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March 12, 2006 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Column: War On Drugs Is Producing Casualties, But Not Victories

By Bill McClellan

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

This year, the body of 17-year-old Jacob Bowers was found in a parking lot behind a furniture store in Cape Girardeau. He had been shot once in the back. The bullet went through his heart.

A small quantity of cocaine was found in one of his pockets. He had also been carrying a two-shot derringer pistol. It was loaded. Both bullets were dented from the gun's hammer. Apparently, the pistol had misfired.

Three days later, Bernard Richards, 19, was arrested and charged with Bowers' murder. The interesting thing about the case was the total absence of virtue.

According to the state, Bowers and John Lewis decided to rob a small-time drug dealer, David McKee. Lewis called McKee and said he wanted to buy some cocaine.

As McKee walked to the parking lot where he was supposed to meet Lewis, he happened upon Richards, who told him that he had seen Lewis with a second man, and that made him think that this "deal" was going to turn into a robbery.

So Richards, who had a weapon, came along as protection. He hid behind a trash container as McKee met Bowers and Lewis.

Sure enough, it was a robbery. After McKee gave the men the cocaine, Bowers pulled out his derringer and put it to McKee's head. He demanded McKee's money. Which amounted to two bucks, by the way.

McKee grabbed Bowers' gun, and the two struggled. During the struggle, Richards came from behind the trash bin, shooting and yelling. McKee, Bowers and Lewis all took off. Richards chased after Bowers and fired again. Bowers went down.

That is the state's theory, anyway.

So the state has a victim who was shot moments after he committed an armed robbery. If the dents on the bullets are any indication, he may have tried to shoot his victim. But Richards is no hero of the Second Amendment. The state also alleges that Richards later threatened McKee and his family. He demanded that McKee tell the police that he, McKee, had shot Bowers in self-defense.

I went to the preliminary hearing last month. The state's witnesses were a sad and motley crew. They basically said that yes, we were hanging out, and Bowers came up with the idea of robbing a cocaine dealer and that sounded pretty good because, you know, you could use some of the coke and sell the rest, and they explained it in the matter-of-fact way that other 17-year-olds might describe the decision to get a pizza. I don't mean to be unfair to these young people, but if you had to guess whether their futures involve prison or college, the choice would be an easy one.

The state was represented by Morley Swingle, the prosecutor for Cape Girardeau County. He was wearing one of his trademark "steamboat" ties. He had a bunch of them made shortly after the publication of his novel, "The Gold of Cape Girardeau." The book is historical fiction, and steamboats have a prominent role.

As you might expect from a prosecutor who writes novels, Swingle has a way with words. I remember when an art thief named Robert Smith stole some letters written by William Faulkner from the rare book room at Southeast Missouri State University. Swingle said he liked Faulkner, but preferred shorter sentences. Except for Smith.

That sort of wit will be wasted on this case. I suppose you could say it will be just another casualty in our never-ending War on Drugs.

I thought about our War on Drugs as I sat there in the courtroom. Where has the war gotten us? Have we stopped the demand? Put a dent in the supply? No and no. These kids who were marching up to the witness stand might not have seemed impressive, but if they wanted cocaine, they knew where to get it. And that's in Cape Girardeau, a conservative town.

Consider, too, the murder of Jacob Bowers. Why would he want to rob a drug dealer? First of all, a drug dealer can't report the crime. Second, he might have cash. And so we have these little shootouts. Talk to people who live in neighborhoods where the sound of gunfire is not uncommon. Ask them what the shooting is about. Drugs, they'll say.

With our War on Drugs, we've created a parallel economy. It's all about cash and lawlessness, and we have these miniature St. Valentine's Day Massacres happening again and again.

On the day of the preliminary hearing, this newspaper published a story about a deal between Anheuser-Busch and a Dutch brewer, Grolsch NV. The accompanying photograph showed August Busch IV and Ab Pasman, CEO of Grolsch. They were smiling and pouring glasses of beer.

In the days of prohibition, there'd have been a turf war. Now it's a business deal. You'd think we'd get the message.

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