FACING THE MUSIC: January 1987
Vain, futile, maybe even desperate. A wooden fence in front of a tank attack. Wearing this gun was like assuming the crash position on a passenger jet in the process of auguring in from thirty five thousand feet. Having it made me feel better, but I knew that if Col. Jarrell really wanted me, there wasn’t much I could do about it. Nevertheless, if the occasion arose where I actually needed it, I wouldn’t be kicking myself in the ass for not having had it. I think that I feared being confirmed stupid, more than I feared being confirmed dead.
On second thought, I probably should have bought a smaller one. The four pound Colt .357 magnum Python with its six inch ribbed barrel hung in its holster from my armpit to my waist. The constant pressure on my left side was a nagging reminder that I had made a really bad decision. One which I now wished I had not made so cavalierly. However, my most immediate problem was what to do about the bull’s-eye painted on my back.
That my desk faced away from the large bay window in my first floor office had never previously been a concern. The thought now dominated my existence. I couldn’t focus on anything else. If I was going to get it, I wanted to see it coming. Don’t get me wrong, its not that I wanted to face death like a man or anything so remotely noble. It was my unwavering belief in my own immortality. Specifically, that somehow, at the last second, I would recognize my assassin and be able to do something about it. I hadn’t worked out exactly what that would be.
I realized then and confirm to you now that I was a bit delusional. However, denial is a great defense mechanism, hope is a powerful emotion, and I was clearly the product of too many action movies. Regardless, I had made the decision to help Julie and her husband Trey, and I had to do something to protect myself from this malignant war hero, so I did. I turned my desk around to face the window. However, I am getting ahead of myself.
“JUST SAY NO”: December 1986
My name is Jack McKinnon and this is the story of the case that nearly ended my legal career before it got started. I’d been out of law school for less than a year, and licensed to practice for seven months, when I first met Mr. Shemrosky. I remember the morning vividly. As the new sole practitioner in a small town who survived on handouts from other lawyers of work they didn’t want, I was elated to have a legitimate referral. One sent to me by someone in the exceedingly small class of my former clients. I was sure of this because I didn’t advertise and no one had handed me a dusty, disorganized file on the “Shemrosky” matter set for trial the following month.
Mr. Shemrosky arrived for his appointment at ten o’clock sharp. I had no idea what the consult was about, because he rebuffed the receptionist when she asked, and advised her in no uncertain terms that he would discuss the matter “face to face” with me when we met.
Per my routine, I walked out to the reception area to greet Mr. Shemrosky and lead him back to my office. Both he and his wife rose when I entered the room. Mr. Shemrosky was of average height and build, with curly brown shoulder length hair and a failed attempt at a beard. He looked like he could be touring with a rock band, but was otherwise unremarkable. That is, with the exception of a massive white pressure bandage taped around his neck.
Mr. Shemrosky’s wife looked like one of his groupies. She clearly dressed the part. Her hair was jet black, thick and luxurious. Upon deeper review, I noted that her features were very angular and set deep into her face. Her high cheekbones and full lips screamed American Indian. I’ll bet the camera loved her. Her eyes were the darkest, and the whitest I had ever seen. They were absolutely captivating. Faded jeans hung low on her hips and her sheer halter top barely contained her ample breasts, which I could not help but notice were pointing respectively to Venus and Mars. A remarkable feat for a girl ten years her junior. All she needed was a matching leather headband and armband to complete the picture.
Realizing that I was probably starring a little too long, I shook her off and introduced myself.
“Mr. Shemrosky,” I started,
“Mr. McKinnon,” he replied, politely introducing his wife, “this is my wife Julie.”
I acknowledged Julie with a polite nod and returned to Mr. Shemrosky – “Would you please follow me?” directing both back through the central hallway toward my first floor office.
When we got to my office, I motioned Mr. Shemrosky and his wife to the twin chairs in front of my desk, courteously waited for them to seat themselves, and then began to sit down. Before I hit my chair, Mr. Shemrosky unloaded what had obviously been on his chest for some time.
“Mr. McKinnon, before we start, I have a confession to make. My name is not Mike Shemrosky, its Trey Dalton.”
Both Mr. Dalton and Julie focused intensely on me, waiting for my response. I guess that they thought his name was supposed to mean something to me, or that after I learned of his misrepresentation I would throw them out of my office.
I took advantage of the moment, and after a few long seconds, looked each of them in the eyes in a slow and deliberate manner to achieve the maximum dramatic effect. Breaking the silence, I said, “Alright Mr. Dalton, would you like to explain the deception?”
Since that moment I often wished I’d never asked.
PISSING ON JOHN WAYNE’S GRAVE
Surprise is insufficient. Disbelief and incredulity don’t adequately convey the emotion. Flabbergasted sounds too corny. Horrified is a little more like it, but still a little conservative. I have searched in vain to characterize accurately my reaction to the advice I received from Det. Ellenton of the Ware County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) when I first contacted him for a status on the criminal prosecution of Col. Cole Jarrell for hiring a hitman to kill Trey Dalton.
My initial call was nothing more than a fishing expedition for Trey, who was reluctant to speak directly with law enforcement for fear of being compromised. He trusted no one. He had told me that Col. Jarrell was rich and powerful and could influence local law enforcement. I didn’t believe him and wrote off his speculation to paranoia. What I was positive I would hear from Det. Ellenton, was that an ongoing criminal investigation was underway and he couldn’t discuss the matter with me. I could then reassure Mr. Dalton that everything that could be done, was in fact being done, and he simply needed to be patient and allow the wheels of the criminal justice system to take their course.
After locating Det. Ellenton, I introduced myself, “Det. Ellenton, good afternoon, my name is Jack McKinnon. I am calling in reference to an ongoing investigation that you are heading regarding the attempted murder of Trey Dalton.”
Det. Ellenton interrupted, “are you a prosecutor?”
“No, I’m a civil plaintiff’s lawyer who has been engaged to represent the interests of Trey and Julie Dalton.”
“Exactly what interests are those?”
Det. Ellenton was playing tough guy with me. Before I let him draw me in, I took a deep breath. “Trey and Julie Dalton hired me to monitor the criminal case against Col. Jarrell for hiring a hitman to kill Trey, and then to sue all of the responsible parties for damages at the appropriate time.”
When I finished, to my amazement, Det. Ellenton began comparing notes with me. He started outlining places, dates, persons and events in extraordinary detail. His knowledge of the events was far beyond the mere speculation that I had been provided by my clients. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I knew what little Trey Dalton had told me. Det. Ellenton was armed with the forensics of the crime scene investigation, confessions of the shooter, statements from the shooter’s girlfriend, Col. Jarrell’s wife and all of the collateral players.
Continuing, and hoping to build on the rapport we were establishing, I asked him, “Can you give me a status on Col. Jarrell’s criminal prosecution for trying to kill Trey and when you expect that he is going to be arrested?”
Det. Ellenton hesitated for a moment, then politely told me “Col. Jarrell will not be arrested. I have been instructed by my superiors to terminate the investigation.”
“How could that be possible?” I asked.
“The only direct evidence that the State Attorney’s Office has to use against Col. Jarrell is the recanted confession of the shooter James “Lump” Hoary. Not too long ago, Mr. Hoary was beaten up pretty badly in Ware County Jail and has since, unmiraculously, recanted his confession.”
“With all due respect Mr. McKinnon,” he lectured, “the mere recanted testimony of a co-conspirator with a track record like James Hoary against an outstanding citizen like Col. Jarrell is not enough to support a criminal prosecution.”
In a paternal but respectful way, Det. Ellenton recommended that “I move on and till more fertile fields.”
I interjected “It seems to me that it’s pretty clear that Col. Jarrell hired Lump to kill Trey Dalton to shut him up, because he was a rat.”
Det. Ellington agreed, “yea, it’s pretty obvious that he was trying to persuade Trey and his brother Trevor that he wasn’t gonna just sit back and let them turn states evidence against him on the stolen dump truck case without a fight, and…”
“So, because Lump recanted his confession you’re not going after Col. Jarrell? You’re just going to let him walk?” Continuing to press, I said, “hell, you could show the series of events, the shooting, Lump’s capture, the confession, the beating and Lump recanting his confession. That along with Trey’s testimony on motive and you’ve got enough to convict.”
“Well,” Det. Ellenton calmly replied, “the State Attorney’s Office respectively disagrees with you on that point.”
Without thinking and driven by pure bravado, I challenged him. “That’s because those guys don’t have any balls – they would never make it in the real world where you eat what you kill. You can tell them that I’m not afraid of this guy. I am going to file a civil suit against Lump, Col. Jarrell, and all of their bad guy friends, and I am going to nail them all for compensatory and punitive damages.”
Det. Ellenton let me run for a while, and then began laughing, almost uncontrollably. When he stopped laughing, he said, “Son, you’re making a huge mistake. You’re way out of your league and you don’t even know it! Going after Col. Cole Jarrell in Ware County is like pissing on John Wayne’s grave.”
I was too numb and confused to ask exactly what he meant by that last statement, so I sheepishly thanked him for his time, hung up the phone, and when my mouth closed about a minute later thought to myself, “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”
FALL FROM GRACE
The Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal and the highest decorations from the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) were the honors awarded to Col. Jarrell for valor in defense of his country during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. In fact, he was so proficient at killing that he became the last ace of the war when he downed five Japanese Zeros over Tokyo in August of 1945. To add to his legacy, Col. Jarrell survived over three hundred air combat missions. Hoping that these skills were transferable, his superiors promoted him to full colonel and placed him in command of an entire tactical fighter wing. First in Korea, and then later again in Vietnam.
The first time I saw him face to face, was in the Georgia Division of Motor Vehicles Office on Main St. in Needham, Ware County, Georgia. Trey Dalton told me he would be there. My curiosity would simply not allow me to avoid looking him in the eyes. I found him within seconds of entering the building.
He stood about 5’8” with his head high, shoulders squared and hands cupped on his hips. His hair was high and tight, his jaw square, and his eyes deadly serious. This was not a carefree man. Conversely, he radiated intensity. He was dressed in a pilots G-suit and behind him, lined in perfect cascading order, were six F-4D Phantom jets.
The picture had apparently been taken in South Vietnam in 1968 or 1969 where his tactical fighter wing had been based. It had been given a place of honor in the local drivers’ license bureau, because, as I was rapidly learning, Col. Jarrell was a local war hero.
Det. Ellenton’s comments had not been far-off the mark. As I stood studying the man, I wondered what could have driven such a respectable man to a life of crime and association with the type of people that I was dealing with in my investigation of this case.
To me, the profession of the military was one of the noblest and highest callings to which one could ascribe. In no other arena were the virtues of honor, loyalty, courage and love of country more practiced or revered. Politicians were like weathervanes, turning with the wind. Doctors seemed more concerned with protecting the income that was being methodically taken from them by managed care and the insurance company executives who were invading the medical business. Lawyers were likewise more interested in advancing their own economic interests than in the performance of selfless acts. Religious leaders were with few exceptions, a joke.
The military was the last bastion of hope, where men dedicated their lives to a cause, not for the subsistence wages they were paid, but for ethereal concepts that were fast losing relevance in the world. The possibility that I might be wrong about Col. Jarrell never really entered my mind. The detail which I had been provided to date simply meshed too perfectly. After the sting of the slap in my face wore off, I again looked Col. Jarrell in the eyes and then I think I understood.
Here was a guy who had done everything right. He had fought the good fight, sacrificed, watched his friends and those he was responsible for die brutal, horrible deaths, probably over and over again. He followed orders. He did what he was told, when he was told, without bellyaching about the inane political limitations imposed on his pilots by the administration of this country who tried to micro manage the Vietnam War with one hand tied behind its back.
After he was done, after he had survived his 300th combat mission, after he had bled and sacrificed and cried, and then bled some more, he returned stateside, to the life of a pariah. His type was not readily accepted anymore. It wasn’t until ten years after he returned that the tide of opinion had changed and he was recognized for his contributions. By then it was too late. They had turned their back on him, so he…, or maybe not.
Maybe, just maybe, Col. Jarrell had been involved with illegal trafficking in stolen heavy equipment in South East Asia and simply couldn’t stop when he got home. With his randomly placed military connections throughout the southeast U.S.A., a little discipline, a little game planning and some good old fashioned military execution, he could put those polished organizational skills to good use making himself a boat load of money by stealing heavy equipment and shipping it out of the country to places where titles and vehicle identification numbers had little significance. The point was I really didn’t know and would probably never find out. I did, however, know what I had to do. So I saluted Colonel Jarrell, and left the building to see what I could do to nail the criminal Cole Jarrell that I knew, right next to him on the wall.
0 FOR 3
I entered the office of the Clerk of the Criminal Court Office/Felony Division for Ware County, Georgia about 3:00 p.m., having come directly from my meeting with Col. Jarrell at the drivers’ license bureau, and asked one of the employees at the counter for assistance.
“Excuse me ma’am, I need to check the criminal history of someone, can you tell me how I go about doing that?”
She responded, “Do you have the individual’s full name and social security number?”
“I do” I said.
“Then you need to go into that room, she gestured, and use the microfiche indexes and readers. All of the criminal files since 1972 have been copied to microfiche and are contained in those indexes.”
“How are the files indexed?” I asked.
“The files are indexed by the name of the defendant in the particular year in which either the grand jury filed an indictment or the local state attorney’s office filed an information,” she pleasantly offered.
My review of the Criminal Clerk’s records for the preceding ten years unearthed three independent felony cases having been brought against one Cole Jarrell for various combinations of charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property. Even though the specific criminal acts alleged in each case were different, i.e. different times, places, vehicles and co-defendants, and the volume of activity and length of each case was different, they all ended in the same manner. All were nolle prosequi (voluntary dismissed) before trial by the Assistant State Attorney in charge of the particular case at the time of their dismissal.
Although it was possible that this could be a very large, albeit highly improbable coincidence, I had a hard time accepting coincidence as an explanation. To do so challenged the very order of things that I had always believed to exist. There had to be a rational explanation. Three times the prosecutor’s office had filed charges. Three times they decided their case was too weak and chose to dismiss the charges rather than risk going to trial.
I immediately checked to see if the same head prosecutor was in office during all three dismissals and found that not to be the case. In each case there were different Assistant State Attorneys prosecuting the case, different law enforcement officers signing the Criminal Report Affidavits (which factually supported the filing of formal charges), and different judges. The only commonality in the cases was that Col. Jarrell was always one of the defendants, and that Jason Vickers, Esq. was always his lawyer. In one of the cases, Jason Vickers’ de facto partner Jeremy Creed, Esq. represented one of the co-defendants. Two of the three cases showed that Col. Jarrell’s co-defendants ultimately pled guilty to the charges. The third was tossed out against all involved.
Less than one year had elapsed between Col. Jarrell’s last successfully defended felony case and the State Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Col. Jarrell for the failed attempt to take Trey Dalton’s life. Shooting down planes was apparently not Col. Jarrell’s only talent.