How I gathered evidence for Aggravated is a topic I cover a bit in the book, but I thought if I also said something about it here it might help you see how I tried to find the truth in circumstances where it at first seemed there was little or no evidence. Over the next several posts I’ll try to reconstruct a chronology of the steps I took while doing my research.
The idea of writing a book probably crept into my thoughts sometime around 2011, but I didn’t act on it right away. I had been helping Steve write his appeals since 2007 (looking up court cases, checking his grammar, etc.). The legal work was all his. One of the first things he did once he was sent to his prison (Stiles Unit, near Beaumont) was to spend as much time as possible in the law library. Even before that, though, just from talking to him, I felt that something was wrong with the trials. I just couldn’t figure out what it was then.
I didn’t attend either of the trials. That’s something I regret now, but at the time I was running a summer program at Rice University, and had to be there for it. I knew the trials were going to happen, but the dates kept getting rescheduled. They were finally held in the summer of 2006, over two years after the charges were filed, but I missed hearing about the final dates until it was too late. Steve lived in a town called Saddleview, just north of Deep Springs, where the trials took place. None of his siblings lived nearby anymore. I was in Houston (about 300 miles southeast of Saddleview). One of my sisters lives near Fort Worth (about 150 miles away from the Deep Springs area), another in Alaska (way too far), and the third lives in San Angelo (nearly 100 miles away). Our other brother lives in Mesquite (a little over 200 miles away).
Texas is big (790 miles north to south, and 773 miles east to west).
We were all spread out, and weren’t an especially communicative family to begin with. I did hear sporadic bits of information from the others as the trials approached, and then one day I got an e-mail that said Steve had been convicted. Now, of course, I wish that I had been there to witness the trial firsthand.
Saddleview isn’t the town’s real name, by the way. You can assume that almost all of the names of nearby towns and people mentioned on this website and in the book are pseudonyms. Read here and here and here if you weren’t already aware of that.
Whenever Steve and I talked, I jotted down notes about things that seemed odd to me (and I thought lot of it was strange). After dozens and dozens of legal pads, with notes scrawled all over them, I realized that I wanted to see the actual documents.
Ever since the motion for a new trial in October 2006 (which I did manage to witness first-hand), I had been curious about the trial itself. I wondered what happened in the trial that led to Steve being convicted. He consistently told me that some of the jurors hadn’t wanted to convict him of anything. I also knew that all twelve jury members had to agree in order for there to be a guilty verdict, so I wondered how they had come to that decision to trade votes.
I was writing novels at the time, but they were taking me years to finish. I did toy with the idea of writing about the trial in a novel, thinking that a fictional version of the trial would point out the craziness of the situation. I eventually decided that (although that would be easier to write) it wouldn’t help Steve get out of his situation. Either way, though, I would need source material, the transcripts from the trial. That became my new goal. That’s where I start the next post.
Writers and Academics: When researching any kind of pseudo-historical work (play, screenplay, novel, biography, etc.), what has been you most valuable research tool? Please add your comments below.
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