Guest Commentary / December 7, 2022

A Cautionary Tale

Who is prepared to say that smoking a little weed is harmless?

By Mark W. Fowler

“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” —Proverbs 14:12 (NASB)

This is a cautionary tale. It is based on real events that occurred in a rural county in Tennessee but has occurred all over this nation as its citizens began to pursue intoxication as a form of leisure. The names and places have been obscured, but even a cursory computer search of the critical concepts will reveal many similar stories of double homicides related to the drug trade.

As a former criminal defense attorney and prison physician, I have encountered hundreds of individuals whose lives were wrecked in the shallows and rapids of illicit drug use. But it is also a cautionary tale about the consequences of unrestricted immigration now occurring on the southern border. It is no secret that drug cartels originating in South and Central America are particularly violent, have corrupted the governments where they ply their trade, and brought their violence and destruction to our country. The Justice Department has studied the relationship of double homicides and drug trades and found a significant correlation. This story explores one such event in the life of our neighbors and the pestilential nature of intoxicant use.

While still a student in high school, Jim (not his real name) started occasionally smoking marijuana. By the time of his downfall, the occasional joint was not enough, and he was practically obsessed (or as obsessed as you can be while stoned) with obtaining and using marijuana on a daily basis. Even the more modern, more concentrated form of marijuana was not enough, so he combined this with beer and Xanax. By the time he was arrested, he was consuming as many as 30 Xanax a day, enough to kill anyone who was Xanax naïve. He fell in with the wrong crowd, spending his days stoned, playing video games, sponging off his family, and stuttering along with the occasional community college course. In other words, going nowhere fast. He was the kind of guy you could not help but like: easygoing, conciliatory, friendly, but apparently devoid of, or had laid down, any moral compass that might have alerted him to how lost he was.

Mr. and Mrs. Hammonds had retired. They were salt-of-the-earth people who had worked hard, paid taxes, minded their business, and were kind, decent people. The kind of people you want as neighbors. They had no involvement with Jim except they lived in a house formerly owned by his family. In one of those quirks of fate that begins innocently and ends catastrophically, Jim had once relayed to his marijuana supplier that his grandparents had lived in the house then occupied by the Hammonds.

In a plot twist almost Shakespearean in nature, Jim came to the attention of a Mexican drug cartel. Attempts to enlist Jim voluntarily as a foot shoulder in the drug trade were met with Jim’s resistance.

But this was not an offer he could refuse.

Two enforcers arrived from Mexico to demonstrate what was expected of Jim, and what he or his family could expect in the event of his noncompliance. The enforcers forcibly took Jim to the house of the Hammonds in the darkness of night, where he was forced to watch them be slaughtered. Mrs. Hammonds was stabbed multiple times. Her throat was slashed, severing the jugular vein and carotid artery and partially severing her spine. They got to watch their beloved spouse in the last horrifying moment of their lives. Jim watched and listened as Mr. Hammond drowned in his own blood. All this so the Mexican cartel could sell some marijuana. Their bodies were found covered in blood by their son and grandson. Imagine seeing that.

Catastrophes often follow a benign multi-causal course until the confluence of small factors combines to produce calamity. In this case, in yet another Shakespearean twist, the government agents responsible for investigating this carnage focused early on Jim as the sole perpetrator, overlooking the evidence that suggested the murders had been committed suddenly, violently, and with overwhelming force beyond the capability of a single assailant.

Jim was promptly implicated as he attempted to sell items taken from the home. As tragic as this was, Jim’s drug-beclouded judgment and fear compelled him to remain silent about the true nature of events. Jim did have a legal defense available to him — that of duress, which certainly applied here. But keeping his secrets to himself, he was convicted, went to prison, and remained there for almost 10 years.

Jim’s family was well to do and had hired one of the best attorneys in Tennessee, who in turn enlisted two other former judges to help. The Court of Appeals had reversed Jim’s conviction, affording him a new trial. After a Herculean effort involving dozens of pleadings, hundreds of hours, and a five-week trial, Jim was acquitted of all counts. In this one regard, Jim was lucky. By the time it was over, Jim had paid for his longstanding drug use with 10 years of incarceration, the loss of his reputation, the guilt of his involvement in the death of two innocent people, and worry over the safety of his family. His family endured the loss of trust and esteem among their neighbors and thousands of dollars in expenses.

The assassins were never found and presumably remain free, maybe killing others and/or entrapping unknown numbers in the morass of drug addiction. It is impossible to know what mayhem and misery they continue to inflict on others. They may be God’s children, but there is something about this that makes one wish for them that which they have inflicted on others. Even God became fed up with Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed it. The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction.

Mr. and Mrs. Hammonds suffered and died, needlessly, tragically, horribly. Their families have lain awake for years pondering, crying, mourning the deaths of the loved and lost.

Just for marijuana use.

Who is now prepared to say that smoking a little weed is harmless?

Mark Fowler is a former attorney and board-certified physician and can be reached at [email protected]

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