“He Was a Real Sonofabitch”
“I finally shot the sonofabitch,” a Ms. Haith informed the dispatch operator of the sheriff’s office that day. Dispatch got on the radio to direct Sheriff Dan Anderson to the Haith home. The sonofabitch, in question, happened to be the caller’s husband Mr. Haith.
“Even though I knew the residents of the Haith home after all of the calls the two of them made,” Sheriff Dan Anderson said, “I knew enough to know that you never know how such scenes might play out. So, I drove onto this woman’s estate prepared for anything. When I saw the wife sitting on her porch in a porch swing, I couldn’t see anything that would cause greater suspicion on the scene, so I exited the patrol car.
“We received a call of an incident,” Dan called out to Ms. Haith from the outskirts of her property. “Do you mind if I enter your property?”
“That’s fine,” she said. “The rifle is over there, in the corner of the porch.”
Sheriff Anderson said, “I entered the woman’s property, walked onto the porch and secured the rifle. I determined that the rifle had been recently fired.”
“My husband’s body is in the living room,” Ms. Haith said, mentioning her husband by name.
“I secured the body,” Dan said, “and I left the house to discuss the matter further with the wife.
“She informed me that her husband was violently abusive, which I already knew, and that he had been throughout the course of their long marriage. She said that she decided that she wasn’t going to put up with the abuse anymore, and she said that she decided to end it.”
“The wife stood without further incident, and we handcuffed her. We then placed her in a jail cell, and we went back to the scene of the crime to examine the evidence for the case. With all of the preliminary evidence, some might consider collecting further evidence unnecessary in such a case. The wife signed a full confession after all. She provided a minute-by-minute recounting of all that had taken place that day, and she provided us a full backdrop for her motivation for doing what she did. The wife was very forthcoming, in other words, saying that she’d rather spend the rest of her life in jail than put up with another day enduring her husband’s abusive ways. Even though the evidence we had, prior to returning to the scene, was largely preliminary, I considered it my duty as a lawman to go back to the scene, no matter how open and shut I thought it was, to do my due diligence on the matter and collect every piece of evidence available.
“We determined that the rifle that had been sitting on the porch, was the rifle used in the incident,” he said. “We determined that it was her fingerprints on the gun. The husband’s fingerprints were on the gun too, but the nature of the wound suggested to us that it was not self-inflicted. All of the evidence we found, and gathered at the scene, suggested that the idea that anyone but the wife was the alleged shooter were remote.
“As her arresting officer, I was called upon to sit in on the trial of her case. I was there to offer my testimony, if necessary, and any other character assessments of the wife and husband I might be called upon to make, should that be necessary. Again, I didn’t think any of this would be necessary, for we had a full confession, and such an overwhelming amount of evidence that I didn’t think this would be anything less than an open and shut case.
“Before the trial begins, the wife’s defense lawyer asked the judge for a sidebar,” Dan said. “The judge agreed to this, and he invited the state’s lawyer, and me, to attend this sidebar.
“Before we begin your honor,” the defense’s lawyer says. “The defense would like to submit into evidence the idea that the accused had every reason to shoot her husband, because he was a real sonofabitch.”
“To this point in my career,” Dan said. “I attended hundreds of court cases. I’ve witnessed such a wide variety of claims of innocence that it would take months to document them. I’ve witnessed defense attorneys make insanity claims and temporary insanity claims. I thought I’d heard everything, in other words, but this defense was a new, and almost laughable, one to me.
“That was the beginning and the end of the defense lawyer’s submission to the judge, and the only reason he asked for the side bar, and the judge turned to the state’s attorney, and me, to ask us if we had anything to add. We both said no, the judge ended the sidebar, and he ordered us back to our seat.
“I walked back to my seat and I did laugh a little. I snickered at what I considered defense so laughable that I wondered if the judge would declare a mistrial on the basis that the lawyer for the defense was incompetent, and that the wife would need a new lawyer.
“The defense has submitted the idea that the victim in this case of murder against the accused, was a real sonofabitch,” the judge stated. “Well, I knew accused’s husband, and he was a real sonofabitch. Case dismissed.”
“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” Dan said. “As I said, I’ve worked so many cases, and sat in on so many trials that swung in a direction contrary to the evidence that I compiled, that I thought I was above being shocked at what can happen in a courtroom. This was beyond anything I ever witnessed. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.
“After the trial, I thought about the husband, and I thought that even if the man was a real sonofabitch, he didn’t deserve to die for it. If this man physically assaulted his wife, he deserved jail time. If the wife feared that the abuse was escalating, and she feared for her life, I could see the judge being more lenient, or even dismissing the case based on the nature of that abuse. I could even see the courts dismissing a case against the wife if she physically assaulted the husband, and the court judged her assault to be retribution for the years of abuse. The idea that a judge could dismiss a murder on that basis that a man was deemed a disagreeable person, was unprecedented to my experience in such matters. I was a lawman who believed in the justice system, and I had had that belief tested throughout the years, but this dismissal shook my beliefs system to its core.
“I also thought about the man hours law enforcement officials put in to collecting evidence for a case. I thought about how what I believed to be either a corrupt, or incompetent, judge can undermine those efforts and our beliefs in a fair and blind justice system in such a manner that it makes one question everything they do in the aftermath. I didn’t let it affect how I conducted myself on the job, going forward. You can only control what you can control, I thought, but one cannot involve themselves in such a bizarre case without being affected by it.”
*This story was used with permission.
Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff I: “I Want to Kill Someone!”
The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II: “Is He Dead?”