Alejandro Murillo came to federal court Thursday morning wearing a gray-and-white striped shirt and pants outfit with Phelps County Jail stenciled on the back of the shirt. In these lean times, an enterprising county can make a nice piece of change housing federal prisoners.
Murillo was one of several people scheduled for sentencing, and I looked around at the other spectators and wondered if any of them were there for him. A few feet to the right of me sat a young woman who seemed to be fighting back tears. Perhaps she is here for Murillo, I thought. Maybe she is Zenaida Alcazar.
Murillo and Alcazar were driving east on Interstate 44 when they pulled into a truck stop near Rolla late one night in April. They got into a heated argument in the cab of their truck and Murillo chased Alcazar into the convenience store. The clerk called the police. When the cops began to question the couple, alarm bells went off. I-44 is a major thoroughfare in the drug world, and here was a couple from Arizona driving a truck and trailer with Kentucky plates.
The cops asked for permission to search the truck and trailer. No, said Murillo. The cops called for a drug dog. Ziggy the drug dog took one sniff at the trailer and began to bark.
The trailer contained 855 pounds of pot. Murillo was charged. Alcazar was released.
I wrote a lighthearted column about the folly of arguing with a woman.
Eventually, Murillo pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
He's 32 years old. He has four kids. He was going to make $10,000 for transporting the dope. That's tax-free money, of course. No Social Security taxes, no Medicare taxes, no income taxes. The government gets nothing.
Murillo stood at the lectern facing the judge. To his left was his federal defender, and to the left of his federal defender was the assistant U.S. attorney.
I have known both of them for a long time. They are good and decent men. For that matter, I like the judge, too. The lawyers, the judge and I are all baby boomers.
I looked at the scene in front of me, and I thought, "What happened?"
There was a time, long ago, when I thought my generation was going to change things. Maybe we'd never be called the Greatest Generation, but at least we'd bring a more sensible approach to drug laws. At the very least, we'd legalize pot.
In fact, I remember people talking about how the tobacco companies were buying land in Mexico, and how they had already copyrighted pot names. "R.J. Reynolds already has Acapulco Gold," is the sort of thing people would say. That made sense. Those were the days when you couldn't walk into a party without somebody handing you a joint.
When we got the power, we'd change things.
You know how that worked out. The first boomer president said he didn't inhale, and the second boomer president pulled a Mark McGwire and said he wasn't here to talk about the past. And that was that. Two and out. It was as if somebody said, "Don't Bogart the torch." We passed it to the next generation.
I find much about the drug laws hard to believe. When I was a kid, the mob ran the numbers game. Then the government saw it for the cash cow it was, took it away from the mob and called it the lottery. Why don't we want the revenue from marijuana?
The judge asked Murillo if he had anything to say before sentencing. Murillo said he wanted to turn his life around. "This is the lowest point. I don't want go lower than this," he said.
Murillo is a good case study in two respects. First, drugs are bad. Drugs have messed up his life. He got a bad conduct discharge from the Navy because of drugs. Then he got hooked on crystal meth. So yes, his experiences tell us that drugs, like booze and like gambling, can ruin a person. But he messed up his life while drugs were illegal, and that tells us the second thing - prohibition doesn't work.
It's like we have a choice. We can have Gussie Busch, or we can have Al Capone.
By the way, Murillo was offered a deal by the feds. He could get a lighter sentence if he told them who hired him to deliver the dope. He did not take the deal. We can only guess at his reasoning.
The day before Murillo was sentenced, retired Brig. Gen. Juan Arturo Esparza was assassinated. He was the police chief of a town in northern Mexico. He had taken office four days earlier.
The judge gave Murillo 37 months. That was at the low end of the sentencing guidelines.
As I left the courtroom, I glanced at the young woman who had been sitting to my right. She was still there, still waiting. Her tears were not for Murillo.