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Newsmakers of 1996: Their Own Words



Alderman Ed Smith officially joins the mob of career Democrats hoping to replace retiring Seventh District U.S. representative Cardiss Collins. He disputes rumors that his only purpose is to siphon votes away from other candidates: "I want to make it absolutely clear, so a blind man can see, I'm in. The only way to get me out of the race is to kill me, cut me up in small pieces, and take me out piece by piece."

Brand-new Georgia prison chief Wayne Garner announces he'll put all inmates to work, even if that means digging holes and filling them back in: "We have 60 to 65 percent of our inmate population that truly want to do better . . . but there's another 30 to 35 percent that ain't fit to kill and I'm going to be there to accommodate them."

Garner's plans for his prisoners also include requiring them to walk four miles in an hour each day: "Inmates do not need to lift weights. We're not looking for Mr. and Mrs. America. We're looking for people with strong hearts and great lungs who don't cost so much to keep up."

Illinois death row inmate Guinevere Garcia, who smothered an infant daughter and killed her second husband, has dropped her appeal, explaining that she'd rather die than spend life in prison tortured by memories. Activists, including Bianca Jagger, have persuaded Governor Jim Edgar to grant her clemency anyway. Death penalty advocates wonder if death is the easy way out in this case, while death penalty opponents question whether it's fair to force someone who wants to die to stay alive. But state senate president James "Pate" Philip is uniquely unencumbered by such deep thoughts: "Now we have to pay for this woman to be incarcerated for $30, 000 a year so she can watch cable television and knit."

State schools superintendent Joseph Spagnola announces a drop in boys' scores on the 1995 Illinois Goal Assessment Program reading tests. He blames this on boys' having to read passages about girls: "There was some gender bias involved. The boys lost interest in reading . . . about a girl."

Billy Bailey is a death row prisoner demanding an unappetizing form of execution--hanging--to embarass the state that's preparing to kill him. Bailey is entitled to be hanged, since the Delaware law instituting lethal injection took effect after his conviction. Some fear that the execution will go badly--a stuck trapdoor, a severed head--because experienced hangmen are so hard to come by these days. As his attorney, Edmund D. Lyons, points out: "It's not like you can look under 'H' for hangman."

Yitzhak Rabin assassin Yigal Amir begins defending himself after one of his lawyers resigns and the other, American Jonathan Ray Goldberg, speaks Hebrew so poorly he provokes laughter in court. In cross-examining a police ballistics expert, Amir disputes his account of the sequence of bullets in the murder weapon: "That's not the order I put the bullets in!"

Mark Bechard has stabbed and beaten four nuns--killing two--at a Maine convent where he occasionally attended mass. Police found him standing over his last victim, wielding a statue of the Virgin Mary. But apparently Bechard has his good points. As Don Stratton, a music professor at the University of Maine, tells a reporter: "He was part of one of the few jazz combos that actually made a living in Maine. You can't say that for a lot of people."

Chemical company heir John Du Pont has allegedly shot and killed his longtime friend Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestling champion who coached a wrestling club sponsored by the family business. Friends and family pour out stories of Du Pont's wackiness to reporters. Mike Gostigian, an Olympic athlete who trained at Du Pont's estate, describes Schultz as Du Pont's closest friend: "He was the guy John leaned on for support....But Dave wasn't a yes man. If John said he saw things coming out of the walls, Dave said nothing was coming out of the walls."

Later Gostigian paints an interesting picture of the afterlife: "I hope John gets the help he needs. And I hope when they meet again, he doesn't end up in one of Dave's headlocks."

On his whirlwind tour of dictators and mass murderers in Africa and the Middle East, Louis Farrakhan tries to popularize a new term for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait: "President Saddam Hussein told me not to worry about reconciliation among the brothers in the Arab world because they do get in little squabbles but they always find a way to work it out."

John C. Salvi III is on trial for killing two people and wounding five in a rampage on two Massachusetts abortion clinics. Patient administrator Jane Sauer testifies that Salvi came in, shot her, then yelled at the receptionist: "'This is what you get! You should pray the rosary!'" as he shot her ten times. "Then he turned around and ran like a chicken."

Pat Buchanan, after winning the New Hampshire Republican primary, shouts to the audience at his victory party: "Do not wait for orders from headquarters! Mount up and ride to the sound of the guns!"

Campaigning in Florida after Bob Dole's Junior Tuesday victories, Pat Buchanan shouts to his audience: "We're going to fight until hell freezes over, and then we're going to fight on the ice!"

When police answer a 911 call at the Highwood apartment of Ezequiel Velasquez and Eugenia Sarmiento, they question the couple separately. Sarmiento tells police that Velasquez came home drunk, hit her, and bit off part of her upper lip, and police later observe Velasquez spitting what looks like "a bloody piece of flesh" into the bathroom sink. When they ask Velasquez what happened, he says: "Nothing."

One of the four teenagers who demanded $5 from subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz in 1984 has finally decided to sue Goetz for $50 million. The plaintiff, Darrell Cabey, has been in a wheelchair since the incident and is said to be brain damaged. Goetz's lawyer, Darnay Hoffman, nevertheless intends to call Cabey as a witness: "He has always hidden behind this mystique of being a mental vegetable, which we don't believe."

Seven-year-old pilot Jessica Dubroff lands in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during her attempt to become the youngest pilot to fly across the country. She tells a reporter she only slept two hours the previous night. Her father, who is accompanying her and her flight instructor, says the instructor helped with the landing because of high winds: "We're trying to set a record, but we're not trying to be stupid about it."

Jessica Dubroff crashes and dies while attempting to leave Cheyenne; her father and flight instructor are also killed. En route to picking up her family's remains, Jessica's mother, Lisa Blair Hathaway, counts her blessings: "Clearly I would want all my children to die in a state of joy. I mean, what more could I ask for? I would prefer it was not at age seven, but, God, she went with her joy and her passion, and her life was in her hands."

Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers officially nudge out the Sears Tower as the tallest in the world as judged by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. That's thanks to the Malaysian towers' 242-foot decorative spires, which unlike the Sears's antennae, count as part of the structures. (With its antennae, the Sears is 35 feet taller.) The council's director, Lynn Beedle, explains: "The Sears Tower looks taller when you look at it. But when you look at the criteria, Petronas is taller."

New York radio talk show host Bob Grant, who commonly calls blacks "savages," among other things, is finally fired for intemperate remarks he made about the fatal crash of U.S. commerce secretary Ron Brown's plane earlier in the month. Grant said he thought Brown would be the only survivor:

"I just have that hunch. Maybe it's because at heart I'm a pessimist."

Illinois U.S. attorney James Burns holds another Silver Shovel press conference after Alderman Allan Streeter pleads guilty to accepting a rather pathetic $37,000 in bribes over two and a half years to pay for his cell-phone service and Lincoln Town Car lease. Burns says he is especially disgusted by one taped conversation between Streeter and an informant: "Rules are made to be broken," said the informant. Streeter added, "As are laws."

A civil court judge has already found Dean Olds and his former boyfriend, Helmut Carsten Hofer, responsible for the 1993 murder of Olds's wife, Suzanne, and barred Olds from inheriting her estate. Now a Cook County circuit judge completes the divorce proceedings Suzanne Olds started when alive, giving Olds only his clothes and a 1989 Ford Taurus and ordering him out of their Wilmette house within two weeks. When the judge approves videotaping the Olds home to make sure Olds doesn't take anything else with him, Olds snaps: "I think it's rather premature to intrude on my home. Can we set a time limit on it for the sake of my nerves?"

Olds, having bought several bottles of flame accelerant at a local hardware store, has been ordered evicted immediately. He stages a bizarre standoff for about a day, appearing occasionally in his living room window in his underwear carrying a rifle. When Olds finally packs up the Taurus and heads down the driveway, he dispenses some advice to the mob of reporters trying to shove microphones into the driver's-side window: "Don't get run over, you might hurt the tires."

Olds tries shaking the media--including a Channel Two News helicopter--by driving around the northern suburbs. At one point he goes to the Wilmette police station to see about charging the press with harassing him. Reporters continue throwing him questions, though. "Are you going to be OK?" asks one. Olds, whose three children's lawsuit has stripped him of his cash and house, replies: "Ask my children. Ask the three darlings."

After south-side resident Gregory Clepper is arrested for murdering eight women over the last five years, a neighbor describes him for reporters: "He was a crackhead but a nice boy."

Convicted contract murderer Michael Permanian testifies at his sentencing hearing that he shouldn't get the death penalty because, in his short career as a Chicago firefighter, he used CPR on a few people and carried others out of burning buildings. (Joseph Rinaldi hired Permanian and another palooka to kill his wife, Dana, in 1988; Permanian had been Rinaldi's best man.) Permanian's close friend, Chicago firefighter James Zakrezewski, testifies apparently without irony that Permanian's reputation in the department was such that "you knew your back was safe when you were in a room with Mike."

The National Geographic Society is drawing long lines in Washington with its display of a 500-year-old mummy of a sacrificed teenage Inca girl that was found remarkably well preserved at the summit of a Peruvian volcano. At a Democratic Party fund-raiser Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut quips:

"In high school, she dated Bob Dole."

To which President Clinton responds, when it comes his turn to speak at the fund-raiser: "I don't know if you've seen that mummy. But, you know, if I were a single man, I might ask that mummy out. That's a good-looking mummy."

As legislation makes its way through Illinois government to officially ban prisoners from using blankets or sheets to cover their cell doors, death row inmates at Pontiac prison stage a hunger strike that lasts for one meal. They pass up cornflakes and French toast for breakfast. Prisons spokesman Nic Howell explains why the protest started: "The sun got in their eyes."

The Freemen, having finally surrendered to the FBI, make their first appearance in court in Billings, Montana. A federal magistrate asks member Rodney Skurdal his name to be sure he has the right person before him. Skurdal replies: "I object to your calling me a person, your honor."

On the eve of his sentencing, parent killer Erik Menendez tries spiffing up his image by advising abused children not to murder their moms and dads. He displays a gift for understatement: "What I did was completely wrong."

On the eve of his sentencing, two-time child killer Timothy Buss tries spiffing up his image by having a former baby-sitter testify that 20 years ago Buss called her "mom." The baby-sitter also says she and her husband let Buss--who is in this mess because he stabbed ten-year-old Christopher Meyer 52 times and buried his body in Kankakee River State Park--live with them while on parole for killing five-year-old Tara Sue Huffman of Bradley. She says "No one was scared of him."

Wauconda police chief Andrew Mayer is arrested in suburban Richmond for drunk driving and refuses a breath test. Richmond police chief Charles Weidner tells reporters that Mayer was found in the St. Joseph's Catholic Church parking lot, his car sprawled across three spaces: "The driver's side door was open and Mayer had one hand on the ground and one hand on the steering wheel. The headlights were on and the car's motor was running."

Roman Regman is arrested at Tampa International Airport because his luggage includes two live hand grenades with timers, a nine-millimeter Beretta pistol and 100 rounds of .22-caliber ammunition, and five more explosives. He also has a ski mask and black gloves. The 21-year-old Romanian immigrant is on his way back to a Pennsylvania seminary after spending the summer with his mother in Florida. His mom insists her son "wouldn't hurt a fly," but a neighbor says Regman liked to dress like a soldier, adding, "I couldn't imagine why anyone would be wearing black leather gloves all the time, especially in Florida."

An approaching visit from Pope John Paul II rouses a surprising amount of hostility from the French, including a homemade bomb found in a church on the pope's itinerary. Scrawled on a nearby wall is this inscription, in a combination of Latin and French: "In the name of the pope, boom."

Dominican Republic-born Denny Mendez, 18, is crowned Miss Italy, but only after one pageant judge is kicked out for saying that Mendez doesn't belong in the contest. The pageant's official award presenter, Alba Parietti, agrees:

"A black girl can't be Miss Italy. It's not in the rules. Just like Miss Italy can't be German, a Russian, a Chinese, or a Japanese girl."

It turns out that a lot of big Illinois medical groups use lobbyists in Springfield who work for the tobacco industry too. The Sun-Times calls Sacred Heart Hospital CEO Edward Novak to ask why his hospital relies on former state representative Al Ronan, who is also employed by Philip Morris. Novak replies: "As long as he is doing his job and not representing serial rapists and child abusers--and [tobacco] is a legal product--I don't see a problem."

Dr. Jack Kevorkian is linked to the August death of a multiple sclerosis patient whose death had previously been ruled natural when a videotape emerges of Kevorkian telling the patient how to make it appear that way. Kevorkian lawyer Geoffrey Fieger says he knows nothing about this particular case, but that if it were up to him, he'd "tell all the families and friends of the patients to tell the police they went to Disneyland and fell off the mouse ride."

Richard Petty, the retired race-car driver running as the Republican candidate for secretary of state in North Carolina, pleads guilty to tailgating on Interstate 85. Petty, who bumped a Mazda with his pickup truck while going about 70, nevertheless insists that the Mazda driver caused the accident by putting on his brakes. He tells a local TV station:

"Now if it had been a NASCAR showdown, he would have been over in the ditch somewhere."

The Virginia Military Institute's governing board votes to admit women three months after the U.S. Supreme Court told it to. (While, they're at it, VMI officials also decide not to change any requirements for women, including crewcuts, because it would be "demeaning" to women.) Some VMI alumni are seen shedding tears; senior David Zirkle tells a reporter: "We were burned during the Civil War and shelled by the Union. We'll endure this, too."

Marshall High School principal Steve Newton is caught with his pants down when Chicago School Board officials stop work on a $14,000 private bathroom for his office. Newton claims he needs the bathroom because he works late at night and doesn't feel safe using the one across the hall: "If someone breaks in here, I can jump out the window. If they break in the bathroom [across the hall], I can only jump in the courtyard."

Newton says he heard other faculty members criticizing him one day as he used the common washroom. He describes how he handled the situation: "I sat there and raised up my feet for a half hour so they would not know I was there. I didn't want to embarrass them."

Palatine business executive Neal Allen, on trial for stabbing his boss 45 times and slitting his throat in 1994 (he was later acquitted on grounds of self-defense), asks to be excused from court during descriptions of the crime scene because he's afraid of blood. During a recess, he explains his position to reporters: "It's like throwing someone with arachnophobia into a pit of spiders."

The student-government president of the State University of New York at Binghamton, 37-year-old ex-army ranger Anthony Benardello, has whipped up a froth of tense race relations with his controversial stances on such things as affirmative action. In a campus-paper opinion column, Benardello calls for firing liberal professors, adding: "If anyone wants to send me death threats, remember this: I still have my Second Amendment rights. When I was a sniper in Special Forces, we had a saying, 'Don't run, you'll only die tired.'"

Texaco executives secretly recorded by a colleague during a meeting at which they allegedly discussed how to destroy documents in a federal discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 1,500 minority employees are exposed in newspapers around the country. Treasurer Robert Ulrich is quoted as saying:

"I'm still having trouble with Hanukkah. Now we have Kwanza. These [expletive deleted] niggers, they [expletive deleted] all over us with this [lawsuit]."

Texaco has disavowed its potty-mouthed executives and hired an expensive investigator to enhance the tapes and transcribe them again. In the new version, which even Texaco CEO Peter Bijur admits isn't much better, Ulrich says: "I'm still struggling with Hanukkah, and now we have Kwanza. I mean, I lost Christmas. Poor Saint Nicholas, they [expletive deleted] all over his beard."

A Downers Grove home explodes, killing owner Kim Bowen and her son and critically injuring the son's fiancee. Next-door neighbor Sandy Meacham, whose house will have to be demolished, sees the glass as half full: "I guess we don't have to worry about painting next year."

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