While Steve slept

       As Steve was napping one Sunday afternoon in north-central Kansas, his six-year-old son had other plans.  Steve kept a loaded pistol in the drawer next to his bed as protection from intruders.  The unexpected intruder was Steve’s six-year-old son who managed to fire a single shot at close range into Steve’s head.  This marked the traumatic end of Steve’s Sunday afternoon, and the beginning of a new phase.

Somewhat surprisingly, Steve received local emergency treatment and after a few days of observation was returned to his home.  Because of residuals from the injury, he was soon referred to the Hadley Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Hays for evaluation and treatment.

Evaluations from all disciplines showed an amazingly intact individual.  He walked with a slight limp and showed some weakness and tremor in his left hand, suggesting mild left-sided paralysis.  Psychological evaluation suggested that his math skills may have been substantially diminished by the brain trauma.  Steve’s wife countered that Steve never had any math skills prior to the injury.

Physical and occupational therapy were the primary indications for improving Steve’s somewhat minor functional residuals.  After three weeks of inpatient treatment, Steve was allowed to spend his weekends at home, a distance about 100 miles from Hays.  All appeared to be progressing nicely.

After a few weeks with this arrangement, I received a call from the center’s medical director indicating that Steve appeared to be a suspect by the Hays police in an armed robbery of a liquor store across the street from the hospital.  The robbery had occurred on a Saturday night by a lone gunman.  The clerk said the robber was either nervous, or had a very shaky hand holding the gun.  Steve had both a shaky hand and a pistol.

Because of Steve’s fragile situation, presumed to be his brain injury, the police had not discussed their suspicion with Steve at all, but had discussed the robbery only with the medical director. They had asked the director’s permission to observe Steve from a distance within the hospital.  According to the director, the cops were sneaking all over the hospital and peering at Steve wherever they could find an opportunity.  The director’s first call was to fill me in on what was going on.

On learning that Steve was not at the hospital on weekends, the Hays police asked Steve’s hometown cops to see if he was at home at the time of the robbery.  Word came back that nobody could confirm Steve was at home at the proper time.  This only increased their suspicions and intensified their sneaking around the hospital.

While I was out of the loop up to this point, it was important to learn the status of the police’ case against Steve.  Visiting the Hays Police Department, I was directed to the person in charge of the investigation.  It was soon clear that Steve was the only suspect in the robbery.  Through this contact I learned the police had been unable to confirm Steve was at home at the time in question.  Further the department was on the verge of charging him with the crime, in spite of the fact that nobody had ever discussed any of this with Steve personally.  They had made no further attempt to find out where Steve and his family were during the weekend.

Discussing this serious situation with Steve, I told him the police were about ready to charge him with armed robbery.  This was based upon information that the robber had a shaky hand holding the gun, Steve owned a gun, and was a patient at the hospital across the street.  At the time of the robbery he was not at home, and nobody around his home would be able to verify they had seen him.  With that I asked him for a detailed itinerary of all his and his family’s activities during the weekend in question, where they had gone, and who they had seen.  He said that he, his wife, and children were visiting relatives in a neighboring town some fifty miles north of his hometown.

Armed with this detailed itinerary, including the names of folks they had visited during the day and night in question, I gave the Hays police this itinerary for their information.  They passed this information on to the third police department for verification.

Their contacts confirmed Steve and his family were precisely where they said they were at the time of the robbery, well over 100 miles from the scene of the crime at the time.

After Steve’s alibi was confirmed the Hays police stopped sneaking around the hospital, a distraction not needed in any rehab center.

Several lessons might be extracted from this story:  If an alibi for a felony is needed, get it straight from the horse’s mouth.  The longer the delay after a crime, the worse the memory becomes.  Steve had enough to deal with without defending himself against robbery charges.

This episode is reminiscent of the old Dick Tracy characters.  Virtually all his notorious criminals were handicapped in some way:  They included Scarface, Pruneface, BO Plenty, Gravel Gertie, the Mole, and Flattop.  All these characters were handicapped and guilty, while Steve was clearly not.  He was close to becoming the victim of a bum rap.

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