True crime writing is more complicated than it looks. On one hand, it often seems that we at BW have a bottomless pool of "dumb criminal" stories in which to dunk our authorial crullers-and where nobody gets killed (see the article after this one). These stories are our bread and butter, and the only readers who feel justified to pen offended responses to them are members of the criminals' respective families. On the other hand, the truly elite crime yarns-the haute monde of felony fables that sound straight out of the talkies-invariably end with someone getting accidentally, and bizarrely, snuffed out. We ran into this situation earlier this year, when 20-year-old Alexander Swandic of Kamiah put on a flak jacket and asked his buddy, David Hueth, to shoot him in the chest with a 9mm pistol. You can guess how it ended. But is it appropriate to mock death in cases like these, even just a teeny-weeny bit? In the following case, we'll let our readers be the judge.
The scene: a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru in Lewiston, 3 a.m. The characters: Steven Droogs, 29, and Travis Palmer, 19, both of Lewiston, both of whom are suffering from severe hunger pangs and occasional fits of giggling. The pair pull up to the microphone and order 10 hamburgers-which we admit to having done before as well, and which, when the idea arises, is undeniably the funniest decision in the history of human impulse purchasing. However, what separates Droogs from the rest of us with the munchies is the loaded .22-caliber pistol in his pocket. As he fiddles for his money and laughs along with his friend, Droogs accidentally causes the weapon to discharge, shooting Palmer in the head and killing him.
On second thought, that scene is not funny at all. However, we're also loath to call it "murder," the charge that the Nez Perce County prosecutor initially levied against Droogs. Luckily, after nearly a year of arguing, his defense attorney was able last week to sufficiently discredit the "intent to kill" requirement in the county's case, and Droogs admitted to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He could still face up to 25 years in prison when sentenced on November 4.