander that there were no sacred relics which needed saving and that the sacrament cups were “very replaceable.” (I wondered if Elder Bragg himself, who has roots in the area, wasn’t the battalion commander’s “Latter-day Saint friend”). Elder Bragg said that the commander wanted to do more, and sent firefighters into the building to salvage pictures of Christ, one of which firefighters placed into one of their trucks “in hopes of being watched over.”

I posted my opinion that I don’t believe it’s possible for one to become a first responder (e.g., a police officer, a firefighter, a member of a search and rescue team, a medic, etc.) without altruism motivating the decision in some way. I wrote:

While there may be other significant factors which come into play in one’s decision to become a first responder* (such as being an “adrenaline junkie”), I don’t think it is possible for one to do such a job for any length of time if altruism played absolutely no role in one’s decision to take it. That said, the firefighters were motivated by more than altruism/selflessness etc. I think it is significant that the firefighters placed one of the recovered paintings in one of their trucks in the hopes that Deity would watch over them.

*To hear my dad tell it, his decision as to what MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] to pursue in the military (he chose law enforcement/US Army MP [Military Police]) was based mostly on what uniform looked the coolest.

P.S.:What?!!  What do you mean these paintings are available for $4.75 each at the [Church of Jesus Christ] Distribution Center!”

When another poster questioned the commander’s wisdom in sending his men back into the building to retrieve cheap, mass-produced art which many of its original purchasers simply then turn over to thrift stores run by the Church of Jesus Christ (named Deseret Industries, aka “DI”) to be resold, another poster wrote, “[T]he value of an item isn’t about how much it costs or how well it sells at DI,” I responded:

True. Sometimes, we tend to forget that something which isn’t worth a whole lot in terms of extrinsic value is (basically, in this case, the cost of the materials used to produce, or to reproduce, it) is worth a whole lot more in terms of intrinsic value (sentiment, emotional attachment, spiritual significance, and so on).

A couple of years ago, I gave personally-captioned copies of a painting of the Savior (the Good Shepherd) holding a lamb in His arms to several members of my family: The caption reads, “[Name], thou art my little lamb.” These aren’t worth a whole lot in terms of extrinsic value: ink, card stock, and so forth; not counting frames (which themselves weren’t very expensive), perhaps a dollar a piece (and that’s being generous). But I certainly hope that the intrinsic value to their recipients is much greater. I hope that each time recipients look at that captioned painting, they are reminded that Ken and Jesus love them. And I reiterate, in Elder Bragg’s retelling, even a cheap copy of the painting of the Savior had intrinsic value, even to a bunch of perhaps hard-bitten, cynical, profane firefighters who otherwise might not have had much use for religion, for religious symbols, or for religious art. In my opinion, that’s the light of Christ at work in their hearts. [I reread Elder Bragg’s address since posting this, and that was exactly the point he made.] For more of my thoughts about cynicism among first responders, see the following address, last accessed April 23, 2017:


When another poster opined that the firefighters salvaged the art partly as a public relations opportunity, I responded:

Right. Ignore what was specifically stated about the firefighters’ motivation for putting a painting of Jesus they had salvaged from the building in a firetruck (“in hopes that they would be watched over”) in favor of your own supposition (“The commander specifically put a picture of Jesus in one of the trucks which strikes me as something that was influenced, in part, by the media being there and a PR opportunity”).

Seeing an unrelated story about a different department involving that department’s failure to properly equip its vehicles with necessary lifesaving equipment on line near where coverage of the Glassell Park fire was posted, another poster wrote:

Saw this while reading about the fire, it was to the side. The plot thickens?


I saw it right below the picture on this link.


I responded:

If something needs thickening, I’ve found that equal parts of cornstarch and water added to what one is trying to thicken usually works fairly well. “The plot thickens” only for rabid conspiracy theorists who are incapable of separating one story from another, of getting their facts straight, are looking for an excuse to excoriate first responders (and/or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) … and when one is looking to do that, one club works as well as any other … and so on. : Separate agencies: http://www.comptoncity.org/depts/fire/.

The way these things usually work is that if, for reasons of economics, economies of scale, convenience, and so on, a municipality wishes to contract with the county in which it sits for police, fire, and/or for other emergency services, it may do so. However, if it wishes to maintain local control by establishing its own agencies, it may do that, instead. Apparently, Compton does not contract with Los Angeles County for fire services; rather, it has its own agency. In any event, the Glassell Park fire occurred in July of 2015, so even if we were talking about the same agency, that would be an awfully long timeline for connecting two allegedly-related events.

You’re free to thicken your plots elsewhere, thankyouverymuch fer playin’!

Later, I responded:

. . . If you think my response to your “The plot thickens” comment was unwarranted, I suppose I will have to ask, “What plot?” The only way a plot could thicken would be is if a plot existed in the first place. If you think that anyone involved in the response to the Glassell Park fire had some sort of an ulterior motive for reacting as s/he did, I have to ask, “Why?” Beyond bare speculation, exactly zero evidence of any kind of ulterior motive had been presented, yet we have more than a few posters proceeding as though such a motive is simply a given (including, with all due respect, you, if your “the plot thickens” comment is to be taken at face value). All you had to say to avoid this whole conversation is, “Oh. OK. I didn’t know they were different agencies.” End of story. . . .

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He’s Only Hurting Himself?

A Few Thoughts on the “Why-Should-I-Care-What-Anyone-Else-Does-if-Noone-Else-is-Harmed?” Argument

By Ken K. Gourdin

A poster of something of a libertarian bent at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion [sic] said he voted for the measure legalizing recreational marijuana use in Washington state, maintaining that resources expended combating illegal drug distribution and use could better be utilized elsewhere, and implying that people should be allowed to use marijuana if they wish. I responded:

But here’s the problem with the “let’s-not-waste-more-resources-attempting-to-enforce-the-unenforceable” argument: Even if one is absolutely correct that marijuana is harmless, the “why-enforce-the-unenforceable” argument is equally applicable to other drugs … which are not so harmless: Cocaine? Heroin? Methamphetamine? Do we simply throw up our hands and legalize everything? Libertarianism sounds really good, but it requires maintaining the fiction that actions which have been deemed illegal “wouldn’t hurt anyone else” who does not engage in them, and however appealing it might be to posit the existence of such a vacuum on a theoretical level, it doesn’t hold up in real life: Practically no such action “doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

This poster compared abortion with illegal drug use, saying that those who wish to engage in the latter should be allowed to do so, since they’re harming only themselves, while those who undergo abortion are harming an innocent third party (the fetus). He wrote:

… Abortion is committed against a third party, the fetus, who is an innocent party. If I take a drug, it is me, myself, and I that I am doing it to. Non-equivalent cases, rongo. But you may ask, “But what about your friends and family who will be affected?” My response is “What about them? Will you force me to conform to their will in all cases? Or is my life my own?”

I responded:

So the fetus didn’t choose the abortion, that’s why innocent third parties are relevant when it comes to abortion, but all of the sudden become irrelevant with respect to drug use? Why? Again, for libertarianism to work, you have to posit a vacuum (one that seals a person off from the rest of humanity who allegedly makes choices which affect only himself) which doesn’t exist. No one’s life is his or her own. One’s choice to use drugs (or any of myriad similar choices) never affects only himself. Those adversely affected by one’s choice to use drugs (and no matter who he is, there are always such third parties) didn’t choose the negative consequences which are bound to befall them either.

I don’t particularly want to continue to exist in this “Groundhog Day” existence of mine in which I left a job answering phones, endured the emotional, mental, intellectual carnage of law school, graduated against all odds, and now … am back answering phones, either. I don’t have a lot of friends. I haven’t confided the way I feel about my lot to many people outside of a couple of my closest family members. I could say, “Well, they really don’t know what I’m going through. They don’t really know how bad it is for me. And even if I forfeit certain opportunities by doing myself in, and even if they’d miss me in the short run, so what? We’d all get over those losses eventually, anyway. Even at its worst, the life to come still has to be better than this. And my desire to escape such an existence, and what I want, outweighs any drawbacks which might ensue from my choice, to myself or others.”

Should I do it? The libertarian position says, “Why not?” I don’t have a wife! I don’t have kids! My coworkers and superiors might miss me … for every second of the fifteen minutes it would take them to select my replacement! Our recruitment manager or our human resources manager has a resume on her desk or in her files (they’re both women) right now from someone who is every bit as qualified (and probably more qualified) to do my job than I am! Goodbye, $40K-plus in student loan debt for that useless law degree (death is the only way to escape repaying student loans; they’re not even dischargeable in bankruptcy)!

The pluses do seem to greatly outweigh the minuses, and, after all, it’s my life and my choice!

Another poster, noting the pessimistic vein of my post, wrote:

… I hope what you wrote was largely a thought exercise to make your point. In any case, know that a lot of us value your contribution to the board (even those of us who disagree with you on some things!), and miss your voice when you take breaks like you did recently. I know that interaction over the internet isn’t the same as in person, but this is a good place to get support from a variety of folks. Take care and believe that things will get better! …

I replied:

I wouldn’t worry too much about it. No matter how much a part of me … and at times, it’s a huge part of me … might want to, I’m not going to do anything drastic. To borrow and slightly alter something the inimitable Major Frank Burns of M*A*S*H infamy once said, “I believe in the sanctity of human life … no matter how ugly or disgusting it gets.” (He was talking about marriage.)

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Girlfriend goes off script

Controlling Murderer’s (Now-Former) Girlfriend Goes “Off Script”—With Tragic Consequences for His Victims

By Ken K. Gourdin

Jerrod William Baum faces first degree murder charges for allegedly killing teenagers Riley Powell and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson when he encountered the teens with his then-girlfriend after they had stopped at the residence the two shared seeking help after becoming stranded in the area. Mr. Baum has pleaded not guilty and trial has been set. For coverage of the case in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here, last accessed June 11, 2019: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900074761/jerrod-william-baum-man-pleads-not-guilty-to-charges-he-murdered-young-utah-couple-riley-powell-brelynne-otteson.html.

It’s as though Mr. Baum viewed Ms. Henderson as his possession, as an automaton, as a thing to be used and, when no longer useful, to be discarded at his whim. (From all appearances, since he found no use for his victims—and, indeed, apparently, was annoyed by them [yet another cardinal sin]—all the available evidence indicates that he discarded them down a remote mine shaft. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of a relationship Mr. Baum had with Ms. Henderson. (Perhaps it was true love—or perhaps, at one time, the parties believed what, often, people in love believe about each other.) Admittedly, this is pure speculation on my part, but it’s not as though this kind of thing does not happen all the time in relationships. It’s as though Mr. Baum has the following attitude toward Ms. Henderson:

I am entitled to control every aspect of her life. I control who she sees and when; I control with whom she speaks, what she says, and when; I control where she goes—and where she doesn’t, and when; I control how much money she spends, and on what; I control how she uses every moment of her time; I control, at all times, what devices and vehicles she has access to, and when; If anything “off script” happens outside my presence—such as an unexpected encounter with strangers—she is to call me for instructions, and she must follow those instructions to the letter. If she does not consult me for instructions, or if she does not follow the instructions I give her, I am entitled to handle the situation however I see fit—including doing whatever I wish to do to the strangers she might encounter, even though they are not part of our “arrangement.”

Good luck wielding that kind of control over Ms. Henderson from a distance at trial, Mr. Baum. You’re going to need it if you want to stay alive for the rest of your natural life—an opportunity you did not, of course, afford your victims.

First, I quoted part of the story, then commented:

“At a preliminary hearing in March, Baum’s former girlfriend, Morgan Henderson, described in vivid detail how he became enraged to find the teens at his home on Dec. 30, 2017, then brought her and the couple to an abandoned mine shaft, where he slit the teens’ throats and discarded their bodies.”

The only way I can think of that Mr. Baum would not be convicted at trial is if Ms. Henderson’s testimony is impeached irreparably, or if Mr. Baum or someone acting on his behalf intimidates her into not testifying. (Or if, perhaps, unthinkably, he is able to persuade someone to do to Ms. Henderson what all of the evidence of which I am aware says he did to his other victims. If that were to happen, though, under the “unavailable witness” exception to the hearsay rule, her preliminary hearing testimony still would be admissible against him at trial.) If the State offers Mr. Baum any kind of a plea*, he should take it. As much as I might think Mr. Baum deserves the death penalty, at least a plea would spare everyone involved the agony of endless appeals.

*Provided, of course, that the plea is knowingly, freely, voluntarily entered into. There have been appeals in which that question has been the central issue, but they are, comparatively speaking, few in number when compared with the number of appeals which spring from evidence being admitted (or not) at trial, and so on.

And the moral of this cautionary tale? If you need help, make sure you don’t visit the wrong house—though, of course, it’s tough to know beforehand whether you are about to encounter a murderous maniac. Perhaps a better plan is to have a cell phone, have a contingency plan in case you lack service, and don’t try to get help from anyone you do not trust.

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Is OJ Simpson Owed an Apology?

Does the City of Las Vegas or the State of Nevada Owe Former NFL Star OJ Simpson an Apology?

By Ken K. Gourdin

National Football League Hall-of-Fame running back OJ Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nichole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in 1994.

I have serious misgivings about defense strategies employed by Mr. Simpson’s lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, of making the trial less about what happened to Ms. Brown and Mr. Goldman and more about race.

Whatever racial injustices the system may inflict on anyone else, Mr. Simpson is a poor standard bearer for that cause. It’s not as though any viable suspects who are of a different race or who are not minorities ever have merited any serious consideration.

Absent such evidence as that I mention above, I think race is a red herring, and, frankly, it baffles me how any self-respecting judge could have permitted it to become the central issue it became in Mr. Simpson’s trial. The Rules of Evidence charge judges with the duty of prohibiting parties from introducing evidence which is likely to confuse or mislead the jury, and in light of the lack of any other serious suspects, I have to wonder why the judge did not apply that prohibition to prevent Mr. Cochran from focusing on race.

All of that having been said, to the best of my knowledge, no ethical issues thought worthy of investigation by the California Bar Association ever were raised against Mr. Cochran for his tactics, nor were any complaints ever raised which were thought worthy of investigation by the relevant judicial authority against the judge, nor were any of his rulings overturned by an appellate court on appeal. Thus, my feelings about the way he conducted the trial, his rulings on evidence, and the defense he allowed are irrelevant.

Mr. Cochran was entitled to employ any ethical means at his disposal to defend his client zealously. Since no appellate court or other relevant authority ever said he did otherwise in defending Mr. Simpson, my own feelings on the matter are irrelevant.

Fortunately, however Mr. Simpson may have benefited from the law or from legal and judicial ethics, the old adage that a leopard cannot change his spots applies to him. While he has since been paroled, later, a Nevada jury (one which, perhaps, has more sense than the California jury which acquitted him of the murders of Ms. Brown and Mr. Goldman) convicted him of burglary, larceny, and other crimes when he attempted to resort to self-help to retrieve allegedly-stolen sports memorabilia purportedly belonging to him.

For coverage of Mr. Simpson’s post-prison life by the Associated Press via Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here (last accessed June 10, 2019): https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900074635/ap-exclusive-25-years-after-murders-oj-says-life-is-fine.html/.

Commenting on the crimes for which he was convicted after having been acquitted of the murders of Ms. Brown and Mr. Goldman and first quoting the coverage to which I was responding, I wrote:

“The town [Las Vegas, where he now lives, despite the fact that a Nevada jury convicted him and sent him to prison] has been good to me,” Simpson said. “Everybody I meet seems to be apologizing for what happened to me here.”

Everyone you meet apologizes to you for the fact that you were convicted of crimes you committed and sent to prison for them? Hmm. That’s interesting. Everyone has his own brand of justice, I suppose.

Later, I added (first quoting the poster to whom I was responding):

“Legally, he is doing fine. Morally, he is as despicable a person who ever lived. And, he does not care.”

Oh, I don’t know, [screen name redacted]. Perhaps I was too hard on Mr. Simpson in my previous comment. Since the tragic deaths of his wife and her friend, Mr. Simpson has made good on his promise to conduct a tireless search for The Real Killer … on every golf course in America.

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A Boy Named Becky

The Saga of a Boy Named Becky

By Ken K. Gourdin

Steven Ray Becky has been charged with several felonies and misdemeanors after purposefully plowing his car into a young girl as she walked her scooter up the side of the street.  For coverage in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here (this and any other links last accessed June 6, 2019):


I can hear the defense attorney’s plaintive sob story to the jury now!  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client was scarred permanently because he was forced to go through life as a boy named Becky!  That’s why he used drugs, ladies and gentlemen of the jury!”  There will be no mention, of course, of any lifelong injuries Mr. Becky’s victim now might have to endure (at least, not by the defense).

According to a witness at the scene, after he purposefully collided with her, Mr. Becky exited his vehicle, walked toward his victim, and said, “We all have to die sometime!”  The “good news,” at least for Mr. Becky, is that, fortunately, he did not kill his victim, and since he was high on LSD and mushrooms at the time, his culpability is reduced: He could not form the requisite criminal intent to be charged with capital aggravated murder if his victim had died.  Otherwise, my response to his callous declaration would have been, “Yes, we do, Mr. Becky, and when the time arrives to carry out your sentence, your time will have come!”  Mr. Becky’s motive?  He said he hit the girl because she’s white.

Commenting first on Mr. Becky’s self-reported motive, then to a commenter who said he expected that Mr. Becky’s treatment by the criminal justice system will be far more lenient than he deserves, I responded:

Mr. Becky said he hit the girl because she’s white? [Ahem] OK. Has Mr. Becky looked in the mirror lately? Such is one’s “logic” when he’s on drugs. If Mr. Becky didn’t hate himself before because he’s white, I’m fairly certain he’ll hate himself, now and henceforth, for what he did to that girl.

drich – Green River UT

“Should get fifty years but he’ll be out in two.”

I don’t think so. Let’s look at the crimes with which Mr. Becky has been charged: Second-degree attempted murder, Second-degree negligent vehicle operation causing injury or death, third-degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and class B misdemeanors possession or use of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, respectively.

Second-degree felonies are punishable by 1-10 years in prison, third-degree felonies are punishable by 0-5 years in prison, and class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail.

If he does the max on both of the second-degree felonies consecutively, that’s 20 years. If I’m a prosecutor, there’s no way I’m offering less than that, and if I’m a judge, there’s no way I’m signing off on any plea bargain that’s less than that.

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Bob Welti and Me

Remembering Bob Welti: We Did Cross Paths, Once

By Ken K. Gourdin

Former longtime weather forecaster at Salt Lake City’s KSL television, Bob Welti, has died.  For coverage of his passing in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, see here (this and any other links last accessed June 5, 2019: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900073878/longtime-ksl-weatherman-bob-welti-dead-at-94.html.  Invoking Mr. Welti’s favored term for thunderstorms, I commented:

I was saddened to hear of Mr. Welti’s passing. Condolences to family, friends, loved ones, and acquaintances. In the next life, what will weather forecasters do? Mr. Welti was (and is) a Renaissance man, and a man for all seasons. With his adaptable talents and charisma, surely, he’ll find something befitting those graces.

Many years ago, I was nominated for (and won) then-Dixie-College’s “Achievement of the Year” award. Mr. Welti was the master of ceremonies, and presented me with the award. It was a highlight of my undergraduate education. What a gentleman. Again, condolences to all, and watch out for those “Thunderbumpers!” ;-D

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