Friday, January 06, 2017

A STAND-UP GUY, FOR A MURDERER

I never met Stevie Jimerson before he killed two people, so I never got to see the guy his family told me about — a business owner, a responsible husband. All I ever saw was a man approaching middle age with a brain fried from meth.

Our paths crossed in 1995. I was covering courts for the newspaper. Prosecutors in Greene County charged Jimerson with two counts of murder. They said he and another man shot the pair over a drug deal. All true.

Jimerson made bond before his preliminary hearing and I made sure to introduce myself and give him my business card. You do things like that when you're a reporter. Want to know what really happened? Go to the source — in this case, a man from Ozark who somehow wound up in the back seat of a car at a stockyard at Division and Kansas, firing bullets into the men sitting in front of him.

The day of Jimerson's hearing came and the usual suspects settled into their seats. I loved the theater of the system, the rituals played out by educated men and women at opposing tables. A murder prelim always had the possibility of juicy testimony and a chance to bust that story onto Page 1. That was the best-case scenario. At worst he would waive the hearing and the case would move to circuit court. A process story, maybe worth the front of the B section. Maybe.

The scheduled time came and Jimerson's seat at the defense table remained empty. The bailiffs raised their eyebrows. The defense attorney looked grim. This was going to be a great story. Guy charged with murder skips his prelim, cops launch search. My only worry was them finding him past my deadline.

Back at the office. The phone rings.

"News-Leader."

"Is this Ron?"

"That's me."

"It's Jimerson. Bet I'm in a lot of trouble."

Yeah.

He said he'd freaked out and couldn't come to court and now his parents were going to lose their house and what was he going to do? My only advice was to turn himself in but he wasn't going to do that; he was sure the cops would kill him. He wanted the cops to kill him.

I was sure he was high — his sentences were rat-a-tat fast and he wasn't tracking. I told him I would find out what was going on with the prosecutor and the cops. He told me he would call back.

And he did. A bunch of times. In between his calls I talked to his lawyer (that was fun, to let counsel know his client was on the loose and had access to a phone). I talked to the prosecutor, who told me it was one thing for a reporter to shield information, but as a citizen I had a duty to let police know if I knew where Jimerson was hiding.

I didn't know. He wouldn't tell me. After several calls he remained adamant that he would die in a shootout with police so they better not try to find him. His brain was past sizzle and into full deep-fry. Meth had transformed Jimerson into a guy who tore holes in his walls, looking for bugging devices. He told me he shot the guys at the stockyard because he thought they were undercover cops.

Yeah.

Day slipped into night. Jimerson and I kept talking. Finally, as it got closer to 10 p.m., he wore down. He was done. I told him I would be there and the cops wouldn't shoot him in front of a reporter. He said he was staying at a motel just north of Bolivar. I told him I was calling police to let them know. When I got to Bolivar, I did.

The surrender was anticlimactic. Jimerson looked like hell. So did the woman who was with him. The next year he pleaded guilty to murder and weapons charges and was sent to prison for life. He died there on Friday at the age of 59. Natural causes, said prison officials.

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