Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Ripped From the Headlines

Former Kalkaska prosecutor looks back at a domestic violence murder case

Patrick Sullivan - January 27th, 2014  

What unfolded on the front pages of newspapers across northern Michigan had all of the drama of a made-for-TV movie or a pulp novel.

The wife stabbed her husband in a Kalkaska County home in what at first appeared to be a jealous rage.

But a larger issue loomed – had years of domestic violence left the 46-year-old unable to escape, in fear for her life, and with no choice but to kill her estranged husband?

Former Kalkaska County Prosecutor Philip Crowley tackled the real-life trial in 1979. Now, with co-writer Kenneth Wylie, he’s released a novel that grapples with the question again.


The Jeanette Smith case in Kalkaska County came at a time when the country was just waking up to domestic violence as a serious problem.

Smith was charged with homicide for the May 12, 1978 stabbing death of her estranged husband, Herman Smith, 66.

It came on the heels of another famous Michigan case that involved a woman who killed her abusive husband by setting him on fire. That one spawned a nonfiction book that went on to become the 1984 hit made-for- TV movie “Burning Bed,” starring Farrah Fawcett.

As the Smith trial approached, she gave a jailhouse interview that described years of abuse. Former wives came forward with tales of violence. One family made the unproven claim that Mr. Smith was responsible for the death of a former wife.

Smith maintained she acted in selfdefense. The trial lasted five weeks. It took a jury five hours to acquit her.

In their book “Possessed,” Crowley and Wylie fill Kalkaska with a cast of fictional characters who replay the saga of Jeanette Smith.


There is a paradox at the center of “Possessed”.

Its protagonist is the abused woman who murders her husband and the book strives to let the reader see the story from her side; how even though she was repeatedly abused, she was compelled to return to her abuser.

That protagonist, however, is based on someone who in real life Crowley tried to send to prison.

Is there a conflict there? Crowley and Wylie say no, because, despite what happened in the real world, they stayed true to the story they wanted to tell.

“I guess the question could be, if I wanted to change it to where I won, or where the prosecutor won the case, that might have been a conflict,” Crowley said. “But the story was the story. And that’s kind of the story I wanted to tell.”


Indeed, despite the fact that Crowley lost the case in 1979 and he is now promoting a book that shows the defendant in a sympathetic light, Crowley said he doesn’t have regrets about the case.

Crowley, who nowadays practices professional liability defense law in Tampa, said it was his job to prosecute Smith.

His answer today could be the same as what he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle in the minutes following the verdict:

“In any case where there has been a history of abuse and that person eventually kills the abuser, it’s hard to get a conviction,” Crowley told a reporter in 1979. “But that doesn’t mean the case shouldn’t be tried. My job was to bring forth all of the evidence and see that justice was done.”

Wylie sees it that way, too. “He had to prosecute, given the law,” Wylie said. “That was a homicide.”


Wylie was first asked by the defense attorneys to write the story from Jeanette Smith’s perspective. He interviewed Smith for hours in the weeks following her acquittal.

Wylie felt at the time that Smith must have been in denial and the project was soon scrapped.

“Her stories, as she told them, didn’t jive with the trial itself,” Wylie said.

Wylie worked as a freelancer in northern Michigan at the time, and as the trial unfolded, he had no idea that he would ever be asked to help write a book about the case. He followed the case just like anyone else in northern Michigan.

“I was like, what the hell is wrong with this woman?” Wylie said, about when he learned about how Jeanette Smith kept reuniting with her abuser. “I remember reading that and reading it to my wife and saying, ‘God, this is hard to believe.’” Wylie said today he has no doubt that Jeanette Smith deserved acquittal.

When Crowley called him, around 1984, looking for help with his novel, Wylie agreed. Neither man expected it would take almost 30 years to get the book published.


It was the moral ambiguity of the real-life case that caused Crowley to decide to turn it into fiction.

He wanted to change some facts in the book so the reader wouldn’t have to answer the question that the jury had to decide in the Smith case: was the killing in self-defense?

Rather, he wanted the reader to decide: Is it OK for a victim of long-standing domestic violence to kill their partner if they believe that’s the only way out?

Crowley said the case taught him how difficult it is for domestic violence victims to escape. He said the case caused him to be a more open-minded prosecutor on the issue of domestic violence.

“I think a jury, without the domestic violence issues [explained to them]...would look at Mrs. Smith and say, ‘You know, why should we believe her? Why would this woman go back so many times? Why did she do this?’” he said. “But once it’s explained by the expert testimony, I think that a jury says, ‘OK, well now, her behavior’s explained.”’

“Possessed” is available at Horizon Books in Traverse City, Dog Ear Books in Northport, the Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor and Leelanau Books in Leland.

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