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Thursday, June 05, 2008
Child OK after four-story fall
By Daniel Silliman
A 2-year-old fell about 35 feet from an apartment window, but wasn’t hurt.
“I think God was there holding his hand,” said Carolina Sena, a friend speaking for the boy’s family, “because it was a miracle.”
The boy, Elias, and his 4-year-old sister were reportedly playing in the back bedroom of a fourth-floor apartment, at 3130 Summer Court, on Sunday afternoon. The children’s parents were in the Jonesboro home, according to the Clayton County Police report, and were told by their daughter that the 2-year-old had fallen out of the window.
According to the little girl, she had opened the bedroom window and her brother pushed on the screen, which popped out.
The boy fell out after the screen, tumbling down from the window and landing in a bush.
An ambulance was called at about 12:55 p.m. Paramedics found the 2-year-old with no apparent injuries, but flew him to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, to be safe.
Doctors released him Monday.
On Monday afternoon, Elias was back with his parents, playing happily in the apartment. He had no broken bones and only a few scratches to show for the fall, Sena said.
When his father picked him up, out of the bush, he wasn’t even crying, according to the family.
“He didn’t cry,” Sena said. “He was asking, ‘Mommy! Mommy!’ He was fine. He never lost consciousness. The doctors, they can’t believe it.”
Clayton County Deputy Police Chief Greg Porter said he couldn’t believe it either.
The incident was ruled “just a freak accident,” Porter said, and the parents are not facing charges.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Special Report: Inside the Clayton County District Attorney's Office
Backlog of pending cases clogs up justice systemBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Oct. 29, 2007
Kenneth Jerome Alexander has been under investigation on child molestation charges for more than three years -- technically.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation finished investigating the 45-year-old former police officer in 2004. Warrants were applied for and received, the preliminary case was presented to a magistrate judge and accepted, and the case was sent to the Clayton County District Attorney's office in March of that year.
But it hasn't moved since then.
More than three years later, the file is still there. The district attorney's office has not dismissed the charges against Alexander, and it hasn't brought them to a grand jury for indictment.
According to the GBI, the case is considered "under open investigation" until the district attorney moves on it.
District Attorney Jewel Scott said the case is "peculiar," but, according to records obtained by the Clayton News Daily, Alexander's case is not all that unusual. It is one of more than 750.
Those cases, including aggravated assault, child molestation, drug possession and rape, have apparently languished in the district attorney's office for at least a year. Some for as long as seven years.
The records show pending cases dating back to 2000, when Bob Keller was re-elected to the district attorney's office.
Seven cases have been in the district attorney's office since then. There are eight more that have been waiting to be indicted or dismissed since 2001. The number of cases waiting for action has increased dramatically since 2005, when Scott took office.
There are more than 200 pending cases which were first brought to the office in 2005, and more than 450, open and unindicted, cases between Jan. 1 and the end of September 2006.
"You've got cases that are sitting there too long," said Leon Hicks, a veteran defense lawyer with an office in Jonesboro. "I've got cases where nothing's been done for six months, eight months, 10 months, a year, and I ask, 'Where's this at?' 'Well, it hasn't been indicted yet.' Either do it or don't, but do something, that's my attitude."
There are no records now available that show the backlog of unindicted cases when Bob Keller was district attorney. Even so, Hicks and attorney, Joe Roberto, both believe the situation got worse under Scott.
Reality or misconception?
Senior Assistant District Attorney Todd Naugle, however, said that's a misperception. Naugle was a senior assistant district attorney in Keller's administration and has continued in that role with Scott, since she beat Keller in the 2004 election. He said the case backlog isn't a new problem.
"That number has probably been consistent for years," he said. "The victims move and you can't find them. You wait for reports from the police department. There's a backlog at the crime lab ... There's always been a backlog of cases."
The two long-time lawyers, however, say there was a significant change in 2005, when Scott took office. Cases that used to move quickly now languish in limbo for years, they said, and each assistant district attorney has stacks of pending cases which have been "left on the floor."
"You can ask anybody who was there for that regime and this one -- it's taking longer," Hicks said. "If you've got a backlog of cases that haven't been indicted, there has to be a reason."
Roberto said Scott, who had no courtroom experience when she was elected the county's top prosecutor, had a "disastrous" learning curve. He attributes the growing backlog to a number of staffing decisions and management-structure changes.
"It used to be that the number-one and number-two people in the district attorney's office attended the probable cause hearings," Roberto said. "So they knew what was coming into the office. I could walk up to [Bob Keller] and say, 'Hey Bob, I've got such and such a case, what do you think about a bond?' He would deal with it on the front end, instead of letting it go on forever."
Hicks agreed, saying defense attorneys used to call assistant district attorneys and work out deals over the phone. Today, he said, if he approaches a prosecutor, he or she declines to negotiate, deferring to superiors.
Under Scott, Roberto said, the assistant district attorneys, who attend the probable cause hearings at the front-end of the court process, don't have the authority to negotiate plea deals and bonds. Everything has to be checked and approved by Scott, or one of the top two assistants.
Because cases can't be dealt with quickly, he said, they go through a series of hearings and calendar assignments, with paperwork accumulating and the system falling even further behind.
There have been no policy changes, however, in the authority given to the assistant prosecutors, Naugle said, and he argues that the procedures haven't changed, either.
"I'm the one who was calling the shots before, and I'm still doing it the same way," Naugle said. "I do the same thing. I haven't changed how I go about giving them authority and autonomy with the cases. There may be a perception of that, but I don't see the reality."
Smaller cases gunk up the works
Both Roberto and Hicks said the district attorney's office, under Scott, has not successfully separated the smaller, more negotiable cases from the larger ones, which require major investigation and attention. Cases that could be dealt with in a few minutes of negotiation, they said, are among those that have remained unindicted for years.
Court records show unindicted, yet undismissed cases involving driving with a suspended license, loitering, and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana while driving.
"The way you clean your desk off," Hicks said, "is you take the cases that are easy and quick, and you take care of them. You get rid of all the chaff and then you have that wheat."
Naugle maintains the backlog isn't made up of the "smaller cases." A smaller case that is difficult to prosecute -- such as a criminal trespassing charge, in which the business making the accusation no longer exists, leaving no witnesses to the alleged crime -- can be dismissed.
It's the bigger cases, the more serious ones, which can't be dismissed even years after the incident. Though some of the cases coming into the district attorney's office are difficult to prosecute, and may take years to investigate and bring to trial, the office can't dismiss them, because the charges are too serious, Naugle said.
"If it's a murder or an armed robbery, and there's a witness who has disappeared, we're not going to close that case," the senior prosecutor said. "The citizens of Clayton County are entitled to have these cases prosecuted. Even though the cases are old and witnesses may be hard to find, the citizens are entitled to have them prosecuted."
Though the office is dealing with the cases in the same way it always has, according to Naugle, he does admit that it has gotten harder. He also admits that prosecutions are more likely to be delayed than they used to be. Naugle and Scott blame that on societal changes.
"The major difference," Naugle said, "is that, in 2004, the crime rate started taking off. We were dealing with about 7,000 warrants around that time. Now, we do 10,000 a year."
It is not simply an increase in cases that is clogging the wheels of justice, though, according to the district attorney's office. More and more cases involve victims and witnesses who are transient. Many of the pending cases are on hold because investigators are trying to find the witnesses or the victims, who have moved since the crime occurred.
"It has become increasingly difficult for us to track our victims, because we have such a transient population," Scott said.
Some suggest that tracking victims becomes even more difficult the longer the case is delayed. The longer it takes to bring a case to trial, they say, the harder it will be to successfully prosecute it. Victims and witnesses, for example, often lose confidence that prosecutors are actually going to do anything, and move on with their lives.
Memory fades, testimony changes
"When you have something that's four year's old, people's recollections change," Hicks said. "People remember it differently. Their perspectives change. Witnesses move away. Witnesses die."
Even Naugle said cases are significantly harder to prosecute after about a year, or a year and a half.
Whatever the explanation for the hundreds of unindicted cases, the practical results are a clogged-up prosecution process and a large number of people, who are unable to argue their cases, so they can get closure.
"It overly taxes the [district attorney's] staff," Roberto said. "They've got a bunch of status reports and a whole bunch of calendar hearings that shouldn't be there ... You've also got a lot of little guys with these indictments pending forever. They've got clouds over their heads. The indictments could come down at anytime."
Hicks said defendants, facing the possibility of an indictment, can't do anything but wait. They can't petition for a speedy trial, because they have not been officially charged, and are only under perpetual "ongoing investigation."
Defense attorneys can pester prosecutors to do something with a case, but that's the extent of their recourse. Whatever plans a defendant makes, he has to take the ever-pending indictment into consideration.
Kenneth Alexander's livelihood, like that of the others with pending cases, could face daunting challenges because of his situation. He can not work as a police officer for as long as the case is pending. Even though it isn't ready to go to trial, he is still under suspicion.
Although, under our legal system, he is innocent until proven guilty, even a cursory background check would raise legitimate questions for anyone interested in hiring the 45-year-old former cop.
At the same time, the two teens, who accused him of molesting them, are now nearing their 18th birthdays. They have spent the majority of their high school years knowing that Alexander is a free man, and, perhaps, wondering if he would ever be prosecuted.
When asked about a potential indictment of Alexander, all Scott can promise is that it will happen "some time soon."
Though her office disputes the cause of the backlog, Scott has argued that the solution involves more funding. She has annually appealed for more money from the Clayton County Commission. Currently, according to information from the county, the district attorney's office -- with the departmental goal stated as, "Prosecute all defendants in a timely manner while keeping budgetary costs at a minimum" -- has 62 positions and a budget of about $3 million.
"We need more, but we appreciate the county's limited resources," Naugle said. "Our staff has not increased proportionally [to the growth in the crime rate], to do what we need to do to keep up."
Scott has lobbied Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell for increased funding to pay for additional investigators and prosecutors. Bell, however, has said a budget increase would require a tax hike, and he said he will not raise taxes to give the district attorney's office more money.
Bell said he believes Scott has a record of mismanaging money and staff, which he said is made clear by the number of undismissed and unindicted cases.
Action being taken
Naugle said the office has already made changes, though, in response to the more than 750 pending cases, and he believes those adjustments will reduce that number in the future.
The office has designated some of its investigators as a "cold case unit." Currently working on the more than 450 cases from 2006, those investigators review each case, determining why it wasn't worked when it came into the office and attempting to move forward on it.
The office also recently added a case-evaluation system, in which a senior investigator categorizes the difficulty in prosecuting a case as the file comes into the office, Naugle said.
Though critical of the district attorney, Roberto also thinks that things are getting better in the prosecutor's office. He said he believes the office has made the necessary changes to staff and procedures, and Scott has passed through the learning curve.
Roberto said he would support Scott, in her upcoming race for a second term, because, he said, she has grown into the position.
"She's got a pretty good house now, but that painful period of learning on the job, and staffing mistakes, just kind of gunked up the system," he said. "She's running a pretty tight ship, but she's still bailing water."
Family struggles with knowledge of murderBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Nov. 26, 2007
The solar-powered cross is supposed to light up over the grave, at night. But it doesn't.
Donald Ray Skinner's grave is shadowed, all day, and the small solar panel doesn't get the sunlight needed to light the cross. The dead man's mother and sister visit him every day, and they move the cross to a lighted patch of yard, and return again, in the evening, to replace the grave ornament for the night.
The two women visit the grave every day, and every day Donald Skinner's mother cries, sobbing like a child.
"That was her only son," said Robin McPherson, Donald Skinner's sister. "He was like the pick of the litter. I'm his baby sister, and me and him look alike, and I used to be his sidekick when I was little. He's just really going to be missed."
There is a stone bench over Donald Skinner's grave in Douglasville. There is a picture of a tractor trailer on one side, and a picture of a man fishing on the other, because those are things he loved.
It says "In Loving Memory," on the bench and it has his nicknames inscribed: "Bubba," and "Donnie Ray Skinner." It doesn't have his real, full name. His mother, Carol C. Skinner, is trying to get that changed. It's hard, though, because the burial arrangements are legally controlled by Donald Skinner's wife, who is in jail on charges she conspired to murder him.
His widow, 51-year-old Carolyn Allene Skinner, wanted her husband's life insurance money and convinced a police officer to murder him, according to Clayton County police and prosecutors. The investigators say she asked a relative to help her kill her husband about eight years ago. The relative said, no, but Allene Skinner allegedly began an affair with a Atlanta State Farmer's Market Police Officer in 2006, and convinced him to ambush her husband, chase him across the parking lot of a truck depot and shoot him four times.
The officer, 49-year-old Charles Alan Smith, confessed to killing Donald Skinner, who was 49 when he died. He said he waited for Donald Skinner to drive the refrigerated semi truck into Cool Cargo Inc., on June 9, and shot him with a .40-caliber police pistol.
Smith told police he did it because he loved Skinner's wife, Allene. He said she told him a fantastical story about how she was an undercover government agent, and her husband was going to get her killed. He said he did it because she asked him to.
Allene Skinner was driving the police officer's truck, the days following the killing, and almost immediately applied for his life insurance benefits, according to Clayton County detectives.
Donald Skinner was shot four times, at the Forest Park trucking depot, in the early morning hours: once in the thigh, once in the left hand, once in the side, the bullet fatally piercing his liver, and once in his eye. Investigators found high-quality bullet shell casings, scattered at the scene, and connected them to the police officer's gun.
On June 9, a trail of Donald Skinner's blood zig-zagged across the parking lot, and the veteran detective said he could picture the 49-year-old truck driver's last, futile efforts, running back and forth before he died.
Carol Skinner and Robin McPherson went to the murder scene. They stood there, in the parking lot. Just looking at the place where the man they knew as son and brother died.
They imagined that his ankle, injured in an accident when he was 19 or 20, was stiff after the long drive, and it was probably hard for him to walk. They wondered why he left his two pistols in the cab of the truck, tucked in a black bag. He carried the guns for fear of robbery, they knew, and they wondered why he hadn't been robbed. They tried to picture their loved one's last moments.
"He was pushing away on his elbows, when he died," Carol Skinner said. "My son did not know who that man was. He had no idea who that man was, who was killing him. I know my son was looking up at that police man, when he shot him. That's the question I want to ask that man, 'Was my son looking at you when you shot him?'"
McPherson is a former crime scene investigator, so she had visited crime scenes before and knew how to look at the left-behind details and picture the violence happening. This time, though, it was her brother.
"I kind of know what my brother went through," McPherson said, and that's all she will say about it.
The two women are still, sometimes, shocked by the story of Donald Skinner's death. Other times, it seems like maybe they knew, all along, like maybe they saw it happening and just didn't understand it until now.
The last time she saw her son, Carol Skinner followed him outside, she said, urged by something unseen, to tell him she loved him one more time.
He went to his mom's house, in Douglasville, down the street from the graveyard where he's now buried in blue work clothes, before he left on his last truck drive. He ate dinner. He picked up a videotape of the most recent "Survivor," so he could watch it in his cab. When he left with Allene Skinner, Carol Skinner followed him outside and she said, "I love you, baby. Be careful."
He said, "I love you too, Mama."
"He was dead the next Saturday," Carol Skinner said.
It seems, the women said, like God had worked everything out before hand. Donald Skinner spent last Christmas with his mom, for the first time in a long time, and ate his favorite holiday meal, chicken and dumplings. The Wednesday before he was murdered, he attended a bible study. He was asked if Jesus was his Lord and Savior and he said, according to the people who were there, "Oh yeah," reassuring his mother that his soul was in the right place, when he died.
There were other signs of the impending murder, too. Sinister signs. Looking back, it's hard for the women to know if they recognized them.
McPherson recalls that Allene Skinner was driving the police officer's red pickup truck, when she told the family that Donald Ray had been killed. "The minute she told me," McPherson said, "I just dropped to the ground. After they picked me up off of the ground, it just come out of my mouth: 'That [nasty woman] killed my brother. That just came out of my mouth."
Skinner's mother said the family seemed to immediately sense his wife was behind the murder.
"I knew she told lies," Carol Skinner said. "I knew she had done things, conned people and all ... She was a con artist from way back. She was manipulative. She spent all his money. He told that truck driver that rode with him that she just spent too much money for him."
Allene Skinner has remained silent on the charges against her. Her lawyer cannot be reached, though he has been called repeatedly for comment.
Finances had always been a strain, on the Skinners' relationship, McPherson said, and had finally led to the couple's estrangement.
"Daddy said, 'Son, you ain't never going to have nothing as long as you're with that woman.' But he took her back, because he felt sorry for her," McPherson said.
The two women know now, that they had reason to be concerned about the woman in Donald Skinner's life. They now know that those nagging thoughts were, actually, signs pointing to something sinister.
The detective told them how their son died, and how his wife was having an affair and talking about having him killed. Now, five months after the murder, approaching the holiday season and waiting for justice, they're trying to figure out how to live with the knowledge.
"Nobody knows heartache until they've buried one of their kids," Carol Skinner said. "I miss him all the time. I remember him all the time, and they took him away from us. I don't look forward to living long, and then I'll be with him."
Carol Skinner said her anger is directed at Charles Smith -- "He knew better. I wouldn't have killed a dog like he killed my son." -- and not at the woman her son loved. Carol Skinner said she feels a little sorry for her daughter-in-law, because nobody ever loved her. Still, she hopes the woman who allegedly conspired to kill her son is sentenced to death. She hopes the police officer is sentenced to death, too, even though the district attorney's office said the case doesn't rise to the required legal standard for the death penalty.
"He was my only son," Carol Skinner said. "I want them to seek the death penalty."
McPherson's sympathies run the opposite direction. She describes her sister-in-law with words like "evil," "devil," "liar," and "manipulator." McPherson said she thinks the Farmers' Market cop fell under Allene Skinner's spell, just like her brother did.
The two women agree, though, that they don't ever want the pair to walk free. They will attend Smith and Allene Skinner's arraignment, on Dec. 5, and every court date after that, in hopes of seeing justice.
They will visit Donald Skinner's grave, every day, move the solar-powered cross and stand where his body is buried.
They are trying to get Allene Skinner's name taken off of the contract with the graveyard. McPherson visited her sister-in-law at the jail, trying to get the woman to sign over the authority for the burial plot. Allene Skinner refused, though. McPherson said she was reduced to pounding on the glass, dividing the prisoner from the visitor, hitting the glass repeatedly with her bare hand and "looking like a crazy woman."
The other day, McPherson took a recent photo of her brother, where he's smiling, sealed it in water-proof plastic and posted it at the grave. She put it next to the cross, by the bench where it says "In Loving Memory." She wasn't supposed to put anything there without Allene Skinner's approval, according to the legal contract, but she didn't care.
She just wanted, she said, to see her brother's face.
‘What is aggravated assault?’By Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Feb. 13, 2007
In the days after the trial, one juror had a question.
After a week-long trial — sitting with 11 other people in the jury box in Clayton County Superior Court and listening to four defense attorneys, a prosecuting attorney and a string of family members, police officers and experts — she still had a question.
She didn’t bring up the question when the judge read the law, on a Thursday afternoon in May. It did come up briefly, however, during jury deliberations. The jury wrote a note asking the judge. It was the last thing the jury did before court was dismissed for the night.
The question: What is aggravated assault?
Sitting on the witness stand on Thursday, more than seven months after the trial ended and two men were each found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault, an appeals attorney asked former juror Stacey Sullivan about that question.
“Did you understand what that charge meant?” asked Herbert Adams, Jr., during a hearing on a motion for the retrial of the two men convicted of shooting and killing 4-year-old Travon Wilson.
“I didn’t fully understand,” Sullivan said.
“If you had fully understood, would you have voted differently?” Adams pressed.
Sullivan chewed gum. She has streaked blonde hair. She wore royal blue hospital scrubs and hoop earring and she didn’t want to be there, on the stand.
“It may have been different,” she said.
Sullivan was one of a few jurors from the Wilson murder trial who went to the defense attorney’s office, the week after the verdict, and asked the question.
Xavious Cordera Taylor, 18, and Christopher Allen Emmanuel, 19, were each found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault in connection with the child’s death. Two other men were found not guilty. Eleven others pleaded to lesser sentences for their parts.
Wilson was shot while riding his red bicycle, a birthday present, in the park in Riverdale in 2004. According to police and prosecutors, two gangs met at the park in 2004 to fight. The Hit Squad gang, including Taylor, and the Southside Mafia gang, including Emmanuel, met by arrangement around 10 p.m. that spring.
Taylor was sentenced to 35 years. Emmanuel, who admitted to firing an SKS assault rifle in the park the night Wilson was killed, was sentenced to 40 years.
The jurors wrote out the question about the definition of aggravated assault and gave it to a bailiff to give to the judge, after a few hours of deliberations.
According to state law, aggravated assault is defined as an assault with “an intent to murder, to rape or rob,” an assault with “a deadly weapon,” or an assault with “any object when used offensively against a person is likely to or actually does result in bodily injury.”
The judge received a second note written on lined yellow paper before the jury went home for the night telling him to disregard the previous question.
“The court has a duty, a legal duty, to answer their question,” Adams said during last week’s hearing on a motion to impeach the verdict and retry the case.
In the more than 2,000 pages of trial transcripts, the question comes at the end of the ninth volume. According to Judge Matthew Simmons, he told the four defense attorneys the next morning that the question had been withdrawn. None of them objected.
A few days after the trial, Sullivan and other jury members went to one of the lawyers and asked why the question had never been answered. In a sworn affidavit written by Adams and signed by Sullivan, Sullivan said understanding the charge would definitely have led her to a different verdict.
Adams subpoenaed her to testify at the hearing on the motion to retry the case, hoping to use a juror’s confusion to undermine the jury’s verdict.
A few days before the hearing, Sullivan walked into the district attorney’s office crying, saying she didn’t want to testify and she didn’t mean for her question to be a defense of Taylor and Emmanuel, said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Turner.
The motion for a retrial was routine, Turner said. The other arguments in the hearing — including the argument that part of Riverdale might not be in Clayton County so maybe the defendants were tried in the wrong jurisdiction — were routine.
The box of trial transcripts sitting on the judge’s desk, the appeals attorney calling on the defense attorney to testify for their client, the inmates wearing red jumpsuits trying to turn around to see their families sitting in the back of the mostly-empty courtroom — all of this was normal legal proceedings in the years following a long sentence.
What was unusual, in the hearing, was the juror on the witness stand.
“It’s legal garbage,” Turner said.
“That’s nonsense,” Adams said.
“According to the Georgia legal code and case law,” Turner said, “juror confusion is not grounds for impeaching a verdict. Juror misconduct would be reason for a new trial. This is not sufficient to grant a new trial. Georgia law is clear that this is unacceptable.”
On the stand, Sullivan maintained her question but hedged on the importance of the answer.
“You’re not sure that anything may have been different? Is that your testimony today?” Turner asked her.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
When asked about the trial, Sullivan told the court she didn’t remember any specifics.
Defense Attorney Katrina Breeding said she thought the hedging was enough to move for a retrial.
“That’s all we need,” she told Simmons. “A ‘maybe.’ That’s not beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Simmons, after listening to more than an hour of criticism of the way he handled the trial, denied the motion to retry. He told the lawyers that it was an aggressively tried case, and he didn’t think the four defense attorneys were sleeping through the trial, ignoring opportunities to object to the way it was tried.
“I’m going to deny the motion and you can take it up with the appeals court,” Simmons said.
Sullivan left the courthouse frowning when she was done testifying, not waiting for the judge’s ruling.
Emmanuel’s mother walked through the double doors into the hallway, sat down and wept.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Trucker’s murder motivated by lust, greed, fantasy
Murder, conspiracy charges against victim’s wife, police officer go to grand juryBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, July 13, 2007
The 49-year-old was shot four times.
He was shot once in the left hand. It bled as he ran, leaving a 200-foot long zig-zagging trail across the parking lot of the truck depot in Forest Park.
Donald Ray Skinner, who had just delivered a truckload of fish, was shot a second time in the thigh. The .40-caliber bullet grazed his flesh. He was shot a third time, and the bullet pierced his liver.
He was shot a fourth time in the right eye.
Clayton County Police found him three hours later, on June 9, lying on his back in the parking lot. He was holding his keys in his right hand, Detective Scott Eskew testified in court, Thursday. The refrigerated tractor trailer he drove for Cool Cargo Carriers, Inc., was still idling and its headlights were still on as the sun was coming up on the scene.
“The blood trail allowed us to visualize Donald Skinner’s last movements,” Eskew said. “He was moving back and forth, back and forth. When he had such a large area in which to flee, all he did was go back and forth in a zig-zag pattern.”
Charles A. Smith, 49, looked down at his jail-issued sandals while the detective testified against him in the probable cause hearing. A military veteran and an Atlanta State Farmers Market Police officer, Smith allegedly told the detectives he didn’t say anything, when he shot Skinner with the state-issued, .40-caliber pistol.
He told detectives he thought he heard Skinner say a single word, before he died.
“He said ‘Why?’ He thought he heard, ‘Why?’ The word ‘why.’ But at that point he was already committed to killing [Donald Skinner],” Eskew said.
According to police and prosecutors, the answer is a mixture of lust, greed and fantasy.
Smith is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, violating his oath to uphold the law and using a gun to commit a felony. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s firearms lab matched the shell casings, at the scene, to the gun issued to Smith.
The victim’s wife, 50-year-old Carolyn Allene Skinner, is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of justice.
Smith was in a romantic relationship with Donald Skinner’s wife for about eight months before the shooting, Eskew said. She reportedly introduced him to friends and family as her husband, while he introduced her as his fiancé. At some point, the detective said, Allene Skinner and Smith tried to buy a house together.
Allene Skinner was the named beneficiary of Donald Skinner’s $90,000 life insurance policy. Married for 17 years, her daughter, sisters-in-law and mother-in-law characterized her as “evil,” Eskew said. Sitting in the second and third row of the Clayton County courtroom, Donald Skinner’s nine relatives laughed and cheered, when Eskew said that, and were reprimanded by Magistrate Judge Richard Brown.
“Not that she was just evil,” Eskew continued. “She was also a liar.”
Allene Skinner wore an oversized, green jail-issued jumpsuit, during the hearing, and kept her chin raised and thrust forward. She never looked at Smith.
Eskew first saw Allene Skinner at the scene of the shooting, when she drove into the parking lot in a red, Ford F-150 pickup truck registered to a member of Smith’s family and, apparently not noticing the marked patrol car and uniformed officer, walked to the tractor trailer and climbed inside.
When Eskew went to the insurance company to look at the policy on Donald Skinner, he said, Allene Skinner was sitting in the waiting room. Family members told detectives she had previously asked them to help her kill her husband.
Smith, an officer at the Farmers Market for three years and for the Jonesboro Police Department before that, told police she had encouraged him to murder Donald Skinner.
She had, Smith told police, told him a long, involved story about how she was working for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and was “mixed into something. She was mixed up with some important people, some bad people,” Eskew said. Smith told detectives Allene Skinner had told him she was going to get killed by the “important people” and “bad people,” because her husband had found out something and had been talking about it. If she was going to remain safe, she allegedly said, her husband would have to be killed.
Eskew described the story as “a fantasy that only a fool would believe. A fool in love would believe it.”
Malcolm Wells, Allene Skinner’s defense attorney, found the story beyond belief.
“It defies belief, unless we’re not in Clayton County, Ga., but in an episode of ‘Miami Vice,’” Wells said. “That’s the story he gave you? He never mentioned the insurance money or anything? He said he killed [Donald Skinner] to save her from the D.E.A.?”
Smith’s attorney, Joe Roberto, did not deny Smith shot Donald Skinner to death, but questioned the detective about Allene Skinner’s character.
Wells argued, before the judge, that the characterization of Allene Skinner as “evil,” was understandable, given the family’s grief, but unsupported by the facts. He argued the woman’s affair with the police officer wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the charges against her. “One thing is clear, [Smith] killed him for her, not that she asked him too. The only person we know is evil is the ‘trigger man,’” he said.
Allene Skinner, listening to the closing arguments, looked at her lawyer and cried.
The case was bound over to Superior Court, where Smith and Allene Skinner will face possible indictment by a grand jury. A bond hearing is set for Friday at 9 a.m.
Family killed in motel fire remembered
‘I’ve never had to stand in front of this number of coffins before’By Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, June 16, 2007
The five were dressed for a wedding.
Shikita Jones, 32, wore a long, white, wedding dress and a wreath of white flowers on her head. Fred Lee Colston Jr., 26, was dressed in the white tuxedo of a groom. Melvin Jones, 42, and Devon Butler, 11, were wearing tuxedos, and 10-year-old Desha Butler was dressed as a bridesmaid.
The five were dressed for a wedding that never happened. They lay in five white coffins.
The coffins were open at the front of the sanctuary, Friday, end-to-end, covered by white gauze and white flowers. Shikita Jones and Colston were planning to get married in July and planning to move out of the Budget Inn the day the 709 King Road motel burned and the smoke killed them.
Family, friends and officials filed to the front of Divine Faith Ministries International, in Jonesboro, to view the bodies of the family. Some wept openly. Others stared at the bodies, one after another, their faces blank. Women, wearing black dresses, stood at either end of the line of coffins holding out boxes of tissues.
Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas paused, in front of each coffin, and crossed himself. He paused for a moment longer, in front of the dead children, placing two fingers on the edge of each cold white casket.
Officials said Wednesday that they believe the fire was caused by arson. On Friday, during the funeral for the five killed in the suspicious fire, family and friends remembered the lives of the deceased, and expressed feelings of loss, grief and hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“They were a family,” said Juanita Jones, a cousin to Shikita. “Shikita loved Fred, Fred loved Shikita and they both loved these kids ... I pray for them. I pray for the person that done this. I don’t know what they should do [to the arsonist], I really don’t, but as long as we are all in God’s hands, it’s all right.”
The family filed into the sanctuary, following the Reverend Otis White, who recited Psalms into a cordless microphone. “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel; my reins also instruct me in the night seasons,” White read. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.”
Fred Colston’s uncle said his heart was heavy and said he understood grief in a new way. He sang a song about getting ready to go home, in another country, up the ladder, into heaven. “I got a home -- hallelujah! -- over the mountain,” he sang.
White, the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, pointed a hand at the five and said he had never had to stand in front of this number of coffins.
“I’m not going to say God did this,” White said. “I told you before it was the enemy. You can be angry, you can feel frustrated, you can point your finger at the owners of that hotel, you can cast your words at the community, but let me tell you, an enemy has done this.”
To shouts of “amen,” “un huh,” “yes” and “hallelujah,” White preached on the need to take this time to re-examine life, to commit to Jesus and to trust God. “In times like these, it’s time to trust God’s will,” he said.
“Why didn’t God protect them from the fire, like the three Hebrew children we read about? Why? Have you been asking why? I’m just telling you to trust in God.”
He urged those in attendance to make Jesus their Lord and Savior, if they wanted to see the deceased again in heaven.
The white coffins were wheeled outside the Tara Boulevard church, and loaded into five black hearses. The hearses were waiting, open, backed up to the front of the church. Six black limousines were waiting to take the family.
The two Joneses and the two Butlers will be buried in Chicago, where the family is originally from. Colston will be buried in Clayton County.
Detectives looking at murdered girl’s troubled pastBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Sept. 20, 2007
Detectives are considering everyone as a “person of interest,” in the murder of a 17-year-old Jonesboro girl, and are investigating every theory -- from an angry boyfriend to the possibility of a serial killer.
Clayton County Police identified the 17-year-old, who had been killed, badly burned and dumped in a wooded area near Shamrock Lake, as Jennifer Lee Chambers. Her body was found there, partially covered by a multi-colored poncho, on Sept. 5. She was reported missing by her mother nine days later.
Chambers’ mother, Betty Jean May, filed a missing persons report with the Jonesboro Police Department on Sept. 14, saying she had seen the news about the dead girl and was afraid it was her daughter.
Authorties had reported that the dead girl weighed about 100 pounds, was about five-feet, four-inches tall, and had long, straight, brown hair. Chambers weighed 95 pounds, May said, was five-feet, two-inches tall, and had long, straight, dark-black hair.
A check of dental records confirmed the mother’s fears, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic anthropologists identified the murdered girl as Chambers.
May told the Jonesboro police she had last heard from her daughter on Sept. 1, according to the police report. “She had been living out on her own and would call in to her family every week or so,” Clayton County Deputy Police Chief Tim Robinson said. “I think that was what accounted for the time delay.”
May reported that the 17-year-old had been living in a mobile home park with a Hispanic man known as “Miguel Ramirez.” She described Chambers as a troubled teenager, who had been involved with drugs and prostitution. The 17-year-old was not enrolled in Clayton County high schools, according to the school system’s spokesman.
When May saw the news, she checked with her daughter’s friends and the neighbors in the mobile home park, and none of them had seen Chambers in a few weeks, according to the missing persons report.
Some of them reportedly told the worried mother that Ramirez had recently learned he had contracted HIV from Chambers, who was, allegedly, HIV positive. The man was not living in the mobile home, and neighbors reportedly told May he had gone home to Mexico.
May said she was worried for her daughter’s safety before the disappearance. In the end of August, according to May, Chambers got into an argument with another woman, and the woman had poured lighter fluid over the 17-year-old and tried to set her on fire.
Since the identity of the murdered girl was confirmed by the GBI, Clayton County detectives have spoken with Chambers’ mother, aunt, grandmother and some of her friends. They are working on the teenage girl’s “victimology” — her background and the series of events leading up to her death.
“We’re getting information from a variety of sources and we’re trying to answer those questions about her and her background,” Robinson said.
“She had a troubled youth, but no one deserves to be killed and burned and left in the woods. Even though she may have had a troubled past, she and the family deserve to see her killer brought to justice, and the department is committed to seeing that justice is done,” added Robinson.
Detectives are looking for Chambers’ boyfriend -- “Miguel Ramirez.” The two had reportedly been living together since the beginning of August. They are not saying he is a murder suspect, but do believe he is “a person of interest,” and want to know when he last saw the 17-year-old.
At this point in the investigation, however, “everyone is a person of interest,” the deputy chief said.
The detectives in the crimes against persons division are sending the information from Chambers’ case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavior Science Unit, along with three other cases of young women who have been murdered and dumped, to see if their deaths have enough in common to support a serial killer theory.
“There were some similarities, but we’re wanting someone outside to actually give us an opinion,” Robinson said.
•An unidentified black female was killed, burned and dumped in a wooded area off of Garden Springs Drive, on the northern edge of the county, in 2002.
•In 2005, Nicole Johnson, also known as “Peaches,” was found killed and dumped off of Lee’s Mill Bridge, near Interstate 75.
•In 2006, Latisha Tramble was found killed and burning in a trash bin behind an apartment complex, on the northern end of the county.
Chambers was found two weeks ago.
According to Robinson, all of the women were young, were killed and were dumped, but the theory breaks down in the other details.
Three of women were small, but the fourth was taller. Three of the women were African American, but one was white. Three of the women were reportedly involved in prostitution, but one wasn’t. Three of the bodies were found near “No Dumping” signs, but the fourth was found in a trash bin. One of the women wasn’t burned. There were different causes of death in the four killings.
Three of the bodies were found on the northern end of the county, but the latest one was found on the southeast side.
“Unless our killer lived up there and knew the area up there and then moved down here, I don’t think it makes sense,” Robinson said. “I really don’t think that it’s true, but that’s why we’re getting someone to look at it. We don’t believe it to be the case, but just to be thorough and to make sure, the [four cases] are being submitted to the FBI.”
Anyone with information about Chambers is asked to call Detective Steve Rotella at (770) 477-3624.
Man wanted for murder, armed robbery turns self inBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, March 27, 2007
Alfonso Mason saw his face on television. It was an older picture, so his glasses weren’t as thick and his hair wasn’t as gray, but it was him.
The 56-year-old was in an extended-stay motel in DeKalb County. All he did all day was sleep and watch TV and when he saw his face and saw he was wanted by the Clayton County Police for the murder of a motel maid, the armed robbery of Stockbridge’s Suburban Lodge and the car-jacking of the assistant manager’s car, he decided to turn himself in, Clayton County Police Detective Tom Martin said.
“He said his life was meaningless. He was waking up and watching TV and it was the same thing every day,” Martin said.
Mason walked into the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office at 2:38 a.m. Sunday, 17 days after he allegedly stabbed a woman to death and held up the 7465 Davidson Parkway motel. He told the deputy on duty who he was and surrendered, Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said.
He had a black revolver in his pocket when he turned himself in, Clayton County Police said, a gun fitting the description of the one used in the robbery.
During a four-hour interview with Martin, Mason described his life from the time he was the vice president of a bank in New Jersey to early in March, when he was planning to kill the 49-year-old cleaning lady at the motel where he had lived for about a year, Martin said.
“This is a man who went from making a six-figure income to using his Home Deport credit card to pawn items he’d just bought,” Martin said.
Mason confessed to the armed robbery immediately, and told police he had planned the robbery because he was having trouble paying his rent. He told Martin he had been a vice president at The Bank of Tokyo until 2000. His severance pay ran out in January 2007 and he began to struggle to afford the $190 weekly rent for the motel room.
Martin said Mason had originally moved to Georgia to be near his daughter, but the two weren’t getting along. Mason had been a resident at the extended-stay motel for long enough that the employees knew who he was and thought he was joking when he said he was robbing them.
They described him to police as a clean man who wasn’t likely to commit a crime.
Mason had a drinking problem, Martin said, and was growing increasingly depressed and frustrated that people making an hourly wage at a cheap motel were kicking him out.
“He just started losing it,” Martin said.
At about 1 p.m. on March 7, he approached the motel assistant manager, 40-year-old Bridgett McLemore, and told her he was having money problems, according to police reports.
“He was having money problems because he couldn’t contact a friend living in New York to send him some money,” McLemore told Clayton Police Officer Michael Medious. He was “basically rambling and not being very coherent,” she said.
Mason then followed McLemore back into the office, according to the police report, pressed a small black revolver into her back and took $1,812 out of the cash register.
Police later found the body of Cynthia Hyman, who worked as a maid at the motel, between a bed and a wall, in a room used for storage. She was stabbed five times in the stomach a few minutes before the robbery, Martin said.
Mason drove off in McLemore’s 2000 silver-colored Pontiac Sunbird and police put him on a wanted list. The motel offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Mason’s arrest and conviction.
He turned himself in.
“He said he saw his picture on TV and thought he should turn himself in,” Martin said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was preparing to broadcast Mason’s face on a television list of people wanted on the East Coast later this week.
During the interview, Mason also confessed to the murder, Martin said.
Mason is facing charges of murder, armed robbery and car-jacking in Clayton County Superior Court. He is also facing federal prosecution on the armed robbery charges.
Police are still looking for the Pontiac, which was last seen in the parking lot of a DeKalb County strip club, Martin said.
Anyone with information about the vehicle was asked to call Martin at (770) 477-3635.
Cop who confessed to murder has history of failure
His hard-luck life has lawyer asking for leniency in brutal slayingBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Aug. 31, 2007
A sworn police officer and a confessed murderer, Charles Alan Smith has a history of failures leading up to the moment he was charged with killing his girlfriend’s husband.
The 49-year-old saw himself as the “black sheep” of his family and was struggling to become “the good guy,” according to his attorney, who is arguing Smith is different from other murderers.
To prosecutors, however, he is simply a killer, who deserves “nothing less” than a life sentence in prison — his history is irrelevant.
Whether or not Smith’s past warrants a plea for leniency, it shows a police officer descending to murder, and a man desperate to overcome his failures the morning he -- according to his confession -- ambushed a man and shot him to death in a warehouse parking lot before the sun came up.
Born in North Dakota on Oct. 8, 1957, Smith grew up on the east side of Jonesboro. A neighbor still living in the area — someone Smith listed as a reference when applying for a job, but who asked not to be named in this article — described the Smith family as a “model family,” an “average family” and “good church-goers.”
“He would have been any kid in our neighborhood,” the neighbor said. “He was just your average young boy playing football.”
Smith joined the United States Army and finished his high school degree while stationed in Germany. He married a nurse while stationed in Denmark, according to documents obtained by the Clayton News Daily.
A Southern Baptist, Smith married a Catholic girl from Detroit, Therese Rose Dugan, on August 15, 1984. Four years later, with a newborn son, the two returned to the United States, and moved to Georgia, where they had a second son.
After eight years, though, Smith’s life unraveled, and documents show he has been grasping at the loose ends since 1996. Therese Smith became a Jehovah’s Witness, and following the tenets of her new-found faith, stopped celebrating holidays, didn’t accept gifts and didn’t allow the two boys to accept gifts. According to Clayton County Superior Court documents, she criticized her husband’s language, accused him of being an absentee father and pushed him to join the Witnesses.
He said she was a fanatic, and that she had “changed considerably” since their marriage, 12 years earlier. Therese Smith wasn’t working, at the time, and Smith was making $7.75 an hour as a “control specialist” at a freight company.
Disagreeing with his wife over religion and their children, and stressed about finances, Smith left his wife and family in March of 1996. He moved into an extended-stay motel, and filed for divorce, documents show.
Smith’s attorney, Joe Roberto, said the failed marriage devastated Smith’s self worth. Living alone, he spent the next five years losing a series of jobs, and arguing about child support and visitation rights. In 1998, he got a job servicing fire alarms. He worked his way up to $18 an hour, but then the company was sold and he lost his job.
He took another job servicing fire alarms, in 2001, but was fired after one month. He took a another job, that year, installing fire alarms, and was fired after four months.
Late that summer, Smith went to work for Waffle House, cooking food for $6.80 an hour. He worked there for the rest of the year, earning a 20-cent raise. In January 2002, he applied to the Jonesboro Police Department, citing his military experience and a desire to help people. He got the job, and worked as a patrol officer for two and a half years.
According to Jonesboro records, he worked without distinction until he made an inappropriate comment to a female co-worker. In May 2004, Smith made a crude joke, according to the department’s internal investigation, and was reprimanded for visiting a female officer’s apartment while the two were on duty. In June, he made a comment while talking to another female officer, and the woman reported him, saying she felt offended and disrespected.
While being interviewed by then-Chief Robert Thomas, Smith asked if he could keep the incident out of his personnel file by resigning. Thomas told him the investigation would end, and Smith typed out a resignation, effective immediately.
When he applied for a position at the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, one month later, he listed his reason for leaving as “personal.” He was hired at the farmers’ market and started working for Police Chief Freeman Poole, a former member of the Jonesboro force.
Poole later described Smith as one of his best officers and as someone who was always willing to help. But Smith’s police department file shows a different story.
In the Spring of 2007, he was reprimanded twice for misconduct. He was regularly late to work, according to a written reprimand, showing up late more often than he showed up on time. He left work to run personal errands, while on duty.
His supervisor called him unreliable and disruptive to normal operations. Smith had a supervisory position taken away, and his superior officer “made it very clear that he did not want Charles Smith working on his shift any longer,” according to an internal memo.
At the time, Smith was in the middle of a romantic relationship with a married woman. It was the first relationship he’d had since his divorce. He had met 50-year-old Allene Skinner in a Forest Park truck stop, according to Clayton County Police, and the two were reportedly married in an unofficial ceremony.
Roberto said Skinner, who was legally married to Donald Ray Skinner, a truck driver, “twisted him all around” and made him act like a love-sick 14-year-old. The two had an off-and-on relationship, and Smith wrote Skinner letters, Roberto said, promising he would make their relationship work and dreaming about buying a house with her.
Clayton County detective, Scott Eskew, said the two applied for a home loan, but were denied.
On June 9, Donald Ray Skinner was found dead in the freight company parking lot. His tractor trailer was still running, nothing had been taken and he appeared to have been ambushed, chased and shot four times. He was shot in the eye with a bullet Eskew identified as the type of round — a high quality .40-caliber bullet — used by police.
Seventeen days later, Smith and Skinner were arrested on charges of conspiring to murder and murdering the 49-year-old trucker. Skinner was allegedly motivated by her husband’s $90,000 life insurance policy. Smith was allegedly motivated by love.
Skinner’s attorney, Malcolm Wells, did not return repeated calls, but said in court that his client didn’t conspire to murder her husband of 17 years; that Smith acted alone.
Smith confessed to the crime, telling detectives he had waited in the woods near the truck depot and had shot Donald Ray Skinner four times, listening to him say “Why?” as he lay on the concrete and died.
Eskew described the arrested police officer as “a fool in love.” Roberto agreed with the description, saying “this was love gone woefully awry. I don’t mean to diminish what he did, the taking of life is a crime and a horrible thing, but I want to distinguish him from many of the murders we see in Clayton County,” Roberto said.
Smith is a murderer, according to his lawyer, but he isn’t cold blooded, isn’t a drug dealer and doesn’t have a “nefarious background.” Roberto said he is begging the District Attorney’s office to allow his client to plead guilty to manslaughter.
Donald Ray Skinner’s family asked the district attorney to pursue the death penalty, but they were told the case does not meet the legally required aggravating circumstances.
Executive assistant district attorney, John Turner, said there’s no way, however, that someone who pulled the trigger can be charged with anything less than murder.
“To me, murder is murder,” Turner said. “There’s no defense and there’s no excuse ... To me, it’s worse when a cop does something like that. They know better than that. There’s no excuse.”
Turner is reviewing the case this week, preparing to bring the charges to a grand jury for indictment.
Woman killed after two years of reported domestic violenceBy Daniel Silliman
Clayton News Daily, Sept. 18, 2007
Police found the 36-year-old woman lying face down in the kitchen, surrounded by a pool of blood.
There was a bloody kitchen knife in the sink, and the woman, with multiple stab wounds through the back of her black T-shirt, didn’t respond to the officer’s question: “Can you hear me?”
Ani Hacardyan Rose, a German native living in Ellenwood, died on the floor of her kitchen a little before 9:30 p.m., Sunday. Ani Rose called 911 at 9:12 p.m., Clayton County Police said. She told the 911 operator she had a protective order against her husband, but he was in the 5371 Pecan Grove home and the couple was fighting.
Demetrio Patricio Rose, a 38-year-old native of Panama, called 911 a few minutes later, and told the operator he needed an ambulance, because he had stabbed his wife.
When Officer S.R. Malette knocked on the door, Demetrio Rose answered and said, “My wife needs an ambulance.”
He was wearing gray sweat pants, and the pants were wet around his ankles, Malette wrote in the police report. There was blood on the steps leading to the kitchen.
Demetrio said again, “I need an ambulance,” and Malette said, “Who is stabbed?” according to the report.
“The male stated, ‘My wife!’ I asked, ‘Who stabbed her?’ The male stated, ‘Me, I did!’” Malette reported.
The two Rose children, 14-year-old and 9-year-old girls, had locked themselves in a bedroom in the back of the house, during the fight.
Demetrio Rose was arrested on charges of murder, aggravated assault and cruelty to children. He was taken to the Clayton County Jail.
Police dispatchers couldn’t find a record of a protective order, Sunday night. Ani Rose, in the middle of divorce proceedings against her husband, filed for the order in May, but It was dismissed by Clayton County Magistrate Judge Bobby Brown in June. Brown cited a lack of sufficient evidence.
Attorney, Leon Hicks, who shares offices with Ani Rose’s lawyer, Joseph Baker, said he didn’t understand why the judge didn’t err on the side of caution, a ruling which might have saved the 36-year-old mother’s life. “This is just a horrible decision on his part,” Hicks said.
At the June hearing, Ani Rose and her lawyers gave the court photographs, showing bruised arms, Hicks said. She testified under oath that those were her bruised arms, in the photos; that Demetrio Rose had hurt her, and that the photos were true and accurate representations of the facts.
“She had evidence in this case,” Hicks said. “There was no evidence to the contrary.”
Brown could not be reached for comment, Monday.
Chief Magistrate Judge Daphne Walker said the case was dismissed because of a lack of sufficient evidence, and that the case can’t be judged in retrospect.
Walker received an award, last week, for the work she’s done in improving the county’s magistrate court response to domestic violence and protective orders.
Karen Geiger, staff attorney for the Family Violence Project at Georgia Legal Services, said Walker’s magistrate court is held up as an example around the state. “I know she’s very committed to always doing the right thing for victims and filling in some of the gaps that we see in some of the court systems around here,” Geiger said. “[Clayton County] has a more well-thought-out, and consistent, system.”
Rose was appealing the dismissal of the protective order, and Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield was scheduled to hear the case next month.
“This was the fastest we could get any kind of hearing at all,” said Esther Hart, a paralegal for Baker. “Ani called several times, saying she was concerned because he was so verbally abusive. We knew this was going to happen.”
Police were called out to the Rose’s Ellenwood home in April, when the court served them with mediation papers as part of the divorce proceedings, according to a police report. Demetrio Rose allegedly got angry, when the papers arrived at the house, and the couple got into a verbal dispute. The Police officer advised Ani Rose to get a protective order against her husband.
Ani Rose had previously reported her husband to police in August 2006. Her husband had taken their children’s social security cards, passports and birth certificates, she said, and she was afraid he was going to take them out of the country.
“I don’t know about his plans,” Ani Rose wrote on a police statement form. “He has not been reasonable. He is screaming and cursing at me in front of the children and calling me names.”
In the statement form, Ani Rose lists three incidents of domestic violence, dating back to 2005. First, he threw a cell phone at her, she said, then another time, he threw a ring of keys at her, hitting her in the head. In the third incident, he grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground, Ani Rose wrote.
She told him she would report him to the police — next time. “His answer was, ‘I will finish what I started next time,’” Rose wrote in the handwritten report.
The report was filed more than a year before she was stabbed to death. The Clayton County Police officer receiving the report told Ani Rose to file a protective order.
There was no protective order, when police arrived at the couple’s home, on Sunday night, and saw bloody foot prints in the kitchen, dining room, hallway and up and down the stairs.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
A letter and a few thoughts on atheism
Very interesting. I haven't read all of these
yet, but have looked over Turner and McGinn and, rather than waiting for some full fledged response which may never happen, here are a few thoughts.
The thing, I think, that disturbs me about atheists is that they seem to know exactly what God is. They have rejected a very specific idea, one which they don't seem to state and which I don't know.
Augustine asked, "what do I say I love when I say I love my God?" People that say they love God ought to ask this, but people who say they don't believe in God ought to rephrase the question so they can ask it too.
McGinn takes some time to say that for him there is nothing where for other people there is God, that he hasn't replaced God with something else on his intellectual map and that there's not a blank spot on that map where other people put God, but that the map doesn't even go there. I don't see though, that he's willing to say what, exactly, isn't there.
There are a lot of kinds of theists and a lot of kinds of atheists. Not all atheists are angry 15 year olds and not all theists are hicks. To run the conversation as if they were is pointless.
I find it very interesting that Turner - if I understand him - thinks that the theist's question is "why is there something rather than nothing?" Which is the question of ontology. Even down to Heidegger, when people talk about Being this is their starting question.
Some of the continentals talk about ontotheology when they talk about their atheism, like Derrida and Caputo. The talk about ontotheology is very worthwhile in that it, at leasts, is specific about what sort of thing it is rejecting when it rejects God.
To reject ontotheology, where God is Being, is not a specifically atheistic move. Even someone as traditional as Aquinas could reject that God.
I suspect that one of your questions is, how do I read the last line
of Wittgenstein's tractatus? I read like this: a) we must speak of what we cannot speak, knowing that we will always be failing but still have to speak; b) what is silence?; c) the inside and the outside are, at least at some points, indivisable, so that speaking will always include not speaking and silence will always have words.
Another problems I have with this debate: I'm not interested in proving the existence of God, either to myself or to you. This is because I take (any interesting) belief in a god to be acting rather than in certainly saying. My belief in God leads me to act in such a way that even if he doesn't exist in any satisfying manner, I would have to act as if he did. In this sense, it would be more correct to say that I hope in God rather than believe in him.
Who can you read who says what I'm saying? Kierkegaard, tho I'm not familiar enough with his works to say what specifically you should read. Derrida, try Caputo's secondary work The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. Graham Greene, try Monsignor Quixote. None of those actually speak straight forwardly for my "camp," but they are camping here.
I think I should probably say why I act this way rather than some other way, but will for now leave that alone.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Moving Past the Problem of EvilA Fairfield presentation
John Milton wrote his great Epic, Paradise Lost
, with the goal, as he said, of asserting Eternal Providence and justifying the ways of God to man. This project, as old as men’s belief in God, is called theodicy, which means to justify God, to explain how it is that evil comes into the world created by a Good God. Unfortunately, Milton ends up making a hero of Satan, who flamboyantly enters the story in doomed and dubious battle with nothing but the courage never to surrender his will to the overwhelming power of an absolute tyrant. Milton, however, does not leave Satan strutting in all his emo glory, but does reconcile how it is that God takes the glory even from this evil. Hell, we find, is not a realm beyond the glory of God, but the place where God relegates evil that he might regulate evil to his glory, evil being not beyond the divine but part of it. A universe of death,
Milton says, which God by curse/ created evil.
But let us not too quickly blame blind old Mr. Milton. It is not his fault that the justification of God became an apology for evil. It is the fault, actually, of the project. All theodicies end like this - with God as evil, weak, or incompetent. Milton looked at the problem of evil and said God is in some way evil. Woody Allen looked at problem of evil and said that God is either impotent or an under-achiever. These are, I think, the three possible answers.
The problem of evil emerges from the contradiction of Christian dogmas:
God is good.
God cares about humans.
God is all powerful.
God is all knowing.
God is ever present.
There is evil in the world.
The project of justifying God, for someone who is orthodox, is to explain how all of those statements about God can be true, given the fact of evil. There are a number of unorthodox solutions, such as Maltheism which denies that God is good and that he cares about humans, Open Theism which denies God is all-knowing, and post-holocaust theology which denies God is ever-present. If we are willing to give up these propositions about God, then there is no problem of evil. To remain within Christian orthodoxy, though, we must maintain all of those propositions as true, even in a world where evil exists.
Christian theodicies can be grouped into two types: the free will answer, and the purposes-of-God answer.
The free will answer says that evil exists in the world because God gave men free will and with that will men chose evil. That is to say that the Good, caring, powerful, and present God gave men freedom, gave them a will to act against him, and that with that will they chose evil. Or, rather, they created evil by choosing against God. The relieves God of responsibility by saying that it isn’t God who perpetuates evil in the world, but men. God is not responsible for the massacre of children while the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled by cover of night to Egypt, Herod is. The problem though is that we were created by God. We were given wills and placed in a world such that we chose evil, we willed against God. Why did humans, made in the image of God, choose evil? There had to have been some flaw in our nature, or our will, or the world, such that evil appeared to us to be the better choice? Only God can be responsible for the fact that the will of Eve was deceivable, that the will of Adam was weak enough to fall. Even Satan, said to be the height of the light and glory of created beings, was contaminated by pride, greed and envy. This leaves us to point out that God created and is therefor responsible for these wills and these beings and this world, such that they begat evil, and to ask, is this the best God could do? Therefor I don’t see how “free will” relieves God of responsibility for evil, or justifies him in the face of it.
Of course, not all Christians believe in free will and there is then another answer to the problem of evil. In fact, even among those who do believe in man’s free will the second answer is readily banked upon. It is after all, probably the most quoted verse of the bible - Romans 8:28: All things work together for good. This position holds that, all right, evil exists in the world but it exists for a purpose and even though we do not know the specifics of that purpose, we know that it is good and for the glory of God. As I recently heard Dr. Burke explain this position, even though there is evil in this world, it’s probably there for a purpose, brings some good result in the future. Evil, that is to say, has a purpose, and that purpose is good and therefor evil is a means to good. I doubt you can go to a Christian funeral in this county without hearing this argument or some version of it. Of course this is not just a Christian argument, but the argument used everywhere people are treated as a means and not the end. It is the argument of tyrants and terrorists, who say their evil is just “collateral damage” and the breaking of eggs for the purpose of an omelet. Which is to say, this argument is hideous. This is not a description of a Good God who cares about people, but about who one doesn’t give a damn about people, who is self-serving, self-aggrandizing, and who is, at least in part, evil.
I suppose some of you figured I was going to give the third Christian answer to the problem of evil. The non-answer answer which goes “how can you judge God? By what criterion can you evaluate God?”
I once found this a compelling case, but now oppose this answer to the problem of evil for a few reasons. First, we must judge him lest we accept as God something which isn’t God. How else can we separate idols from the true God, separate God from false doctrines about God, from theories and projections of ourselves. Second, the criterion for judging God is God’s revleation of himself. If God tells me that he is Good, is love, is just, merciful, powerful, and so on, and I talk about God as if he is weak, brutal, arbitrary, and merciless, then one or the other of us must be wrong. Third, I reject this answer because it’s a really horrible thing to say to someone suffering or in pain from the effects of evil.
Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve made these answers up. For this reason I want to mention a Southern Baptist seminarian I know, who attempted to “answer the God-critics” last year in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Southern Baptist seminarians, I think it’s safe to say, are less prone to heresy than was John Milton. His agreement, as to the problem of evil in regards to the dead and the devastated on the Gulf Coast, was 1) maybe they had no right to be there and so it was their own fault; 2) the area was a cesspool of sin and deserving the judgement of God and so it was their own fault; 3) maybe it was God’s will for these people to die and/or God has the right to kill people; 4) maybe it wasn’t evil.
Lest you’ve forgotten, this is not a theoretical question. Where theological debates about the Trinity, or the divinity and humanity of Jesus certainly have consequences, the problem of evil begins with the consequences and those consequences have names and faces. In my case,* a theodicy is what I’m going to say to my friend Marie, who was raped last fall and doesn’t think she can tell her parents because of how devastated they would be. The problem of evil has the name of John, who will live the rest of his life with schizophrenia. A theodicy is what I’m going to say to Mathew, who sat in the snow on a ski slope for 30 minutes waiting for an ambulance as his 22-year-old fiancee died. It is the face of Cathrine, who’s cries when she remembers how her son, my childhood friend, died in a fireworks accident. I don’t bring you these ghosts of my pain to shock you, or to stake a claim to pain. I am sure each person here has, in their lives, pain and evil and hurting people. What I’m saying is don’t forget them. Do not give any answer to the problem of evil that you wouldn’t give to them, that wouldn’t be credible when directed towards their pain, and their suffering. This is not a theoretical question and yet those Christian answers are theoretical answers. This is the test of any answer, any theodicy - does it cause an ethical response to the suffering? Does it cause us to act more like Christ?
To this point let me re-tell a story:
There once was a man riding from Jerusalem to Jericho, and on the way he was beset by thieves. They stole everything he had, leaving him naked, beaten, bleeding, and dying. Laying there, in mud and pain, he moaned “I have been forsaken by God.” A Christian passed and hearing him said, “God is not responsible for this. This evil came into the world by free will, God has nothing to do with it.” A second Christian passed and hearing the man he said, “this, like all things, will work for good. Be content knowing that this evil will be the means for good.” And in saying so he sided with the thieves. A third Christian passed, and hearing the man he chided him, saying “who are you to judge God? Is God to be held accountable to you?” Finally a fourth Christian passed and hearing the man he said nothing, he had no explanation for how it was that a Good, caring, knowing, present and powerful God could let this happen. So saying nothing he took the man and bound his wounds, carrying him to an inn and paying for his care. Now which of this four, do you think, acted rightly? Which of them went the farthest to justify God in the face of evil, in the face of pain?
I don’t have an answer to the problem of evil. I don’t have a theodicy. And I don’t have a way of making the question go away. My answer then, is to bracket off the question. I assert that God is good, cares for us, is all powerful, ever-present and all-knowing. I know that there is evil in the world and I don’t know how rectify that with the existence of my God. I am, in this sense, agnostic. I just don’t know. What I do know is that my answer to the problem of evil is unimportant. All the answers I know of or have ever heard are withered and weak, make a mockery of God and trivialize pain. But I am not required or called to answer the problem, or to make the question go away, but only to follow Christ in reaching out to the suffering. Granted, one could give any of those the standard Christian answers to the problem of evil and also act to care for the suffering. There are many, I’m sure, who do, and may God bless them. I encourage those Christians, though, to abandon those answers and embrace the actions. Let God justify God and let Christians act as if they see the face of God in the face of men.
My point, in conclusion, is that the correct Christian response to the problem of evil is not to act like theologians, but like Christ. Dr. Reist is found of telling a story where a praying priest, despairing of ever getting help from God, looks at his crucifix and yells, “don’t just hang there, say something.” Looking at Christian theodicies I despair, and I am saying, “Don’t just say something, hang there.”*all names are changed
Points clarified in questions and answers:
I do believe that there’s answer to the problem of evil, that there is something that God says or can say to himself that explains the existence of evil. Given eternity and the possibility of infinite knowledge God could reveal the solution to us. For this reason also I do not hold that the question is wrong to ask, but that all the answers I have heard or have thought of are wrong.
I’ve conflated pain and evil more than they probably should be.
Even if the answers weren’t the wrong thing to say to someone suffering, they would be troublesome because they detract from the character of God. That is to say, even when disjoined from the ethical concerns these answers create more problems than they solve.
Jesus does say that the blind man was blind for the purposes of his glory. I don’t know how to deal with that.
I do not think the end of Job gives us a theodicy beyond “there is an answer, but it is beyond your comprehension. Glorify God.” I think the fact that Job is declared to have been righteous means that his demanding answers was not wrong.
I am uncomfortable with any theodicy that is abstract, which is not good as an answer to someone in pain, and think that all theodicies should end up urging us to love God, and love our neighbor.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Jesus Christ and Josey WalesReimagining the Christic “Sacrifice” through the American Western
1. All Christians, by definition, agree that the crucifixion of Jesus, incarnate God, was an act in time with redemptive consequences. However, among Christians there are two theoretical debates – who and how.
2. These debates are, literally, besides the point. The question adressed here of how redemption happened or happens is important only inasmuch as it moves one towards a better understanding of Christ and
that that understanding moves one to respond to redemption worshipfully.
1. There are various debated explanations as to how Jesus’ death is redemptive.
A) The Romans responded to the early Christian’s claim of crucified messiah was “so what?” (Justin Martyr quotation.)
B) My father, who did not grow up in a religious home, was baffled when he first heard of “Good Friday,” asking “If Jesus was a good guy, why do you call the day he was executed good?”
2. All of the explanations of the how of redemption are metaphors.
A) Legal justification metaphor. (C.S. Lewis/Chronicles of Narnia quotation).
B) Ransom metaphor. (St. Anselm quotation).
C) Bride metaphor (Quotation? God/man, dieing/undieing inversions).
a) These metaphors are not mutually exclusive.
b) Each specific metaphor has specific problems
i. A) seems to over-credit or normalize the system we need redemption from.
ii. B) seems to be a Manichean sort of dualism between God and Satan.
iii. C) doesn’t necessitate death or go beyond Christ-as-example.
In being metaphorical, the explanations for the how of redemption are not primarily or necessarily theoretical or theological.
1) Consequently, we are free to mine any field which might give us profitable metaphors.
2) Therefor let us here turn to literature, looking for a profitable metaphor to explain how redemption happens.
A) Literature is full of “Christ Figures,” that is, a character who parallels Jesus Christ in that he or she is messianic, of a higher or divine order, preforms miracles, imparts grace or forgiveness, brings about a new age, or is killed in a way that redeems others.
1) E.T. is a Christ figure in that E.T. is more evolved and therefore of a higher order, imparts wisdom, and marks the advent of a new age of peace and understanding.
2) William Wallace in Brave Heart is a Christ figure in that Wallace is of a “heroic” and thus higher order, preforms miracles (of a sort), brings about a new age, and is killed in a way that redeems others.
(Note: Science Fiction films are filled with redemptive themes and Christ figures and, in the opinions of some scholars, took in the 70s and 80s the socio-cultural place of the 40s and 50s Biblical epics of DeMille and others. Mel Gibson’s films are filled with Christ figures and almost every character he plays is tortured in a pivotal scene (What Women Want
may be the only exception).
3) We are going to look at the American Western for a Christ figure and a Christic “sacrifice” metaphor.
A) Because I like Westerns.
B) Because it gives me an excuse to watch Westerns.
C) Seriously, because the Western is definitive for America’s understanding of itself and everything else. If one wants to understand America one only needs to understand this genre, from “Buffalo” Bill Cody’s Wild West Show
to the first Western film Cripple Creek Barroom
to High Noon
to Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns to Star Wars
to Kevin Costner’s Open Range
a few years ago. Or, to put it another way, the Western is ever-changing genre illustrating the American psyche as it changes from the Indian Wars and Westward expansion to “Roaring 20s” to the Cold War to the late Cold War to the present War on Terror.
4) The hero-gunslinger of the Western at first appears to be an objectionable Christ figure.
A) The hero-gunslinger is violent.
B) The hero-gunslinger is a fallen human, esp. in the more recent “revisionist” or anti-hero Westerns, e.g. The Wild Bunch
and The Unforgiven.
There are three ways in which the hero-gunslinger exeplifies the Christic action that results in redemption, which might be helpful in reimagining the how of redemption.
1) The hero-gunslinger protects and defends weak strangers without personal benefit or without or beyond reason.
A) Josey Wales gathers a motley and rag-tag caravan, which slows him done and leads to his death.
a) A hostile and biggoted old women
b) A retarded girl.
c) A distrusting Cherokee.
B) Shane protects farmers that disgust him. (Quotation.)
C) John Wayne in The Searchers
protects those he considers to be the enemy, who are tainted by the very evil he's fighting.
a) A half-Anglo, half-Comanche boy.
b) A culturally Comanche girl.
c) An estranged family and their stupid neighbors.
Imaginations: The hero-gunslinger-Christ gathers to himself the weak , the dispossessed, and the unlikable, becoming one of them.
2) The hero-gunslinger engages in the system of violence in order to overthrow that system, taking all of the violence upon or into himself.
A) John Wayne’s Searcher takes scalps, and is equal to the brutality of the Comanches. He is a man who, in hating the Comanche's brutality and ugly life, hates his own violence.
B) Josey Wales is a “bush whacker” who guns down a score of men and who is falsely said to have killed between 50 and 100. He is portrayed as a man, to quote another Eastwood film, who knows that "it's what people know about themselves inside that makes them afraid."
C) Shane learns the peaceful life of the hard-working farmer, but restraps on his gun in order to meet as an equal the mercenary killer hired by the rancher to drive out the farmers.
Imaginations: By partaking in violence, the hero-gunslinger-Christ ends violence. He, quoting the New Testament, “brings the kingdom of God by violence, takes it by force.” The most violent part of the Western is always the final showdown, which brings about the self-desdruction of the violent system and results in a new age of peace, a new Eden or Kingdom of God. The hero-gunslinger-Christ uses violence in an inverted way, to protect the peaceful, end the reign of brutal force, and move the violence to consume itself.
3) Despite pleas to stay, the hero-gunslinger always dies or leaves, lest he recreate the system of violence and bloodshed.
A) Shane doesn’t come back but rides over the hill. (“Shane! Come back! Shane!”)
B) The last shot of The Searchers
shows John Wayne outside the cabin from inside the cabin, framing him in the cabin door and showing him almost ritually removed from the home to which and for which he’s brought peace.
C) Joesy Wales eventually stays in what one character actually describes as “New Eden,” but only undergoing a ritual death and resurrecting as a new man, the non-heroic John Williams.
Imaginations: The hero-gunslinger-Christ takes all of the violence into himself, and then rather than becoming a new king which would necessarily be of the same likeness as the old king (The King is dead! Long live the King!) takes all of that away into the outer darkness or grave. By this inversion, from power for the sake of power to power that undermines and ends the power structure, he leaves behind him a space for a new sort of epoch, a kingdom of peace. With the hero’s literal or figurative death the age of death ends.
Summary: Using the American Western’s metaphor to explain how the Christic act brings redemption, we say that Christ gathers and defends the weak and worthless, engages and subverts the structure of power, and dies to create a space for an epoch of peace or the Kingdom of God.
Conclusion: This metaphor has the advantage of not over-crediting the rules of the system which Christ will overthrow, of avoiding a Manichean dualism, and of explication why Christ had to die.
This metaphor has the disadvantage of being about cowboys, who no one takes seriously.
Qualification: The claim here is very limited, claiming only that this might be a useful way to reimagine how Christ’s crucifixion was redemptive and that even if it isn’t, it may spur us to evaluate and consider what metaphors we do accept and use.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Speaking of GodExplorations in the possibility of theological language from Anselm to Levinas
Theology today is most fundamentally in quest of a language and mode whereby it can speak. Above all it is in quest of a language whereby it can speak of God.
- Thomas J. J. Altizer
In five succinct paragraphs, Thomas Aquinas makes five straightforwardly philosophical arguments about metaphysics. He argues for an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause, a necessary being, a maximum being, and an intelligent end, and each of the arguments fits solidly in the tradition of philosophical arguments right up until the last line of each paragraph, where he appends this shift. At the very last line Aquinas turns it, ending each philosophical argument with some variation of the phrase “et hoc dicimus Deum” (and this we call God). Aquinas takes the philosophical argument using philosophical terms and then turns them to another purpose, turns them with a phrase to speak theologically. This shift is jarring. It is a change of subject that claims not to be changing the subject at all. It is a move from metaphysics to theology that claims to have made no move, to have been speaking only one language all along. The phrase seems so incongruous that we might do better to ask the statement as a question, noting that in question form this is the basic question of theology – what is it, what is this that we call God? Looking at this incongruity, and the seemingly supposed consistency, let us ask with what language we might answer that question.
When we speak of God in the Western tradition, we have spoken in two ways: philosophically and mystically. With philosophy we explain God’s place in our system of thought, the function of the divine within our world and how, so to speak, God works as a thing in this world. With mysticism we emphasize the otherness and uncontainability of God, the ineffability of the divine. Both of these languages, however, are problematic as theological languages. In mysticism we lose God; in this ineffability he slips beyond our world, beyond our comprehension. We are not speaking here of the worst of mysticism, which is a fetish of secrets and obfuscations that believes itself capable of conjuring or decoding the divine, but rather we are speaking of the best of mysticism which comes from this impulse of due reverence but still always loses the divine into the fog of distance between God and mankind. In philosophy, we lose God in the opposite manner. In philosophy we lose God by containing the divine, bringing God into the circumference of our system and thereby describing God as less than God. In philosophy God reaches mankind and enters into the world but, in fact, becomes a part of the world. He becomes contained and counted among the objects of the world – men and trees and elephants and now, God. If God is included in our philosophy, if our theological language is via affirmativa, God becomes an ontological object, a bit of the furniture that makes up the arrangement of things. If God is beyond our philosophy, if our theological language is via negativa, then the divine doesn’t enter our world and is irrelevant to it. We have God inside and God outside and neither of them are what we want when we want to speak of God. Both our traditional modes of theological speaking, then, are troubled by an inability to say what it is we want to say; we are floundering for a language with which to say what this is that we call God.
We need, somehow, to have God in our world without our world containing God. We need, somehow, God outside our world without eliminating God from it. The God we want to call God is both beyond comprehension and is somehow also comprehensible. If we play it one way we lose God, the other and we still lose God. We seem then to be in an impossible bind. If God is in our world then this thing which we call God is less than God, if outside it, then God is irrelevant. We need a God that crosses the line of outside/inside without falling over it. All of our philosophies and mysticisms attempt this but seem to all fail at crucial moments, letting what we call God be disfigured by our calling, letting that which is hoc dicimus Deum slide disastrously one way or the other.
This is not a problem when speaking of uncaused causes and unmoved movers, or when speaking of Zeus, of angels, or of UFOs. This is the particular problem of theological language. The purpose of speaking theologically is to articulate that which occupies this “space” of entering in and yet still remains beyond. This is not a problem either when we do not speak at all. There is here the distinct temptation to abandon altogether the project of theological language, to stop speaking of God at all or to simply speak of God as no more than a part of the world and a piece of a system. Certainly some have done this and there seems to be no well argued objection to that abandonment. But, for some of us, such a move seems to be impossible. To abandon the project of the possibility of a theological language would not be to abandon a God who both enters into and remains beyond our encapsulating circumference, but to settle for speaking in disfigurements. We seek and have sought a way to speak about God while at the same time feeling that everything that has been said is in some important way wrong, and to stop seeking would not eliminate the problem but accept it. For at least some people, among them both theists and atheists, the search for a theological language and the attempt to describe a “space” such that it is both inside and beyond our world, is an impulse that will not go away. There is a haunting insistence to the question, and we find ourselves asking again, what is this that we call God? Is a theological language possible?
The greatest attempt at speaking of God in such a way as to allow the divine to be wholly other, ineffably divine and yet still to take a place in our world and reach us here, is Anselm’s ontological argument’s thinking of infinity. Anselm attempts to balance God on this line so that God is infinite, so he is the beyond and also enters in. Anselm’s description of God has him piercing into this world and letting us see the Other. The person who approaches God Anselm-wise does so very vertically. He sees by God and through God to a God which cannot be delimited by the sight of humans.
Whether his argument works or not, there is something that feels wrong about it. I find this feeling in the island-argument response of his contemporaneous monk, in Kant’s famous rebuttal, and also in the normal reading of average freshman. It works on paper, the logic is sound, and yet we are deeply uncomfortable with it. There are, I think, two ways it feels wrong: First, it feels like a technicality. There’s a seemingly accidental nature of the proof. It is as if Anselm found a lucky technical solution for God. Second, this God of Anselm’s feels as though he’s present on paper, present to us logically but not viscerally. The common objection here is that Anselm’s God is not personal.
These objections may, however, be caused by asking Anselm’s project to extend way beyond its limited intentions. Anselm is not attempting to prove the existence of God. Anselm’s “proof” is at most secondary, as he is trying to prove that God’s character or nature is as we believed it to be, to answer the question of what this is that we call God, and in doing this he sets out a way we can talk about God. Many readings of Anselm’s argument are trying, really, to follow him backwards. Where Anselm’s move was one of, as he said, “faith seeking understanding,” we read him trying to get from understanding to faith.
Neither we, here in this exploration of the possibility of a theological language, nor Anselm are trying to prove the existence of God or to start from any place other than faith. For the purposes of this paper we are interested in Anselm’s attempt at developing a language with which to speak of that which we call God. Both of the common objections hint at problems in his formulation of a theological language. While not intended as such, both objections can be recast as objections to the way in which Anselm comes to describe God as contained within our world, our logic. What both objections point to as troubling is the way in which Anselm has employed a philosophical syllogism to speak of God and then has spoken of God as a piece of that logical syllogism. Let us ask then, is Anselm describing God in a way that contains God, that speaks of God as in within our world?
Anselm wants to move from meditation on the word “God” to God. He’s echoing Augustine’s language where Augustine says he wants to go from hearing the two syllables of “Deus” to “reach something than which nothing is better or more sublime.” It is unclear whether Anselm knew it or not, but he is also echoing the words of Seneca, where Seneca says God’s “magnitude is that than which nothing greater can be thought.” Where Augustine and Anselm wanted this language to be a theological language whereby they may speak of something that is in but also beyond our world, unencircleable by our systems of thought, Seneca uses the same language to speak of a god that isn’t wholly Other, a god that is one god among many and one worldly thing among many worldly things. The similarity of the phrases brings into question the supposed difference in what is being called God. It is not clear that this theological language is necessarily describing a God who is beyond this world, and it even becomes doubtful how this phrase could possibly be understood to describe such a divine. In a language where God is “that which greater than which none can be conceived,” there is nothing to say that a God such as that must be something more than ontological furniture, more than the world.
Examining Anselm’s own claims for his language leads us to same problem as above. He wants, in the course of his meditation, to move from God in intellectu, in perception, to God in re, in existence or--problematic yet literal--in things. Anselm’s theological language seems constructed then to break the skepticism of idealism, but it is ill designed to speak of a God who is ineffable. He does though, while making the move from God in intellectu to God in re, speak of God as infinite. We cannot rightly read of Anselm’s God in re without remembering that this in re God is also infinite. God is not, for Anselm a thing, but the infinitely greatest thing and great in infinite ways. Yet this language obviously still does not speak of God as beyond and as uncontainable. Anselm wants to explore how this infinite God can be contained within our finite cognition, but in doing that he doesn’t give us a way to speak of that “God” which is beyond our finite cognition.
Following the example of the Christian Apostle Paul’s proclamation that the Athenian altar to an unknown God was actually an altar to the God he had come preaching, Christian philosophers throughout the history of philosophy in the West have found things in one or another philosophical system that they identified as what we had called God. They have undertaken philosophical conversations and then added onto the end of that conversation the claim that “this is what we call God.” This identification always later becomes complicated and troublesome when the thing identified with God did not and could not act as God, and when the system or piece of the system identified with God was later rejected. If what we called God was only some piece of a philosophical system, then God stands or falls with the system and that piece of the system. The examples of this identification becoming publicly troublesome and complicated stretches back from the so called death of God philosophers in the 1970s to Nietzsche’s use of that phrase to Galileo, and back seemingly without end. In one lesser-known example John Scotus Eriugena identifies God with neo-Platonism’s Being and becomes a sort of pantheist condemned by multiple popes.
When those who loved something they called God speak about the death of God, they begin to count our types of God and to show us how the God who is now dead was never the one we wanted anyway. There are of course the old fashioned atheists, like, say, Sartre, who didn’t want a God or believe in any sort of God and who thought an age without God would be a golden one, but there are those who loved something they called God, who’ve lost something they called God. Pascal made this move when he, recording a religious vision on a piece of paper he carried until his death, wrote that he had seen “not the God of the philosophers and scholars,” but “FIRE,” the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,” and the “God of Jesus Christ” Pascal sees that any God who is a piece of a philosophic system is less than God, and he sees us struggling to speak of God in any way so that what we speak of can be the God we and he had set out to love and understand. He wants to stop himself at this point of speaking and say no, something’s terribly wrong with this God who either slips beyond our world into obscure and nonsensical talk or slips into our world and becomes a bit of ontological furniture. He thinks that we began, as Anselm instructed, with faith seeking understanding but that the understanding has destroyed our faith. Let us then, he says, lose this God. We will not, he thinks, have lost something which we wanted. Buber makes this same move, counting in our history two Gods, two things we called God, and saying that now we have lost one but it turns out to be the one that was never really God. We have lost something, but it was the disfigured description of what we wanted. Buber says there is an It-God who was an object, and a Thou-God. Philosophy has always, by the nature of philosophy, been about the It-God, and it may have seduced us into thinking we were loving the Thou-God by speaking of the It-God, but we were mistaken and the sooner the It-God passes away the better.
There is something entirely right about the move these philosophers are making here, but this eagerness to be done with the It-God and the philosopher’s God, to dismiss the disfigurements, seems rushed. There are many things in Buber and Pascal’ analysis and the shift they propose which would be worth exploring, but what their story seems to be missing is the anguish. They’re with Sartre in being too cavalier in dismissing what we said it was we loved, in dismissing that which we would talk about and then say et hoc dicimus Deum. It may well be that the dismissal is right, that we had gotten God all wrong, but to move so swiftly to a solution misses the pain of this loss. Note that Nietzsche’s mad man, after proclaiming in the streets that God is dead and we have killed him, begins to weep and when no one understands him he goes to a requiem for the deceased divine. He is overwhelmed by anguish. When someone says, “God is dead and we didn’t want him anyway” there is something that has been brushed aside. So let us say “yes, perhaps,” but then also query further. When we destroy this idol-god, having thought of it as something which entered into and also remained beyond our world, but seeing now that it was only another thing in the world, we are still losing something, killing something. We are not losing God, but we are losing something nevertheless. We are losing the language by which we were speaking of God. To abandon what we called God, knowing now that it was but a disfigurement, is, it seems, to abandon the possibility of an infinite entering into our world, the possibility of speaking of something which would not by our speaking become a thing.
What we wanted from the Anselmian project was the preservation of the infinite, was the intrusion of the ineffable into our world in such a way that it both reached us and remained beyond us. We need an infinite we can behold without making finite. The initial problem, which still remains, is how to think of and speak of God such that God crosses the space of inside/outside without falling over. Pascal won’t help us if he does nothing more than continue to repeat the phrase “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” Buber seems to offer us only a language within which to speak to God, not a theological language, but a romantic and ecstatic one. Though he had, it seems, intended to, Buber never, from this understanding of God as approachable only as a Thou, developed a new way in which to speak of God. Buber and Pascal still need a way to talk about God, still need a theological language. Let’s look at two modern attempts at speaking of God without disfiguring him: first the ethical and second the impossible.
Tolstoy tells a religious story about a cobbler named Martin who despairs of life and wants to see God. Martin is promised in a dream that he would, the next day, see God. So he goes about his day keeping on the lookout for God and does pretty well, but he is distracted eventually by someone in need. They’re cold and need something to eat and a coat so he takes them in and cares for them and realizes later that he was distracted and didn’t see Jesus. That night again he hears a voice promising that he will see God the next day, if he remains vigilant. The same thing happens the next day and he hears the voice again and then again he’s distracted by someone in need and then the last night, in total despair, he apologizes to God for getting distracted and asks to die. That night in a dream he sees the people he has helped walking by and he hears the voice telling him that he has seen the face of God in the face of these people.
Perhaps the error of Anselm’s attempt at beholding the ineffable was its verticalness. In the most recent scholarship on death of God theology there occurs and reoccurs a turn to Levinas and his talk of the face of the other. The “other” in Levinas, is a conflation of the otherness of people, the faces we see around us, and the Otherness of God. This is not a problem but rather the point. He wants to make an incarnational move. Levinas attempts to make the Anselmian move horizontally, and with that horizontality to let us see God in a way that’s not technical and is very visceral. He thinks the face of the other offers us a way in which to see the infinite, the ineffable, the unthinkable divine, without surrounding it, overrunning it, and destroying it. Through the faces of other people we can let God enter the world and reach us while still remaining uncontainable. This ethics can speak theologically without losing God either by enclosing him in our world or walling him outside of it. Levinas offers us the possibility of a theological language that allows us to talk about God so that he’s in our world without our world containing him, and outside our world without being eliminated from it.
Yet the horizontal theological language has only repeated the problems of the vertical one. Buber’s point about the It-God and the Thou-God applies, originally and especially, to people. How does one go about looking with the Levinasian look that doesn’t deface the face of the other? It is no clearer how we can speak of people without treating them as objects, as things in the world, than we could of God. When we speak about people, we speak about them as things in this world, among the ontological furniture. There is nothing about the horizontal move which allows the face of the other to stay at this inside/outside space. It is constantly slipping into our world of things and being overrun and surrounded. In explicitly Christian terms, notice that the incarnate God-the-Son is no easier to explain and no less prone to heresy than the outside-the-world creator God. This horizontal theological language, rather than solving the problem, has recreated it.
There is, though, perhaps another reason for the turn to Levinas. While it is regularly depicted as a new way to see and speak of God, a way which will avoid the old disfigurments of God, it may be that the Levinasian turn to ethics is a turn away from the problems of the possibility theological language. Perhaps this turn is not to be explained by the Tolstoy story, but by a Hasidic parable told about Adam and Eve. On the day Adam and Eve were cast from Eden the sun set for the first time and as the world passed into darkness they were terrified, believing that their sin had set the world sinking into nothingness. They spend the night trembling in fear, eyes dilated to the darkness, looking each other in the face. For them there was now nothing, God had left them and the world had gone dark and there was nothing left but the face of the other. In the case of Tolstoy’s cobbler, looking into the faces of people was a way to see God, but for Adam and Eve it is all that is left. Perhaps the Levinasian turn is best understood not as concerned with a new theological language but with a way forward in a world which has no theological language. This turn can be understood as a manner in which to bracket off the continued unrest in theological language, to leave it unsettled and to still proceed.
It is as if presented with someone on the side of the road, beaten and bloodied and robbed and saying he was “God forsaken,” the Levinasian has put aside the question of whether or not God has indeed forsaken him. An atheist might have said God had. A theist might have said he hadn't. A Levinasian can claim to not know, can leave that question open, and can then, like the Samaritan in the Gospel parable, act to help the man. Where the entire debate has prepared us to engage the question of what it is that the man on the side of the road is calling God when he says that whatever it was he called God has forsaken him, to debate whether that God was the God he wanted to be speaking of in the first place, the Levinasian seeks to forsake that debate in favor of ethical action. The Levinasian is giving up, at least somewhat, the ability or possibility of speaking of God, replacing that with an ethics. The Levinasian takes on a sort of agnosticism, instead acting as God ought act to the beaten man and acting as if the beaten man were God. There is here a theological language, but it is incidental to the ethics.
This is a move, too, that despite its agnosticism and lack of a theological language
is hailed as “true religion” by Jewish and Christian prophets. “For how,” James asks, “could you possibly love God if you do not love your brother?” This Levinasian ethical agnosticism is the course that Jesus says the inheritors of the kingdom of God have taken. They have turned wholly to ethics and in dedicating their lives to helping people – feeding, clothing, washing, and visiting people - they have, to their surprise, served God. They have imitated the Messiah to the helpless, and the helpless have become the Messiah to them. God is thus found by not looking for God, but found without being looked for by looking into the faces of the worst of society.
This is the course that John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath character the Rev. Jim Casey takes. Casey, when we meet him in the novel's opening, has lost his faith and no longer knows how to speak of God. He's gone out into the wilderness to try and regain his faith, to figure God out, and has now come back down knowing only that he knows nothing. He abandons his ministry and refuses the normal deference paid to him, refusing repeatedly to pray over meals, sick people, etc. As he gives up speaking of (and for) God, though, he increasingly responds to the needs of the people around him, dedicating his life to helping people until, in the end of the book, he becomes a Christ figure, saying “you don't know what you're doing” to the man that kills him.
The Levinasian ethics, however, does not preclude a theological language and in fact can return us to the need for a theological language. If we can, at this point, avoid a theological language, avoid appending again that phrase, et hoc dicimus Deum, then we may find ourselves finished with the question. Here, as before, it is tempting to abandon the project, and perhaps it would be better if we did so, but it still seems that to abandon the question is just to answer it in a bad way, to settle for disfigurements. Even here though, we find ourselves wanting to say this is the solution, to say “this is what we meant by God.” Like Levinas, we want to say something about how that which we behold, that which inspires us to this ethical action, is beyond the world and is ineffable. The Levinasian turn may be a turn away from the question to an action, but the question is even here reasserted. We still want to ask what is this which we call God and how could we say what this is? The search for the possibility of a theological language remains.
Perhaps, however, we must come to recognize that theological language is impossible and that we are offered the choice of either speaking about God in a language that disfigures and defaces God or of saying nothing of God at all. But perhaps this impossibility is the key to theological language. Derrida, who says that he “rightly passes for an atheist” and that he “is always praying,” wants to put forward the possibility of a theological language of the impossible.
This is a language that recognizes and remains ever aware of its impossible task; thus it speaks of God, then notes its own inadequacies, then speaks of God, etc. This is a language that continually points out its own failure, a language that is always restless and disturbed. Our third choice is that of a blind theological language that recognizes its blindness, speaking within that blindness so that we know we’re saying impossible things but we are, by grace, through faith, hanging on by our teeth anyway.
In some sense, though, Derrida has not done something totally new here, but has looped us around and returned us to the place Anselm, and the whole Western tradition of theological speaking, began. Anselm begins to speak only after the caveat of the impossibility of speaking. Aquinas wrote for a mere 20 years and was recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, not for his philosophical writings and his systematizations of Catholic thought, but rather for his mystical apprehension of God that was, he is said to have said, so beyond anything that he had or could have written, leaving his writings “as straw.” When we speak of God, in the West, we speak in two languages, not choosing between them but speaking both. In our study of the thought of traditional figures we will separate the languages, but Aquinas, Anselm, et al, speak both in mysticism, placing God outside of our world, and in the philosophy placing him within it. They have, all the time, been referring to God, as it is said, via negativa and via affirmativa. We have normally recognized the difficulties and the errors of these languages, but we have found no solution other than to continue speaking in a cycle of theological language modifying theological language. Derrida's move then is not a novel one, but one that reminds us that theological language must be spoken recognizing and declaring its limitations. Derrida's move is one that reminds us why Anselm with his vertical language and Levinas with his horizontal one can, with their deficiencies, continue to speak of God.
With all of our protagonists agreeing, though, let us ask a question: Is this the best sort of theological speaking we can have? Can we only speak of God in the highly complex interplay of these two languages, in this cycle of languages where the first modifies the second and then the second modifies the first? Could there be a theological language such that we could simultaneously speak of God as speakable and of God as unspeakable? Surely no burden is too great in undertaking this project of theological language, so perhaps the answer simply is, “Yes, this cyclical language of speaking and unspeaking is the best we can hope for.” Still, it seems we must note that this is a highly complicated and confusing manner of doing theology, and, though it is profitable and ought not be abandoned, we ought to accept and champion a simpler language if we had it. Such a language, I think, might be found in Jesus' language of parables.
Jesus describes God in parabolic theological language as a father, a mother hen, a shepherd who's lost a sheep, and the host of a party and none of his listeners stopped him to say, “Wait, wait, how could it be both?” Speaking in parables is speaking in a way that we easily understand. It is simple without being simplistic, and it is somehow actively affirmatively speaking of God, thinking about and considering God, while not overstating or erring and without need of the disclaimers and caveats of other theological languages. By never marking themselves as anything more than “just stories,” this theological language of parables is at once describing a God knowable and unknowable, a God inside and outside, and in such a clear and unconfused way that even the least educated and the least subtle thinkers can figure God without disfiguring God. Not what we would normally consider a science of speaking of God, this methodology of simple stories manages somehow to describe God without being fraught by the errors we have seen wrack theological languages from Anslem to Levinas.
Looking, finally, at the three ways of speaking of God, we see that this is everywhere the case – we seek to state by misstating, to describe by misdescribing, to speak by misspeaking, and always to speak of God humbly.
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