When Larry Neil White died at age 62, it hardly came as a surprise.
It was inevitable he would die, since birth at least. Since March, it was inevitable he would die without going to trial for the deaths of Abel Marquez, Arlie Jones Jr. and Scott Gardner, the three police officers he shot outside his home for no good reason anyone will ever be able to discern, or a jury of his peers will be able to evaluate.
Let’s not blame anyone for that. Certainly not District Attorney Bobby Bland, who did his sincere best to make White stand trial. It’s not Mr. Bland’s fault White’s esophageal cancer got in the way of the three-year plan for murder convictions in Ector County. It didn’t pan out this time, sure, but it did for Jan David Clark’s and Israel Lujan in their trials, Arnaldo Ramirez in his guilty plea, and Willie Hurst in his soon-to-arrive trial. All are being taken care of in about three years in their respective 2008 homicide cases, give or take. The DA’s office rushed Christopher David Lyson to trial just 18 months after Ryan Adam Moon’s death, and we know how that turned out. Slow and steady wins the race, except when the race is against time.
Let’s not blame defense attorneys Woody Leverett or Ray Fivecoat, either, who performed quite effectively in their roles. It’s very hard to defend your client when he’s too sick to communicate, disoriented most of the time — and guilty as sin like pitch is black, to your and everyone else’s obvious observation.
Let’s not blame Judge Denn Whalen, who genuinely now, appears to respect the court’s role for justice above retribution and wished, one supposes, to try a man fairly, impartially and as opposite a formalized lynching as possible. We’d all have felt a lot better to just string Larry White up like Saddam Hussein, surrounded by a jolly, jeering mob, but that isn’t America.
We’d feel a whole lot better if some Odessa PD officer out there had ignored his or her training and sworn duty that night in order to, as White exited his house, put a well-placed bullet through White’s already terminally-malignant throat.
In Midland they shoot jaywalkers in the back of the head for coughing. Can you remember the last time Odessa police shot someone, even after all they’ve gone through? God bless them.
Larry White came safely out of his home, and was taken to the hospital. The people who had every reason and desire to kill him kept him alive for three-and-a-half years. That’s everything right about this country.
It’s sick and deranged and ironic in the way that makes you want to vomit, but Larry White saved his life by killing three cops and obligating the state to pay $300,000 for his medical care. Worse yet, we saved his life because we needed to make sure he stayed around long enough that we could sentence him to death and he could still proceed to expire of his cancer, but on appeal and on death row.
Kafka thinks that synopsis makes the legal system sound too absurd.
The truth is we never were seeking justice from the trial of Larry White. We wanted catharsis. We wanted to feel better knowing the man would die because we had decided he would, not fate. We wanted to strain the chaos and futility through the courts to find some sort of order on the other side. Then it would all make sense. Somehow.
There was never any justice to be had. The sadistic little whisper in us that takes joy in watching him shrivel up and be eaten, mind and body, of cancer is not justice. It’s still schadenfreude to delight in the idea the devil burns in hell. And it isn’t justice White died like he did because we see our friends and family who have never killed anybody “battle” cancer to the point of unrecognizability, and they die bald, 80 pounds, with skin gray with chemotherapy.
There was never any justice in any of it, unless by his death some sort of reverse-messianic salvation might take place and Marquez, Jones and Gardner could rise from their graves restored and able to return home.
There was never any justice unless we could clone White three times, raise them to be decent and selfless, surround them with people who love them — then gun the Whites Larry down in whiskey-sotted pointlessness.
After he took three good men from this earth, nothing else mattered, or changed anything. What became of Larry Neil White mattered least of all.
The three men killed will not be forgotten for 100 years or more.
The tears shed for White in his passing would not fill a thimble.
Someday someone will write a book about all this, and the people everywhere will marvel events could ever occur and culminate in such an anticlimax as they did.
But after that night, nothing could ever change that made any difference.