I grew up around criminals: they were all over the neighborhood. I was the one with a car, so I was the wheels man on a bunch of jobs. It was all juvenile delinquents small time stuff: knocking off a beer truck, a liquor store, a dope dealer, a little break and entry. It’s exciting for a while, but the shit can hit the fan. One day it’s all fun, and the next you’re dodging bullets. Things can go bad real quick. My friends were getting bolder and crazier, and the stakes were going up. For me, it wasn’t worth the risk. I decided to make a change, and get out while I could. It wasn’t that I had any heat coming down on me: it was always my style to lay low, find a place to hunker down and hide. It was just the perfect time to get away. Lots of things happened after than: remedial reading classes, worked hard, quit drinking and using dope, and life turned around. I started to travel and went on the road for a few years. I even lived in Mexico for awhile. My old crew thought I was learning Spanish to start moving dope, but my plan was to get out, and out for good. Despite getting away from them, I still have a criminal nervous system: it makes me always look both ways before I go out; I keep an eye out for suspicious cars; and, if I go into a restaurant, I still sit with my back to the wall so I can see who comes in and where the back door is.
I just can’t shake it. Maybe paranoia is rational.
It was back in ‘87, there had been a shooting at the bus station. It was big news for central Illinois, because nothing ever happens here. As it turns out, a Mexican guy about 23 years old, one Tomas Diaz was facing two counts of murder for the May 14th shooting of Bill Johnson, 29, from Passaic, New Jersey. Police didn’t have a motive. The bus was passing through town en route from Chicago to Laredo, Texas. Within seconds after the bus stopped in Bloomington, passengers heard of a gunshot from the back of the bus. Johnson was fatally wounded and later died in the local hospital.
The passengers were confused. Originally, they had assumed Johnson had shot himself. However, the police quickly determined that it was a homicide because they couldn’t find the weapon near the victim. Diaz was the prime suspect. According to witnesses, Diaz sat right next to Johnson during the bus ride from Chicago, and the two didn’t so much as speak to each other. They had no idea why he would suddenly shoot Johnson. Once Diaz was taken into custody, authorities soon discovered that he also was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of his own father, Alejandro Marquez, whose body was found in his west-side Chicago apartment with gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
Diaz had recently been released from a mental institution in Northern Illinois. A family member told authorities that father and son had been arguing early Thursday about Diaz’s unwillingness to work before the shooting occurred. A ballistics test on the .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun proved that the weapon used to kill Johnson on the bus in Bloomington was the same weapon used to kill Marquez in Chicago. A day later, Chicago police filed a second murder warrant.
During the indictment hearing in Bloomington, Diaz expressed total disbelief. He stood in front of Fourth District Court Judge William O’Malley in a county-issued orange jumpsuit, and the judge informed Diaz that he was facing two counts of murder. If he was found guilty, he was looking at 40 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Through the court-appointed interpreter, Diaz asked the judge what caliber of handgun killed the victim. When the judge responded that it was a .25 caliber, Garcia just shook his head and responded that he didn’t remember anything that happened on the bus and that he felt he wasn’t capable of doing such a thing. The two murder counts varied only slightly: one stated that Diaz was aware that his actions could lead to the death of the victim, and the other charge stated that he should’ve known. The question was which was one was it? The difference adds up to a lot of years.
The court interpreter was in his first year of graduate school, and things are going well. He was enjoying teaching and reading all day. He was in the office grading papers when the phone rang. Someone from the courthouse said that they needed a Spanish-speaking interpreter downtown. He didn’t know anything about the case, but he figured he would pick up a few bucks. When he arrived at the courthouse, he discovered it was serious business. He was going to be the simultaneous interpreter for a guy who was up for double murder, a Mexican immigrant who was living in Chicago. The public defendant told him, “We all know he did it! The question is was he psychotic when he did it?”
The court needed the interpreter to explain to the defendant his basic rights under the Constitution and legal procedures for the next several weeks. The legal system is process, fill in the blanks, apply the rule, and multiple-choice. The court also ordered a psychiatric evaluation. The public defender introduced the interpreter to Diaz, who looked harmless enough, even mousy. He wasn’t what anyone would expect from a double murder. As soon as the authorities at the County Jail discovered that Diaz had been recently released from a mental hospital, they pulled his file. He had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic who suffered from auditory hallucinations. He had quit taking his medication. The court ordered his prescription, and after a couple of days, he looked pretty normal. The interpreter wasn’t afraid of him; he even felt sorry for him. Diaz was short and thin; he had a peach fuzz mustache. The interpreter had known a lot of scary people, and this wasn’t the face of a guy who clipped two people in fewer than three hours. For the next several weeks, the interpreter would be Diaz’s only lifeline; no one else could communicate with him.