Sunday, June 2, 2013

Everyone Has Limits


I saw a docudrama today about Danny Palm, who was convicted of second-degree murder after shooting John Harper, Jr at point-blank range one November morning in 1995.

When news of the murder hit the community, members were stunned and saddened—for Palm.

Just the week before, Harper had been convicted of a misdemeanor and fined $500 before being released. The charges? According to the sworn testimony of Palm and other community members, Harper, described as a bully, and his white El Camino had terrorized  neighbors for nearly 2 years, pulling up on and behind them unexpectedly as they drove, tailgating them, and in one case pursuing a neighbor for nearly 10 minutes after ramming her car from behind while her 9-year-old daughter sat terrified in the passenger seat.

Despite stories such as this from multiple sources, the jury couldn’t decide Harper’s intent, so they couldn’t convict, and Harper was offered a plea bargain.

(I have to say, I can’t for the life of me understand why the court didn’t at least revoke Harper’s driver’s license. Come on.)

This case intrigued me for so many reasons, but the main reason is that Harper’s family—that is, his parents (with whom he lived) and his sister—were very vocal in their disbelief that their John Harper was the same person being described by the community. In fact, they were adamant. 

But let’s face it—these accounts had to be true. They were numerous and reported by people who had no reason to accuse this young man of anything.

According to San Diego Magazine, here’s a quote from Harper’s sister—

"They call my brother a wacko, but I never saw that. John was not the wacko who chased my brother down a road and pumped bullets into an unarmed man... I don't know what the cause was, but I do know what the effect was. It's destroyed my mother and father. Those vigilantes took the law into their own hands, and my brother's murder is the result."

Superior Court Judge William Mudd, who later reduced Palm’s conviction to manslaughter, said that Harper was a "jerk" and "ne'er-do-well" who caused his own troubles.
Well, that sounds a little harsh, but after Harper’s death, neighbors did report being relieved they no longer had to fear him.

And when it’s all said and done, the story is just strange. What motivated Harper? There were reports of methamphetamine abuse, but again, his family said they never saw Harper high or under the influence of drugs. So how does that work? You get so high that ramming a neighbor’s car seems like a good idea, and then you go home like nothing happened, and no one notices anything odd about you? For 2 years?

And did Palm just snap? I think so. I tend to think that, after being confronted by Harper that last time, Palm just decided he couldn’t or wouldn’t take it anymore. Some may call that more premeditated than spontaneous, but I think that in that moment, Palm had simply reached his limit. After all, people oughtn't to be able to hijack other people’s lives with their insanity or their cruelty or their twisted sense of humor. And while I don’t approve of Palm’s actions, people are human and can reach a breaking point if pushed far enough.

One thing that's certain is that this situation is a study in waste and in how a single individual can create havoc for an entire body of people. No matter how often I learn that lesson, it always surprises me.

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