A Little More on Dubya’s Jean Valjean

George W. Bush’s gubernatorial office now has an official comment about Kenneth Payne, who got 16 years in the big house for stealing a Snickers bar in Tyler, Texas. (Click here to read Chatterbox’s earlier Payne item, and here to read a story about Payne in the Dallas Morning News.) Mike Jones, a spokesman in Gov. Bush’s office, left the following message on Chatterbox’s voice mail:

We generally don’t comment on pending or appealed cases, but the only response I’d have for you on this fellow over in Tyler in East Texas is that the jury in this case obviously had a chance to hear all of the facts, including the defendant’s criminal history–which included 10 prior convictions, including everything from theft and assault to drug possessions–before issuing their verdict, and it’s our understanding that the defendant’s lawyer is appealing this. My note here says you were going to ask something about clemency. Obviously the governor’s office considers any cases for clemency that come before it and we will if and when such a request comes regarding this case. That’s really about all we know about it.

Weirdly, Dubya’s office seems downright gabby about the case compared with Payne’s lawyer, Linda Altier, who didn’t return several phone calls from Chatterbox. When Chatterbox finally did manage to catch her, Altier promised to fax a one-page press release about the case. Call back with any follow-up questions, she said. But Chatterbox had to call back several times to prod her assistant to send the fax. When the press release finally arrived, it wasn’t terribly helpful. It restated the basic facts of the case–16 years for stealing a candy bar–and said, “No one is more stunned [by the verdict] than myself.” It opined, bafflingly, that “the elements of this case rank up there with such cases of injustice as the Leonard Peltier case.” (To this, Chatterbox would add the crucial caveat: “assuming, as many do not, that Peltier is innocent in the 1975 murder of two FBI agents.” To read Scott Anderson’s compellingly skeptical 1995 Outside magazine article about the Peltier cult, click here.) It said that Payne is black, which Chatterbox hadn’t known. It chided the district attorney’s office for joking about the case. It said that motions for appeal, for a new trial, and to arrest the judgment had been filed, and will be heard on April 25.

Altier wasn’t there when Chatterbox phoned back to ask follow-up questions. Her assistant, taking pity, said that Altier doesn’t really like talking to reporters. This would, in Chatterbox’s experience, rank as a first: A lawyer whose client is believed to have been treated unjustly who won’t talk to the press! Chatterbox isn’t sure what to make of it. Perhaps tomorrow will bring more information.