The tall man, clearly the leader of the two, ordered the half-frozen victims to get on their knees. He then sauntered around to the front of the victims while the short man remained behind them. The tall man said, “I’m going to take the socks out of your nasty-assed mouths in a second. But if either of you screams or hollers, I’ll shoot you both between those little beady eyes of yours. So you gotta depend on each other, you got it?”
He then extracted the socks from Bronson’s and Traborn’s mouths. Both remained mute, except for the chattering of their teeth. The tall man then asked Bronson in his deep baritone voice, “Can you tell me why you’re a double-crosser?”
Bronson replied, “Please have mercy on me. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The tall man was holding his 9mm Smith & Wesson, as opposed to the 9mm Glock of his comrade. He then dispatched a vicious blow across her face with the pistol. “Shut up, bitch. I’m through with you.”
The man then queried Traborn. “How about you there, infamous Cut Throat? You want to tell me why you’re a double-crosser?”
Traborn, normally “much of a man,” as they said in these parts, was by then weeping and begging. “Oh, my God, please. I’m just a low man on the chain, dude. I just do what de boss say, man. And I sho as hell ain’t no double-crosser.”
The tall man bent down, facing Traborn and staring piercingly at him with moonlit eyes. “You speak with a forked tongue, little redneck. That’s not the way I hear it.” Just as he had with Bronson, he swung the full weight of the Smith & Wesson, catching the side of Traborn’s face.
Wanting to further mentally torture Bronson and Traborn and give them false hope, the tall man addressed both victims. “I follow orders, too. If it were up to me, I’d kill both of you lying bastards right here, right now. But it’s not up to me. We’re going to leave you here to fend for yourselves. Who knows? You might even figure out a way to free each other and flag down somebody in a couple of hours—assuming you survive the cold. I personally don’t give a shit whether you make it or not. If you do make it out of here, you better make up one hell of a story about how you got here. You got it?”
Both victims quickly agreed to the hollow request.
The leader demanded of his short servant, “Jerk ’em back so they’re kneeling upright to show us some respect.”
The shorter servant promptly heeded the command.
The leader then gave his final command to the two victims, who remained ungagged: “You remain just like this until you can’t hear the boat no more. Then, plot your escape strategy, you double-crossing pieces of shit.”
The leader then strode behind Bronson and Traborn in their kneeling positions on the ice. He looked at his comrade and nodded. The two men, who had purchased silencers from a not-so-reputable gun dealer a few days earlier, secured them on their pistols. Based on the silent one-two-three finger count of the leader, the men simultaneously fired shots into the backs of the heads of Bronson and Traborn. Brain matter and blood saturated the reeds, and both victims toppled forward into the reeds and ice-covered water of Reelfoot Lake’s Willow Bar. As if the sight of the bullet-pierced heads of the victims was not enough to convince the killers of immediate death, each man placed another security bullet into the head of each victim.
“Dey gone,” said the faithful servant.
“Reckon they got the message,” the leader wryly commented.
. . .
The perfect crime, the tall man thought on the wintery morning. They had done exactly what they had been told to do, including the torture and execution somewhere on Reelfoot Lake. He had picked the perfect spot. He had little doubt the money would be paid as promised. What a hell of a way to make money, he mused.
. . .
District Attorney Dotson blitzed into the conference room with an angered look. “What in the hell was that about, Mr. Baskin? Didn’t your lawyer here tell you what was going to happen to you?”
Defense attorney Branky interrupted, “Jerry, I don’t really know what to tell you. I have continually told Big Sam that he had to truthfully testify.”
Dotson retorted, “So don’t you think you two guys need to have a little powwow? Get the story straight and go back and tell the jury the truth?”
Big Sam then countered in a booming voice, “Look here, ya little son uf a bitch, ya best shut yore liddle pie hole afore I somehow figur’ out how to git out uf dese animal chains. Git me outta here, Lee, afore I do sumpin to this no-good bastard that I’ll regret. As for you, Big Shit Prosecutor, I ain’t changin’ nuttin’ and ain’t testifying agin. You can’t prove I lied.”
Big Sam hopped to the door and banged on it with his cuffed hands. A deputy escorted him back to the jail. Dotson angrily shook his head at Branky and went back in the courtroom.
. . . .
When the jury cleared the courtroom, Willis apologized to the court for my behavior and assured the judge it would not happen again. I didn’t really give a shit at that point. I wasn’t ashamed of a damn thing.
Judge Gordon then glared at me and said, “Mr. Baskin, this trial is not over. The jury will determine tomorrow whether you will or will not be sentenced to death. Your outbursts will anger the jury, are contrary to your best interests, and will not be tolerated by the court. Should you do that again, you will be immediately removed from the courtroom. You will not be able to be present during the remainder of the trial except to give testimony. Do I make myself clear to you, sir?”
I could not have cared less. I stared at the judge. I wasn’t scared of him or anybody else. “I got it, Big Judge. But this is a farce. But I’ll let you and this so-called jury of my peers do to me whatever they want. I can always appeal, you know.”
. . .
The beginning of the penalty phase of a capital trial is unlike any other trial experience. Judge Gordon often described the atmosphere as being able to “cut the air with a knife.” Everybody involved knew the life of a human being was on the line. Would twelve ordinary people—not trained in the law and randomly selected from the community—unanimously determine that a man should be put to death for his crimes?
. . . .
The sincerity of the remarks of this once-unredeemable hunting guide with a plethora of past criminal behavior permeated the courtroom. People had come to the courtroom to see a vile, violent, viperous, vindictive reprobate and had observed someone entirely different. I had sensed it also, and I had heard scores of insincere utterances from defendants in this very courtroom.
There was just something about Todd Baskin’s inner peace. Maybe he is one of the few who has indeed found religion in our penal system, I thought.
. . . .
Three days after the press conference, DA Dotson, PD Willis, Branky, and retired Judge Gordon appeared live on the morning show of one of the major national networks in New York. Although Judge Gordon could have politely refused, he chose not to do so. He, like many lawyers, had a big ego; he was not, however, appearing for the sake of publicity. Rather, he had something to disclose and a rare platform from which to disclose it.
. . . .
Gordon immediately reminded the interviewer, “Well, I’m not a ‘Your Honor’ any more, although I appreciate the courtesy.” Then much to the surprise of the national audience, he expressed what had never been heard from a current—or former—criminal court judge on national television: “I have sentenced people to death . . . . ; they are currently on death row. So I have given great thought to the ramifications of what I am about to tell you, Christine.
Also available at fine